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Archive for the ‘social change’ Category

A few months ago a friend from DC, Alex Budak, called me about a social enterprise he was starting called StartSomeGood. The idea, simply put, was to create a crowdfunding (or peerfunding) platform for social change initiatives. He wanted to know if I wanted to be involved in an advisory capacity, helping him design the communications and outreach strategy for the company. I was happy to agree, both because I’m always up for helping a friend and because the idea itself was compelling. While the crowdfunding model has been proved by sites such as Kickstarter and FundBreak these sites are exclusively for creative projects. There is a clear opportunity and a need to provide this service to the social sector.

Over the past few months I’ve been working with Alex to refine the vision and product. Over this time I have felt myself get more and more drawn in, and more and more excited about the potential of the project. We have refined our model to make it more distinct and, we think, better adapted for the sector we seek to serve. We realized that success would require more than just advice; Alex needed a collaborator equally-committed to the success of the enterprise. And so I’m really excited to announce that I’m joining as a full co-founder with Alex, and that we should be launching our site next month.

Why launch StartSomeGood.com?

There are so many people with ideas for how they want to make a difference in the world, yet they lack the resources that they need to get started.  StartSomeGood connects budding social entrepreneurs with the financial and intellectual capital that they need — all in a fun, engaging and community-driven way.  Our site taps into the power of the crowd, allowing social entrepreneurs to ask for small amounts of money from lots of different people – rather than hope for one lump sum.  This crowdfunding model is becoming increasingly well-established, especially in the arts, and we believe it is perfect for supporting the launch and development of social change organizations.

Over the past 10 years an incredible online fundraising infrastructure has been created for social change organizations. Organizations can fundraise through Facebook and Twitter, supporters can establish their own fundraisers on platforms like Razoo, Global Giving can help you support projects in the developing world from the comfort of home. But almost all the infrastructure that exists has been created exclusively for use by only one type of organization: tax-deductible nonprofits. And we all know that there are many ways to make a difference other than simply establishing a new charity.

In all the commentary about the Kickstarter the most overlooked aspect of their success is the fact that they allowed fundraising by unincorporated groups. The two sectors where a huge amount of value is created by unincorporated groups are the creative industries and the social change movement. StartSomeGood will allow any type of group, unincorporated, nonprofit and for profit to find supporters and raise funds for social good projects. Having been part of many grassroots initiatives I know how much good gets created by small teams, formed for discrete projects. We hope to help more people make a difference in their community.

Ultimately our goal is to contribute to creating a world where every person has access to the financial, intellectual and relational capital they need to become changemakers, where every person can create the future they wish to inhabit.

How is StartSomeGood different from other crowdfunding sites?

StartSomeGood has several critical differentiators from existing crowdfunding platforms:

  • We focus on social change organizations. The biggest existing crowdfunding platforms, Kickstarter in the US and FundBreak in Australia, are exclusive to creative projects. We want to provide this same functionality to social entrepreneurs working to address poverty, crime, climate change and more.
  • Blended-risk fundraising model. Kickstarter and FundBreak both use the all-or-nothing fundraising model. This makes perfect sense of creative projects, many of which have specific fundraising tipping points (enough money to print the book, finish the film, go on tour, etc). IndieGoGo allows you to keep whatever you raise, regardless of how you did against your stated goal. StartSomeGood will have a blended model, whereby an initial amount is all-or-nothing, depending on the specific tipping point of that project/organization, but there is also a best-case goal beyond that, which they can keep any funds raised towards. This allows the individual entrepreneur to set their own level of risk/reward, as it should be.
  • StartSomeGood is based around both organizations and projects. Social change organizations can maintain permanent profiles fueled by dynamic feeds, aggregating and building their community of supporters across multiple fundraising campaigns.
  • The StartSomeGood platform will allow for not only financial contributions but other forms of probono support needed by social entrepreneurs.

Get Involved:

Do you think this sounds exciting? Do you want to help? Great!

Support our fundraiser on IndieGoGo – we are currently fundraising on another crowdfunding platform, IndieGoGo, and would love your support. You get half of your contribution back in the form of a voucher to pay forward to a social good organization on our site when it goes live. So you’ll not only be supporting the launch of our new social enterprise but another beyond that! The remaining funds will support our outreach and promotion around the launch (including competitions to give away more vouchers, most of it will ultimately flow directly to the enterprises launching on our site), hosting costs, etc. This modest amount of start-up funding is important to allowing us to launch effectively, and having pre-committed funds ready to support new enterprises is critical to building early momentum when we launch.  Please contribute.

