The proliferation of landmines in war-stricken countries is a massive hurdle to sustainable development, as they are often hidden in farmland, paths to schools and other areas of countryside.
Now, Demine Robotics – the product of a Cambodian-Canadian engineering team from the University of Waterloo – has come up with an unmanned excavation robot prototype which makes demining safer and more efficient. They are currently working out of the SISU at the National University of Management in Phnom Penh.
Meet their small, unmanned excavator robot prototype – “Jevit” (meaning life in Khmer). It is blast protected by metal plating and can be used as a platform for multiple detection equipment and robotic manipulators to handle UXOs.
While thus far they’ve been able to make huge progress with very limited resources, prototyping machines isn’t cheap. Every little bit helps them get closer to saving land, limbs and lives.
SEASIN is entering its last nine months and it’s an exciting time for the Network. We must now ensure that the project creates a sustainable impact within the partner countries and across the region.
What have we achieved so far?
The Social Innovation Support Units (SISU) are now well established in each of the eight universities. The Units in the Universities have been equipped with new technologies to help them meet these challenges – 3D printers; VR headsets; tablets; and even sewing machines – but perhaps more importantly, individuals are being trained in entrepreneurship, design-thinking and other techniques to unleash their creativity. It’s not all about getting 3D printers and high-tech tools in a room though. Technology is a means to an end. Some partners, such as the Cooperative University Thanlyin, have been offering training to women from rural communities to ensure they can develop a regular income and have established a sewing-machine room for the women to develop skills through a variety of training sessions from popular designers in Yangon.
The Units also act as incubators, nurturing new ideas and nascent companies that will have a social impact. At the National University of Management in Cambodia, one of these companies, Demine Robotics, offers unique expertise in clearing landmines. Its founder, Richard, recalls his childhood spent avoiding the mines and seeing the maimed victims begging on the streets. Cambodia is one of the most heavily land-mined countries in the world – with an estimated 4 to 6 million land mines still buried somewhere in the country, posing a challenge to farmers trying to cultivate otherwise fertile land. Using the Unit’s space and equipment and working with the students, the company has become recognised internationally for its expertise in applying robotics to landmine clearance.
Our event in October in Kuala Lumpur – SI LIVE ASIA – explored the role of universities in society, looking at how we rethink research and practice, learning and systems over two days. The event included keynote speeches, a talk-show style panel discussion and interactive deep-dive sessions. Topics covered included everything from the role of research and universities in tackling the SDGs, to building knowledge and narratives between social innovation and STEM and human centred design.
What’s coming up this year?
SEASIN is organising mentoring trips for our students from Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Malaysia to come to Europe and exchange best practices with our students here. Many of the students selected will have gone through the Impact Connect workshops run last year by the Social Innovation Exchange, University of Aveiro and Mission & Co, but are also attending follow-up organised by their institution’s SISU. Thammasat University, for example has been running a series of #SEASINCompetition Workshops. The first of these was led by Dr Serdar S. Durmusoglu who brainstormed business model canvas with students, highlighting the particular characteristics of a social enterprise model. Other workshops will focus on Service Design and the other on Components of Brand Design.
The Royal University of Phnom Penh and the University of Aveiro have been developing a Doctoral Programme which will be published in the summer. Partners from SEASIN have also been working together on the development of a joint doctorate programme under the European Commission’s Marie Sklodowska Curie Action. The Innovative Training Programme was developed with partners from Ashoka Thailand and Thammasat University as well as European partners from Glasgow and Aveiro and the Social Innovation Exchange. The International Network for Social Innovation Training and Education (INSITE) aims to equip a new generation of researchers with the appropriate tools, skills and knowledge to deliver an alternative, more collaborative approach to tackling societal challenges.
