New Website Collects Ideas to Improve the World

rippleeffect Have you ever wanted to see current or  potential  innovations for poverty or the environment without having to do a lot of researching or reading?  Have you ever thought of an idea and wanted to tell the world about it and get  feedback?  How it could be different was founded for these purposes - to enable people to easily see, share, and suggest ideas in different categories and be like a “Wikipedia for ideas.” It features both abridged ideas from the world and from our community to make it easy to learn about and spread ideas.

My name is Jaya and I am one of the co-founders of How it could be different.  The idea for How it could be different was developed from my own personal desire to want to learn and spread ideas I thought were innovative and potential solutions to issues in the world.  In 2005, I visited a developing country, India, for the first time.  Though I had known about poverty, it shocked me to be confronted by elderly with missing limbs and child beggars on the street.  I wondered:  What were the best ways to alleviate poverty?  Why did countries have different standards of living? What was the best nonprofit/charity to donate to?  What were ways governments could best aid their citizens?  I began to keep lists of ideas and became interested in discovering and learning about what ideas were out there to be potential solutions and improvements.

As I began to keep these lists, I wondered if there was a website that I could go to and easily see great ideas without having to read and search for them.  There is so much information about innovation in the world – research papers, newspaper and magazine articles, websites, TED talks, think tank policy briefs, books – and no website to really easily access this information.  I believe one of the most useful websites on the internet is Wikipedia because it makes information easy to find.  With this in mind, I decided to create How it could be different because I believe there is a need for the world to have a website where ideas for improvement can be collected and easily accessed.   In addition, on How it could be different, people can vote for ideas they agree with, allowing us to show which ideas are most supported by the public.  With increased funding  for more development and staff, we hope to be able to also add links for people to easily advocate for ideas from the site.

So, please join us at How it could be different to be able to easily see, share, and suggest ideas.  We are also posting an “Idea of the Day” on Facebook and Twitter and would love to see you there as well.  In addition, please get in touch if you would be interested to join our team and help us continue to collect, build awareness of and inspire ideas for improvement.

The Gamification of Health and Wellness


This article is part of our coverage of the 2012 Net Impact Conference in Baltimore. It originally appeared on Triple Pundit.

For some companies, “corporate social responsibility” is an after-thought or marketing tool; for others, it’s core to their business.

Humana, a Fortune 100 healthcare company, recently got serious about its commitments and formalized a CSR program in 2009, as we learned at the Net Impact Conference in Baltimore.

Humana started as a nursing home company. Now, the company markets and administers health insurance services in all 50 U.S. states and Puerto Rico.

Humana has been socially responsible for decades, establishing an ethics program in the mid-’90s, encouraging employees (or “associates”) to volunteer in their communities, and contributing hundreds of millions of dollars to charitable causes through the Humana Foundation.

This year, it made headlines for becoming the first U.S. health insurer to follow Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) guidelines for sustainability reporting.

One of the primary ways it encourages customers to stay healthy is through the design of play—leveraging behavioral economics, mobile technology, gamification and social media.

Here are a few examples:

Video Games: Humana partnered with video game developer Ubisoft to develop Humana-branded fitness content for ”Your Shape®: Fitness Evolved 2012,”  a workout program available on Xbox Kinect that offers players more than 90 hours of fitness activities, including cardio boxing, jumprope and yoga.

Online GamesFamScape is a online game that encourages more physical activity by families. There is also the Humana Horsepower Challenge, in which students are given pedometers to keep track of their steps. Teams of school systems compete against each other, and kids who are most physically active earn rewards to accessorize their horse avatars. Students in the program did six times as much physical activity than before the program started.

Toys: The company created a prototype of “Grand 2 Grand,” wirelessly connected teddy bears that are designed to let grandparents and grandkids communicate with each other. When one person hugs a bear, the other lights up and vibrates.

Community: Earlier this year, Humana and the Humana Foundation announced a three-year partnership withKaBOOM!  to build more than 50 multi-generational playgrounds in communities across the country.