Help us find great ventures – task 1 for us is to find inspiring initiatives to help launch. We have several really exciting groups lined up for the launch but are looking for more. If you know of a great social change initiative looking to launch in the next six months please put them in touch.

Become a StartSomeGood Mobilizer – we are recruiting a team of Mobilizers to help get the word out, people who are passionate about social change and innovation, enjoy meeting new people and talking up new things. I am so thrilled with the caliber of people who have agreed to get involved, thank you friends! But there are gaps in our network so if this sounds like you or someone you know I’d love to hear from you, especially if you are in Perth, Adelaide, Toronto, Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, Chicago, Denver, Boston, Philadelphia, or Pittsburgh.

Stay in the loop – if you would like to be the first to know when the site goes live please sign up for our newsletter at www.StartSomeGood.com.

I’m very excited to be commencing on this journey. I think there’s a real opportunity to create something sustainable of real value, and to learn a lot along the way. I look forward to your support and collaboration and to starting some good in 2011!

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Both Thanksgiving and Christmas are good times for taking stock and thinking about the things we have to be grateful for. For me this means thinking about my global tribe and how lucky I am to have you all in my life. Thinking about this made me realize, once more, how important travel has always been for me, for the relationships I’ve gained and the experience of other cultures and the global perspective that grows from this.

I sincerely wish everyone could have the opportunity to travel and, in the absence of that, I support anything that opens up a window on the world and gets people thinking more globally.

At this time of year I know everyone gets hit with endless requests for support and, yes, I’m putting one out also. I wrote previously about my involvement with Razoo.com’s zooGooder council and how impressed I’ve been with Global Lives Project since coming across them after moving to San Francisco. Over the coming week the members of the zooGooder council are having a friendly competition to see who can raise the most funds and attract the most donors for their favourite nonprofit. Naturally I’ve chosen Global Lives Project.

Here’s my video explaining why:

(Aside: My first video blog! Kinda scary! What do you think?)

Razoo have generously made available a $2000 prize pool for the person who brings in the most donors and with your help I’d love to be competitive in win! this category. Every donation, however modest, counts as a point towards this prize. In addition I’m also a fundraiser for Global Lives Project’s own group fundraising challenge this month. As part of the launch of this new service Razoo will match the first $200 I raise. What’s more Global Lives Project has a matching grant of up to $30,000 if raised before the end of the year.

Follow all of that? This means any money you donate could be matched up to THREE TIMES! That’s a pretty good return on your investment.

More to the point, whatever money we raise will support Global Lives Project to expand their activities next year – holding new exhibitions and developing educational materials for use by school groups. These videos undoubtedly have artistic merit but it’s this educational element I’m most excited about as I think facilitated contact with this content could really get people thinking in new ways, more globally and empathically. In other words, sharing with those who might not have the chance to travel some of the most important benefits we get from the travel experience.

As little as $10 counts towards the most donors challenge and would mean so much to both Global Lives Project and me. If I can raise $1,000 this week I will be stoked, and we will know we’ve made a real difference to this small but important organization.

But I know not everyone has even $10 to spare so there are other ways you can help as well:

•    Tell your friends! Use the share buttons at the bottom of this post to share the link on Twitter, Facebook ,etc.
•    Share your story! All this week I’ll be sharing things travel has given me using the hashtag #travelteaches. Join in! Share your own #travelteaches insight on Twitter and, space permitting, link to http://bit.ly/trvlteach where I’ll be collecting the responses.

Of course, please donate if you can:

I can’t wait to hear your stories! Thank you for your support.

More on Global Lives Project:

Artist’s statement from GLP’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Exhibit:

Framed by the arc of the day and conveyed through the intimacy of video, we have slowly and faithfully captured 24 continuous hours in the lives of 10 people from around the world. They are screened here in their own right, but also in relation to one another.

There is no narrative other than that which is found in the composition of everyday life, no overt interpretations other than that which you may bring to it.

