Baking soda for your Social Entrepreneurship

[Ed. note: this blog post includes content for my talk at Reach out to Asia Empower 2016 panel with UNDP "Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship for the Sustainable Development Goals”, March 18, 2016]

When I started my career in internet technologies, I was confronted with a frequent bit of advice: “If you want to be successful, you need to move to Silicon Valley.” And, while I have visited San Francisco and the various amazing organizations this concept always struck me as confusing. Sure, there is much talent and opportunity, but isn’t there a world beyond? My journey for social impact has included working with and meeting many social entrepreneurs from around the world. They are my teachers. My role is really like “baking soda” for recipes. Successful programs require mentorship, well-defined problems and plans for long-term growth. Just think how much potential is around the world and why youth matters:

Take a moment to consider this: the majority of the world’s population is your age group (16 – 26) and there is also a high concentration of mobile internet use (see the GSMA 2015 report).

Fishless at ROTA March 2016
(Fishless is at Research to Asia Empower 2016)

Do hard things

Brck is a social entrepreneurship based in Nairobi, Kenya. One of their projects is to bring tablets to classrooms for learning. Their motto is “We do hard things”. Here in Doha at Reach out to Asia Empower 2016, I encourage the audience to also consider how we can have social impact aimed at the Sustainable Development Goals. This means focusing on an issue or topic that inspires you.

Be curious and meet allies

Your power is your curiousity. All around the world there are people creating social innovations and social entrepreneurship projects/businesses. This is your learning space – wide and full of potential. Who is doing a similar topic in a region that you could remix in your area? What tools and tactics are they using? What are some of the gaps and opportunities in your area? In the social entrepreneur space, if you do your homework there are many people who will answer questions and support you. We all have a common mission to do some good. Once you have an idea, then consider implementation in small, medium and large ways.

Pardon me, if this already exists, but one regular activity that think could be an outcome from Empower 2016 is to consider how to keep in touch with each other. Your power is with each other. Have you set up a WhatsApp group for the the topic that inspires you? Can you host a regular meetup (majlis) for coffee (karak) to brainstorm and co-create?

Empower main stage

Research and Technology communities can help

Many of you mind wonder what is Qatar Computing Research Institute doing for social entrepreneurship. We are a resource for this region. Staff have widespread experience in social computing research and technologies plus we are part of the local entrepreneur ecosystem.

Some recent research examples include: climate change (sentiment in Qatar), what your apps say about you, and aerial imagery for disasters/environmental action.

What does this mean for social entrepreneurs? Well, my former colleague Patrick Meier has set up a business with other experts called We Robotics. This group aims to use new technology for good with field training and big data analysis. One of the first projects they explored was with a university in Nepal. They will collaborate with FlyLabs around the world. The Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team together with partners like Ramani Huria combining maps, urban planning and student power to make a difference in Dar es Salaam. Students and youth are instrumental in these projects. Combining digital and in person programmes, research can be a guiding force to help you review ideas, prototype and consider critical lessons for success.

It is true, I am often bias to technology solutions since this is my passion and field of expertise. However, I encourage you to create first without technology – nothing replaces the power of in person conversations, pen and paper. In today’s workshop, we will consider digital skills for good and how it can apply to your social entrepreneur efforts.

Your Data Journey for the SDGs

Qatar Dugong Club
(Grade 10 students from Albayan Secondary School, Doha Qatar. Photo with permission to publish)

Data is core to excellent storytelling and convincing programmes or businesses. Let’s take Fishless, for example, they are using art and design to convey a message: We are creating a world that will soon be fishless. What is the data behind that? In Canada, there is a ban on fishing cod in the Atlantic. This government policy was instituted after scientists and activists did the math. The fishery industry and many communities changed for this new reality. It is hard to consider a world with out fish. What are the data sources available in Qatar, for example, on fish resources. Another group here at Reach out to Asia is #QatarDugongs. This club aims to protect the dugongs. Their campaign to raise awareness is important. The partnership is fantastic. Students from Albayan Secondary School have a club #QatarDugongs. The partnership of Qatar University, Texas A & M and Exxon Mobil are working on a youth outreach program while conducting a dugong census project. This research data and community support will be invaluable for Qatar to meet goal 14 – Life below Water.

I created this list of resources and ways to get started on your data driven exploration. Consider using some of these tools and techniques to take aim the SDG that is your focus:


Empower Digital Skills & Literacy via Social Entrepreneurship

Hamad Bin Khalifa University is buzzing with creative ideas from young energetic social entrepreneurs. Reach out to Asia’s 8th Annual Empower event includes over 450 participants from around the region for workshops, talks aimed at fostering leadership and youth social entrepreneurship. Together with my colleagues from Qatar Computing Research Institute, Social Computing and Arabic Language Technology teams, we are here to share about research, innovation and entrepreneurship.