Bicycles: Humana, Trek Bicycle Corporation and Crispin Porter + Bogusky created the B-cycle bikesharing system, which measures the distance traveled on each ride and helps bikers keeps track of calories burned and carbon emissions avoided. Members can review their health and transport information on a personal B-cycle web page.

Mobile Apps: Humana offers a couple of health-focused iPhone apps. GoldWalker is an adventure and strategy game where players have to move around in the real world to travel through the virtual world of towns and mining camps to accomplish tasks and find gold. Colorfall allows players to exercise their body and their brain in a color-matching game, resembling Tetris. Players must move around the physical world to take photos of different colored items to complete the game.

Interactive: The Humana Well-Being Tour stops off at state fairs and other community gatherings to offer live in-person gameplay. Guests can play the “Your Shape” game on Xbox Kinect, get a biometric screening, take a spin on a stationary bike, and receive a free pedometer through the WalkIt Program.

Golf: Humana signed on as title sponsor of an annual PGA tournament, formerly the Bob Hope Desert Classic, to promote well-being. The Humana Challenge tracks the steps of spectators through itsHumanaWalkit program. The event formed as the result of an eight-year partnership between Humana and the William J. Clinton Foundation. This year, it raised more than $2 million in donations to benefit 40 local charities.

The 2012 Humana Challenge was named “Sports Event of the Year” By SportsBusiness Journal and SportsBusiness Daily, beating out other sporting dynamos like the 2011 NBA Finals and Super Bowl XLVI. During the event the company also supports other healthy activities with ancillary events like a 5-mile walk and a farmer’s market. Jim Turner, director of corporate communications, says it’s “well-being, with a side of golf.”

In other words, health, with a side of play.

To learn more about Humana’s three pillars of “healthy people, healthy planet, and health performance,” you can download its “Well-Being Starts With Us” report.

Mobile Technology Empowers Women, Enables Wealth

This article is part of our coverage of the 2012 Net Impact Conference in Baltimore. It originally appeared on Triple Pundit.

“Across the board, nobody wants to do accounting,”  said Shivani Siroya, founder and CEO of inVenture, a global credit scoring company. ”It’s difficult or  they’re lazy or they don’t see the purpose.”

Her company, currently working in India, is trying to change that with a product called InSight, an accounting tool that works through SMS to help low-income individuals and business owners do basic accounting and financial tracking. Within 15 days, the tool creates a unique credit score and links qualified users to various financial institutions to help them obtain capital, such as personal loans or insurance.

Instead of merely pitching the standard benefits of accounting, like driving sales or increasing savings, inVenture goes a step further and links customers to other consumer products, in hopes of improving “financial inclusion” for entrepreneurs seeking a way out of debt and poverty.

“It’s about empowering the user to do this themselves,” Siroya said. “It gives people a choice of financial products and creates a competitive and transparent financial ecosystem.”

She shared her observations about revolutionizing the financial services sector in a panel discussion on “Mobile Technologies in Development: Opportunities to Engage the Private Sector” at the 2012 Net Impact Conference in Baltimore.

With her company’s SMS tool still in open beta, one thing stands out so far: ”Women are getting the product much faster than men,”  Siroya said.

She noticed marked differences between the men and women in her company’s “ecosystem:”

1.) Buy-in. Women perform fewer errors when learning how to use the tool, so much so that inVenture has organized separate follow-up trainings specifically for men.

Siroya attributes this to greater buy-in and ownership. “When we’re doing trainings for new users, women with children are often there, so they’re learning together,” Siroya said. “Because the tool is improving the household, I think women take more initiative to actually pay attention and learn.”

2.) Openness. The tool tracks daily revenue and expenses to help people manage their money. ”Women are more likely to be open about it,” Siroya said. “They don’t necessarily think, oh, ‘this could make me pay higher taxes,’ or ‘I’m unlicensed or unidentified.’ They think, ‘If this is going to get me from Point A to Point B to help my family, I will be willing to use this tool.’”

3.) Motivation.  “For men, it’s more about recognition,” Siroya said. inVenture sends periodic text messages to users, giving them a countdown of when to expect to receive their credit score, and providing them with a certificate of completion at the end. Men responded with higher usage rates, whereas women didn’t seem to care.

