Sept - Dec 2016
Global Digital Innovation
Edu Tech 


Altering the lens of the world

Three years ago Linda Luikas began teaching herself programming. Today, she is acknowledged as one of the pioneers leading a digital transformation that is rapidly spreading from Finland to Africa. And in December, Johannesburg, lawyer Ayesha Dawood, through, will host the country’s first Rails Girls workshop.

Linda is a co-founder of RailGirls (using Ruby on Rails),  and we managed to persuade Linda via Twitter and email to give us the background of and motivation for the project that is spreading around the world.

“It was an event that was done in 2010 in Finland. It was never intended to go global. But news travels at the speed of light in the world of technology and the requests from other cities began to pour in,” said Linda.

In the midst of her frenzied work schedule she found time to chat about the background of Rails Girls and her dream.

Linda is more than an ordinary dreamer. She is among theose rare people who are also doers. But a doer with this difference: her work will affect the lives of millions of people.

“Technology is the fastest way to change the world,” she said.

She believes that coding is about building great products that affect millions of peoples lives and disrupt whole industries. “Spotify is changing music and Facebook friendships, as well as Amazon books, Google information and so much more. It's all about making change. The programming world has a culture, a community as well as compassion. It is not dull or boring.”

“It's a similar craft as is architecture or industrial design. You create things that people love. Technology is the future, a part of the big revolution of the years to come and my concern is that this change or transformation is driven only by young boys from California in their early twenties, with a very narrow world-view. I want to see more diversity.”

Linda wants to see diverse people being able to use these tools to solve their own problems and change the world. Technology for Linda is a magical, radiant perspective, an altering lens of the world. It can also be a life-altering experience which Rails Girls Johannesburg wants to promote in South Africa.

“Rails Girls work with local developers and just recently included all of the materials and information on how to throw your own event in Rails Girls Guides – as such they are kind of open sourcing the whole concept. These guides provide the tools and a community for women to understand technology,  organise their own events, submit new guides or just to learn about Rails.”

Arising from this perpective, – a South African hosted site with with an international perspective – is planning to launch Rails Girls Johannesburg on 6 and 7 December this year. The accompanying article is a call for participants to join the Johannesburg project.

Active in 232 cities – all of which can be found at – the Johannesburg Rails Girls with bring South Africa its first taste of a unique programming experience that may yet enthuse young people to make magic.

The Ruby community is very close knit and usually events are organised by grassroots volunteers. Entirely community-based, Rails Girls draws enthusiastic support from sponsors. (see the accompanying article on Rails Girls Johannesburg’s sponsor).

Most of its success is attributed to the passion and committement of volunteers who give their services free of charge. Coaches and organisers do it for the joy of spreading a new way of digital interaction.

Linda’s involvement in Rails Girls goes far beyond the promotion of the project. As she plodded through a new and fascinating world of programming she began doodling the Ruby character in her notes.

Whenever she ran into a problem like what is garbage collection or how does object-oriented programming work, she would  try to imagine how little Ruby would explain it. The imaginative viewpoint of a small girl soon started to pop up everywhere in the technology world and that’s how the book was born.

Linda believes stories are the most formative force of our childhood. “The stories we read growing up affect the way we perceive the world as we grow up. For some reason narratives haven't been used as part of technology education, even though a lot of research suggests that stories are the best way to understand new concepts, especially in childhood but also when adults.”

The book, Hello Ruby, will be out soon and so will Rails Girls Johannesburg.

This is the era of digital pioneers.


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Creator Spaces   Designing Innovation Economics


Ayesha Dawood

I liked this when I came across it “Thinking is a kind of making, and making is a kind of thinking" says Jessie Shefrin former Provost of The Rhode Island School of Design and past Dean of Graduate Studies of The Rhode Island School of Design.

I like this too, alot 'design thinking ... is the expression of communication – the form itself...' that is the response I got when I asked John Maeda, at a talk at MIT this year what design thinking is -- Is it the form, is it the way it is presented .. and how does it impact international affairs? His response has got me mulling on innovation economics – and a very 21st century focus. The innovation economics idea was introduced to me by Professor William Fisher of Harvard Law School, Wilmer Hale Professor of Intellectual Property. And so Professor Fisher I take the liberty to propel this idea to designing innovation economics in the 21st century. So here I am positing Creator Spaces as innovation economics in action. And yes, Prof Fisher, Intellectual Property is important and as you say, only and only if it creatively engages with culture. So I take the creative engaging with the culture of a people, the culture of counties ... to a culture of creation. So, I am building and creating and designing too. Is this Ronald Dworkin`s chain novel theory playing itself out – a step by step building of things.

In particular I focus on Creator and Maker spaces which I call Creator Spaces. It is a movement rapidly gaining traction – and pioneering new pedagogies – tinkering, creator and playful learning pedagogies. No doubt this is influencing and will continue to improve a whole new wave – tinkering, playful learning and learning through play and exploration heralding novel creations as well as iterations in the new edu- tech era.

This is innovation economics birthed. A world of tinkering, software and hardware creation including an immersive engagement with technology and with materials –that is what empowers us to be courageous and creative. To make, to create – the art of playful learning and innovator spirit is boldly borne.

In seeing what we create – both online with immersive engaging of technology to building with our minds and hands to creating with materials to embracing the realm of possibilities and yes frameworks ( the lawyer in me screams legal frameworks as much computational thinking calls for system frameworks ). That is the power of Creator Space. They energise, motivate, uplift and propel growth in ones own sense of self, in creativity, in making, in building, in designing and cognition and critical thinking. And this is why it makes sense – it is innovation economics in both the digital and physical – a new form of a connected world – a world of immersive technology made simple – a world of creative making and a world of design and designing new things – software, new hardware, new things and while the search for new hardware forms and hardware materials is increasingly opening up new possibilities in materials.... Creator Spaces are about working with what is available as well making new from afresh and in that process new forms are birthed – New software creation is Creator Space and open source learning and remixing also lend impetus to this. See what amazing creations Scratch, an open source computer programme inspiring community learning and inspiring kids to create stories, animations and games - initiated at the MIT Media Lab Lifelong Kindergarden Group - is doing for kids globally here

Designing Creator Spaces is about inspiring people to take charge of their minds and ideas. I marvelled at watching the excitement and agility of the kids at MIT `s Scratch Day this May. Boundless enthusiasm and fun creations – and such confidence.

A new creator pedagogy in the making – yes – but maybe not so new in Africa and emerging economies where creator crafts and tinkering necessities were birthed. It is this staple that will take the shift to tinkering and artful play in emerging economies to levels unparalleled and a boon for innovation economics. Now that is design thinking innovation economics.  Creator Spaces is innovation economics. And yes, Intellectual Property matters.

Ayesha Dawood is a lawyer, writer and artist and educator. She is a Harvard and South African educated lawyer (@ConsultAyesha) She has an LL.M from Harvard Law School and is a recent Fellow of the Weatherhead Centre for International Affairs, Harvard University.