Empower logo

Empower 2016 Workshops

Global Goals

Workshop 1: Digital Skills for Good

How can you learn digital skills for social good and humanitarian response? This skill-based workshop bridges three themes: social communications, social innovation and crowdsourcing. We partnered with the United Nations Development Programme to focus on Global Goals as guidance for social entrepreneurship activities.

We will conduct some exercises to explore data collection (keywords), online strategies, verification and visualization. Participants will be given resources to keep on learning after the workshop. We will focus on the global goals for climate action (#goal13), good health & well-being (#goal3) and affordable and clean energy (#goal7)

This workshop will be presented jointly by Heather Leson, Ji Kim Lucas, Irina Temnikova (QCRI) and Jennifer Colville (UNDP)

Workshop 2: Social Entrepreneurship: Improving Literacy in the Arab World through Ebooks for Children

In the workshop, participants will be introduced to the problem of improving literacy in the Arab world by bringing more interesting books into the hands of children. Using the newly developed Jalees Ebooks reader it will be demonstrated how technology opens the doors to new types of multimedia and interactive books. The participants will then enter a discussion on how social entrepreneurship could be applied to develop a library of interesting Arabic children books.

This workshop will be presented jointly by Wajdi Zaghouani, CMU-Q, and Stephan Vogel, QCRI. This topic falls under a number of Sustainable Development Goals, but Reduced Inequalities appears to be a good match. (#goal10)

Connecting youth to Social Impact, Entrepreneurship and Research

It is a true passion to help youth make a difference in their world on topics that matter. All around the Empower event there are great ideas from accessible parking spots with bar code alarms to Fishless (an intervention for Goal 14: Life Below Water), to Top Shabab (iread, Greenuse), to Education initiatives. Many of these programmes are youth driven. Our team at QCRI has been directly involved in capacity building and education for many years. We are here to share our knowledge and offer support to the flourishing community trying to make a difference in the world. And, who knows, maybe someday they will join the path of research for social impact. Thanks to the whole Reach out to Asia team for including us in this great event.

Empower Digital Skills for the SDGs and Social Entrepreneurship

We’ve tailored our workshop, which will be held on Friday, March 18th to inspire children from ages 16-26 to create programmes and social entrepreneurship aimed at solving big global issues one step at a time. See our slides with extensive notes.


Big Organizing for (Local to Global) Impact

“Volunteers are running complex teams, filling specialized work roles, just like professional organizers.”

Sound familiar? Micah Sifry’s interview of the core team of the Bernie Sander’s US election campaign truly resonated with me. The contributions to the campaign have already surpassed 2.5 million small and large volunteer activities. This includes Slack channels, special events, phone calls and online engagement. For years, many of us in the Digital Humanitarian/Digital Responder networks are at the cusp of growing from smaller boutique communities to wide spread growth. There were 1000s of us after the Haiti Earthquake growing to over 10, 000 after the Nepal Earthquake[1]. For those of us focused on big global change, the numbers of supporters and the volume of activities is massive. Yet, our collective digital activities can be even larger, more coordinated and more effective as we aim to focus and create solutions that matter.

Road by BraveBros. from the Noun Project noun_106568_cc

Each of the Digital Humanitarian communities are considering how to sustain growth, widen the circle to the next million, increase quality of activities, and be more inclusive (language, culture, region, and knowledge). Missing Maps is certainly a recipe for success with their regular mapathons, shared resources, partnerships, impact focus and large outreach networks. Since 2014, there have been 6,949 global-wide contributors to the OpenStreetMap based project. We also need to consider how to expand to meet all the global goals.

My primary career goal is to help people get involved in their world on things that matter. While there is not one formula or recipe, as an organizer and leader, I am super inspired by the Sander’s campaign playbook for how we can learn and grow the digital responder communities. As we consider the sustainable development goals and the outcomes of the World Humanitarian Summit, these examples can help us shape useful implementation plans for a network of networks.

We need the World’s Largest Lesson for how to get involved and create within digital responder networks. We need many great big implementation plans. But, this is only after we consider how address the right issues in a directed formulated plan. The Sanders US election campaign has a clear goal and the implementation pathway seems somewhat straightforward. The tactics they use are collaborative, detailed and powerful. They have activities for small interventions/actions up to very large participatory volunteer roles. Brilliant. How can we look at our goals in the digital responder space and really work with all the stakeholders to localize and have impact? Well, the humanitarians are organizing to innovate.