4.) Connection. inVenture develops its own sales teams, relying on local sales agents to go out into the community and acquire new customers—a skill that seems to come more naturally for women. Nearly all 100 of inVenture’s local agents are women; five men were just recently hired. The company adjusted its payment models to appeal to both groups differently. Women are commission-based, receiving commissions for every sign-up, plus additional bonuses based on retention rates. On the other hand, men are salary-based, with 80 percent of their fee fixed, and 20 percent on commission.

Closing the gap:

Despite inVenture’s appeal to women, there is still a significant gender gap in the use of mobile technology in developing countries.

A woman in low- and middle-income countries is 21 percent less likely to own a mobile phone than a man, according to the report, “Women & Mobile: A Global Opportunity,” by GSMA Development Fund, the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and Vital Wave Consulting. In these countries, there are 300 million fewer female than male subscribers, representing a $13 billion revenue opportunity to mobile operators. In India, specifically, less than 30 percent of all Indian women own a mobile phone.

Innovative companies like inVenture may help fill that void, showing how a phone can be a lot more than just a device, but rather, an entry point into financial literacy, independence and wealth.

Games for Girls: Social or Sexist?


Of all demographics, women over age 30 consistently show more interest in mobile gaming than any others. Of course, there are some companies that specifically target younger users. Crowdstar, the fourth largest social gaming company in the world, focuses on the "younger female demographic," according to its CEO Peter Relan. One of its latest games, Top Girl, ranked as the 57th most-downloaded free iTunes app in the last week of 2011, passing one million downloads in just 10 days. "Even to our surprise, it became the world's top-grossing game on the iPhone, over Zynga's poker games and existing brands like Angry Birds," Relan said.

But how are bloggers and gamers reacting to this hot new app? Not one to mince words, one reviewer said it is "the worst kind of gender-biased tripe on the world." Other players at The Border House and fbomb provide mixed reviews of It Girl (the original Facebook version of the app): "From a feminist standpoint, it’s pretty much trash," one reviewer writes. "The problem is, it’s a good social game as far as the mechanics goes."


Doused in the hottest of pink, Top Girl users first customize the skin tone and hair style of a 2D, Barbie doll-footed, Bratz-eyed, thinner version of Judy Jetson/Betty Rubble. Each user is a fashion model who works her way through five levels of career stardom, earning coins and eking out dollars that accumulate over time, with the help of a moneyed or "energetic" boyfriend. She wins him over by purchasing wine and by dressing "hotter" than his own “manliness.” The model amasses a wardrobe of clothing, including miniskirts, dresses, high heels and the occasional pants, or, even cuter, jeggings that fit into career-boosting brown leather high-heeled boots. To keep the relationship alive, the model and boyfriend share corny one-liners that the user reads via speech bubbles.

Crowdstar's Vice-President of Studios Blair Ethington said that the company's priority is to anticipate the needs of its users, whom she estimates are more than 90 percent female. Crowdstar’s Facebook users are mostly located in the United States and Eastern Europe, while geographic stats for Android and iOS users were unavailable. “We monitor our numbers on an hourly basis,” Ethington said.

She said the developers adapt the game according to who is playing, for how long, and what clothing they wear, barring any personally identifiable information. Seasonal clothing, gifts and dates are examples of immediate changes that do not need a code update, she explained. Qualitative metrics also matter. So far, user feedback has mostly been about “getting more clothes,” Ethington added.

The California-based firm employs more females than most gaming companies, according to Ethington. She praised the in-house art designers who have an eye for fashion and credited the product managers for writing for what they hope are “fun, engaging, light and humorous” boyfriend dialogues.

Critical to Top Girl’s success is Crowdstar's seeming dedication to studying its audience. Ethington described its threshold for pursuing a game as the moment when every team member is “sitting in a meeting room, pounding our firsts on the table saying, I want to play it.” She said that for the mobile app, users give “100 percent of their attention,” which means that the “sense of accomplishment has to happen in a couple of minutes of very intense play.” After play-testing the game internally, Crowdstar then releases a game in a smaller country, such as Canada, before releasing it to the United States.