One of the fundamental aspects of SEASIN is the involvement of our stakeholders, and we would like to offer our thanks to them for their commitment to the project. Organised by the Universiti Teknologi Mara, Malaysia, we have a Memoranda of Understanding with a stakeholder network in each of the partner countries. In addition, the University of Alicante and Yangon University of Economics are overseeing the activities of the Advisory and Evaluation committees which will be assessing the work of each of the SISUs at a local level and the success of the project overall. Ten of the projects emerging from our SISU activities are also being monitored as case studies by Sunway University and Ashoka Thailand in order to gauge how social innovators can be supported by universities more effectively.
Other highlights to look out for this year: Kasetsart University, Thailand will oversee the publication of the SEASIN book which will feature a selection of articles and tools reflecting on the results of the project as well as reports from the SISUs and their projects, the role of our non-HEI partners and contributions from other stakeholders from the region. In the coming weeks, we will also be announcing our call for presentations for our second Southeast Asian Social Innovation Network conference to be held in Bangkok; supported by the partners from Mith Samlanh / Friends International, Social Innovation Exchange, Kasetsart University, Thammasat University and Cooperative University Thanylin.
We will be looking for a good mix of academics and practitioners to really delve into the question of how we can work together to effect change within our different regions. Watch this space for dates!
As cities grow in size and significance, they can become sites of complex social problems – but also hubs for exploring possible solutions. While every city faces distinct problems, they all share a need for innovative approaches to tackle today’s challenges.
This essay is one in a series on future trends for innovative cities, written by the leading thinkers of the Mayor of Seoul’s Social Innovation Global Advisory Committee. This essay was written by Geoff Mulgan, CEO of Nesta in the UK and first published on the SIX website.
We all roughly know how our brains work. But what would a city look like that could truly think and act? What if it could be fully aware of all of its citizens experiences; able to remember and create; and then to act and learn?
This might once have been a fantasy. But it is coming closer. Cities can see in new ways – with citizen generated data on everything from the prevalence of floods to the quality of food in restaurants. Cities can create in new ways, through open challenges that mobilise public creativity. And they can decide in new ways, as cities like Madrid and Barcelona have done with online platforms that let citizens propose policies and then deliberate. Some of this is helped by technology. Our mobile phones collect data on a vast scale, and that’s now matched by sensors and the smart chips in our cars, buildings and trains. But the best examples combine machine intelligence with human intelligence: this is the promise of collective intelligence, and it has obvious relevance to a city like Seoul with millions of smart citizens, fantastic infrastructures and very capable institutions, from government to universities, NGOs to business.
Over the last few years, many experiments have shown how thousands of people can collaborate online analysing data or solving problems, and there’s been an explosion of new technologies to sense, analyse and predict. We can see some of the results in things like Wikipedia; the spread of citizen science in which millions of people help to spot new stars in the galaxy. There are new business models like Duolingo which mobilises volunteers to improve its service providing language teaching, and collective intelligence examples in health, where patients band together to design new technologies or share data.
I’m interested in how we can use these new kinds of collective intelligence to solve problems like climate change or disease, and am convinced that every organisation and every city can work more successfully if it taps into a bigger mind – mobilising more brains and computers to help it.
Doing that requires careful design, curation and orchestration. It’s not enough just to mobilise the crowd. Crowds are all too capable of being foolish, prejudiced and malign. Nor it is enough just to hope that brilliant ideas will emerge naturally. Thought requires work – to observe, analyse, create, remember and judge and to avoid the many pitfalls of delusion and deliberate misinformation.
But the emerging field of collective intelligence now offers many ways for cities to organise themselves in new ways.
Take air quality as an example. A city using collective intelligence methods will bring together many different kinds of data to understand what’s happening to air, and the often complex patterns of particulates. Some of this will come from its own sensors, and some data can be generated by citizens. Artificial intelligence tools can then be trained to predict how it may change, for example because of a shift in the weather. The next stage then is to mobilise citizens and experts to investigate the options to improve air quality looking in detail at which roads have the worst levels or which buildings are emitting the most, and what changes would have most impact. And finally cities can open up the process of learning, seeing what’s working and what’s not.
