By Jennifer Estevez, co-facilitator for TC108a. Learn more about the course here.

For an intrapreneur, the ability to innovate and quickly solve problems within their institution is one of the strongest tools in their arsenal. Companies are looking to hire creative and innovative team members in the hopes of not becoming stale or falling behind more flexible and agile start-ups. To stay ahead of the competition,senior managers are creating roles for innovation specialists or advisors, experts who have previously used creative thinking to launch successful projects. However, in labeling enterprising individuals as “innovators”, these managers may doom intrapreneurs from succeeding before they even start.

Here are 6 reasons why:

1. As an official innovator you are forced to take risks in the spotlight.

As the person who is looked upon to dazzle with your new creative solutions all eyes are on every move you make. But as real innovators know, the only way to create real change is to take risks, and with those risks often comes the potential for failure. Being under the spotlight can magnify failures and make innovators more risk averse— influencing their ability to create the type of disruption needed for real organizational change.

2. There is a human bias against new ideas.

Although ‘innovation’ has become an increasingly popular buzzword, the overwhelming majority of people maintain a strong, innate bias against new ideas—paradoxically, even those ideas they claim to want. For a work to be truly creative, it has to depart from the norm; that very departure makes many people uneasy. A 2011 Cornell study on the subject found the following:

  • Creative ideas are by definition novel, and novelty can trigger feelings of uncertainty that make most people uncomfortable.
  • Objective evidence shoring up the validity of a creative proposal does not motivate people to accept it.
  • Anti-creativity bias is so subtle that people are unaware of it, which can interfere with their ability to recognize a creative idea.

Which brings us right to our third point…

3. Co-workers comfortable with the status-quo will be suspicious.

Let’s face it, many people have the attitude, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” These people will never understand the need for change or why they would even need to hire someone to that end. Innovative ideas can displace colleagues or at the very least create more work for them. Any time the word innovation is thrown out as a solution to a problem, it may mean a new way of doing business that will put jobs in jeopardy. Not everyone is adaptable in the workplace and this fear can cause distrust, or negative perceptions, of innovators.

4. You’ll have permission to do everything but the ability to do nothing.

"I'll be happy to give you innovative thinking. What are the guidelines?" says the employee to his boss.

As an innovator you have free reign to be as creative as possible and you’ll even have the resources to back that up. What you won’t necessarily have is buy-in from everyone at your organization, or even your senior management when you start developing your new ideas. Without buy-in, success will be difficult and you’ll likely spend most of your time convincing others of your great ideas instead of implementing them.

5. Collaboration between Innovation Specialists is difficult.

In an ecosystem where innovation is part of the culture and ideas may come from anywhere, innovators can create collaborative projects where everyone gains. However, when ‘innovation specialists’ are scattered throughout the organization and asked to work together, the competition for results does not lend itself to inclusive innovation, but can instead fragment the most creative forces within the organization.

6. Your work could turn into an Innovation Showcase.

The scope that technology can now reach is so exciting and sexy that it can produce a constant desire for new ideas. When a hyper-innovation environment is created, it becomes difficult for innovators to get the support they need for long-term sustainability of novel ideas. Senior managers who don’t truly understand the process of innovation may demand a never-ending supply of ideas instead of real or lasting change for the organization.

As you can probably tell, we’re all very excited here at TechChange. Former TechChanger, long-time Ushahidi guru, and eternal Zen Archer Rob Baker has been selected as part of the second round of the Presidential Innovation Fellows program. Yes, Rob will be contributing to Open Data Initiatives at USAID  where he will develop innovative solutions in areas of national significance.

For those who are unfamiliar with the program, the White House website has details:

“The Presidential Innovation Fellows (PIF) program pairs top innovators from the private sector, non-profits, and academia with top innovators in government to collaborate during focused 6-13 month “tours of duty” to develop solutions that can save lives, save taxpayer money, and fuel job creation. Each team of innovators is supported by a broader community of interested citizens throughout the country.”

But don’t just take it from the White House. Have a listen to last year’s fellows about what their experience meant:

While we’re pretty stoked about open data in general (and even teach it as part of our course on Open Government) and this development in particular, the timing couldn’t be more perfect for our first-ever upcoming course on intrapreneurship. Intrapreneurship is defined as entrepreneurial behavior from within a large, established institution. But the truly interesting part of this program is that it shows an angle that institutions should consider: institutionalizing a process for insourcing innovative talent and new ideas. While most of our posts have thus far focused on the role of individuals in pushing their organizations forward, the truth is that forward-thinking organizations are looking just as hard for entrepreneurs to help rethink their business. After all, if ideas like this can deliver solid results for an institution as large as the federal government, then your organization is hard-pressed to find an excuse.

