Algae-derived biofuel offers a cleaner, renewable alternative to petroleum.
What’s the Latest Development? The Semantic Web, also known as the Web 3.0, is set to come of age this week when a powerful data crunching service becomes available to the public. Wolfram Alpha has been online since 2009 but has had trouble gaining traction in circles beyond statisticians and math fanatics. That may change on Wednesday when its data processing algorithms become available to anyone looking for a more numerical representation of information. The new service is premised on the idea that people prefer reports over answers.
In case you missed them, here are of ten of 2010′s key stories on how IT helped us deal with practical issues and answer big questions. One, designed to help address declining marine life, is an interactive map of areas suffering suffering from low oxygen or excessive fertilization. Another shows how networked intelligence can reveal the already-there: in this case Google Earth helped scientists see thousands of earth-art giant wheels.
What’s the Big Idea?
The top ten:
1. 100 Years of Dance Music;
2. Afro Nerd Superstar Explosion;
3. Scientists Use Google Earth to Understand Mysterious Giant Wheels;
4. ARKive to Document Every Species on Earth;
5. Geospatial Humanities: Using Location Tech to Rebuild the Past;
6. Using Twitter to Preserve Minority Languages;
7. Using 3D Printing to Repair Rodin’s Thinker;
8. New Software Helps Rebuild Ancient Cities;
9. Mapping the Dead Zones;
10. 9-11 Oral Histories Saved and Shared via Smart Phone.
Welcome remarks by Elliot Gerson, Executive Vice President, The Aspen Institute and A. Douglas Melamed, Senior Vice President and General Counsel, Intel Corporation
The Prison Yoga Project shows that yoga is not only for the privileged; prisoners benefit from its lessons in self-control.
Earlier this year the Supreme Court ruled that California prisons were in such bad shape they violated the 8th amendment prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment. The reason? Overcrowding. California must to reduce its prison population by 30,000, according to the ruling. Overcrowding is a perennial issue in US prisons in no small part because the recidivism rate is remarkably high. In 1994 the largest study of prisoner recidivism ever done in the U.S. showed that, of nearly 300,000 adult prisoners who were released in fifteen different states, 67.5 percent were re-arrested within three years.
James Fox, who founded the nonprofit Prison Yoga Project, has been working with incarcerated youth and adults for over ten years and has some ideas on what keeps the recidivism rate above 50%. In his opinion, the prison system overly emphasizes retributive justice -- the idea that punishment alone is a sufficient response to a crime. Fox is an advocate for restorative justice, an approach that focuses on criminals as individuals with needs, and seeks to find ways to empower them to meet those needs. He thinks an emphasis on restorative justice could lower the recidivism rate.
Fox teaches yoga to male prisoners as a form of restorative justice. Criminals, and especially repeat offenders, he told Dowser, are suffering from unresolved trauma from their early years, and stunted emotional intelligence. “The men that I work with didn’t get proper guidance when they were in adolescence, never dealt with core social and emotional issues of that age – they rebelled instead, or got locked up at an early age,” he explained.
Yoga and meditation help prison inmates develop important emotional skills like impulse control and willpower – both of which can prevent someone from seeking out a drug fix or pulling out a weapon in moments of stress, said Fox.
“It’s so important for teaching yoga in prison to make it practical, applicable to issues that prisoners face,” explained Fox, reflecting on his decade of teaching yoga in places like San Quentin in California, the country’s largest prison. (San Quentin has an official capacity of around 3,000 people, but generally holds over 5,000.) “People in prison have not learned how to manage their impulses, or in some cases their addictions to drugs or alcohol. One of the main advantages of yoga in prison is learning self-discipline. Yoga requires a great deal of self-discipline and self-control,” said Fox.
At first, Fox found it very challenging to get prisoners to take the yoga classes. They are voluntary, so only the men who are motivated would come. Little by little, however, he learned better how to work with them, and gained their respect.
Now, he receives letters from former inmates who say that his yoga teaching changed their lives and helped them become calmer, happier, and ultimately more able to fit into society. A few years ago, Fox founded the Prison Yoga Project, which provides trainings for yoga teachers who want to begin working in prisons. He wrote a book for prisoners on how to practice yoga on their own, and to date has received requests for around 5,000 copies, which he sends out for free. He is now guiding trainings all over the U.S. for yoga practitioners who want to teach inmates. And eventually, he wants to start a scholarship fund to help former inmates do teacher trainings, so they can make a career out of the practice.
