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Weekly Roundup: TEDGlobal, Big Society In The UK, and Google+…++

   /   Jul 16th, 2011Europe, News, United Kingdom, Weekly Roundup

Didn’t have time to read the news this week? We’re reporting on the conversations surrounding the big issues in the world of social entrepreneurship. This is a new feature, so if we missed anything, or you have suggestions, please let us know in the comments.


TEDGlobal took over Edinburgh week. The conference just ended yesterday, so though we expect more end-of-conference wrap-ups to emerge over the next week, you can peruse the innovative ideas at TED’s official blog (daily notes, photographs and behind-the-scene footage), or on Twitter at @TEDGlobal and with the hash #TEDGlobal.

Outside of the TED-o-sphere, Wired UK’s David Rowan provides daily round-ups on his blog; millenial social entrepreneur Nathaniel Whittemore’s tweet-stream is a wealth of provocative links; on Brain Pickings, Maria Popova has a good mix of daily round-ups and context pieces, like must-read books written by this year’s speakers; to experience TED from the perspective of a fellow, click to Jon Gosier’s narrative on Storify. And be sure to check out the list of the twenty-three women speaking at this year’s TEDGlobal.

But this being a blog about social change, we want to make sure to highlight the social entrepreneurs making waves on the TEDGlobal stage:

  • Water Canary aims to prevent the spread of water-borne diseases with their inexpensive, GPS-enabled devices that crowd-source water quality tests.
  • Peace One Day presented a global awareness project seeking to achieve cease-fires during International Peace Day on September 21st. Previous campaigns reduced violence on International Peace Days in countries such as Afghanistan–allowing humanitarian relief workers to enter violent areas to deliver vaccines, bed-nets, and food among many other vital services.
  • Starting in his garage in the early ‘90s, Michael Biddle and MBA Polymers are trying to change the way people recycle plastics with a proprietary technology that extracts most plastic out of the most trash.
  • Happy Oasis, a Facebook video game developed by Suleiman Bakhit, hopes to create positive role models for children in the Arab world and end extremist attitudes.
  • Bunker Roy’s Barefoot College trains illiterate people in rural India to be health workers, architects, hand pump mechanics, teachers, and solar cooker engineers and more.
  • By measuring the environmental impact of governments and companies, and then turning that into policy, Pavan Sukhdev is trying convincing the world that green economies actually can generate jobs and create wealth.

Big Society Opens Up UK Public Services

On Monday, UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced a public services reform white paper that would open the country’s public services to both the private and voluntary sectors.

Based on the theories of policy savant Phillip Blond, the policy changes have five objectives: diversity, decentralization, fairness, accountability and choice, and would affect all public services except national security, frontline policing and the judiciary. Cameron calls it a “big society” approach that will return “power to the people.”

Though the story was relatively quiet everywhere but the UK, its ancillary dialogue has interesting implications for the evolving dynamic between the citizen and private sectors. The Guardian has, by far, the most comprehensive coverage of the changes, including a breakdown of public sector cuts and transcripts of a Live Q&A, with detailed analysis of the policy’s strengths and weaknesses. As with all ideas, the white paper received its fair share of criticism.

We’re particularly interested the question coming from the SocEnt community: can the policy change ensure a level playing field for social enterprises and large, private corporations?

The primary concern is that social enterprise simply can’t compete with big business. New York Times columnist David Brooks pointed this out back in May, along with a fabulous summary of Big Society Policy, and in today’s Guardian public opinion poll, 88% of participants agreed that social enterprises don’t have the oomph to bid against larger corporations.Several social entrepreneurs surveyed in an online roundtable echoed their sentiments; if you have time to read just one, we recommend Peter Holbrooke’s letter to The Times, which cites the UK’s Department for Work and Pensions Work Programme as evidence that this won’t work.

There were some constructive solutions; one commenter suggested tweaking requirements for winning a bid war–for example, considering an organization’s knowledge of the community and its needs, in addition to their capital.

But beyond that, this issue is still torn between “yes” or “no” rhetoric. Dowser’s Rachel Signer covered a UK-based social enterprise think tank that called Big Society “the right policy at the wrong time.”But still other wonders if the paper is really make any difference at all, pointing out that the changes will take time. And with a hefty chunk of public services already outsourced to the private and voluntary sector, several pointed out that Big Society policy isn’t even particularly new.

Either way, it will be interesting to see how this policy evolves from rhetoric to action.

Tech And Civic Engagement

On the heels of Google +’s widespread rollout, talk about tech and civic engagement continues to buzz.

First of all, a roundup of some essential Google+ news. The new sharing service grew to 10 million users this week, with Google is already tweaking the service based on user feedback. They’re also accelerating its test phase for business accounts. The application process closed today, but you can use your personal account (in Google’s eyes, the only kind) to explore. The Huffington Post has an excellent guide for newbies, and to follow some social change gurus with lively Google+ pages, check out Lucy Bernholz, Beth Kanter and Peter Panepento.