And so from the bottom of our hearts and the top our nerd attic, we’re sending our best to Rob and all of the incoming fellows! We know you’ll crush it.

Rob Baker Speaking at DUPictured: Rob Baker speaking at DU

 

If you’re interested in contributing to PIF projects, you can learn about current and future rounds of the PIF program at whitehouse.gov/innovationfellows, contribute code on GitHub, or visit Data.gov to help turn openly available government data into new products, services, and jobs. 

Is it possible to be an entrepreneur AND work for a large organization? Intrapreneurship, defined as entrepreneurial behavior within an established bureaucratic organization, is offering new graduates, young professionals and those working in the international development field a new way to drive innovation and increase social returns on investment in their work. The importance of the “start-up” mentality for aide since the recent global financial uncertainty has ignited a rapid growth in social entrepreneurship. Now large institutions such as the United Nations, World Bank and academia are hiring former entrepreneurs or those suited to become intrapreneurs.

I became an intrapreneur in early 2010. After taking a public bus ride from Kampala Uganda to Cape Town, South Africa I attempted to launch a network that would screen live World Cup games on inflatable screens and deliver educational content before, between and after matches. The process of starting up the program and getting the brand visible was incredibly difficult. Even when someone liked the concept, they questioned if we had the capacity to carry out the logistics and security of bringing hundreds of people together in rural villages without electricity.

Fatefully, I connected with a team within UNICEF New York Headquarters called the Youth Section. The Youth Section (now the Social and Civic Media Section) was filled with creative and innovative risk takers who were pushing the envelope in social media and digital engagement within the organization. The Youth Section picked up the World Cup idea and with their support and vision a version of the concept called World Cup in My Village was able to reach thousands of young people in Rwanda and Zambia

Without the UNICEF network of offices providing financial resources, security, and technical support, the project would have never been realized. Since the completion of the project, I’ve been working with the UNICEF Social and Civic Media section team to form innovative technical partnerships and helped start-up a growing youth led digital mapping initiative.

Intrapreneurship is a perfect option for international development professionals  and those aspiring to work in the field who feel the need to unleash their creative talents and satisfy their urge to create something new, but without risking everything as an entrepreneur. Intrapreneurship is also becoming more and more valuable for companies who are looking for people that take initiative to drive innovation and add to the company’s competitive edge. Accordingly, intrapreneurs are now some of the most valuable and sought after employees to an international development organization.

New and emerging technology is giving millennials, social entrepreneurs and bureaucrats the opportunity to become invaluable intrapreneurs and generate new and sustaining value for their companies. The intrapreneurs borrow from the principles of entrepreneurship and adapt these principles to fit within their organization. A limited group will have the opportunity to be a part of the first ever Tech Change Summer Mini Course which will teach the essentials for intrapreneurship and discuss about the latest strategies for becoming and working with intrapreneurs . Guest speakers will range from academic experts to practicing intrapreneurs from UNICEF and the World Bank.

To learn more about the power of intrapreneurship and to unlock your intrapreneurial potential, apply now to our Social Intrapreneurship: Innovation Within Institutions online course with Ashoka Changemakers. The course runs February 24 – March 21, 2014.

We make no secret of it at TechChange: Our staff are huge fans of Coursera. This innovative organization absolutely deserved to win TechCrunch’s Best New Startup of 2012 and are the gold standard in the growing field of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). And so I was really looking forward to taking the Fundamentals of Online Education: Planning and Application course. Which is why I was a bit taken aback to receive this email on February 2nd.

I won’t go into this one course’s many problems here, but if you’re interested, Scott Jaschik wrote a superb article for Inside Higher Ed: MOOC Mess. There’s also a detailed breakdown of what went wrong from the student perspective on the Chewing Thistles blog: 24 hours – A long time in online learning. As providers of online learning, we wanted to capture some thoughts about this kerfuffle to see what we can learn about the field as a whole:

1) Collaborating ain’t easy. Much of the course’s criticism centered around using groups and collaboration tools like Google Spreadsheets (which has a limit of 50 simultaneous editors) for a class of 41,000 students. That’s not just a Google problem, as even the more flexible hackpad (our current favorite) has a concurrent editor limit of 250 students. But even if you could solve this problem with a technical solution, the organizational difficulty of structuring and facilitating exercises won’t go away. And that’s fine, because….