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It Gets Better is a grassroots campaign in America launched by sex columnist Dan Savage in response to a horrific spate of teenagers killing themselves after being victimized for being (or being perceived to be) gay. There were 5 suicides in September alone. After another one of these tragedies Savage wrote in his column that he wished “I could have talked to that kid for 5 minutes and been able to tell them it gets better.”

In that same column, on September 15, he announced he was setting up a YouTube channel for those who were bullied but survived to tell their story, to tell those going through hard times that it gets better. Since then the channel has had more than 1.8 million views and 21,000 subscribers, making it the fastest-growing channel on YouTube right now.

Here’s Dan’s original video with his husband Terry:

On MSNBC last week I saw Joel Burns, a member of the Fort Worth Council in Texas, share his story, a story he told us he had never told anyone before, in a speech before the council. It’s a speech unlike many you will ever hear from a politician. It’s raw, personal and courageous and had me in tears.

It Gets Better is another inspiring example of the possibilities of social media to aggregate individual actions, share otherwise-unheard stories and to connect us across borders, classes and generations. This campaign wasn’t cooked up in a strategy session and launched with fanfare by a national gay rights organization. It wasn’t backed with millions of dollars in funding. It didn’t even require its own website. It was one person’s idea, a single video uploaded online, and an invitation to participate.

Now, yes, this particular person had a mainstream media platform from which to promote his idea, but without the enabling environment of the internet he would simply have expressed his sadness and, presumably, moved on. Thousands of readers would have nodded in agreement but then what? Now, instead of just an expression of grief there was a call to action, an invitation to participate in something, and a simple, humble, personal video to get things started, and show how it could be done.

As Dan said in his column:

“Gay adults aren’t allowed to talk to these kids. Schools and churches don’t bring us in to talk to teenagers who are being bullied. Many of these kids have homophobic parents who believe that they can prevent their gay children from growing up to be gay—or from ever coming out—by depriving them of information, resources, and positive role models.

“Why are we waiting for permission to talk to these kids? We have the ability to talk directly to them right now. We don’t have to wait for permission to let them know that it gets better. We can reach these kids.”

He’s right. Thanks to social media, we can.

Six weeks later the videos continue to roll in and the conversation around the issue continues. Employees at Google and Facebook have contributed videos, as have Project Runway’s Tim Gunn, American Idol’s Adam Lambert and Star Trek’s Zachary Quinto. Videos have come in from Muslims and Mormons, gays and straights, teenagers, parents and grandparents. And hundreds of thousands of teenagers have found out that whatever their situation they are not alone, that others went through difficult times and survived and that they need to stick around and give their lives a chance.

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San Francisco is a place full of energy, overrun by people with big dreams working hard to make amazing things happen. One person who fits this description that I was lucky enough to meet upon moving to San Francisco is David Harris, the founder and Executive Director of the Global Lives Project. He has spent the past five years driving this art/social change/education hybrid project, coordinating 500 volunteers who together have completed shoots in ten countries and staged numerous exhibitions. As he explained the project to me I was inspired by its vision, intrigued by its potential scope and very impressed by the way it had been executed. I knew I wanted to help.

Global Lives Project aims to “collaboratively build a video library of human life experience that reshapes how we as both producers and viewers conceive of cultures, nations and people outside of our own communities.”

Global Lives is a series of 10 (so far) 24-hour continuous shoots of the lives of ten diverse people from ten countries around the world. The content is moving in its simple humanity, showing how despite our geographic and cultural differences we have so much more in common, we are one people.

Global Lives Project has mounted exhibitions at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco and elsewhere, allowing people to wander from room-to-room catching glimpses of these diverse lives. Sometimes they all begin together, at the same time in each day. Sometimes they are played according to their time zones, so 5pm in San Francisco is 8am in China and so on.

Here’s David’s Artist Statement from their Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Exhibit:

Framed by the arc of the day and conveyed through the intimacy of video, we have slowly and faithfully captured 24 continuous hours in the lives of 10 people from around the world. They are screened here in their own right, but also in relation to one another.

There is no narrative other than that which is found in the composition of everyday life, no overt interpretations other than that which you may bring to it.

