Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Crowdsourcing Social Innovation

Today I find myself immersed in the slow hustle of the urban countryside in Hubli, India. Make no mistake by the description; Hubli is what the staff here refer to as the land of oxymorons. Nestled in the heart of this city, among the three-wheeling taxis, the gratuitous car honkers and the the cow who grazes outside my bedroom window, resides the Deshpande Center for Social Entrepreneurship (DCSE), a modern landscaped building projecting the future of innovation looking to take hold in these humble parts.

Established out of the Deshpande Foundation by serial entrepreneur Gururaj "Desh" Deshpande, the DCSE strives to be the epicenter for social innovation in a region where education, healthcare, agriculture and livelihood are today daily challenges. DCSE trains aspiring social entrepreneurs from Hubli and collaborates with international fellows to marshall in new, localized and sustainable innovations.

I am here as part of a group from USC to bring a new and untested innovation to Deshpande. Our premise is simple: there is so much untapped knowledge in the world from doctors and engineers to science teachers and hobbyists, whose understanding of the world around us, if harnessed collectively, could be used as a force for good to solve some of the world's greatest social challenges. What better way to get people involved in a socially-driven causes than to ask them to donate their ideas rather than their money. We are proposing to crowdsource innovation.

Over the course of the next two months our project with come in two parts. First, working with Deshpande and their network of local NGOs, we intend to identify upwards of eight challenges facing the region. Equipped with a video camera and a microphone, we will document each challenge into a digestible 3-5 minute documentary, providing an overview of the given challenge and the context in which the challenge exists. Each documentary will conclude with a call to action.

The second part of our project begins with our website. Leveraging the help of a crack team of programmers from Bangalore and my trusty O'Reilly guide to PHP, we plan to create the foundation for our crowdsourcing project. Each documentary will be loaded to the website, where users around the world will have the chance to view the challenge and collaborate on a solution using our wiki-style web platform.

Crowdsourcing, in my opinion, represents a new frontier. It's potential has already been demonstrated through Wikipedia, with its more than 15 million articles in 270 languages, as well as in a more recent example initiated by DARPA, in its contest to find 10 red balloons.

The next two months will certainly move quickly, but with a dedicated team and the support of the Deshpande Foundation at our backs, I look forward to the where this ride will take us.


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