2) There are inevitable trade-offs between scale and interactivity. The great part about MOOCs is that they can easily disseminate content to tens of thousands of students — which is important since they can cost upwards of $50,000 to make due to the level of time and video production needed. But once you start to increase the group collaboration, interaction with facilitators, and more, you run up against staff constraints as well as technical constraints. And that’s tough because…

3) Quality control is hard for both content and facilitation. We like to say at TechChange that an online learning experience is really three services in one: A user-friendly online platform, interactive content, and relevant facilitation. Take away any of those pegs and the whole thing falls apart. When your platform consists of pre-recorded videos and automated tests, it’s much easier to manage at scale than when you’re facilitating group activities, which is a problem because….

4) If you’re asking for somebody’s time, it’s not free. There’s excitement about what “free” means to expanding access to education, but time isn’t free — there’s always an opportunity cost. And frankly, if you’re going to have a subject matter expert engage directly with students you’re going to eventually need to compensate that person for their time and expertise. And that’s fine, because many students will be willing to pay for that more interactive experience, which is why you need to…

5) Listen to your students, especially when they’re upset. Unlike Coursera, we do charge our students for access to courses. If you think people are upset when a free product fails, try experiencing the result when they’ve entrusted you with their hard-earned money. That feedback loop can change when universities and educators are the ones buying your classes, but students are the ones taking them. If you’re at Coursera and want to try experiencing this class from the point of view of one of your students, one article well worth reading is: How NOT to Design a MOOC: The Disaster at Coursera and How to Fix it.

Ultimately, Coursera still has a wonderful catalogue of free upcoming courses and will hopefully find a balance between quality control and student interactivity. But perhaps the most beneficial takeaway is the recognition that students and teachers are partners in the process of advancing the field of online education.

Students can always teach “experts” how to better run a course — even when everything goes as planned.

The end of the year is now upon us. We just wanted to thank you from the bottom of our hearts and the top of our DC nerd attic for making 2012 our best one yet. Specifically, thanks to your course feedback, content contributions, happy hour attendance, and tuition dollars, we’ve trained over 1,400 participants in 70 countries in how to better use technology for social change.

New Online Courses:
We have expanded on our original set of courses (Emergency Management, Digital Organizing, and Mobiles for International Development) into exciting new spaces. A few courses we’d like to highlight:

  • (TC309) Mobile Phones and Public Health: Our largest open enrollment course so far, we were joined by over 100 students in 25 countries. Developed in partnership with the UN Foundation’s mHealth Alliance, we also piloted our new in-course tool simulator for D-Tree!
  • USAID Courses on Mobile Money: Through a custom course for 80 USAID mission staff in 7 countries, we’re helping build development capacity in mobile phones. Next up? Turning this course into a self-paced interactive module to scale the program.
  • TOL Journalist Training for “Reporting on Education” in E. Europe: Developed in partnership with Transitions Online (TOL), BBC, and The Guardian, we shared our platform with TOL to train 20 journalists over a 2-week period. This was our first course ever with non-TechChange content and external facilitators!
  • (TC201) Ushahidi: Frameworks for Effective Platform Management: Expanding on our “Emergency Management” course, we developed this course in partnership with Ushahidi to be a scalable complement to the Universities 4 Ushahidi program (U4U).
  • (TC108) Technology, Innovation, and Social Entrepreneurship: Developed in partnership with the Amani Institute, we wanted to not just teach content, but develop more social entrepreneurs to keep pushing the field forward.

Online-Enabled Public Events:
One of our initiatives this year has been to assist our partners in reaching a larger online audience and to start thinking of all public events as online-first. Events include:

  • International Conference of Crisis Mappers at the World Bank: We worked together with Crisis Mappers to produce the first livestreaming of ICCM, which led to an additional 950 unique viewers from all over the world!
  • Connecting Grassroots to Government at the Wilson Center: Building on our work for empowering Volunteer Technical Communities (VTCs), we took live questions from the online audience during this event. This was one of multiple events at the Wilson Center, which is leading the way in online-enabled events.
  • Expert Interviews at the mHealth Summit: Since the webcast was already provided, we focused on capturing expert knowledge from the attendees and partners for the mHealth Alliance. Most fun part? Getting pictures of attendees holding their cell phones to show their personal connection with the device.

Site Upgrades and Added Features:
In addition to a few other handy features, we’ve made a few big technical upgrades to our site in the hopes of improving user experience.