Guide to Developing a local DRN

The complimentary activity is happening in the Digital Responder space. The recently published Guidance for Developing a Local Digital Response Network [DRN][2] provides pathways for local communities to learn from others then remix. Andrej Verity’s blog post announcement on this launch highlights the opportunities. Now, we need are workshops around the world, curriculum in many languages and a grand implementation plan.

Big organizing and small incremental interventions are needed to make substantial change. An intersection of time, will and skill exists. Now it needs to be nurtured with big organizing for local to global impact.

[1] There was not an exact census after the Nepal Earthquake across the Digital Humanitarian Network. I did an informal survey of Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (over 8000), MicroMappers (about 2300) (QCRI), Standby Task Force (500) and then add all the other digital and local communities, including Kathmandu Living Labs.

[2] It was a pleasure to contribute input for the DRN guidance document. Congratulations to Jennie Phillips and Andrej Verity for this work.

[Image Credit: Road by BraveBros. from the Noun Project, ccby]


Connecting a Data-Driven world to Entrepreneurs

Sitting in the audience at a myriad of events across topics of humanitarian action, social innovation or entrepreneurship, I often get twitchy. Truly I enjoy the engaging talks, learning new things/perspectives and networking. But in the back of my mind, I am always asking: “Nice policy, what does implementation look like?” The worlds of civic technology, digital literacy, humanitarian response, international development and entrepreneurship steadily connect. Yesterday I had the opportunity to talk with a room of entrepreneurs about how they could apply data-driven innovation to their startups. Increasingly, I am struck how applicable the skills and techniques I learned from Digital Humanitarian activities are for entrepreneurs and vice versa. This is becoming fairly standard in North American communities, but it is still new ground in MENA. If you look to UNICEF big ‘moonshot’ on investing $9 million dollars in open source entrepreneurship with the Unicef Innovation Fund. The types of digital and data literacy gaps differ some in the entrepreneur community from the civil society/civic tech circles. This comes down to purpose and goals. Yet, the curriculum stands the test of transfer as we consider how to build a civic and digitally engaged community.

If you are in Qatar and want to keep in touch with others interested in learning data-driven innovations, we set up a SLACK channel, simply just share your email with me.

My slides from the Data-Driven Startup talk include extensive notes and references. Thank you to School of Data, Data-Driven Innovation Mena, Open Data Institute, Aspiration Tech and the Digital Humanitarian Network for being so inspiring.


Tonight: Hour of Code in Doha

My amazing colleagues at Qatar Computing Research Institute have teamed up with ArabWic to host the Hour of Code to help kids learn about coding and software. There are free sessions tonight (March 9th from 4 – 9pm AST).

Kids coding at qcri arab wic event

How to join

Venue: Katara, building no. 15

Target audience: School children ages 7 to 14

Sessions: School visits: 9am – 12 pm

- Public visits: 4pm to 9pm

Activity: https://code.org/learn, Hour of Code

Volunteers: From QCRI, Abdu, Meghna, Maryam Alhamadi and Eman, and a number of volunteers from AWiC

About iAspire:

The event aims to expose the younger generation to a variety of career options that will lead them to discover their interests and will inspire them to set goals for their future.

The exhibition will consist of booths for the initiatives and organizations focusing on a specific career that target the younger generation.

The event will happen next week on 8th and 9th of March.



What happens at a Research Institute?

Research institutes are vibrant and not always full dusty or abstract thoughts/activities. Every day can be a meander through brilliant ideas, prototypes and new science. March 2016 is gearing up to be research event month in Doha and for Qatar Computing Research Institute. We will be hosting and participating in a number of events. A few new papers are published which might perk interest. Plus, we have an open call for Summer Interns and Post-Docs to come learn with us. Consider this your window into the diversity of activities.

Book Plugged in Alex Tai noun_114556_cc

Upcoming Research Events

Most of these events are free. You just need to register in advance.

Annual Machine Learning and Data Analytics workshop (March 14 -15, 2016)

Empower: Reach out to Asia (March 17 – 19, 2016) Theme: Innovation and Youth Social Entrepreneurship (applications to attend are closed)
QCRI will host 3 workshops, have an exhibition booth and I am speaking.

MIT CSAIL QCRI workshop (March 20, 2016). Full day on research and a public lecture on Self-Driving Cars.

Qatar Foundation Annual Research Conference (March 22 – 23, 2016)


Seeking Post-Docs – Come work with us

QCRI has a number of post-doc opportunities in the Social Computing Team. From health + mobile computing/social media to News Analytics to Online Gaming You can apply here.


