Sept - Dec 2016
Global Digital Innovation
Edu Tech 


Change begins with one person


While South Africa stumbles about desperately struggling to formulate digital communications policy, many countries are already implementing their policies. The problems and obstacles in each country are unique to the environment but sometimes some very simple initiatives point to solutions.

A few years ago in Finland, two non-technical women became involved in digital communications technology. Their learning brought the realisation that millions of young people are excluded daily from the world’s most important digital communications system. Most of the world ‘s people are Internet users; most are not involved in designing and building the applications that have become the new online engine driving education, information, entertainment and commerce.

The acquisition of such knowledge and skills is considered “technical” and meant for “geeks”. This is an unfortunate reflection on the world’s most important communications system. These thoughts inspired Linda, of Finland, to rethink how ordinary people without any special talent or expertise may take part in making their own imprint on the Internet.

Using Ruby on Rails, one of many programs used to build web applications, a very simple but unique once-off workshop was set up in 2010. Called Rails Girls, the two-day workshop selected young women and men to learn about how easy it is to work with a program like Ruby on Rails.  The philosophy of Rails Girls inclusive and is aimed primarily at girls but is happy to accommodate women, boys and men too!

The principles on which the workshop are based are non-negotiable: it is not-for-profit, the volunteer skilled coaches can’t charge a fee and the organisers work for the public benefit.

Funding is drawn from sponsors and based on the rapid growth of the project, spreading from this one little workshop to 232 cities around the world, sponsors are most certainly not in short supply. While most of the workshops are in the developed world, Africa has not been ignored.

Both Uganda and Mozambique are the beneficiaries of Rails Girls projects and young people there were given the rare opportunity to rethink their participation on the Internet. These were firsts for Africa.

The founders in Finland and their friends  around the world that have set up Rails Girls chapters are so passionate about the idea that they respond almost immediately to requests for assistance. When contacted the founders recently, the workshop was as good as done.

Minimum but essential communication and advice were dispatched and a sponsor was found within days. And that is how Rails Girls Johannesburg was born.

US-based Github, used by more than six million people to build innovative apps, pitched in with gusto with a financial contribution for Rails Girls Johannesburg. ThoughtWorks, an international company based in Johannesburg, is to be commended for their support and commitment to the project. Local company IdealizeIt and Incubeta, a global company also based in Johannesburg, did not have to be persuaded to support Rails Girls Johannesburg. While there are no immediate material benefits for the sponsors their commitment to ensuring that the project is implemented demonstrates an uncommon generosity.

The accompanying articles tell of the background and success of the project and government and business may do well to take heed of encouraging the funding of these projects without dictating their shape and direction. Rails Girls Johannesburg is a small project by any standard. However, its significance should not be underestimated. The vast benefits that will accrue to young participants will, like its founding session in Finland, will become self-propagating.

Perhaps, the lesson is simply what we already know: change begins with one person.

Wouldn’t it be nice if South Africa’s government and businesses (which rely heavily on digital communications) made just a little contribution?

 And girls, if you want to be a part of rails Girls JHB, complete the application form on this site. Tweet us  @Digitalnfo and @RailsGirlsJHB for more information.  
All you need is a laptop and some curiosity.  Show spark!



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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.