CategorySocial Issues

Apps for Good

Technology is important and apps are the way of the future. 74billion apps were downloaded in the last 7 years on the iOS platform. That is unbelievable.

What is key though that technology is used as a way to solve important issues that matter. If we could do that with children and teach them about problem solving and technology then we have hit the sweet spot.

This is exactly Apps for Good is doing in the UK.

Our course teaches coding and the fundamentals of the digital world, while also developing skills in problem solving, creativity, communication and teamwork. With a focus on solving real issues that matter to young people, our students learn the full software product development process in a hands-on way.

We recognize that educators are at very different stages in terms of their students learning to code. We have built in opportunities throughout the course for the students to build working prototypes. Educators can then choose the depth of learning that is most appropriate for their students.


From 2013/2014 onwards, there are four prototyping tiers for educators and students:

  • Tier 1 – Basic: Balsamiq click-through wireframes/ POP app
  • Tier 2 – Building blocks: AppInventor 1 & 2 plus AppShed
  • Tier 3 – Web: starting with Blockly (show Javascript) and HTML+CSS (including code in JSBin or Thimble), then moving to plug-ins, framework and libraries and APIs
  • Tier 4 – Social: Javascript, social Plug-ins and Facebook API (public & private) including JSBin, but also Facebook developer account

It will be great if we could add to this a way of thinking about social challenges and even problems in general in a better way.

The first one is about ideas.

To focus on people and what they want for their life is key. The second one is understanding the context of people rather than tech.

Good one to prototype in Australia.

The entrepreneurial state

Fascinating book. Review from the economist.

Economists have long recognised that the state has a role in promoting innovation. It can correct market failures by investing directly in public goods such as research, or by using the tax system to nudge businesses towards doing so. But Ms Mazzucato argues that the entrepreneurial state does far more than just make up for the private sector’s shortcomings: through the big bets it makes on new technologies, such as aircraft or the internet, it creates and shapes the markets of the future. At its best the state is nothing less than the ultimate Schumpeterian innovator—generating the gales of creative destruction that provide strong tailwinds for private firms like Apple

In the sphere of social innovation there is a definite need for the government to support innovation. At the fundamental level solutions to social challenges are public goods.

It does not have to be delivered by the government but has to be funded.

The one thing I would say is that funding basic research is not totally entrepreneurial in my view. It is about finding the need of the customer, understanding the job to be done. Once we understand the value then the job of creating value is never easy,  requiring experimentation and innovation.

All of this is quite entrepreneurial and requires the basic research but more than that.

However fundamentally I see great value in the idea of the entrepreneurial state.

How do we promote that in the social innovation space?

Canberra NDIS trial timetable released

A new opportunity

If they are eligible, we will then start a whole lot of conversations to help them think about what their plan might look like, what are their goals and aspirations, what are their current and future support needs and how can we provide other supports to help them achieve their goals and aspirations,” Ms Paull said. 

This is great. This is the opportunity for creating new products and services that will make a difference.

Haiti is open for business


Listening to the podcast Entrepreneur from Monocle is entertaining and informative all the time. This time it was the mother/daughter duo who visited Haiti and then went on to set up business to grow vanilla.

They talk about the challenges that they have faced in creating a new business but the most important learning is the fact that no amount of aid is enough to create well-being and wealth. What is a needed a sustainable solution that is rooted in the local context.

The solution as these individuals see is aroun respecting the local culture, traditions and building a business that is sustainable with a focus on employment and entrepreneurship.

The parallels in Indigenous Australia is no different. The focus on providing social services, community programs is good but if there are not rooted in the needs of the people, in providing a solution in the context of the problem and more importantly creating the right opportunities for a sustainable solution then we have lost.

Working with Indigenous people in my work, I see a real confidence and focus to create sustainable solutions that work in the context of the culture and are not creating a dependence cycle on the government.




The obesity statistics for Indigenous Australia

To better create opportunities we need to understand the challenge. The first step towards that is a good understanding of the big picture using data. The next is to see go deep using ethnography and insight to understand the context in which people make decisions that lead to this challenge. A real social innovation challenge and opportunity.

Lets start with the obesity statistics from ABS.