I’ve seen longer reels of film than that featured in the video above but I can fully appreciate how much more impactful this footage can be when situated alongside each other, when people can wander in and out, getting a window into another person’s world. Their opening night event and exhibition at Yerba Buena got rave reviews:

It’s the immediacy of this live viewing, the context of the ten films played alongside each other, that I believe would give the most powerful sense of looking through a window into the world of another. I would love to experience this, would love to see Global Lives Project being able to mount more events and exhibitions and organize new shoots to continue to build their library of human experiences. When I needed to choose a nonprofit to fundraise on behalf of as part of Razoo‘s ‘zooGooders Council, I immediately thought of Global Lives Project.

Between now and the end of the year I’d love to be able to make a contribution to the expansion of GLP’s activities next year, supporting them to hold new exhibitions, develop educations programs around their content and grow the library itself. My main motivation in supporting GLP is to help get this great content before more people.

Please consider supporting my fundraiser. My fundraising widget is here. Every bit makes a difference. Anything that gives people a window into the lives of another, that increases our understanding and empathy of other lives, helps create a more peaceful, more just world.

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Artwork by Rose Fyson, made available by Oxfam International on a Creative Commons License.

Yesterday was Blog Action Day, an inspiring example of the power of coordination and generosity on the internet. Blog Action Day was founded by three bloggers in 2007 and asks bloggers to write about a single topic on a specific day. Last year Change.org took over management of the event. This year’s topic was Water, following on from the environment, poverty and climate change over the past three years. You can see my contribution here.

Blogs are one of the the greatest example of how free time is now focused creatively and expressively, rather than passively, in the digital world. The cognitive surplus this produces is fueling the web2.0 world, driving innovations in  politics, media, arts and play. In everything. The internet has opened up so many options for our active participation in cultural production and community formation. But the thing that makes it really powerful is its capacity for coordination.

Blog Action Day is an example of generosity online, as over ten thousand bloggers, the vast majority volunteers, contribute the content which makes the day what it is. But it’s the coordinated publishing of these blogs on a specific day that amplifies into more than a random collection of voices but rather becomes an event. Something worth paying attention to, worth the White House, Mashable, The Huffington Post, Official Google Blog, BlogHer, StumbleUpon and thousands of other blogs large and small, contributing to.

Water is a great choice of issue. How we share and manage water resources is going to be one of the defining issues of the 21st century. As climate change affects rainfall patterns conflict over water will grow, and new approaches will be required for human habitation to continue in many parts of the world, including areas of the United States and Australia.

Water is a local issue, intensely felt by the 1 billion worldwide who lack access to clean water, and to farming communities where the rain no longer comes, or the snow melt isn’t what it used to be. But it’s also a regional issue, as countries will increasingly squabble over shared resources with wars over water the likely outcome. And it’s a global issue, a leading symptom of our changing climate, a warning that we need to do things differently.As the UNDP has written “water is the medium through which climate change expresses itself.”

The universality of this experience (we all interact with water, and therefore water issues, every single day) makes it perfect for an event like Blog Action Day. We can each speak locally but together we express a global perspective: that the time for change is now.

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Today is Blog Action Day. This year’s theme is water.

Australia is the place which is being hit hardest, first, by climate change. It is the canary in the coal mine. Parts of Southern Australia have been in drought for 12 years, a drought without historical equivalent. At what point do we stop calling it a drought and just accept that the climate has simply changed? Tim Flannery has predicted that Perth, Western Australia, my home town (ish – Fremantle really), could “become the world’s first ghost metropolis, its population forced to abandon the city due to lack of water.”

As a result of this however, awareness of water conservation is growing and becoming second-nature in most of Australia. For a number of years now in Melbourne each suburb is assigned certain days of the week they can water their garden. If you want to water it on other days you must use water you have collected in the house. Visiting friends in Melbourne now it’s common for them to ask us to collect our shower water in buckets, to use on the garden later. People wash their cars over the lawn. Gardens are being re-planted with drought-resistant native plants.

Dual-flush toilets are ubiquitous in Australia (seriously Americans, what’s the deal with the lack of dual-flush toilets here? They were invented in 1980 and use 67% less water) and waterless urinals are being installed in many office buildings. People make a conscious effort to use less water and there’s a growing acceptance that soon we will be recycling sewage into drinking water.