  • Launched a new, responsive TechChange.org! We much of 2011 promoting mobile-first design, so it was a relief to build a fully responsive site in 2012. Try re-sizing it in your browser!
  • Animating our content voiceovers. We’ve always been big fans of RSA Animate and iheed who produce educational video content, so we tried giving it a go ourselves. What do you think? We’re hoping to do plenty more in 2013.
  • Video-for-everyone course design. We switched from Ustream to OpenTok in 2012 to try to not just talk at our classes, but have discussions with you. It’s been a bumpy ride, but we’re working at optimizing for every browser and bandwidth.

Field Training and Workshops:
Tech training cannot be done by Internet alone. Here’s a few cases where we rolled up our sleeves and got to teaching the old fashioned way.

Finally, a particular highlight of the past year was the nice story run about us in The Economist. Read the article: Geeks for Good.

We hope to see you online, in person, or in class next year!

Warm regards,

The TechChange Team

 

Interested in learning with TechChange? Check out our upcoming course with the mHealth Alliance: Mobile Phones for Public Health. Class starts on Nov. 12!

This month we introduced a new online class on Technology, Innovation and SocialEntrepreneurship in partnership with Roshan Paul, cofounder of the Amani Institute and senior staff member at Ashoka. The class has already attracted much interest from 30 students in 10 countries, including speakers from Groupshot.org, Shift.org, Digital Green, and Architects of the Future.

While we offered the class as part of the unprecedented enthusiasm around the ability of private-sector innovators to solve global problems, the last two weeks have made clear how the availability of new tools has been inseparable from the growth of TechChange as an organization. The path from starting our firm two years ago to being a recognized B Corp can be told first through our team members, but also through the technology that we’ve chosen to use to further our institutional goals.

While we usually avoid taking a tech-centric approach to business and education, these tools have solved a variety of management challenges for us, including core learning platforms and content management, community engagement, talent recruitment, relationship management, collaborative document editing, and task management.

1. WordPress (Content Management): Everything we do at TechChange that is website related is based on WordPress. Our main TechChange.org site, and our course site are heavily customized versions of WordPress.  We are big believers in responsive design and WordPress gave us the framework that we needed to build a system that could be managed by non-programmers. Some of our favorite plugins: GravityForms, Advanced Custom Fields, WordPress Database Backup, Disqus, Google Analytics for WordPress, and BuddyPress. But ultimately, whenever we’re asked why we chose to go with WordPress, we have to be honest: We chose the highly engaged WordPress developer community first and then figured out if the tech could meet our needs going forward.

2. Twitter (Community Engagement): Twitter has been absolutely crucial to our success. We got a late start (May 2010) but in two years we’ve grown to 6200 followers with an average of about 300 new followers a month thanks to the incredible direction of social media whiz kids Alex Priest and TJ Thomander. The secret sauce: our following has grown in direct relation to the number of tweets we’ve sent out every day.  We like to aim for tweeting 25-40 times a day and so should you.  Some tools we like: Crowdbooster, BufferApp, TweetDeck and Friendorfollow.

3. Idealist.org (Talent Recruitment): Whenever we hire someone new, we always post on Idealist.org, mostly because we care about attracting people who are passionate about social change in addition to tech nerds. For us, Idealist has been the best place to find them. If you’re hiring for a new position, we’d highly recommend spending the $70 for a job announcement.  Having an open web form application is also a great way to constantly be on the lookout for the right talent. Check out the TechChange application here.

4. Salesforce (Relationship Management): Where would we be without the web standard in customer relations management? Salesforce allows us to easily catalog everyone who applies for our courses as well as clients who hire us for custom courses. There is an incredible diversity of tactics organizations can use to tap into the power of Salesforce. We love what the folks at Vera Solutions are doing in terms of helping other organizations use Salesforce to enhance their M&E work and are excited to have CEO Taylor Downs speaking in our class this week. Salesforce has a number of discounts available for nonprofits and B corps.

5. Google Docs (Collaborative Writing): Google Docs is a our go-to way to share documents and collaborate in real-time. We do so much within this framework from managing cash flow, to sharing spreadsheets of student lists, to editing proposals. You do need a gmail account to use them and some folks may prefer not to be too cloud dependant but we’ve been very happy with this tool over the past two years.

6. Asana (Task Management): We’ve struggled over the past two years to find a good task management tool that everyone on the team actually uses. We tried Basecamp, Open Atrium and a bunch of others with limited success. The beauty of Asana is that it integrates nicely with Gmail. The interface is very intuitive and so far this has been the best one yet.