Indigeneous australians_female_obesity_chartIndigeneous Australians_Obesity_Male_chartThe ABS concludes that “Overall, after adjusting for differences in age structure between the two populations, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were 1.5 times as likely as non-Indigenous people to be obese (rate ratio of 1.4 for males and 1.7 for females)”

The smartphones opportunity

Two stories today that show the power of smartphones in unexpected spaces and the opportunity it provides.

Cheap Smartphones

Cheap Smartphones (photo courtesy, Wired)

Mat Honan in Wired about the importance of cheap smartphones.

We’re rushing headlong into the era of cheap cell phones. The peace dividends of the smartphone wars mean you can buy a pretty amazing piece of hardware for what many people spend on lattes each month. That Alcatel has 4G, a quadcore processor, a 13-megapixel camera, and it plays 1080P video. It runs Android 4.2, which isn’t completely current but isn’t totally out of date either, and you can grab one for as little as $80 without a contract. That $129 Moto E ($79 if you get a contract, which you shouldn’t) runs Android 4.4.2, sports a Gorilla Glass screen, has an all-day battery and is even water resistant.

Clearly great features are trickling down. But what’s more interesting is how these cheap phones are going to trickle up. Put Internet-connected, app-capable smartphones running the same major operating systems the rest of us use and there will be all sorts of unforeseen ripple effects on us that we can’t even anticipate.

Anand Chandrasekharan, the Chief Product Officer of Bharti Airtel, one of the largest mobile network operators in India. In his new role, he went on a tour to understand India.

Mobile = Opportunity

One of the most fascinating stories I had heard was about a user in rural Bihar, who purchased a 2GB plan and was renewing it weekly. Notwithstanding the obvious guesses, we were curious what he was using it for. As it turns out, he downloaded full-length movies at night (when he had free and unlimited data usage) from YouTube, and burned them on to SD cards from his Samsung smartphone for his customers. His day job was running a general store. By doing this, he had used the oldest trick in retail — use an exclusive product to sell high-margin commodity items. While the SD cards did okay, it also brought footfall into his store, which resulted in sales of groceries, soap and shampoo. Given the impact on his business, he was religiously topping off his mobile Internet connection to keep the cottage industry he had created going.

What was interesting to take away was that a user with absolutely no education had used smartphones and the Internet to achieve his entrepreneurial ambitions. Be it the growing venture-funded mobile apps industry or the cottage industries, these opportunities are for real and just getting started, as only 10 percent to 15 percent of the more than 900 million mobile users have ever tried using the Internet on their phones.

Anand touches upon the banking opportunity with mobile phones too. I see the same opportunities in the Indigenous space in Australia. The increasing gap of well being compared to non-Indigenous Australians and the life in the bush; the rural and remote parts of Australia; is similar in context to rural India which brings the same challenges and opportunities.

a16z Podcast: Demystifying Venture Capital

A great podcast about three women, their journey to be a venture capitalist and how venture capital works.

How do we create a new way of investing in the social space? What can philanthropists, foundations, and PAFs in Australia.

A new model of social capital investing which understands innovation, the need to support new ways of creating programs and startups and taking the initiative through the journey.

Tackling youth unemployment in Australia

Kate Southam discusses the challenges of youth unemployment in Australia where the unemployment rate is twice the adult unemployment rate.

She discusses a new model that is trying to tackle this issue. 

The Foundation for Young Australians (FYA), the Beacon Foundation and Social Ventures Australia have developed a model of careers learning that starts early, brings together educators, employers, parents and young people, and will break down the siloes that prevent the education and employment sectors from forming the seamless journey that they should.

Beyond the Classroom provides a work exposure continuum that regularly connects young people with the world of work throughout high school.

It will see teachers and employers co-designing and co-delivering a curriculum that is aligned with industry needs while keeping the development of the enterprise skills that promote long-term job success at the centre.

Young Australians are not just the workers of the future; they are the employers, the leaders, the changemakers, the people who will tackle the unprecedented social, economic and cultural challenges that lie ahead.

We will not prepare them for this simply by making sure there are enough jobs to step into. The challenge is broader: to equip young people to lead a society in which we sustain our standard of living, enhance our quality of life, protect our fragile environment, contribute to the global family and become a lighthouse nation to the world.

It’s good to see the focus on co-design, industry needs and the focus on employment.

Global ageing

One of the big trends is the ageing of the world. It will effect everything that we do and there are both opportunities and challenges.