"Our goal is to satisfy users," Ethington said. "It is a very targeted game, so it’s not going to satisfy everyone.”


At George Mason University’s game design program, professor Seth Hudson said he trains students in the practice of “stripping down message boards” to ingest critiques that may be disagreeable, and to be “able to give useful information that isn't just a reaction via your opinion and pointed phrasing.”  He also said his students often discuss gender stereotyping and the need to consider the impact of their art on others.

Smart game companies pay attention to community critiques and are responding when they can, said Limor Schafman, marketing consultant and organizer for Washington, D.C.'s Meetup group for serious gamers. "Serious games" are games that meet educational or socially beneficial goals.

Online gamers with social justice interests can cavort with like-minded developers at websites like Games for Change (G4C).

It's worth noting that the closest contender to Top Girl that I found in G4C’s database was Sweatshop, by Littleloud, released last July. The “dark and comedic” sweatshop game provides a bird's eye view of a clothing manufacturing factory from the perspective of a trainee manager. When progressing to bigger factories, the trainee manager reads extensive speech bubbles from an angry, sexually harassing, ageist, exploitative boss. The boss, in turn, fears the wrath of a glamorous buyer in a fancy city. Before each work session, a brown-skinned, wide-eyed child worker sneaks in to tell the user how the plant’s poor practices made his and other workers’ lives more difficult. The character dialogue is engaging, though sometimes cartoonish.

The gameplay offers the user many forced choices that include employing child workers and giving access to a toilet. The goal is to assemble shirts, hats, purses and other gear in a certain amount of time, without any workers dying. Facts about labor movement victories and ongoing issues are presented in interstitial text.

Sweatshop uses an infamous aspect of the fashion industry to raise awareness about the overall rights of workers. It also tells a story of the leadership potential of young workers. However, the sweatshop game lacks the thrills of Top Girl, like getting new pretty things and creating a dazzling spectacle (with death-free promotions) and having a carefree romantic life (in a world without obesity.)

One Saturday night in Fairfax, Va., I found myself stuck on Level 17 of a Sweatshop factory. My eyes ached from staring at an assembly line for an hour. I twitched my mouse with no signs of advancement...

People who seek a fun and socially conscious dress-up game on a touchscreen can send their proposed content and other feedback to Ethington welcomes the idea of fans sending one-liners that could be featured in Top Girl’s speech bubbles, for example.

Tell us what you would want Top Girl’s avatars to say in the comments below. Or, how would you want Crowdstar or Littleloud to improve their games?

Read critiques of Crowdstar’s It Girl:

7 links on fashion-forward, social justice game design:

Q&A with Patrick Timony: From Library Stacks to Coding Hacks


Gone are the days when librarians merely helped customers find books among the stacks. Nowadays, some of these information professionals specialize in helping to build tools that meet the needs of their community, including the "print-disabled," or people who are unable to read print material, whether due to blindness, dyslexia or another disability.

Patrick Timony is a librarian of Adaptive Technology at the DC Public Library. "Adaptive technology" (AT) includes things like built-in access devices on standard computers, or unique combinations of software and hardware, such as those needed for voice or Braille output.

The DCPL's Adaptive Services Division helps the deaf, visually impaired, older adults, veterans and injured service people better use the library by running free AT trainings and regularly scheduled meet-ups, including an AT user group, a Accessibility DC meet-up and a professional Adaptive Services interest group. Their services help make storytelling and information accessible to all.

Last year, Timony teamed up with  mobile app developer Zaid Al-Timimi to organize an Accessibility Hackathon during Digital Capital Week in November. The event invited developers and project managers to spend a day on collaborative computer programming, with support from Bookshare, Random Hacks of Kindness, LibraryLab and others. The event was similar to other hackathons from last year, like October's AT&T Mobile App Hackathon and November's Startup Weekend, with a special focus on accessibility for the print-disabled.

