Invention, Technology and Social Change: What’s driving you?

by Amy Sample Ward on November 24, 2009

I was interviewed recently by Petra Kroon, a blogger focused on social media and entrepreneurship in The Netherlands, in which she asked some really great questions, including what I thought the trend would be for social entrepreneurship in 2010 as well as where we may be in 25 years.  The questions, and listening back to how I responded (as painful as it may be to listen/watch yourself on video!), made me think again about the open-ended topic Ashoka posed in it’s “Blog your way to Hyderabad” competition announcement: the interconnection between technology, invention and social change.

Invention, Technology and Social Change: What’s driving you?

I truly believe that invention or innovation, especially in the field of technology, is not just fueling the way we campaign for social change via social media tools, but is also driven by the social change we seek—there’s a back and forth, an exchange, a partnership in the two.  I also think that examining this idea in a place where the 3 areas create a very clear Venn Diagram, like India, invites a wide range of voices to the conversation.

Let’s take an example:
Recently, I had the opportunity to connect with some Ashoka Fellows from around the world to help train them on the uses and applications of social technologies in their social impact work.  One of the participants was Pratima from Shelter Associates in Pune, India.  They “work with the urban poor, particularly women in informal settlements to facilitate, and provide technical support to, community-managed housing (slum rehabilitation) and infrastructure projects.”  In their work, they’ve used GIS mapping technology to create a visual story, a guide, and clear data about areas of poverty and city planning.  The GIS and online mapping technology existed before their project, but Shelter Associates were able to leverage it in a way that helps them advocate for and support work to make changes.  But, their continued use of GIS for social change can contribute to the development directions of the tools (they are using Google Earth).

There are so many examples we could include.  Do you have one you’d like to share?

Tools: Builders and Users
This is also a great opportunity to continue the conversation that’s started spreading around the web about the relationship between organizations and activists using social media tools in their work and those building the tools.  With recent events like Causes leaving MySpace and ideablob shutting down, social changemakers have had to re-evaluate the way they select and use “free” social media tools that they cannot control.  I have been thinking lately about how we can create a space where changemakers, activists and organizations can be part of a conversation with the developers and the funders of tools to ensure that development is open, all contributors are aware of the plans and limitations in any agreement or tool, and so on.

It’s only an budding idea, though, so I’d love to hear your feedback!

As I said in the interview, I can’t imagine what technologies will be in use 25 years from now.  I hope that we can actively co-create a global community that is more just and sustainable where innovations aren’t driven by social change needs.  But, if we aren’t there yet, I have no doubt that the majority of innovations and inventions around the world will leverage technology as a tool and aid in either campaigning for the social changes still needed or the tools to implement necessary change and advancement.

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Ashoka: Innovators for the Public are hosting Tech 4 Society, a conference exploring technology, invention and social change, in Hyderabad, India, in February 2009. Find out more about the conference here. This blog post is an entry in their competition to find the official blogger to travel to and cover the event.