This 5 min podcast from The Economist is worth checking.

Basic Income

The Hawkins brothers on what is Basic Income and its benefits.

What is Basic Income?

Basic income is providing every citizen regular, flat cash payments unconditionally.  In other words, if you can prove you are a citizen, you get a regular paycheck.

What are the definite benefits of Basic Income?

  • It is the most efficient possible form of wealth redistribution because there is no bureaucratic overhead needed.  More money reaches the poor directly.
  • It is more equitable than retirement plans, which transfer wealth from young to old.
  • It enables people to work on only what they want to.
  • It improves opportunities for individuals to use their Basic Income to get an education, start businesses, or make investments.
  • The amount of Basic Income could rise over time with productivity & automation growth.NewImage
  • It would enable resources spent on the current bureaucracy to work on other tasks beneficial to society.
  • It reduces the marginal tax rate for the poor, creating better incentives.  Currently, the poorest receive a combination of unemployment, food stamps, and other government subsidies, which often go away if they take a job.  Each of these issues create in effect high marginal tax rates.  In extreme situations, it means people can go back to work and make less money than before.  With basic income, there is more incentive to work, as everything you make is additive.
  • It should replace unemployment, which is pay to not work, which creates a perverse incentive.
  • It should replace minimum wages, which incentive employers to reduce jobs.
  • It reduces political corruption.  There are fewer government bureaucrats and fewer spending levers to grant political favored groups favorable treatment.

What are probable benefits of Basic Income?

  • It would provide a more stable consumer purchasing base, stabilizing the economy.
  • It would reduce crime as a result of lower levels of desperation, particularly among the youth.

In the HackerNews discussion, I found this article by Rutger Berman, who goes into experiments of basic income across the world. Lots more to learn and understand. But this is fascinating.

London, May 2009. Read the Dutch version here / Lees de Nederlandse versie van dit artikel hier. A small experiment involving thirteen homeless men takes off. They are street veterans. Some of them have been sleeping on the cold tiles of The Square Mile, the financial center of the world, for more than forty years. Their presence is far from cheap. Police, legal services, healthcare: the thirteen cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of pounds. Every year.

That spring, a local charity takes a radical decision. The street veterans are to become the beneficiaries of an innovative social experiment. No more food stamps, food kitchen dinners or sporadic shelter stays for them. The men will get a drastic bailout, financed by taxpayers. They’ll each receive 3,000 pounds, cash, with no strings attached. The men are free to decide what to spend it on; counseling services are completely optional. No requirements, no hard questions. The only question they have to answer is:
What do you think is good for you?


A year after the experiment had started, eleven out of thirteen had a roof above their heads. They accepted accommodation, enrolled in education, learnt how to cook, got treatment for drug use, visited their families and made plans for the future. ‘I loved the cold weather,’ one of them remembers. ‘Now I hate it.’ After decades of authorities’ fruitless pushing, pulling, fines and persecution, eleven notorious vagrants finally moved off the streets.  The Joseph Rowntree Foundation did a study of this experiment.

Costs? 50,000 pounds a year, including the wages of the aid workers. In addition to giving eleven individuals another shot at life, the project had saved money by a factor of at least 7. Even The Economist concluded:

‘The most efficient way to spend money on the homeless might be to give it to them.’

‘Poverty is fundamentally about a lack of cash. It's not about stupidity,’ author Joseph Hanlon remarks. ‘You can't pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you have no boots.’

An idea whose time has come.

The idea has been propagated by some of history’s greatest minds. Thomas More dreamt of it in his famous Utopia (1516). Countless economists and philosophers, many of them Nobel laureates, would follow suit. Proponents cannot be pinned down on the political spectrum: it appeals to both left- and right-wing thinkers. Even the founders of neoliberalism, Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman supported the idea. Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) directly refers to it.

The basic income.

And not just for a few years, in developing countries only, or merely for the poor – but free money as a basic human right for everyone. The philosopher Philippe van Parijs has called it ‘the capitalist road to communism.’ A monthly allowance, enough to live off, without any outside control on whether you spend it well or whether you even deserve it. No jungle of extra charges, benefits, rebates – all of which cost tons to implement. At most with some extras for the elderly, unemployed and disabled.

The basic income – it is an idea whose time has come.

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