Yoga has helped Fox deal with his own emotional challenges. “Yoga has the potential to heal the world. It’s had a tremendous impact on my life, helping me deal with anger issues, and typical male violent tendencies that I inherited from growing up in Chicago in the Sixties. I carried that with me as I grew older and it was impacting me and the way I operate in the world,” he said. Perhaps if Fox had not been a white male, but an African-American or Latino male, who represent around seventy percent of the prison population in the U.S., he may not have been so lucky and could have ended up in jail himself.
While the emotional benefits of teaching yoga in prisons may be unique, the arts are another way that more privileged members of society have been showing inmates that they can transcend their personal struggles. In Wisconsin, the Writers in Prisons Project has been doing this work. Also, playwright Eve Ensler worked with incarcerated women, many of whom were convicted murderers, to produce a theatrical performance that was made into a film. One woman in Maryland has been providing a creative outlet for prisoners through a
But yoga, unlike these other activities, is explicitly geared to provide lessons in self-control and emotional maturity. And what’s also new about the Prison Yoga Project is that it brings something increasingly seen as reserved for the elite into the lives of the underprivileged and the outcast. What Fox has seen is that yoga does not discriminate: anyone who adheres to the practice can develop mindfulness, patience, diligence, and self-motivation. Finding those skills in life can be hard enough; if people can acquire them in prison, then, Fox hopes that rampant recidivism and over-crowded prisons may one day become a thing of the past.
And their greatest weapon is, ultimately, themselves. As a bill called the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, gets ready to go to the Senate on December 15th (it passed the House recently) the Internet world has voiced anxiety that the legislation will restrict Internet freedom--and they have started an online petition that may stop SOPA in its tracks. There is particular concern that SOPA will limit usage of sites like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter (now, that got your attention, didn’t it).
The bill was introduced in the House in October by Republican Representative Lamar Smith, from Texas. If passed, SOPA would expand the ability of U.S. law enforcement and copyright holders to combat online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property and counterfeit goods. What does that mean? Under SOPA, the government can force a site to shut down with no more than a notice from a copyright or trademark owner who alleges that a single page of the site “enables or facilitates” illegal activity -- like copyright infringement -- by third parties. SOPA would also allow the U.S. Department of Justice and copyright holders to seek court orders requiring online advertising networks, payment processors and related entities to cease payments to websites and web-based services accused of copyright infringement.
So far, Reddit reports that over 900,000 people have signed an online petition asking Congress not to sign the SOPA bill. Both MoveOn and Change.org have lent their support to the petition, showcasing it on their websites. Anti-SOPA people call it the “Internet blacklist bill,” and say that it will allow the music and television industries to shut down the aforementioned sites. The bill also includes a provision that would make it a felony to stream unlicensed content, like videos from YouTube.
The signatures in the anti-SOPA petition will serve as a filibuster, read out loud, name-by-name, by Senator Wyden (D-Ore), when the bill is presented for the Senate vote this week. This may be the first case where Internet activism is being taken up so directly in a Congressional vote. Wyden’s main argument is that the bill would actually make the Internet less secure, because government intervention disrupts, for example, the Domain Name System, and has an overall “effect on the net’s structure.” If the bill passes, he says, we may be headed toward a future where only people who can afford a lawyer will be able to create a website. Wyden is also speaking out against a similar act that restricts Internet usage, the Protect IP Act (PIPA), which would allow the U.S. Department of Justice to seek court orders that will require Internet service providers to shut down websites accused of copyright infringement. This may post a threat to personal blogs as well as content-sharing sites like YouTube or Hulu.
Blogging on Forbes, Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association, said that SOPA “would fundamentally alter the way in which the Internet operates by killing the very innovations, wealth and jobs that have made it the indispensable tool of the our era.” When it comes down to it, SOPA represents the will of the music, television, and other cultural production industries to win the battle of intellectual property. In 2000, lawsuits were brought against Napster for copyright infringement, and it was eventually left with no choice but to declare bankruptcy, ending the brief era of free music downloads. The case of SOPA bears some similarities to that of Napster--but it would have much wider implications beyond downloading files. That’s why it’s sparked so much anxiety, and why it will be interesting to see whether the filibuster is effective in the Senate on the 15th. Reading more than 900,000 names out loud should, if anything, give our Senators time to think carefully about their votes.
Humans are an increasingly urbanized species; for the first time in history, more people live in cities than in rural areas. And that, of course, means more buildings, which means more concentrated energy usage.
