Sunday, October 27, 2013

BPN 1666: World Summit Awards recognizes social innovators

© Philipp Benedikt/Alexander Mattersberger
On Saturday, October 26, 2013 the conference was closed and at night the award ceremony took place. All delegates moved by train to the beach esort Mount Lavina for this occassion. My coleague from India, Madanmohan Rao, wrote a blog posting about the winners and drew his conclusions.

Every two years, contestants from over 150 countries around the world compete to win the World Summit Awards for best e-Content. The awards are given in 10 categories and are rigorously judged by an international jury according to criteria such as meeting the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.

The winners are honoured at a gala and also participate in an international conference where they present their projects and discuss their plans and impacts. I was delighted to be a juror and moderator for the category of e-Inclusion and Empowerment. Here are my key takeaways from contributions of the winning entries, and recommendations for social entrepreneurs who wish to make a mark in this category.

Blindsquare from Finland is an augmented reality GPS application for the blind. It obtains information about the surrounding environment from Foursquare and Open Street Maps. Its algorithms enable it to determine the most relevant information, and then voice it out using high quality speech synthesis. For example, “What’s the most popular café within 200 meters radius?” or “How much longer before I get off my train?”

The Specialized Educational Portal from Romania is initiated by the Ministry of National Education. It services 14,000 students with special educational needs, and consists of an online environment to observe, discover, prove, verify and measure results of different experiments and simulations. The portal uses avatars to embody the roles of teachers, learners, peers and observers. from Slovakia was initiated by the civic association eSlovensko. It uses an animated environment with sheep as main characters to teach children about safer use of the Internet, mobile phones and new technologies. The project has developed 652 tools with over two million downloads in two years for products such as quizzes, ebooks, games, and wallpapers.

New Urban Mechanics of Boston and Philadelphia from the US is a multi-city civic innovation incubator and R&D network dedicated to improving the lives of city residents. It helps innovators connect with government through project proposals to improve urban civic life using.

TAM Hub from Saudi Arabia uses contests and crowdsourcing to help citizens identify pressing problems and then collectively put together solutions. The portal is used to link and expose entrepreneurs to contests and provide them with tips to clarify their ideas and projects. It allows the public to engage with entrepreneurs and express their opinions about the most liked ideas or projects. The initiative is expanding to five other Arab countries.

In the panel discussion at the conference, these social innovators had a range of useful lessons to share with other aspiring entrepreneurs:

1. The toughest moment for an entrepreneur is when you have a seed of an idea but no one believes it can become a tree. But don’t give up!

2. The best moment for those working in social enterprise is not money or prizes but when people thank you from the bottom of their heart for what you are doing, eg. a teacher’s best moment is when a parent of a differently abled child thanks you for teaching them.

3. Engage the entire ecosystem and not just the target audience, eg. the parents and friends of differently abled students.

4. Leverage the power of the crowd not just to solve problems but also understand the problem itself, frame it in different ways, and prioritise it with respect to other problems.

5. Use business models like syndication and licensing to spread your good work in social entrepreneurship. Partnership and alliance management strategies are key: choose partners who truly share the social values and ethical principles that you respect.

6. Don’t shun government: reach out to them and win them over as partners, because they can help truly scale your project in the long run.

The overall winner in this category was judged to be BlindSquare, a laudable achievement for a team which includes only app developer! If one app developer alone can achieve such excellence, imagine what millions of inspired app developers around the world can do!

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