Timony and Al-Timimi said one of the key people who made the project a reality was DCPL’s head adaptive services librarian Venetia Demson, who won the American Library Association’s I Love My Librarian Award in December 2011. She heads a division that contains several services, including library service to the deaf and hard of hearing communities, an adaptive technology program, services to at-home readers, and the DC Regional Library for the Blind and  Physically Handicapped. All of these services provide technologies, including video phones, screen readers, and digital talking books, that bring stories to life for people with disabilities.

Al-Timimi said he used the hackathon experience to refine his own app creation, The Mashup App, which allows users to "mashup," or group, disparate data in multiple formats—picture, audio, video, etc.—from their digital devices. Al-Timimi said he originally coded the app while taking care of his chronically ill father for several years. He used it to remember everything about his father’s medications and share them with doctors. The database is made available offline, but it can also share information via email and sync with a Web-based server, if necessary.

Now, instead of just a list of medications, the app can hold a gallery of snapshots from picture books, which can be read aloud by a robot voice recording that can be stitched together and sent along with the snapshots to an organization that specializes in making books accessible. The app has been used, for example, to create an e-book for individuals with diminished sight or who are blind.

I spoke with Patrick Timony to learn more about DCPL's efforts to design tools to improve mobile and Web accessibility for all users.

How many hackathons have DCPL hosted?

The DC Public Library’s Accessibility Hackathon held at Digital Capital Week included a problem identification workshop, hackathon prep session, and the actual hackathon. It was our first accessibility hackathon and the first hackathon at the library. It arose from collaboration.We’d had accessibility unconferences in October (learn more at, as well as a monthly Meetup group that has met for three years. The group helps a developer community interface with the adaptive tech user community.  Katie Filbert of Wikimedia District of Columbia has hosted related events, for example, on geo-mapping. They had an open data hackathon a few weeks later. There are possibilities in spring 2012 for a larger hackathon.

How did you first meet The Mashup App developer Zaid Al-Timimi?

There is a regularly occurring user group – Saturday Tech training sessions. It’s mostly presentations. On November 5, for the first two hours, we held a regular user group meeting where adaptive tech users shared information about iOS, iPad, iTouch, as voice-over users. They discussed what they tried, what worked, what they needed, and what they would like to have.Then, Zaid and other folks came and said we can we can build something to meet that need. You can find the list of ideas that were generated at Around 20 to 30 people participated. There was a core group of only a few folks: about four people who are developers who produce things at a high level, and three to four folks who speak the language and are in touch with the user group community and can specify the requirements of an app.Later that week, a separate session was held with Bookshare, with about ten people, including people from the users group and developers.

The actual hackathon included about 20 to 30 participants. The same core group of about ten people stayed the whole day and created one actual hack that they finished. The hack was a CAPTCHA box for a Wikimedia sign-up page. The next app we developed was the mobile accessible book generator, that Zaid worked on.

Accessibility DC is a monthly group that has met for 2 to 3 years. People who code web pages for accessibility get paid money to help institutions comply to 508 standards, which cover access to electronic and information technology procured by federal agencies. They can make money by networking using the library space and get to know the user community, rather than just coding for specifications. We’ve worked with Refresh DC. We also held a BarCamp in DC, and an AccessibilityCamp. It’s a great area to share contacts and get the word out to the right people. Innovations come out of the user community.

How has the project been received?

It will be introduced to the Braille Book Club for Kids. The purpose of the app is to make children’s books accessible to people who read Braille. We will be introducing the app to kids who are learning Braille, who are blind. It will be an opportunity to have Zaid announce his app. It will be introduced at a Saturday Technology Training Session on February 18 from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. in Room 215 at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library at 901 G Street NW in Washington, D.C.  So far the community is very excited.

GOOD by Design Showcases Spirit of Generosity


Highlights from the 2011 Benevolent Media Festival: On Sunday, November 6, The BOSS Group, in partnership with The Art Institute of Washington, hosted a charity design day to benefit D.C.-area nonprofits in need of marketing, design and communications support.

Even before the holiday spirit set in, The BOSS Group was giving the gift of generosity. The creative staffing organization, headquartered in Bethesda, Md., hosted a full day of pro bono marketing assistance to needy nonprofits, as part of the Benevolent Media Festival in early November. The first annual event, known as GOOD by Design, was made possible through a partnership with The Art Institute of Washington, which prepares students for careers in the visual and practical arts. The partners hope to scale up the initiative to other cities next year.