And this how it should be. Australia is a nation build atop the oldest, driest, most fragile continent on earth. Both waves of human migration to Australia altered the land indelibly. In the second wave starting in 1788 Australia was settled by a people who feared this alien landscape and fought to dominate it, to make it as close to home as possible. For 222 years we have cut down the forests, farmed the plains, irrigated the deserts, bred hard-hoofed animals, so ill-suited to the Australian environment, by the millions and reveled in our status as the world’s greatest exporter of carbon.

Australia’s first people’s found a balance with the world they re-made, a balance that preserved through 60,000 years and covered some of the harshest and most difficult to inhabit places on earth. This is the world’s oldest culture, a culture that has adapted to the unique environments of Australian, learned to read and understand its patterns, utilize its flora and fauna, adapt to its demands.

We are a people who do not adapt, we force the earth to change to suit our tastes. But we are reaching the limits of this ignorance as the world shifts in dangerous and unpredictable ways and we find the most basic resource needed for our survival, water, threatened. Australia’s changing climate is forcing us to adapt to our continent, to figure out how to make do with the resources we have and protect the habitat we have left. If we are to survive on this incredible continent we have a lot of catching up to do and so much to learn.

It begins with water.

Photo by BouncedPhoton on flickr.

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Last week I launched the third in the Stories of Change eBook series I have developed at Ashoka. It’s a really interesting one – 20 social entrepreneurs ranging in age from 14 to their 60s and representing 5 continents think ahead to the year 2020 and the world they would like to see, as well as the steps they are taking this year to move us in that direction. I’ve grown fascinated by this idea of people who “live in the future” lately – people who have a vision for a different world and consciously work to shift events to bring this world into being. This book contains the words of many of these people and it was a real pleasure to gather their stories. I hope you enjoy it also.

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This most recent weekend was one filled with learning and community, leaving me feeling both smarter and more connected to Washington DC than I was before. It made me realize, or remember, that learning from one-another is one of the most vital components of community; where we are connected by our common ideas, ideals and aspirations; where we realize that all of us know so much more than any of us.

On Friday night I attended the opening night of the Social Justice Camp, an unconference bringing together the grassroots social justice community in DC and emphasizing the importance of arts in bringing about social change. Friday was an Ignite-style event, with a dozen speakers giving short presentations on their work. It was great to hear more about the work of homeless advocates, food security organizers and social change muralists. It had a nice feel to the event, as unconferences always do, of everyone being on the same level, there to share and learn, without a divide between presenters and audience.

This feeling continued on Saturday night at the first Columbia Heights Arts Salon. This was an event for local artists in the Columbia Heights area of DC, hosted in four local homes. A series of house parties combined with showcases for local talents – with houses dedicated to performance, visual art, photography and digital installations. K performed to open the evening, the first time she’s performed solo in two years. The fact that she felt encouraged and inspired to create and present a work in five days is testiment to the platform this sort of event creates. The event was put on my the newly-formed Columbia Heights Arts Foundation (CHARTS), which you can find out more about here. K and I are going to try and get involved and see how we can help them as we’re really inspired by their vision of building community through the arts.

Then on Sunday it was K’s birthday which we celebrated at a tea party for about 16 at which everyone presented/taught something. The variety of things I learnt that afternoon was amazing: drama games, canvas stretching, the scale of the universe, productivity techinques, how to draw a superhero, speak Russian and wear a corset. Everyone had something to share, a passion or a skill, a professional competance or a hobby. We all have things to share, but rarely are we invited to share them. Everyone came away from the experience inspired and uplifted – having maintained our attention for almost six hours and enjoyed every moment of it. This is a really different way of learning from what we get in our institutions – peer-to-peer, relaxed, and human.

This is what community looks like. It is open, vulnerable and participatory, based on common values and able to support its members to share and grow. Experiencing community like this, inside a room, with our shared energy strong and perceptible, is like a jolt of electricity – it animates and inspires. But elements of this community are also found online, and social media has given us a platform to replicate many of these features.

The people I feel most connected to online are those I actively share with and learn from. Twitter, in particular, has given me access to a set of peers who share my values and are looking to collaboratively learn how best to use these tools to affect social change. It is only through trial and error that this learning will take place, and the more we share the faster we can learn. This is why I was part of launching the monthly #4Change twitter chats. This is what inspired the estalishment of sQuareOne (now called the Vibewire Enterprise Hub) in Sydney. The creation of spaces where peer-learning happens.

