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Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship: A Horrible Combination to Waste

November 29, 2009

“Inventing is a combination of brains and materials. The more brains you use, the less material you need.” –  Charles. F. Kettering

At no time in history has mankind been presented with greater opportunity for the global interaction of innovation and imagination, unbounded by time or geography.  The advancement of technology has created communication networks that allow global challenges to be addressed by international networks of problem solvers using instantaneous communications and unlimited perspectives. The enormity of this opportunity, however, is met by an equally great number of challenges. Throughout the word billions of men, women and children live in need – need of a more sustainable life, more sustainable communities, and a more sustainable world.  Indeed, in an era where global opportunity is almost blinding, we can’t lose sight of those who may live in our collective blindspots.

Given the way that technology has become a fundamental aspect of contemporary problem-solving, it has become easy to casually assume that any human challenge can be met easily by the application of existing or advancing technology.  But that isn’t always the case; some problems require custom technologies that deviate from existing technology pathways that might otherwise go unexamined. Also, the casual observer often assumes that simply providing technological tools to communities is a satisfactory substitute for the systemic integration of entrepreneurship and technology in communal development.  Rather, it this systemic integration that does more than respond to a need, it helps stimulate communal (and collective) imagination and innovation.

With this in mind, perhaps one of the best examples of this integration is the work of Jack Sim, a social entrepreneur, Ashoka Fellow and founder of the World Toilet Organization (WTO).

Now truth be told, I learned of Jack’s work by accident.  My birthday was November 19th and unbeknownst to me (until a friend duly pointed it out), that date is World Toilet Day. Putting aside my friends chiding (insert your own birthday/toilet joke here), I was genuinely curious and even more genuinely amazed by what I learned about that day.  For over a decade, Jack and the WTO have been vital voices in developing global improvements in sanitation that provide millions of individuals the opportunity to live healthy and dignified lives in communities with sustainable sanitation programs. Seeing a need, Jack helped shape and pursue a vision of a world where sanitation is not an aspiration, but rather an actualization of a community’s ability to care for itself.

But identifying a need, sharing a vision and having an entrepreneurial spirit wasn’t enough; something more was needed.

Jack’s success wouldn’t be possible without technology and innovation as well. There has been a steady progression of improvement in sanitation technology including the recent development of compost toilets for public use. Just as importantly, there has been innovation in the ways communities are educated about sanitation needs, innovation in the way funds are raised and allocated for the enhancement of global sanitation, and imagination in the way communications technology can be leveraged to create global awareness of the fact that over 2.5 billion people worldwide don’t have access to sanitation.

And that is the lesson – because of Jacks’ entrepreneurial spirit, the accompanying technological developments and systemic innovation, the WTO and organizations in 57 countries across the world are now focused on an issue that for far to long has been in the outhouse of global awareness. Proving once again that the combination of entrepreneurship, technology and social innovation are a terrible thing to waste  – literally and figuratively.

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One comment

  1. Great post! I love the story of Jack Sim and the WTO, thanks for sharing it with people.

    Cheers,

    Tom (Ashoka)



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