I've had the pleasure of working on what I feel is one of the projects that really epitomizes the future of how business approaches social change. It's called Change Connections and it's an initiative crafted in partnership with Nokia and The Feast social innovation conference. The goal: exploring how communication technology might be applied to solving some of the world's most pressing issues from learning to livelihood.
Now before you go applying the typical defensive stances that arise when the word "corporate" comes into play with any initiative, let me get the jump by sharing some of the following principles that have made the project so enlightening and why I feel this is where business should be going.
This project has nothing to hide. The initiative has been open from the start, sharing objectives, goals and asking for input and advice from those who know best, with every intent of sharing outcomes. We've undergone interviews with over 40 experts at this point. All of our findings so far have been shared on the newly launched website and open innovation platform change-connections.com. The site also seeks to act as a resource, with all developments and ideas open to the public (along with rights to any of the ideas). There have been a few moments where the knee-jerk desire to phrase things or not disclose the full form of the project reared its ugly head. The counter: why would you want to hide something that should only work for you? We've had the luxury (and the key is that every project should be this way) of engaging in work that is of sincerest intentions -- of realizing social good with the core competency of a business that touches over a billion people. That potential is massive and should only be an incentive for people to get involved. Take note, big business, if your intentions and method are aligned, you should have nothing to hide.
What we're doing has never been done before and, as with anything brand-spanking new, the best way to create something truly great is to iterate. It helps to be small and nimble (we're about as grass-roots as you can get), but when you're crazy enough to try to take on the world, it's all you can do to roll with the punches, take new information and feedback as it comes and tack and steer accordingly. The most important thing is to build room for new information into your working structure. This approach learns from the great start-ups of our day and is a response to the fact that locked-down structures (monolithic hierarchical methods of the past) fall the hardest when there's a quake. As a yogi, I guess I have a particular appreciation for flexibility.
True partnership means give and take, respect and putting in what you're good at to get the job done. It's rare to work with a client who's willing to listen, be transparent, honest and willing to lend their skills and leverage to your work. Thankfully, that's what this project has encompassed -- lots of extra effort, listening, compromise and sharing rough times and smooth sailing. In the end, this project has been about abundance and the potential of human capital (which my partner Tamara Giltsoff has written about). Partnership is an example of this sort of additive relationship where 1+1=3. When the job is changing the world, that's what it takes.
We've taken input from just about everyone who could help the project and have given them a stake. This includes people who have dedicated years of hard work and brilliance to the use of communication technology for development, without whom the field and good that's been achieved would never be possible. They include the likes of leaders from MobileActive.org, Unicef Innovation, The Earth Institute and countless other experts and friends of the project, as well as the myriad teams working behind the scenes during over-time nights. In return, they have given their willingness and even eagerness to help. This speaks a bit to being iterative, but every part of this project was crafted in tandem by many loving hands with one common interest -- of seizing a massive opportunity to make the world a better place. When all your interests are aligned, you can co-create something beautiful.
Take a look for yourself. The Change Connections website launches today at Change-connections.com. Check it out, and add your own ideas, comments and feedback. Follow the work on Twitter: @changeconnect.
Follow Jerri Chou on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jchou