Tag: #ddimena


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:


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.


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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