In this way the city becomes more like a living brain – observing itself, and mobilising its own creativity to solve its problems. Labour markets are another example. We now have a chance to gather far more data than ever before on what jobs are available in a city and what skills they need; we can make predictions about which jobs are likely to grow and which will shrink; and we can use that data to create tools to help teenagers, job-seekers or adults make choices about their future skills and careers. Again, the city becomes more like a brain in this way, able to think and act more smartly.
So how is this different from artificial intelligence? Artificial intelligence is going through another boom, embedded in everyday things like mobile phones and achieving remarkable breakthroughs in medicine or games. But for most things that really matter we need human intelligence as well as AI, and an over reliance on algorithms alone can have horrible effects, whether in financial markets or in politics.
Although there’s huge investment in artificial intelligence there’s been much less investment in collective intelligence. That is one reason why we have also seen little progress in how intelligently our most important systems work – democracy and politics, business and the economy. You can see this in the most everyday aspect of collective intelligence – how we organise meetings, which ignores almost everything that’s known about how to make meetings effective and how they can make the most of the collective intelligence of the people in the room. You can see it in many political systems too, where leaderships are a lot less smart than the societies they claim to lead. Martin Luther King spoke of ‘guided missiles but misguided men’ and we are surrounded by institutions packed with individual intelligence that nevertheless often display collective stupidity.
Not all of this is new. Many of the examples of successful collective intelligence are quite old – like the emergence of an international community of scientists in the 17th and 18th centuries, the Oxford English Dictionary which mobilised tens of thousands of volunteers in the 19th century, or NASA’s Apollo programme, which at its height employed over half a million people in more than 20,000 organisations. But the tools at our disposal now are radically different – and more powerful than ever before.
It’s easy to be depressed by the many examples of collective stupidity around us. But I believe we should be optimistic that we’ll figure out how to make the smart machines we’ve created serve us well and that we could be on the cusp of a dramatic enhancement of our shared intelligence. That’s a pretty exciting prospect with fundamental implications for almost everything governments do and it’s likely to be in cities like Seoul that the most important advances will come.
Geoff Mulgan is Chief Executive of Nesta, the UK’s National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts. He was previously head of the UK government Strategy Unit, director of the Young Foundation and the founder director of think-tank Demos. He is a senior visiting scholar at Harvard and his most recent book is ‘Big Mind: how collective intelligence can change our world’.
As a student in business school, I’ve always been fond of topics revolving around entrepreneurship. For me, entrepreneurship is all about solving problems and improving lives, whilst being self-sustainable and even profitable. As a major in Accounting and Finance degree, I’ve always wonder if there’s more to just monetary value which businesses can create. After a year trying to discover more meaning behind my studies, I was introduced to the idea of social entrepreneurship. I was amazed how it is possible to synergize the power of conventional business with core purpose of solving social or environmental issues, that leads to greater value generation, and this is more than just dollars and cents. I knew I needed to share that idea to my course mates, particularly because they were also from the business school and very likely to be involved in the business world in the future. I thought if the idea of social entrepreneurship can be instilled in their minds, it might trigger them to create innovative social projects or even business models that are both socially and financially sustainable.
However, conveying the idea wasn’t exactly the easiest thing to do, especially because social missions were never really a major discussion topic in our typical syllabus. Anything social-related was always a “side-dish” in our textbooks that students tend to deemphasize. Whenever I try to communicate how a social issue can be tackled through business models, my friends couldn’t grasp the idea. Social and financial goals are always black and white for them because social missions are always incorporated in a company under corporate social responsibility (CSR) and it often means money flowing out instead of revenue coming in to the company. There were some efforts by the university in trying to educate the campus community more about social entrepreneurship and social innovation ideas through forums and talks. But I thought we needed a more relevant way to do that so that people would finally notice. So, I decided to show the idea, literally, to the campus community because “seeing is believing”.