The BOSS Group paired its talented cadre of creative professionals, plus some up-and-coming design stars from The Art Institute, with nonprofits who needed help on everything from a website overhaul to a brochure template. They worked together in teams at The Art Institute building in Alexandria, Va., collaborating on creative briefs over bagels and coffee before delving into solving communications challenges through design and development.

"Design is the communications tool," said Marketing Manager Kristen Ferrer, who conceived and organized the event. "It's the bridge between the outside world and the people with the mission."


It was a win-win-win solution for everyone involved. The BOSS Group employees had the chance to give back to their community and strengthen their company's brand reputation; The Art Institute students bolstered their portfolios and honed their skills; and the cash-strapped nonprofits scored some free marketing and communications support to advance their social and environmental goals.

While some organizations might not see the value in design and communications, Ferrer reminded us that it shouldn't be an afterthought. "Marketing and branding is paramount to who you are and your image," she said.

After 10 hours of work, here's what The BOSS Group accomplished for its eight deserving nonprofit clients:

A full website redesign for Global Camps Africa.

Rotating home page web banners and branded social media skins for the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria.

An email newsletter template and a digital brochure for the Center for International Environmental Law.

Complete design of corporate identity package, including a new logo, letterhead, business cards and templates for the TC Wallace Foundation.

An awareness poster for National Global Human Trafficking Awareness Day, individual program brochures, and a volunteer sheet/flyer for Bridge to Freedom Foundation.

Corporate identity, including, logo, letterhead and envelopes, business cards, and imprintable shells for the Council of Korean American Leaders (CKAL).

A brochure, fact sheet and newsletter template for New Hope Housing.

New website content & copy  for Women Who Build: Habitat for Humanity of Northern Virginia.


24-hour "design-a-thons" exist all over the country. Here's a small sampling (suggest more in the comments!)

Festival Highlight: The Future of Outreach: New Trends in Digital Media for Nonprofits

The Benevolent Media Festival is a celebration of Washington, D.C.’s community of storytellers and designers dedicated to social and environmental good. Members of the community who identify as “benevolent media creators” are invited to host and organize their own lectures, workshops, performances, networking events or other activities, located at multiple venues across the city, that compel audiences to care about a cause, take action on an issue, or promote a point of view through strategic and inspiring multimedia. The events are scheduled for November 4-7, 2011.

What: The Future of Outreach Panel Discussion

When: Sunday November 6,2011 5:00pm-7:00pm

Where: 826 DC 3233 14th St NW.

In this rapidly changing world of mobile devices, social media and the cloud, how should cause-oriented organizations take advantage of new tech to raise money, influence thinking and make a difference?

Join Patrick White and Aziz Isham of Arcade Sunshine Media as they host a panel of experts presenting on the latest trends in multimedia outreach.

Arcade Sunshine Media ( is a multimedia publisher working to transform the print industry by integrating social media, videos, animations, images and more. Their latest project is a multi-media book for 826DC (an after school tutoring program for inner-city youth).

This panel is open to nonprofit professionals, NGO workers, fundraisers, authors, journalists, media junkies, bloggers and anyone else interested in new modes of digital outreach.

Panelists include:

Austen Levihn-Coon is a New Media Associate at Fission Strategy. Prior to joining Fission Strategy, he worked as a Junior Associate at Joe Trippi & Associates where he implemented new media campaigns for progressive nonprofits and political candidates in the U.S. and abroad. Austen got his start in online organizing as a New Organizing Institute Fellow at the Energy Action Coalition, overseeing the social media campaign for Power Shift 2009, a national youth climate change conference, which brought more than 12,000 students to Washington, DC and launched a new generation of grassroots climate change organizers. Austen received his B.A. in Poverty, Social Inequities, and Social Movements at Middlebury College, where he conducted primary research analyzing the geographic and demographic trends of the burgeoning climate change movement in the United States.

