We need now more than ever people who are willing to think through more innovative approaches, even disruptive approaches to the way we’re getting things done. Look, 2021 is going to be a tough ride, even though I know everybody is so happy to just be done with 2020.
Of course, there are many good things on the horizon, we hope that a vaccine is more effective for COVID and eventually changes the course of this pandemic, a new U.S. Administration should hopefully be a better player on the world stage, and there are other signs of improvement. But it’s still going to be a tough year.
We’ve got a pandemic that’s still way out of control, we’ve seen this enormous amount of economic and humanitarian crises that have cascaded from the pandemic, and we still have a lot of the underlying structural and economic issues that we had going into the pandemic.
I think the time for strong social activism and innovation could not be riper than 2021. I think some of the things that 2021 will require, and hopefully some of your listeners and social activists and entrepreneurs will take heed, is more thinking about how we actually don’t just go back to the way it was. I don’t think there is going to be any going back to normal, and it’s an overused phrase, but there will be a set of ‘new normal’.
The ‘new normal’ could be an opportunity to take the lessons from this enormously tragic experience and convert them into sustainable models, whether you’re talking about what we’ve learned from online education as we’ve forced folks to use online tools, to the enormous innovation I’ve seen in the health area.
[This is] where people have really rethought the way telemedicine can work or the way that mental health counselling can be accessed remotely in very personalised ways. Even the way other kinds of financial services have been provided in communities which have been deeply affected by the pandemic. All of those things have gems in them of what we learnt.
Now, not everything was perfect and there was a lot of craziness and incoherency, but in those lessons, we need to come out of this stronger.
I think there’s an opportunity for social activists to think, “okay, what did we learn about education? What did we learn about health? What did we learn about protecting the environment in this crazy tragic environment?” Then, they can apply those more effectively for sustainable change in the future.
Steve, that’s a really refreshing perspective and I equally hope that our audience can take the silver linings from this experience and turn those into some success in the future.
Now, if we’re going to look at some projects or initiatives that are inspiring you at the moment that you’ve come across recently, what would those be?
Well, that’s a tough one, because there are a lot. I’ve written an article and I’m actually participating in a project at Stanford around what COVID has generated in terms of social innovation. One of the things it’s generated is just a fire hose of extraordinary ideas.
Now not all of them have gone to scale, a lot of them didn’t work and frankly we kind of learned that without a good ecosystem to manage these and more regulation, it’s hard to get things to really have the impact we had hoped for.
But in that, for instance [I mentioned it already], but there have been some really cool apps which are working on addressing mental health challenges. This is somewhat to do with the increased mental health, stress, anxiety and challenges that we’re seeing coming in the pandemic, but also have really long-term benefits of taking out stigma, giving access to more personalised approaches, counselling, and even diagnostics that use better AI and other kinds of tools to understand behavioural changes. I can name Better Health, and Hello Better is a really cool app in Germany. But there are many that are doing great things in that area.
I’m quite excited about the opportunity for us to have some sustainable and effective approaches to using digital health and mental health management going forward.
Another area that I see which might be more in the United States given the specifics, but I’ve been working with an organisation that is looking at the horrible situation I have in my country. But it has a similar phenomenon in others, which is mass incarceration of brown and black people.
But really what the issue is we call the school to prison pipeline, where people get off track and there’s just a one-way ticket to incarceration. Yet, we also know that juvenile incarceration does not really do much to rehabilitate, et cetera.
One program is in Seattle called Choose180, but I’m very excited to see an alternative to juvenile incarceration as a functional and very viable model. It takes a much more personalised approach, but I think those are scalable. Whether we’re talking about very cool apps that are coming out of Germany and India for COVID management or very local innovation models that are saying, “how do we tackle old problems in new ways?” I think it’s a pretty exciting time for innovation.
A few very interesting projects and initiatives there. Steve, thank you very much for sharing those with our audience. To finish off Steve, what books or resources would you recommend for our listeners to check out?
I read a lot and so I could just go to my go-to list. I do think one of the books that I would encourage people to read is the newest Steven Pinker or the Hans Rosling’s books. Factfulness is the name of the Rosling book, but both underscore the premise that I build my book around, which is data driven analysis that the world is actually continuing to get better.
The punchline of my book, but also a lot of the work I do, and I don’t say this as a naive pollyannaish optimist, I say it as a practical activist and a pretty savvy business guy, is that the data shows that there is a lot of positive momentum on many critical issues in the world.
These two books are written by brilliant authors and scholars who can show us how with actual data that more girls are being educated, people are living longer, more people are living in the middle class than ever before, and despite the setback from COVID, I think those are important. Then I’d also go back to some of the practical things you can find online. We talked about a lot of interesting innovation happening in COVID, but I’ve been working with a group at the World Economic Forum and putting together a clearing house if you will.
The World Economic Forum’s website has created an action platform that is not only giving exposure to interesting innovations that entrepreneurs are creating, but also, it’s becoming a broker for potential financial supporters or potential technical support for people who want to scale it up.
I think there are others doing the same thing, but I think those platforms that are online, linking people between the innovator community and the demand community, the communities that need them are really incredible. I think they’re a very inspiring source for an entrepreneur.
A few excellent recommendations there, Steve, and I would also just want to mention you forgot to say your book Undercurrents: Channeling Outrage To Spark Practical Activism, which would be a fantastic read for our audience also.
Steve, thank you for coming on our podcast and having a chat to me about activism and the current space in social innovation, it was great to hear your insights and we really appreciate it, thank you.