Be a Summer Intern

Are you a local student studying computer science? Every year QCRI hosts students on all kinds of projects. An example from Social Computing is exploring instagram food photos. Applications are due between March 13 – 20, 2016. To learn more, we are hosting an info session:

summer internship mentor QCRI 2016


Explore some research

I work on the Social Computing team. This is a sample of some of the research from 2015.
Exploring Cyberbullying and Other Toxic Behavior in Team Competition Online Games

  • http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=2702529 (paper)
  • http://www.slideshare.net/haewoon/exploring-cyberbullying-and-other-toxic-behavior-in-team-competition-online-games (slide)

Twitter: A Digital Socioscope (book)

  • https://sites.google.com/site/twitterdigitalsocioscope/
  • http://www.cambridge.org/us/academic/subjects/computer-science/computing-and-society/twitter-digital-socioscope
  • http://www.amazon.com/Twitter-Digital-Socioscope-Michael-Macy/dp/1107102375

You Tweet What You Eat: Studying Food Consumption Through Twitter

  • http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=2702153
  • http://ingmarweber.de/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/You-Tweet-What-You-Eat-Studying-Food-Consumption-Through-Twitter.pdf

The Mesh of Civilizations in the Global Network of Digital Communication

  • http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0122543
  • https://sites.google.com/site/meshofcivilizations/

Processing Social Media Messages in Mass Emergency: A Survey

  • http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=2771588
  • http://mimran.me/papers/processing_social_media_messages_in_mass_emergency_survey.pdf

Surveillance & Modesty on Social Media: How Qataris Navigate Modernity and Maintain Tradition

(coming soon)


We’ll try and sleep in April, but until then, time to keep exploring and learning.

[Credit: Book icon courtesy of Alex Tai, Noun Project]


Feed your brain with science and media policy schools

Are you a student or professional planning your next infusion of knowledge? Well, I have two opportunities that I would like to highly recommend.

Annenberg-Oxford Media Policy Summer Institute

Oxford university gate
The diverse global group of practitioners, governmental and research colleagues really altered my perspective on the internet(s) and media. As someone who is building a career in digital response and humanitarian technology it is so important to be as open as possible to the viewpoints. It truly gave me a new lens and some policy frameworks to consider as I build programmes. (Class of 2012)

The Annenberg-Oxford Media Policy Summer Institute, held annually since 2004, brings together young scholars and regulators from around the world to discuss important recent trends in technology and its influence on information policy.

The objective of the program is to help prepare, motivate, encourage and support students and practitioners who aspire to pursue a career in a media-related field, may it be in academia, business or in policy-related fields. Applications are welcomed from students and practitioners working in communications, media, law, policy, regulation, and technology.

Registration for Annenberg-Oxford Media Policy Institute is due by April 4, 2016.

Earth Observation Summer School

Space and Science. This August I have the honour of teaching about citizen-engaged programmes and crowdsourcing for science at the biannual Earth Observation Summer School. There are 60 spots open. Applications are due by April 6, 2016.

Boy and the world image

The two-week course, held in ESA/ESRIN (near Rome, Italy) during August (typically every two years) aims to provide students with an integrated end-to-end perspective going from measurement techniques to end-user applications. Courses include lectures covering issues related to Remote Sensing, Earth System Modelling and Data Assimilation as well as hands-on computing exercises on the processing of EO data. Students have the opportunity to present their work during a poster session. The three best posters will receive an award from the European Meteorological Society (EMS). Keynote lectures on global change issues are also given to discuss the current state of the science of global change and its relationship to society in order to help students appreciate how their specific field fits into a broader scientific and political context.

Register for Earth Observation Summer School by April 6, 2016

(Photos of Oxford and San Francisco statue taken by Heather Leson)


Data-Driven Coffee in Qatar

Data is all around us. Join me for coffee on Open Data Day (Saturday March 5th) to share about Data-Driven Innovation in Qatar. There is so much available data in Qatar that can inform our work and lives. The government strategy is to have an Open Data portal in 2016-2017. Let’s not meet and share tools, resources and ideas for data-driven innovation in Qatar.

Coffee by Grant Taylor Noun Project

Casual Data Meetup

Date and Time: Saturday, March 5, 2016 15:00 – 18:00 AST
Location: Expresso by Lavazza Dafna (Gate Mall)
Look for the sign: DDI

Five Examples & Opportunities of Data-Driven Innovation for Qatar

Data-Driven Innovation in Qatar? Really? Last week I spoke at the Data-Driven Innovation in MENA workshop with some examples of how data is being used. The following are some ideas on data and research in our community.