Mike Miller owns and operates Think Out Loud (TOL in webspeak) - an award-winning media production company that produces original content for the web and broadcast. They provide a wide range of production services including cinematography, photography, editing, sound mixing, podcasting, file conversion, dvd authoring, motion graphics, and instructional workshops. Mike has a long and award winning record of producing media for nonprofits.

Aziz Isham was a TV executive and documentary filmmaker before launching Arcade Sunshine Media in 2010. He started his career in media at 60 Minutes, and went on to develop and produce numerous films and series for History, Discovery, National Geographic and several other broadcasters. He co-produced, with Patrick White, the critically acclaimed multimedia book Here on Earth for iPad -- which has been called 'the benchmark for interactive books in any genre' ( and was the first ebook to incorporate social networking. He graduated from Yale University with a BA in Anthropology, and currently lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Patrick White is an independent documentary producer and writer. He ran the development department for JWM Productions, produced award winning films about public health in east Africa, created multiple series for many of the largest networks in commercial television and recently directed My Life is a Zoo - the highly rated National Geographic series. He was also named as one of the area's best DJ's by the Washington Post…a title he's earned three years in a row. He holds a BA from George Washington University and a MA in Film from Boston College.

Festival Highlight: Discovering Technology: Bridging the Digital Divide at Bread for the City


The Benevolent Media Festival is a celebration of Washington, D.C.’s community of storytellers and designers dedicated to social and environmental good. Members of the community who identify as “benevolent media creators” are invited to host and organize their own lectures, workshops, performances, networking events or other activities, located at multiple venues across the city, that compel audiences to care about a cause, take action on an issue, or promote a point of view through strategic and inspiring multimedia. The events are scheduled for November 4-7, 2011.

What: Panel Discussion

When: Saturday November 5, 2011 12:00pm- 5:00pm

Where: Bread For the City Northwest 1525 7th St NW, 20001


A full set of sessions open to locally-focused, tech-minded participants (but geared towards those who may be new to computers!) who are exploring opportunities to bring broadband into communities in the District of Columbia. Including: a panel on the DC Community Access Network, workshops on community wireless network building, a conversation about Open 211, a "Discotech" technology discovery fair, creative explorations of what the internet looks like, and more.

TimeSlips Gives People with Dementia the Freedom to Imagine


As memories fade and reality blurs, there's still one thing to cherish: imagination. As we watch loved ones "lose their mind" we don't have to fear that they will lose their freedom to create, thanks to a powerful and playful "improvisational storytelling" project called TimeSlips.

Since it was established in 1998, the TimeSlips Creative Storytelling Project, based out of the Center on Age & Community at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, has generated hundreds of stories that have been transformed into plays and art exhibits to "rekindle the hope for human connection among people struggling with dementia."

Yesterday, the group launched a new website,, that lets people with dementia and their caregivers create free and interactive stories. From the press release:

Using photos and word prompts to inspire participants' creativity, TimeSlips provides a fun, low-pressure way for people with dementia to spark their imaginations, connect with one another and with caregivers and family members, and express themselves without worrying about embarrassing memory lapses or "wrong answers." Visitors to the new site can sit with a person with dementia and read, create and share stories inspired by hundreds of images and questions in the site's library of prompts. Or they can work online with family members across the country to write a story together.

If you or someone you love is suffering from dementia, here are some ways to enjoy peace of mind using the TimeSlips method:

Create a Story: Choose an image—like a pair of penguins or a lady carrying an umbrella—and then tell a story about what you see.

Train: Through in-person or online training, get certified in sharing the value of creative expression for people with dementia.

Donate: Every little bit counts to help maintain the website and TimeSlips' training programs.

GlobalGiving Collects Stories at the Source


GlobalGiving, a charity fundraising website, launched the Storytelling Project in Kenya to collect feedback "straight from the source"--from the nonprofits and social entrepreneurs that benefit their communities from the generous donations of their supporters. While GlobalGiving is staffed by 25 people in Washington, D.C., it has created a network of more than 1,000 organizations implementing small projects in more than 100 countries, dealing with everything from climate change to technology.

