Last week I agreed to take part in a “global co-creation event” which would involve “running with the cheetahs” and meeting “fast moving changemakers”. No, I had no idea what any of that meant either, but there were some enthusiastic Dutch people behind it, and it involved spending a day in the excellent Hub Islington so I thought I’d give it a go.
The gang behind the event run the 1% Club, which they define as:
The online platform that connects people who have smart ideas with people, money and knowledge around the world.
I was interested in the suggestion that people could lend their professional skills to projects in developing countries via a digital network, so was disappointed to find that there only ever seem to be 5 or so projects asking for that kind of support on the site. I’ve since realised that these are only the projects posted in English, with another 40 or so in Dutch, but even so the requests for funding seem to outnumber those asking for skills by a factor of 6 to 1.
The 1% Event, however, is all about taking this principle of donating skills and making a day of it. They had identified 11 development projects from around the globe, and created 11 teams to tackle them. Or at least, to spend a few hours trying to tackle them. Four of the teams were in Amsterdam, with others in London, Nairobi, Cape Town, Kampala, Cairo, Buea and Ramallah.
I think the concept that underpins both the site and the event is an interesting one, and worth exploring, but to my mind they fell down a bit on the execution.
The 8 locations were all connected via live streams and Skype, which was ambitious, and sometimes brilliant, but often unreliable. There was also quite a bit of time spent on pre-amble, and even group singing (in Amsterdam… watched in bewilderment from London!), before things really got going and we were given our briefs. This only left 3 or 4 hours for our small team to understand the project, do some research, discuss options with the project owner, refine, and prepare a short presentation. I suspect some of the world’s problems may take more than 3 hours to solve… but perhaps it’s a start!
In spite of my cynicism, the serene Dr Fatumo who gave us our brief seemed genuinely pleased with what we came up with, and hopes to make real use of it. She works for a charity called Hirda working on a range of projects in Somalia and they were looking for ideas to help boost a campaign they’re running to combat FGM, which is rife in Somalia with 80-90% of girls being circumcised by the time they are 8 years old. (For the less squeamish amongst you, FGM stands for Female Genital Mutilation, which isn’t something I thought I’d be learning about on a sunny Friday in London, but I’m glad that I did!).
The aspect of our proposal that was most relevant to SmallSeeds was the suggestion that they use radio and the fixed and mobile internet to tell the stories central to the campaign. Both a fictional story (perhaps creating a radio soap that follows the lives of a range of families, those that do and do not practice FGM) and the real and very powerful stories of the women who are willing to share their experiences. The World Service recently ran an item on the use of soaps to deliver health messages, and Hirda have already found that the most success they’ve had is when girls share their stories – the web and mobile can help amplify those in a vast country with some of the highest mobile phone usage in Africa.
So in spite of the heat, the group singing, the flagging live streams, and the insanity of trying to understand a complex and sensitive issue in such a short space of time, I do feel it was a day very well spent. I also think there are some interesting ideas worth pursuing around how people in an increasingly connected world could make quite a big difference by lending a small amount of their expertise. I’m sure there are other organisations out there who are also exploring just that, so my plan is to find them and see how they stack up.
In the meantime, hats off to those crazy ambitious Dutch guys, and thanks to The Hub for their hospitality!