Environmental Data

This week the Qatar Ministry of Development Planning and Statistics together with the Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute is surveying residents of Qatar on their thoughts on the environment. Add your voice. The focus of this survey is about water and energy. A few months ago Sajjad Anwar from Mapbox shared this map about climate change in Qatar.


Take the survey.

The Qatar Census and your business

A few weeks ago the Qatar Census 2015 was released. This opens up incredible opportunities to use this data for your startups. How? Join us to talk about Tabula and data extraction tools to activate the census. Business intelligence is just a click away.

How can Qatar Meet the Global Goals

All around the world we are talking about the Sustainable Development Goals.
What kinds of datasets are available on these topics in the GCC? See the Open Data Barometer report on how a Data Revolution can help us meet the goals.

Mapping an Accessible Doha

OpenStreetMap is used around the world to map communities. What if we helped Mada Qatar map accessible buildings? This could be done by printing field papers and going for a walk.

Data in research

At Qatar Computing Research Institute, we use local data all the time. Sometimes we collect it using primary research methods and other times we use OpenStreetMap data to overlay data. One example is our Crisis Computing Project called Artificial Intelligence for Disaster Response. See more in my Data-Driven Innovation slides.

See you for coffee and data sharing.

[Credit: Map gif from Mapbox] [Credit: Coffee Icon by Grant Taylor via Noun Project]


Hybrid Skills needed to foster change

Over 10 years ago at Tucows Inc., the communications department included my colleague James Koole, who was a journalist by training. His skills of digital storytelling and technical tinkering fostered the customer experience. Business intelligence, “in house journalists” and data science are now more pervasive in many workplaces. At the data-driven journalism course in Cairo, as part of the Data-Driven Innovation Workshop Week in MENA, I am here to talk about data in research and potential of data-driven innovation. As I prepare my thoughts on how Data-Driven Innovation can affect business growth, I consider why hybrid employees, like Mr. Koole, help. What other hybrid skills are needed and how can we support people’s learning journeys to drive social entrepreneurship?

Data-Driven Innovation in Qatar

In Qatar, there is a growing technical community. The Data-Driven Innovation MENA team asked me to provide an overview of examples of data-driven research and this might apply to business growth. The following are some examples from QCRI’s research and from a few of the local startup community (There are extensive notes):

How can data-driven innovation drive business

In a world that is increasingly focused on entrepreneurship, there is also a parallel stream focused on STEM education. This is a potential mistake to be too focused on silos. If you can tell a better story or design useful data-driven content/information products, this is also core to growth.

Qatar and Doha have a limited number of technical education events. If you are in school, you can join
CMU’s Smartlab and learn data analytics. Qatar Computing Research Institute has a Summer internship program open to local youth considering a career in computer science. If you are an entrepreneur and are able to join a number of the great incubators, accelerators or youth programmes, you might get some data-driven innovation training. Everyone can learn online by, for example, taking Cousera courses, but fostering this ecosystem needs in person engagement and learning opportunities.

In Doha, I hosted a few workshops on Data Analytics, Machine Learning, Social Media Curation and Digital Mapping. The free classes were oversold and included a wide mix of professionals, young startups, students and, even, research colleagues. QCRI will continue to build the knowledge economy sharing skills and technical training. But, I highly recommend a startup focused on training data-driven innovation skills for business. There is indeed a growing market beyond the student body. Change will happen when more senior people are exposed to the techniques and how it can enable their business team to flourish. Organizations also need to continue to provide more technical workshops to augment all the strategy and leadership training. This includes encouraging technical companies to host workshops on how to use the tools and apply to a diverse stream from humanitarian to startups to social entrepreneurship.

What is one quick win for data-driven innovation in Qatar: More technical training and more data journalism skills. What if there was a a Data Driven Startup Handbook and shared curriculum?

Consider this type of future of domain expertise, data-smart employees including Type 2 Data Scientists:

“…require a different kind of data scientist, one that does not have the core technical ability to write code but enough of a general understanding of what can and cannot be achieved using machine learning approaches to effectively evaluate its outputs. This ‘type II’ data scientist does not need an in depth understanding of the code but might lead a team containing data scientists and needs to be able to translate between the business or policy problem and the technical environment. Without some understanding of what these learning systems can and can’t do there is the potential for a lot of poor quality problem solving and the outcomes on society could be very negative. There are examples of courses trying to fill this gap, like the MSc course at Sheffield, targeted at non-data scientists that aims to teach students fundamental data science principles and its application within organisations to support data-driven approaches to problem solving.

(Source: Nesta Report: Machines that Learn in the Wild, 2015.)

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