Community members are asked to answer a simple question: "tell us about a time when a person or an organization tried to change something in your community." So far, local scribes have collected 19,620 stories from more than 5,000 participants, first in Kenya, and then spreading out to Uganda. (View a map of the stories here, thanks to the Ushahidi platform, which easily crowdsources information using multiple channels, including SMS, email, Twitter and the web.)

With support from the Rockefeller Foundation and independent consultant Irene Guijt, the GlobalGiving team analyzed the stories using the SenseMaker® methodology developed by Cognitive Edge. The storytellers "tag" their stories and indicate how much each story has to do with social relations, physical well-being or economic opportunity.  Here's the offline version of the contextual questions associated with each story:

The "feedback loops" that are generated from the submissions to the crowdsourced project help GlobalGiving achieve the following goals:

  • develop an evaluation tool to improve its monitoring and evaluation capability
  • increase its accountability to donors
  • recognize social change and impact that have resulted from its projects
  • improve organizational performance
  • share the methodology and lessons learned with the broader not-for-profit community

See the Storytelling Project in action here:

"Listening to stories may seem simple, but turning this into a method for monitoring development work has meant drawing on fields as diverse as complexity theory, behavioral psychology, and technology," the Stanford Social Innovation Review writes about the project.

GlobalGiving co-founder Dennis Whittle says crowdsourcing technology is fundamentally changing the way development programs works:

The old style of aid is for experts to study the situation and decide what people need.  It is tempting to say that we should simply reverse this and let the people decide.  Exciting new technologies will enable beneficiaries to have a far greater voice in the coming years, and that is long overdue.  But the best system will likely  provide a balance of the two.

GlobalGiving's ultimate goal is to create a "complete online DIY community feedback toolkit that can be used by any organization that wants to collect and analyze community feedback."

If you're interested in supporting the project, donate here:

Learn more about Cognitive Edge's SenseMaker® methodology:

Techlomats? Diplotechs? The Rise of Technological Diplomacy

We have freedom of speech. Freedom of religion. Freedom of the press. What about the "freedom to connect"?

It's what U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton espoused last year during an event about Internet freedom held in Washington, D.C.

"...the freedom to connect – the idea that governments should not prevent people from connecting to the internet, to websites, or to each other. The freedom to connect is like the freedom of assembly, only in cyberspace. It allows individuals to get online, come together, and hopefully cooperate. Once you’re on the internet, you don’t need to be a tycoon or a rock star to have a huge impact on society."

Call it "21st Century Statecraft," which the State Department describes as "complementing traditional foreign policy tools with newly innovated and adapted instruments of statecraft that fully leverage the networks, technologies, and demographics of our interconnected world." The idea is that diplomacy is no longer conducted by government-to-government, but instead, fostered by people-to-government or people-to-people.

There are several initiatives run by the State Department that are opening up a new way of improving diplomatic relations between countries. At the very least, the department has made an effort to internationalize its Twitter presence, for example, launching a Farsi-language feed just one day before a planned opposition protest was set to take place in Iran last year in support of the Egyptian revolution.

The State Department is also making strides in recruiting the next generation of tech-savvy diplomats, institutionalizing certain strategies, like training diplomats in Washington and at embassies and consulates around the world on how to use social media to create international dialogue and foster public diplomacy. There's even an Office of eDiplomacy that runs several programs like the Virtual Student Foreign Service, which connects college students with U.S. embassies abroad to inspire them to work on the country's foreign policy goals. For young people, there's an out-of-the-box social network site dedicated to state diplomacy, as well, called ExchangesConnect. It's not pretty, but it's ambitious.

Even in war, social media can create peace. As reported by Eric Adler, "In Afghanistan, 'female engagement teams,' groups of female soldiers whose mission it is to win the hearts and minds of women in the war-torn nation, are using social media to share techniques on how to relate to women in different villages."

This technology-as-diplomacy approach is also visible at the corporate level. Eyal Waldman, the CEO of Mellanox Technologies, a technology company based in Israel, hired Palestinian programmers from Ramallah to do his work, since they were more affordable that Eastern European counterparts. The business solution proved fruitful in more ways than one. "We think that it makes our whole economy and whole geopolitical situation better," Waldman says.