After assembling a group of close friends, we began to reach out to social enterprises across Malaysia and invited them over to the campus to run a social market – a marketplace for products and services that are created to bring better change to the lives of underserved communities and nature. The Good Tavern Social Market becomes more than a marketplace, it is where people share stories, spread ideas, and connect like-minded people. It wasn’t long until more and more people heard about the project and soon we expanded beyond campus, into one other university and also MaGIC Cyberjaya (also known as the Silicon Valley of Malaysia). We knew we were doing the right thing because people were finally listening. The simple idea of running a marketplace wasn’t just about sales, but it’s truly for the social innovators, social enterprises, and even the underserved community to share their stories, with the greater hope to inspire more changemakers for a better world.
I have been blessed to be in a university environment where I had supportive lecturers and friends to make The Good Tavern (TGT) possible. The team might have created TGT but TGT was the one that has built us to be more creative, compassionate, and agile as human-beings. We’re connected to many organizations and projects, like SEASIN, who constantly show support in making us better so that we can continue to innovate and improvise projects. As a proud millennial, I believe we are becoming more conscious of issues beyond our own daily lives, but of greater ones that can impact our future generation. Change for the better is possible even with the simplest idea. We just have to click the “start” button.
During SI-LIVE ASIA, SIX hosted a talk show on creating spaces and changing structures: how universities can change their systems. We brought together the perspectives from across the university structure – leadership, management, academia, student – as well as the perspectives of three external organisations that work with universities: British Council Hong Kong, The Good Lab and School of Changemakers.
Here are our speakers’ reflections on what one action universities could take to shift their behaviour and incorporate more social innovation.
Phonchan Kraiwatnutsorn, Founder and Managing Director at School of Changemakers: Active listening workshops that create time and space for those across universities to work together is key! One of the hardest challenges within universities is having the time and skill to listen to each other.
Chloe Tee, student at Sunway University: Changes should come from the people we learn from – lecturers. It can be something as simple as incorporating short videos on social topics into the breaks within long lectures that will spark interest in students.
Dr. Faizah Majid, Faculty of Education Dean at Universiti Teknologi MARA: I want to focus on changing the mindset of lecturers and helping integrate social innovation into their curriculums.
Mark Anderson, Director of the Europe Office at Glasgow Caledonian University: I think it’s important to professionalise the support for social innovation within universities. Innovation has become a part of a university’s DNA – the same needs to happen with social innovation.
Simon Teasdale, Professor of Public Policy and Organisations at Glasgow Caledonian University: Universities shouldn’t impose social innovation onto lecturers’ curriculums – it just becomes another box to tick. Instead, lecturers should listen more to students.
Christopher Ng, Head of English for Education Systems at British Council Hong Kong: It’s essential to enhance their transparency and finding where the commonality of all university stakeholders lie. Universities should stop being as guarded about their research and share more.
Ada Wong, Founder and Convenor at The Good Lab: Universities should ‘leapfrog’ and ‘mainstream’. We need to embed in young people going through the higher education system 21st century skills so that they become natural problem solvers when they graduate. We need to bring social innovation into universities’ innovation departments and unite techies and social innovators – we need more techies to talk about smart cities and social innovators to ask the question ‘who are smart cities for?’
SI LIVE ASIA helped spark a dialogue between researchers and practitioners about the role that universities should play in the future. Students are often keen to find ways to help tackle the biggest challenges that societies face today, and universities are hotbeds of cutting-edge research and innovation. Yet as institutions, they are often hard to innovate and change, with traditional hierarchies and governing structures. If they want to become more than academic institutions, and more in touch with the communities around them, universities need to find better ways to harness the energy of students, researchers and practitioners to improve society and direct innovation towards social change.
What are you working on already that you’d like to feature on the SEASIN website to share with others working on social innovation in research/practice? If you would like to contribute to SEASIN, sign up to the newsletter or get in touch!