There are millions of big ideas that could change the world that cross our minds every day. To benefit of the world, Kenyan political activist Ory Okolloh did not let her big idea drift away. She is one of the few that tried to make it happen.
When Kenya was experiencing an outbreak of ethnic violence following their December 2007 presidential election, the Kenyan government shut down the mainstream media. People flocked to Ory’s blog, Kenyan Pundit, to report the rapes, looting and murders and learn about the violence going on throughout their country. Ory could no longer keep up.
She had a big idea to build the capability to electronically take citizen’s reports, the location and automatically post them in near real time to an online map. She called her big idea “Ushahidi”, which is Swahili for witness. She was convinced her idea would help:
- Reduce Violence – Without mainstream media reporting violence, little would be done to quell the violence unless people were outrage by its pervasiveness
- Improve Safety – citizens would be able to keep their families safe by knowing the location and status of the violence
- Help Victims – police, health and aid workers would know where to best use their limited resources to aid victims.
Once aspirers know they have a good idea, the next question is can I make it happen? Enablement Insight helps determine the sum of all of the actions required to make any dream, big idea or breakthrough innovation happen. Is it possible? How much would it cost? Who would help me? For insight into enablement, each of the following should be considered:
- People – Who are the people the aspirer needs to make it happen? Ory would need computer programmers, bloggers and Kenyan citizens to make Ushahidi happen.
- Communities – What communities does the aspirer need to understand? Ory understood the blogging and Kenyan citizen communities.
- Knowledge – What knowledge does the aspirer need to know? Ory needed to know web-hosting, computer programming, using simple mobile devices to post information on the web, GPS and mapping technology.
- Funding – How much will it cost? How much funding do you need? Ory knew she had to do this in a bootstrapping way hoping to appeal to volunteers and use her existing web page.
- Resources – What type resources are required? How do you get them? Ory knew she needed to secure a few computer programmers and people that understood mobile technologies.
- Timeline – How long will it take? What is it contingent on? Ory believed if she could secure programmers, they would need to move very fast or the opportunity would be lost.
Ory used her blog to reach out for help. She was able to attract the attention of programmers Erik Hersman and David Kobia. The three of them got on a conference call and within three days the first version of Ushahidi was live. Ushahidi was able to do a much better job covering the violence than the mainstream media ever did. Ory and her team may even make us question whether some of those big ideas we dismissed are possible.
New York University Professor Clay Shirky writes in “Cognitive Surplus” about the lessons from this story:
- “People want to do something to make the world a better place,
- they will help when they are invited to,
- access to cheap, flexible tools remove many of the barriers to trying new things.”(1)
“Two years later when the massive earthquake, that killed over 220,000 people, struck Haiti, Ushahidi’s Patrick Meier received a call at 7pm about the earthquake. By 7:20, he’d contacted a colleague in Atlanta. By 7:40, the two were setting up a dedicated site for Haiti on Ushahidi. By 8:00, Ushahidi was gathering intelligence in an effort to help with assistance in Haiti.”
The site was more effective than anything the U.S. Military, Red Cross or any other humanitarian organization ever deployed. With citizens and aid workers sending texts and photos to Ushahidi, the humanitarian relief was more effectively distributed to maximize the benefit.
If you have a dream, big idea or breakthrough innovation, Enablement Insight may show you that it is possible to make it happen. If you combine this with the lessons Clay Shirky outlined, it may be a good time to dust off your big idea and to change the world like Ory Okolloh and her team at Ushhahidi.
(1) Clay Shirky, Cognitive Surplus, p17
(2) Donald Tapscott and Anthony Williams, MacroWikinomics, p4