Many cities are trying to limit carbon emissions by monitoring energy use to keep it at sustainable levels. A new monitoring approach, called “benchmarking," counts on a combination of raising awareness, motivating people through comparative measures, and fostering a sense of responsibility, to help building owners be greener. In New York City, benchmarking was piloted in August 2011, and it launched in November in Seattle; it is also currently launching in Austin, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. The idea behind benchmarking is that measuring and rating a building’s energy performance, and making that information available in certain contexts, can help owners identify ways to increase building energy efficiency and lower energy costs.
The key to the program’s success is its emphasis on transparency – even though the information is not completely public. “Benchmarking creates awareness,” said Jayson Antonoff, Seattle’s Program Manager for the Benchmarking and Reporting initiative. After a building owner has done benchmarking, any current or potential tenant, buyer, or lender can request to see the energy performance report, so they can make informed decisions on using the building. “We’re trying to get the framework in place so that the market can motivate building owners to improve energy performance,” added Antonoff.
In Seattle, the city sent out letters to the owners of 8,000 buildings a few weeks ago, notifying them that they need to begin benchmarking and reporting the energy use of their buildings by April 2010. In this initial phase, nonresidential buildings over 50,000 square feet will be obliged to comply with the program. The next phase will require nonresidential buildings over 10,000 square feet and multifamily buildings with five or more units to benchmark and report by April 2012.
To assist building owners, Seattle’s city government has developed educational materials, including hands-on training workshops, webinars, and a “How To” guide on benchmarking, as well as information packets on utility energy-saving programs. The city has also partnered with local utilities to provide owners with the building energy consumption data they need. A free online tool called Energy Star Portfolio Manager allows owners to easily see their buildings’ energy performance and how it compares to other, similar buildings. The next step in the process is an energy audit, where an expert comes on-site to look for opportunities to improve a building’s energy performance.
The benchmarking program is one component of broader efforts for cities to reduce their carbon emissions and energy-related costs. A few years ago, the city of Seattle established citywide goals of 20 percent improvement across the entire stock of existing buildings by the year 2020. Now, as building owners report benchmarking data once a year to the city, they will be able to see their progress in meeting their sustainability goals.
There will be hefty fees for any building owner who does not comply with the program by its April deadline – but the punishment stops there. Seattle program, unlike New York City’s, does not require the benchmarking information to be available to the public. “Only people involved in a transaction with a building can request the info from the owners – this makes owners feel like the issue is framed in a positive way, rather than ‘shaming,’” explained Antonoff. The private nature of the conversation also allows the owner to provide an explanation for a relatively bad rating – maybe he or she hasn’t had time to work on improving it yet, but plans to, for example.
The program seems promising precisely because it requires so much engagement – the evaluation and reporting of buildings’ energy usage is complemented by education and action. “We are putting resources into outreach and training because we really want people to understand why this is important, valuable information, that can help them operate businesses more efficiently and increasing building values,” explained Antonoff. By finding ways to work within a positive mentality, and increasing awareness of energy issues, Seattle hopes that it will reach its goals of reducing carbon emissions, reducing energy waste, and becoming a greener home for its residents.
In this series we check in on Unreasonable Institute graduates. The Institute puts 25 entrepreneurs a year through an intense training and mentoring program to speed the development of their social enterprise. Here we're tracking their progress and lessons learned.
Frustrated with both the traffic in densely-populated cities and with the lack of affordable transportation options for traveling within a city, Raj Janagam decided to try to bring bike-sharing to India. He piloted a program in Mumbai, and is now working through Cycle Chalao! to develop the bike-share model on a larger scale. Janagam was a 2011 fellow at the Unreasonable Institute, and spoke recently with Dowser about his progress and challenges so far.
Dowser: How did you get the idea to start a bike-sharing program?
Janagam: What we basically do is very similar to the bike-sharing model that is present in the U.S. these days, and in Europe. But it was not in India.
In 2007, there was a small initiative in the capital for renting bicycles in key places like railway stations. But it didn't scale up and there were issues with the government and management. I got this idea out of frustration with not finding a short-distance commute option in the city. I live in Mumbai, which is a city of 25 million people, and roughly around 8 to 10 million people everyday use local trains and public buses--which are long distance public transport options. But the problem starts when you get out of these buses or trains and you have more distance to cover in your journey, you won't find an auto-rickshaw or a cab. So people end up wasting a lot of times. So just like me, when I used to go to college, I never used to find an auto-rickshaw at the right time.