Other tools and platforms we love: Github, Rackspace, Quickbooks Online, Google Analytics, and Paypal.

What about you? What tools or platforms have been the most valuable for you and why? Feel free to share them below.

Are you already enrolled in our Technology, Innovation, and Social Entrepreneurship course and interested in mobile phone applications for the developing world? Do you want to deeply examine organizations and social entrepreneurs that have disrupted the mobile phones for good sector?

We are offering our TC105: Mobiles for International Development course that starts Monday for $195.00 (more than 60% off) to all our enrolled participants and their colleagues in TC108: Technology, Innovation, and Social Entrepreneurship. We believe having social entrepreneurial-minded participants can make TC105 even better and add a new perspective to class discussions. We have an incredible group of guest experts lined up that have had a renowned social impact in the tech space like Joel Selanikio of Datadyne, Jacob Korenblum of Souktel, and Lynn Eisenhart of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

If you are interested in this offer then email us at info[at]techchange[dot]org and we will add you to the course. If you aren’t enrolled in TC108 yet and would like to take advantage then send in an application here and we’ll get you set up. This is the biggest course discount we have had yet, so this is a great opportunity to take two courses with a large deduction. Act quick because there’s just a few days left until course start!

Nick Martin is President and CEO of TechChange and is the Lead Facilitator for the upcoming course: Mobile Phones for International Development. Class starts Sept. 24. Apply Now!

In the last month, I’ve witnessed an exciting shift in how development in Africa has been treated in the media, especially with regards to mobile phones (Including this excellent post by Ken Banks in BBC). For the first time, we’re seeing the perspective shift from how the US needs to intervene to assist the helpless and needy, to a new frame of what lessons the US and the rest of the world can learn from the many innovations in high tech and mobile technology taking place across the African continent.

Just Saturday afternoon, I found myself checking CNN to see the latest headlines and events from around the world. The top story of the hour, “Seven Ways Mobile Phones have Changed Lives in Africa,” could have been written specifically for our upcoming course on Mobile Phones for International Development by referencing case studies such as M-PESA, the popular mobile money transfer program in Kenya and a case study that we look at extensively in a number of our online courses. I was also pleased to see other projects and organizations mentioned like m-FarmUshahidiMxit and more– all of whom are already pushing boundaries globally.

There were also references to mHealth initiatives directly relevant to our upcoming course with the mHealth alliance on Mobile Phones for Public Health.One of the organizations specifically mentioned is m-Pedigree, which is the result of Bright Simmons (disclosure: a colleague and International Youth Foundation global fellow) and the work he is doing in Ghana to prevent counterfeit pharmaceuticals with mobile phones.

It’s certainly exciting to see our field getting mainstream attention like this. I’m heading to Ethiopia this week with UPEACE to conduct a workshop, but mainly what I’m looking forward to is an opportunity to meet some of these innovators and see what’s happening first-hand. In Africa and elsewhere, it’s exciting to see the frame shift from “What can we teach?” to “What can we learn from each other?” Stay tuned for a post from the field!

If you’re interested in mobile applications for disaster response, consider taking our course Mobiles for International Development, starting September 24th.

In the last five to ten years there has been a surge in disaster management innovation. As new technology is being developed, what are the challenges and benefits that the federal government must consider before taking advantage of them? Can a crowd of relatively inexperienced citizens report incidents more effectively than a group of experts?  Despite the many obstacles in working with these technologies, many institutions have been successful in quickly generating quality data to understand emergency situations and mitigate damage. This Thursday and Friday (9/13-14), The Wilson Center will be hosting a policy roundtable entitled, Connecting Grassroots to Government for Disaster Management to discuss these issues and propose solutions to help practitioners and governments create a broader community of interest.

We are thrilled to host the webcast of the two keynote discussions and direct the social media engagement of the event.  The keynote sessions are:

We will be taking questions from the online audience via the Twitter discussion on #DG2G, the comments area of the webcast pages, and by email at DG2G [at] techchange [dot] org. In addition to the Keynote sessions described above, the Wilson Center will be making the rest of the panel discussions available over the web. Click on the links below to watch them live and to download copies of the agenda and background materials.

ICT4D practitioners, crisismappers, digital volunteers, and policy makers and researchers are invited to participate to help recognize best practices and expand them to resolve the most pressing issues in the field. We look forward to seeing you online!