Software For Change

Last Friday I had the honor of speaking at Digitized, a conference at the University of Saskatchewan meant to inspire high school students to pursue a career in computer science.

I had two main goals for my talk. One, to show students that computer science doesn’t always mean writing lines of code and sitting in a cubicle. And two, that software when combined with other disciplines, has the power to change the world.

The first part of my presentation I retraced my last year working with the Extraordinaries and Ushahidi, organizing M4ChangeHFX, co-founding Apps4Good, and travelling to Rwanda.

However, I believe the second part of my presentation was the most interesting, in which I profiled eight of my heroes in the social good realm. This inspirational group is using software to help make the world a better place. They continue to inspired me and definitely worth being highlighted.

Ben Rigby / Jacob ColkerThe Extraordinaries (software + volunteerism)
Alan Curtis Kay once said “the best way to predict the future, is to invent it.” I believe this is very true for Ben and Jacob who are truly pioneering micro-volunteerism. The Problem: volunteerism statistics are surprisingly low due to an already overworked population. The Solution: use software to harness our spare moments to micro-volunteer for organizations you are passionate about. Thanks to the Extraordinaries, using your iPhone or web browser you can now help an organization like First Aid Corps build a map of defibrillators to help save lives. Or help Library of Congress to make their archives more accessible. Or help Nature Abounds to identify businesses and schools that are “going green”. Two truly remarkable guys that are empowering others, to do good.

Erik HersmanUshahidi (software + crisis)
Erik Hersman is one of the founders of Ushahidi, a crisis mapping platform that was created following post-election violence in Kenya. Their open source platform has since been used to help map the outbreak of H1N1, track wildlife in Kenya, provide post-earthquake crisis response in Haiti, and most recently to map the spread of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Ushahidi is a great example of the power of innovative software combined with a passionate community that is helping to solve real world problems. Erik also helped establish iHub, an innovation hub in Nairobi that is quickly becoming the next Silicon Valley. Erik is definitely an icon and huge inspiration.

Katrin VerclasMobile Active (software + mobile)
Katrin Verclas is the founder of Mobile Active, a global network of people using mobile technology for social impact. Katrin is a powerful voice in the mobile community and a testament that good things happen when you bring smart people together. The Mobile Tech 4 Social Change barcamp she started has now spread to New York, Washington, Nairobi, London, Berlin, Halifax and this summer Toronto. Katrin continues to support numerous mobile initiatives and helps share the stories of others using mobiles for good.

Matt BergChildCount+ (software + health)
Matt Berg was recently named Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People and for good reason. The ChildCount+ project which he helped develop is now responsible for improving the lives of over 100,000 pregnant mothers and children under the age of five in Kenya. Using 160-character text messages, ChildCount+ is providing improved health monitoring, faster interventions and better immunization. A remarkably humble guy, and a true inspiration.

Ken BanksFrontlineSMS (software + longtail)
Ken Banks is truly a pioneer in using cell phones to solve real world problems. Ken is also a strong believer in providing low cost solutions for the long tail, arguing that we often focus too much on the bleeding edge which is not accessible to the world’s poor. FrontlineSMS, is a great example of Ken’s principle in action, free open source software that turns a cell phone and laptop into a low cost communication hub. It is now being used by NGOS around the world to send and receive text messages for such efforts as human rights monitoring, disaster relief, education programs and fundraising campaigns. I joked with the students during my talk, that the old saying ‘the next Bill Gates’, well in the development community people say they’d like to be the next Ken Banks 🙂

Josh NesbitFrontlineSMS:Medic / Hope Phones (software + health)
Josh Nesbit is one of co-founders of FrontlineSMS:Medic, a module built on top of FrontlineSMS that is revolutionizing global health by empowering rural healthcare workers. Initially piloted in Malawi, and then expanded to Uganda, it now serves 1.2 million patients and in the next year will be rolling out additional services across several continents. Josh also helped establish Hope Phones, used phone recycling program that uses the proceeds to purchase appropriate phones for rural healthcare workers. A $10 used cell phone will give 50 families access to emergency medical care, health information and clinic resources. I had the pleasure of meeting Josh at M4ChangeNY, as well as the honor of having him speak at M4ChangeHFX, an truly incredible guy.

Nathan FreitasOpen NYSenate (software + politics)
Nathan Freitas is an advocate for privacy and free speech. He’s contributed to a number of important projects including The Guardian that aims to create a secure, trustworthy smartphone solution that helps protect identity of it’s user. This is especially important in countries when speaking out against the government or political groups can be dangerous. He also worked with the New York Senate to develop their Open Legislation program, a fantastic example of open government and transparency in politics.

Stacey MonkEpic Change (software + fundraising)
Stacey Monk is the founder of Epic Change and a legend in the social good fundraising community. She continues to find innovative ways to help fund important development projects. Her most recent initiative, To Mama With Love is a collaborative art project that honors moms across the globe, and in the process is helping to raise money to build a school in Arusha, Tanzania. Stacey is definitely an inspiration and innovator in social good.

These eight people are a testament that software, when combined with other disciplines, has the power to change the world. Unfortunately due to time constraints, I could only profile eight, however there are definitely many more that deserve to be included in this list.

Who would be in your list of innovators using software for change?