So that frustration led to an idea of why don't we have a bicycle rental model in place. And from there onwards, I have learned what is a bike-sharing system. It took around one and a half years for me, and three friends [to do] the research, asking questions like, why doesn't this service exist and what are the problems in bringing that service to light?
A lot of organizations supported us by giving research grants, research support. In January 2010, we launched a small pilot initiative of bike-sharing in one suburb of the city, connecting one railway station to a nearby college, and giving subscriptions to college students.
What we found was an amazing response. We started off with only 30 bicycles, and had 33 subscriptions within the first week. We also got the money for the entire month's operation, and we found a model that is sustainable through membership money alone. In the next couple of months, we got advertising money, we found sponsors. We also held events promoting bicycles and thereby got more funds. Which we put back in and continued that project, and have spread to another station in the city itself over the last year.
What challenges have you faced in growing Cycle Chalao!?
The first challenge is investment, and the second challenge is government support. What we realized is it's a huge infrastructure investment model, and unless there is state support in either getting parking spaces or even getting subsidies for constructing these bike parking stations, the business model itself cannot take off very smoothly.
We pursued with the local city municipality and with the ministry at the country level. The first news was that the city awarded us a contract to run 300 bicycles as a pilot in one part of the city, and the second part was the Ministry of Urban Development taking us on board in developing a policy to implement bike-sharing systems across the country. The target there is to get into 10 cities over five years.
So right now we are working at these two levels, but the policy drafting also has several other groups like us. We are working with them, and with the municipality we are waiting for final clearance and once that happens, we get $730,000 as the gap funding. And $700,000 that private corporations are putting in through advertisement and sponsorships. That is what is going to developing the first-of-its-kind bicycle-sharing system in Pune city, India.
Can you explain what you mean by gap funding?
The city has imposed certain restrictions. We charge $3 to $4 per month per cyclist, but the city municipality has asked us not to charge anything, and only charge $10 for the entire five-year period. It's kind of a free service to citizens. The city said instead of charging them, we will give you the gap funding that you need.
In the first pilot as well, we didn't have bicycles to meet demand. We are sure that will happen again in the city itself. The target the city has given us is to reach three users per bicycle. Once we reach that, the city will consider another proposal of scaling it. The overall goal is to have 2,000 bicycles in the city within these five years.
How do you prevent people from keeping the bikes out for too long?
Free is the basic model. You can only use it for the first half an hour for free, and if you have to use it for more than that, you will be charged additionally, and the $10 would deduce immediately.
The target is really the lower-income group, who travel by public transport and to take a cab is very expensive. And we do not have credit or debit card usage.
The major difference between what we are doing here and what is running abroad is that there there is an attendant at every location, unlike the completely automated bike-sharing systems.
The attendant basically does two things. One thing is the security, and the second thing is the maintenance and transactions. He will be assisting all the people, whether it is getting a subscription, or checking in and checking out, and then securing the entire system.
So these people will be time and again, each time will be educated on how and why to use the service.
That is how we do our monitoring, on the ground at the location. We have identified the first 25 locations to put 12 bicycles each across the city. These locations are transportation hubs, residential complexes, and large office spaces, where there is high demand for these services.
So, why Pune?
Pune city has been called the bicycle capital of India.
There are a lot of cyclists in the city already, but over the years because of heavy infrastructure changes, the city has been becoming more car-friendly. But the local municipality wants to again revamp the cycling infrastructure, and make the roads better. Pune is the only city in India that has a dedicated bicycle corridor -- 125 kilometers of bike lanes within the city itself.
There are very few social enterprises in India that are working on urban mobilization, and one is called Parisar is in Pune. So basically the credit of Pune municipality floating this proposal goes to the advocacy work of Parisar.
The other thing was the availability of funds. The city had immediately earmarked certain funding for bicycle promotions, and that was diverted to bike-sharing.
How did you benefit from participating in the Unreasonable Institute?
Being at Unreasonable, what really helped me personally was I was able to sit and talk with people who are already managing the large business and others who have failed at managing large businesses. The mentors at Unreasonable are the guys who told me what it takes to fail, and that was an eye-opener for me.
That learning is not something I got in my business school. And the entire family we have now, the network is simply amazing. I always lag behind asking for support. There's always support there.
It's always been really silent and dark before any good news has come, and how do you manage yourself at times when you're bootstrapping. That's something outside of the routine business learning that you get being at Unreasonable -- that was very important for me personally
Due to the onset of winter and police crackdowns on encampments, Occupy movements in many cities have retreated from their initial tactics of long term public occupations. In this time of recalculating and rebuilding for the movement, a recent Occupier reflects back on the protest's strategies and makes the case for carrying on.