As my friend Morgan puts it, We Operate Best Together. And we learn, build and grow best together too.

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I put this up on Slideshare about a month ago but forgot to post it here, so here it is: the deck from the presentation I gave at the Powershift Virginia conference on using social media to affect social change. Hope you like it!

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Just over a year ago Google announced 10 to the 100th. Timed to celebrate their 10th anniversary this competition called on people to “suggest a unique idea that would help as many people as possible.” They were going to sort and prioritize the ideas and then allow people to vote on the ideas they wished to see implemented. Voting was going to start on January 27, 2009. Google would devote $10 million to the winning ideas, although not necessarily to those who submitted them. Instead they would look for the most appropriate and credible organization to implement the idea. As you could imagine people got quite excited by the open-ended nature of the challenge and the considerable financial commitment to positive social change.

Then a funny thing happened: Nothing.

The January timeline came and went and now, finally, we know why. Google were overwhelmed by over 150,000 ideas which were submitted. Apparently it ended up taking 3,000 Google staffers to vet and categorize the ideas (you’d think they could have come up with a very clever piece of code to help with this) but at last the finalists have been announced. Only instead of them being the “unique ideas” originally requested they have released a list of 16 general concepts, ranging from “Create more efficient landmine removal programs” to “Enhance science and engineering education” to “Build better banking tools for everyone.”

This makes voting an interesting exercise. You need to choose between the relatively specific (“Encourage positive media depictions of engineers and scientists” and “Make educational content available online for free”) and the very broad (“Work towards more socially conscious tax policies”). Some of problem-focused (“Create genocide monitoring and alert system”) while others are aspirationally-oriented (“Provide quality education for African students”). The submitted ideas these 16 concepts are based on are more specific but only marginally more “unique”. This all makes it pretty hard to select amongst the ideas or to know what might really happen to an idea if it is selected. In other words, to decide what will make the greatest difference for the greatest number.

I, however, will be voting for the broadest “big idea” of them all: “Help social entrepreneurs drive change”.

To me this idea stands out from the others as social entrepreneurship is a methodology for creating change, not a specific change. This may seem kind of vague but this is why this idea has the potential to create massive change beyond what is possible for most of the others. Social entrepreneurs, properly supported, are the people who can solve all the other problems, who can accelerate the removal of landmines or the opening-up of government, alert the world to genocide or “build a real-time, user-reported news service.” In fact, they already are.

Supporting social entrepreneurs has a catalytic effect on communities. Successful social entrepreneurs are usually community-based; they are focused on addressing problems that affect them and their community and they do so in new and innovative ways. They are also experts at making small amounts of funding to a very long way, so you get bang for your buck. They inspire those around them to become changemakers, helping to not only address one problem but create an environment of adaption and innovation that is ready for the next challenge. This is the kind of world we need, a world of changemakers, and social entrepreneurs are the highly-infectious carriers of the idea virus of changemaking.

When I think about the social entrepreneurship sector it brings to mind how science was conducted in the 15th Century: brilliant innovators spread across the global, often working diligently on the same problems, regularly unaware of existing breakthroughs in their field. Smart people would lose decades of their lives working on problems for which solutions already existed, there was just a lack of opportunities to disseminate these breakthroughs. Compare this to the science sector now: a tightly inter-networked set of universities, government research institutions and corporate R&D labs with, IP not-withstanding, rapid dissemination of new knowledge and scaling of the best inventions.

Many of the problems we face are similiar across the world, from teenage pregnancy to landmines to living more sustainably. Imagine a world where we can learn from the best social innovators and apply those innovations at a scale to address these problems. Where we can stand on each others shoulders and step over some of these intractable problems.

It is easy to imagine how the technological know-how and financial resources of Google can help us support, empower and network the world’s social entrepreneurs. Ashoka, where I work, has spent the last 28 years working on this challenge, building a network of over 2,200 visionary social leaders along the way. But as impressive as this is there is so much more to do in a world full of problems, but also full of smart dedicated people working on those problems. We need to help them to drive the changes we need.

Please be sure to vote by October 8. You can also nominate an organization you think would be best placed to receive funding to carry out the idea. I think you can probably guess who I’m voting for there.

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