A slew of interesting apps, tools and competitions were also released this week. On the heels of Obama’s Twitter Town Hall, the U.S. government launched  “Apps Against Abuse”–a competition for people to develop an app that helps young adults prevent sexual abuse and dating violence.

Changemakers also announced their new Google-supported competition, seeking innovations in Citizen Media. And in a later stage of the same game, Ashoka’s Youth Venture announced the winners of its Technology For a Better World campaign.

The Knight Foundation awarded a grant to gaming platform Globaloria, which uses game design to teach digital literacy, and many of the projects coming out of the lab involve civic engagement and social change.  And keeping with the learning theme, The World Bank launched an e-institute for people interested in international development, with courses ranging from Basics Of Health Economics to Sustainable Urban Land Use Planning.

Facebook released an application that works on almost all mobiles–not just smart phones–which has huge implications for communication in rural areas. And while technically this happened last week, it’s so interesting, we’re bringing it up again. New York City’s new Change By Us is an online platform that allows citizens to submit project ideas to improve the city, and then connect with each other and the city’s resources. Our visit today revealed 950 ideas and 130 project proposals.

Meanwhile, the conversation continued about how exactly social media can benefit the social good. Last week, Rose Shuman published a piece in The Harvard Business Review reminding us that, for now, conversation about tech and civic engagement may be more relevant to developed regions. Mashable’s Pete Cashmore, Facebook/Jumo’s Chris Hughes, Lance Armstrong and Kiva’s Matt Flannery mused on that point in a panel at the 2011 Aspen Ideas Festival that’s long, but worth the watch.

“It’s still in its embryonic stage,” said Cashmore at the Aspen Festival. “But we’re really really excited about how social media can be leveraged for social good, and we’re really optimistic about it.”

A few reports to note this week:

  • Insead released the Global Innovation Index 2011, which Blogging Innovation is breaking down one post at a time.
  • The World Health Organization released a report on global mHealth, medical or public health supported by mobile devices.
  • Coca-Cola Enterprises released its CRS report, and a nice, ancillary video explainer that covers the company operations and key information in the report.
  • Johnson & Johnson  released their Healthy Future 2015 report with their CSR goals.
  • For our friends in the UK – social enterprises seem to be growing faster than your economy.

And some random reading for your weekend:

  • The Christian Science Monitor has a nice, three-part series on the challenges facing South Sudan. For real-time updates from the world’s newest country, follow Rebecca Hamilton on Twitter.
  • The Guardian’s Poverty Matters Blog posted an interesting op-ed asking if government should think twice before partnering with the private sector.
  • 3BL Media’s Marc Gunther argues for the abolition of CSR.
  • Anand Giridharadas’ new NYTimes Currents column urges social entrepreneurs to get more political.
  • And a fun one to send you off: Kiwanja of Frontline SMS points out that social enterprises could take a few lessons from The Rolling Stones.

2 Responses

  1. Thankyou for your e-bulletin and the article on Big Society.

    This is not just an issue of big vs small provider but one of geography.

    The incorporation of “social value” in public procurement and scoring processes is a vital way to level the playing field. There is a vague mention of this in the Big Society White Paper which we hope will be firmed up. If not we are urging the government to continue its support for Chris White MP’s private member’s Bill: Public Services (Social Value) Bill which may become the vehicle for the White Paper – subject to consultation.

    There is growing momentum for a broader interpretation of how procurement is understood. This was rammed home recently by the likely closure of Bombadier trains, the last UK manufacturer, who lost out to a German supplier on a narrow interpretation of cost. No account of the cost of loss of jobs including costs through welfare support in a large town on the edge of collapse, supply chain impact, or loss of internal market. There must be a bigger vision about cost and for local economies. For me the emphasis is not on size of supplier but about how the UK Government’s parallel vision of localism is effected.

    Interestingly, this is where local public sector agencies can operate ahead of the rhetoric: Manchester City Council already embed sustainable development (ie environmental + social) in their procurment scoring system. This decision came about partly through recognising the value of local spend which was naturally recycled in the local economy.

    The notion of recycled spend consciously or unconsciously has been at the heart of the last twenty years of Northern UK economies. Public Sector employment has been the only significant answer to the collapse/decline in UK manufacturing (in the North). This spend is now being pulled at a rapid rate that could have a big impact on local markets (while overall Governemt spend itself does not reduce).

    The bottom-line may be that a few social enterprises get to move up the supply chain while many, down the chain, disappear with the chain. We are in danger of concentrating on the rhetoric while vast tracts of public sector spend is pulled out of local (especially Northern) economies and centralised.

    Watch the money not the words.

  2. Jolyn says:

    As I’m feeling, you’re the best dude