Recent polls show public opinion slightly souring towards the Occupy movement despite widespread sympathy with its aim - battling economic inequality and corporate influence on politics. While some are uncomfortable with the protesters’ image and take-over tactics, many others, such as Sociologist Claude Fischer, question their efficacy. Fischer argues that historically, few American street protests have won significant victories, and those that have possess “strong organization, discipline, defined goals, and a clear strategy to attain those goals—all features seemingly lacking in Occupy.”
Initially, I shared this skepticism—how could tents, interminable consensus meetings, and disparate demands add up to policy change? Eventually, however, I became active at the encampment on my campus (UC Berkeley) and other Bay Area sites, and was even arrested at a peaceful protest. I’ve discussed my question with several Occupy participants and found two main responses.Response 1. Occupation, not policy, is the first demand
Lamenting that Occupy is not more like the Tea Party is like looking for oranges at a hardware store. Critics who myopically focus on Occupy’s lack of centralized demands and strategy miss out on lot of what the movement is accomplishing.
Occupiers build micro-communities reflective of the world that they would like to live in—spaces for self and community actualization. Many compare Occupy to other social movements, but they should also compare it to the Burning Man festival—sans the high cost of admission, sand, electronic music, and (for the most part) drugs. So how is that like Burning Man? Both are social experiments—intentional communities built around principles such as direct democracy, radical self-expression, reduced consumption, openness and inclusion, and a (for the most part) share economy. Both frequently fail to live up to these ideals (a point hilariously made by the Daily Show), and self-reflective participants learn as much from failure as success.
Recently, a friend of mine admonished Occupiers for their self-righteousness—how dare they feel so good about themselves despite the fact that, in his eyes, they were unlikely to achieve their goals? My friend overlooked the possibility that feeling good might be one of the goals. We live in an era of unparalleled and accelerating economic inequality and environmental devastation that even progressive policy makers seem incapable of reigning in. Just as some Occupiers come to the encampments to meet their needs for food and shelter, others come to meet their needs for hope and joy. They have not felt good about the country’s trajectory for a long time, if ever, so they are creating communities that make them proud. These communities may serve as launch pads for large scale social transformations, but their success does not entirely hinge upon it.Response 2. Occupation is just the beginning
Though the first demand of Occupy is occupation, many Occupiers are focused on policy change, and there is evidence of early success. Below, I sketch four mutually reinforcing mechanisms through which this is happening. The big question is will they add up to large scale impact?
Unfortunately, we’ll probably never know with confidence. Social movement outcomes are notoriously difficult to measure due to the complexity of factors involved and the fact that we can’t repeat history. For example, we don’t know if the anti-Iraq War protests shortened the war’s length or changed its course.
I confess, I am skeptical that Occupy will lead to transformative policy change. But combined with many other approaches social change, I think it has the potential to do so. And the brutality of the current economic order makes pursuing such opportunities imperative. Of the mechanisms below, I have most optimism about #4, but I think the movement should currently be focusing on mechanism #3.
- Changing the electoral equation: According to Politico, media mention of the term “inequality” quintupled since the start of Occupy. Though it’s impossible to prove, some argue that this has provided political cover for elected officials to push progressive policy (e.g., Obama’s student loan plan) and helped defeat conservative ballot initiatives (e.g., the defeat of Ohio’s anti-union law). Last Saturday, Chris Hayes leaked a memo from a high powered financial lobbying firm, which says that Occupy is creating an environment in which “Republicans will no longer defend Wall Street companies—and might start running against them too.” It proposes a nearly $1m campaign to squash Occupy.
- Pitchforks: Despite Occupy’s focuses on moral and cultural critique rather than policy, the threat of disruption may scare power holders into action. Occupy protests may have contributed to Bank of America’s unilateral withdrawal of its $5 monthly ATM fee. They successful pushed the University of California’s Board of Regents to postpone a meeting in which student fee hikes were to be discussed, and to take fee hikes off their agenda for now. While successful social movements in the 1960s may have required centralized organizing, monetary support, training, and demands, the advent of social media enhances the capacity of decentralized movements to achieve these ends.
