This past week, Nokia and The Feast launched a very interesting collaborative project called Change Connections. The goal of the project is “to contribute to strengthening innovation ecosystems and our understanding of the world at the base-of-the-pyramid, create a forum for sharing research and learning and to better understand what a company like Nokia can do to support creation of innovative and self-empowered societies.”
Change Connections identifies a few categories of major problems that are meant to present us with opportunities for “solutions to major societal issues that build on the massive power and potential of communication technology to do good in the world.” We are all invited to submit solutions to issues in any of these areas and contribute to the discussion. I caught up with Ville Tikka, Senior Futures Specialist at Nokia and one of the main driving forces behind the project to find out a bit more.
GL: How was the idea for Change Connections conceived?
VT: As we know, we are constantly bombarded with dark news of environmental disaster, climate change, political unrest, and poverty. And one thing is for sure, we are likely to continue to witness unprecedented change and immense challenges also in the future. But regardless of the current difficulties, uncertainty, and potentially grim outlook, many around the world remain full of hope.
With Nokia, I’m exploring the forefront of the socio-cultural transformation—how we are shaping and shaped by the global and local forces—to identify, analyze and translate these changes into strategies and actions for a better future. With Change Connections we wanted to explore the potential of ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) as a platform to overcome some the world’s most pressing issues.
We already have witnessed how during the past decade, mobile communications have played a big role in bringing hope and higher living standards to literally billions of people, and how the mobile device has become a necessity for upward mobility and a platform for many inspiring bottom-up solutions. Now we wanted to look beyond the current and understand the future possibilities for collaborative groundbreaking social innovation to drive positive change.
GL: It’s great, I’m very excited about the potential of mobile technology, especially in the developing world. The project will be open for another 18 days, why the limited time frame?
VT: Change Connections is part of a wider initiative and it will continue to stay open after the initial Engage & Respond phase and provide opportunities for people to connect with other people, current work and new ideas. But we needed to create some urgency and thrust for the community to encourage people to participate, hence the initial limited time frame (and also, why wait too long, now is the time for action!). We’ll also launch new features that help people navigate the ideas and combine them, literally creating new connections between them.
GL: I like that, less talk, more action! The site has a simple, sort of playful interface, and the idea of “serious play” seems to be central. Is having fun while trying to solve major global issues an appropriate approach? Will it create different results?
VT: I believe “serious play” is not about having fun, but really emphasizes the approach and the process of first identifying and empathizing with the problems through ethnographic and societal research and then turning to creative human potential and catalyzing it with new tools to come up with novel ideas. If we really want to rethink the problems and the solutions, we also have to rethink our methods.
GL: Yes, I think the most interesting part, to me, is that you are asking people to connect ideas, find synergies and ways of collaboration. Was that a big part of the original idea? Nokia’s tagline is “Connecting People,” right?
VT: Yes! One of the premises for the whole project was to find and create connections with people, places, information and ideas to improve the quality of lives, globally. Social innovation—just like any innovation—has more potential when it is collaborative, open, and focused on systemic and scalable innovation.
GL: You state that, in this project, “cross-disciplinary creativity lies at the core of the process.” How did you select your experts? Can there ever be a good enough mix of people to solve these kinds of global issues?
VT: The key to understand the global issues and develop better solutions is to connect with experts, lead practitioners and ordinary people throughout the globe. Because we acknowledge that we are dealing with highly complex and systemic issues, we wanted to connect in our expert workshops with bright minds working in the vanguard of change within various disciplines, including social entrepreneurs, researchers, technologists, designers, and provocateurs. I believe we can’t ever include all the possible viewpoints, but I hope we can be as increasingly inclusive with the new open platforms, such as Change Connections.
GL: It’s interesting that you include hackers as part of your experts/influencers group. What was the idea behind that decision? Is there a trend for hackers to turn their technical knowledge towards doing good?
VT: The reason for pointing out this “hacker mentality” is to underline the fact that often that’s in a key role when people are pushing the limits and thinking differently what the future might hold.
GL: The focus points are advocacy, health, learning, livelihood and resilience. Why are these issues the most important?
VT: We’ve carried out rigorous expert and ethnographic research in the developing regions in Africa, China, India, and Latin America to identify the focus points, as well as further filtered them through analyzing and understanding the role of the global macro forces in shaping the focus points now and in the years to come. These five focus points are some of the areas where communications technology could play an important role to improve the quality of lives.
GL: The project starts in New York and then moves to Nairobi, Africa for the final part. What is the significance of that?
VT: As we emphasize the importance of collaboration in our approach we wanted to make sure that it will happen also across time and there is continuation for our efforts. New York, being one of the great multicultural hubs for social entrepreneurs, thinkers and doers, was a good starting point for the work. But no project is an island, and as we say, ideas are nothing without context. That’s why Nokia is continuing the conversation started with the Change Connections by convening over 200 critical minds and change makers at an Open Innovation Africa Summit to create a forum for sharing research and learning.
GL: Have you seen Design For the First World? I think it’s quite a poignant commentary on many “save-the-developing-world” projects going on around the world. Is Change Connections geared towards solving problems in the developing world or the entire world?
VT: I’ve seen that! It’s a brilliant idea and witty commentary, no doubt. We’ve seen a big socio-cultural shift in global awareness of our interconnectedness and how individual and collective action can create change in the world. I think this increase of both “save-the-developing-world” and “save-the-developed-world” initiatives is only a good thing as more people in more places are now weaned on democratized media and instigating change in their communities and countries. But of course, there are certain things you need to keep in mind when you aim for social innovation. For example, no research should be done and no solutions developed only from north to south or east to west, but always in collaboration with local people and communities, by understanding the local context.
Change Connections is focusing initially on the issues within the developing world and people who can benefit most from the better solutions. But it has also become apparent throughout our work that these issues are highly systemic and truly global. And that’s why we require this holistic approach where we identify the factors that shape contexts and generate solutions both bottom-up and top-down. Only this will enable us to to foster new thinking and come up with systemic solutions to the world’s systemic issues.
GL: There is a lot of possibilities there, I can’t wait to see what comes out of this! Thanks so much Ville.
In the end, it’s all about communication, whether it happens around a campfire or using advanced ICT. We all have something to bring to the table and the more we talk about global issues, the better we can connect and solve the problems in our world.
“The economic theory of the last 300 hundred years was based on a two dimensional conception of a human known as ‘economic man’ who seeks to maximize personal wealth. Well, this has been shown to be a false idea. And today you see so many people choosing to start businesses that are clearly not about maximizing wealth but about maximizing some combination of business success and social impact. The theory no longer explains the data. So we need a new theory. – David Bornstein, Author of “How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas”