Innovation Fair

I recently attended the World Bank Innovation Fair in Cape Town, South Africa. It was an interesting assemblage of people working around the world on projects ranging from conflict mapping to social issue reality TV shows. Many involved technology, but a fair amount did not – innovation can come in many forms.

Cape Town
Cape Town

The conference was meant to last only two days, but due to a certain volcanic ash cloud, the informal after-conference lasted up to a week for some. In fact, I’m not even sure if everyone is home yet. Getting to know your colleagues off-Twitter from a variety of sectors is invaluable, and this crowd wasn’t made up of the usual conference-goers since 30 of the project leaders (including us) had won an online contest in order to be chosen. In fact, due to an abundance of strictly timed elevator-style presentations, much of the conference felt like cross between American Idol and an industry trade show, with everyone hawking their newest invention to age-old problems. Even when some of them seemed to fall apart upon closer inspection, I was impressed by the spirit of invention – dare I say, a DIY mentality? (Innovation is a nice word, but why not invention? The inventor conjures a half-mad genius in the lab, an Einstein, an Edison, who, fueled by the mad drive to create, finally produces a light bulb). Many of the attendees had obviously come with the hope of convincing the judges (er…World Bank) to finance their experiments. It was a long shot.

I had a moment of recognition that this is the best place to be in what has become the mega-industrial aid and development complex. I’d rather be around 30 creative inventors pitching their ideas with vigor (even if 29 of them never succeed) than 3000 executives at the next Global Conference on a Big Issue. It is those who take a chance on an idea and run with it who command my greatest respect. This is not coincidentally thanks to my experience of the difficulty of actually bringing an idea to fruition! That would be my only caviat: ideas are great, but talk to me after you have actually tried it out with real people.

So – here are just a few of the cool things I learned of, with great people to match (there were others I wanted to include BUT could not find online – if your project doesn’t even have a basic website how can it inspire others around the world? And if it’s not public, even worse.):

Reconstructed Living Labs: – Using social media to reform lives; plus they use MXit to do counseling and they all blog on their phones. They’re highlighted in this video: (otherwise: warning, very cheesy conference video).

Hibr: – Lebanese youth newspaper and online independent citizen media. They also want to create a traveling media lab out of an old bus.

Armed Conflict and Location Event Dataset: Mapping armed conflict, including ground research to determine who is doing what.

Voices Beyond Walls – Palestinian youth media and mapping project.

Voices of Africa: Nairobi-based project of solar-powered rural internet kiosks.

UNDP Threat and Risk Mapping: Makes use of participatory mapping to determine local needs, and plan for village development in Sudan. Not sure if this is shared, public information though.

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