- Alliances (aka “pitchforks plus”): Sociologist Peter Evans argues that many successful social movements weave together tree-like organizational forms (hierarchical, traditional institutions) and rhizome forms (flexible, spontaneous networks). In this model, traditional social change organizations that focus on electoral politics may ally with Occupy. One of the best examples is Refund California, a coalition of education, labor and community groups that seeks free up state revenue for public education and social programs. Refund engages in strategic policy research and electoral politics, but also draws on Occupy’s rhetoric, energy, and people power to orchestrate mass mobilizations. Last week, I attended a march co-organized by Refund. 250 protesters occupied a Bank of America branch in San Francisco, erected a tent inside, then demanded that a University of California regent who also sits on Bank of America’s board sign a pledge to support five policies which will help reverse the defunding of California’s public education system.
- Diffusion: Occupy energizes and educates movement participants, who in turn will effect policy change in diverse, unpredictable, and immeasurable ways. Most Occupy participants are young people, who are at inflection points in the formation of their political identities. Like participants in the social movements of the 1960s, this exposure will lead some to transform their life paths and pursue careers in social and environmental justice. Others will follow more mainstream career paths, but will find other ways—from volunteer work to interventions at home and work—to enact their values. In this sense, Occupy is not about a set of demands per se, but a general awakening that is necessary for a range of social issues to gain ground.
Manuel Rosaldo is a doctoral student in Sociology at UC Berkeley and a participant in the Occupy movement
Photo by deanv41
Picture a marriage between the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter and OpenIDEO, a platform where a community of users proposes solutions real-world design challenges and ultimately selects a winner. Their baby would be GOOD Maker, a recently-launched platform that links organizations with specific problems or tasks and allows users to vote on who receives funding to tackle those problems or tasks.
The social-good multi-media platform GOOD created GOOD Maker as a way to leverage their networking power to facilitate real action. Rather than being a one-size-fits-all deal, Maker is context-specific, providing unique opportunities for organizations and individuals to get funding or support for their social-good projects. Both nonprofit and for-profit entities can participate.
Jen Chiou, GOOD Maker's General Manager, highlights the flexibility of the platform as one of its assets. “Nonprofits come in applying for a challenge that’s sponsored by someone else. Or, an organization might be interested in getting ideas from the public, and we would talk them through the question of what reward might be necessary. If they want something specific, we could talk to them about finding sponsorship,” she told Dowser. Organizations interested in participating can send an email through the Maker website.
An example of a current Maker challenge is “The Brookside Foods Giving Back Challenge,” which offers $5000 to any nonprofit that is doing community-based social work. There is also an opportunity to create a winning logo for Occupy Design, which GOOD will then produce and help disseminate. Another, more high-profile example, is the United States Agency for International Development’s FWD (Famine, War, Drought) challenge. FWD is a recently-launched program geared toward raising awareness about the East Horn famine crisis and bringing in small donations to mitigate it. On Maker, FWD is looking to give $5000 to the best plan to raise awareness about the crisis in a community.Chiou is looking forward to seeing the site expand beyond its current beta phase. Over the next six months, Maker will be focused on “attracting partners through special perks and offers of support from GOOD,” she said. “In 2010 GOOD Maker will become much more expanded, open, and paid platform. There will be less moderation from the site creators, and more organizations will be involved – and larger organizations, that have more money. There will be full-scale contests around larger campaigns.”
But Chiou is also aware of the potential limitations of Maker’s reach, especially in cases like the East Horn famine, which has affected around 13 million people to date – and which USAID, who sponsors FWD, predicted as long ago as August 2010, according to journalist Samuel Loewenberg’s recent op-ed in the New York Times. She is, however, optimistic about Maker’s contribution to solving such a complex, large-scale problem: “It will require a multi-pronged solution, and this challenge focuses on a little piece of that: raising local awareness. And for any change to happen, this is a foundational element.”
For Chiou, Maker’s main role is to raise awareness about contemporary problems, and by offering incentives, the platform goes beyond the OpenIDEO model, which crowdsources ideas but provides no funding for implementation. Another thing that sets Maker apart from OpenIDEO is the relatively quick turnaround time for its challenges: a couple of weeks for submissions, a couple of weeks for voting, and fairly immediate implementation for most projects.
Maker’s potential for supporting social change has to do largely with the fact that it is, as Chiou says, “part of the larger GOOD ecosystem”: it draws on the many connections GOOD as a media platform can foster between organizations and individuals. And it’s significant that, unlike with Kickstarter, Maker has the money already in place for specific challenges. With all the existing platforms out there, it’s exciting to imagine how Maker might use the Web to facilitate social change. It’s also likely to create greater engagement by linking individuals to important current challenges and empowering people to become involved in issues they care about in a direct manner.