Meet Online, Deliver Offline

November 12, 2009

A colleague pointed me to this BBC article today on Global ‘caring’ portal to launch and this one First Ever Global Portal for Social Change Set For Launch …. sorry guys but I do think there were other websites in this space before you … including Betavine Social Exchange … well maybe these other sites focussed a little more and are not on quite the same scale.

I think this is a great initiative, people can give their time to projects running on other continents without leaving the comfort of their own homes.   It is a   “a place where people can meet, congregate and change the world online”.

I will be very interested to see how this works – may learn a few lessons for the Social Exchange.  With the Social Exchange we talk about it being an online meeting place or a “matchmaking” website .. however, when it comes to delivering real services on the ground you need to go offline.

We noticed that Kiva used local representatives to help with the delivery of the micro-loans to the right people and we have introduced the concept of “Support Partner” in Betavine Social Exchange.  Support Partners are organisations with some local presence that can help to deploy a mobile solution in the local market.

Can the world be changed online?


Well, according to Plato is it “necessity”.

Whilst I was visiting the RLabs in Athlone, Cape Town, I came across this initiative – Cans4Skills from the charity BreadlineAfrica.

Shipping containers are being used to create a space for skills training e.g. plumbing and brickwork.  Another example of the fantastic ingeniuty seen in Africa where “necessity is the mother of invention” !


Cans4Skills - Plumbing

And here is what it looks like on the inside …


Cans4Skills - Plumbing, teacher and students

And another one …


Cans4Skills - brickwork

Impact and Reconstruction

October 23, 2009

I had the privilege of spending a day at the Impact Direct Ministries in Athone, Cape Town on Monday of this week.

I spoke with the Director of IDM, Roger Peterson about the work they are doing with local people in need and in particular the success they have had helping to get people off drugs.  One of the keys to getting people off drugs has been to give them something new to focus on i.e. RLabs.  RLabs was set up by Marlon Parker, who I first met in February 2009 at the launch of Living Labs in Southern Africa, LLiSA.

Marlon has pioneered the use of mobile and web technology for social change in Athlone, Cape Town, South Africa.  The “Reconstructed Labs” or “RLabs” are truely a great example of a “living lab”.  The technology is applied to real life issues related to drugs, AIDS and general traininng of the local community in social media and mobile technology.  See details of these projects on the RLabs website here.  Marlon gave me an overview of the project:

I also spoke with a few of the team who have been helped off drugs and are now key members of the RLabs team.

Mobile technology can be used for social change and this particular project is inspiring!  I am hoping to work with RLabs Team going forward so that the Betavine Social Exchange project can benefit from all they have learnt in this space.

As I tell the story of the Betavine Social Exchange I get asked questions for clarification.  This really helps me to think through the story and make it clearer.  Here are some of the frequently asked questions which will end up in an FAQ on the website.

How do we keep challenges and solutions visible once the site has 100’s of users?

I got caught out by this question in Joburg!  We provide a good filter function on the challenge and solution pages so that you can filter by words used in challenge, region, partner or user tags.  This should help locate relevant challenges.

The fact that challenges are shown in reverse chronological order was mentioned and I was asked if regular updates to the challenge would keep it on the front page?  Yes, I think that could work but we need to consider more sophisticated solutions and maybe regular “mailshots” for unsolved challenges.

Do I have to link a solution to a challenge that is already on the site?

No. Solutions may be uploaded that are not linked to specific challenges.  This will allow a range of solutions to be uploaded and linked to challenges at a later date.  I hope we can have a large range of pre-existing solutions to select from.

What if there are several challenges that are very similar?

This may well happen and some challenges may look different but the underlying issues may be very similar.  At present we could link several challenges to the same solution.  In future we may add in a “similar to” button that gives a list of existing challenges and then similar challenges may be linked.

What mechanisms exist to publicise my challenge?

The Betavine Team are providing the BSX platform and general promotion.  A particular challenge could be promoted by a “tweet this” button which sends it out on the Betavine twitter feed to be re-tweeted by others.  We could also add in other mechanisms to make it easier to publicise challenges.

How do I start an off-line discussion around a particular challenge / solution?

At the moment you would need to give out an email address in a discussion forum.  In future we may have a direct messaging capability between registered Betavine members.

Will a challenge owner get notified when someone links it to a solution?

No, but we are planning to add this feature.

Who owns the IPR of particular solutions?

The creator / developer owns the IPR as is the case today on Betavine.  Once a challenge / solution pair has been created and it moves into the commercial discussion phase (off-line) then this is Business as Usual (BAU) for the local mobile operator or local businesses. Any commercial discussions on licence fees etc. will take place off-line.

Will all the software on BSX be open source?

No.  We will encourage software developers to select an open source licence e.g. GPL2, but it is up to the developer to decide.

I am sure there will be lots more questions posted soon.

After a great effort by the Betavine Team we reached the launch of the Betavine Social Exchange at 19:44 (RSA time) on the 14th October 2009.  This was a soft launch a day before the formal launch in order to get some content uploaded.  Thanks to Marlon and Nicky for helping out.  It is a “beta” so we are expecting the odd bug to be reported … and quickly fixed.

The launch event was held at the end of day 1 of the Sangonet Annual Conference in Johannesburg.

Turbine Hall, Johannesburg - location of #Sango09

Turbine Hall, Johannesburg - location of #Sango09

The launch of BSX was supported by Vodacom and their VEMCI team.  I presented a few slides on VEMCI and a few on BSX and then showed the website live … which worked!  I got some very good questions .. one of which I could not answer: “if there are thousands of challenges on the site how do I keep mine in focus and ensure that it is not forgotten?”  Well, the team will have to work on that one.

Launch Presentation #sango09

Launch Presentation #sango09

More at day 2 of #sango09 tomorrow and then off to Cape Town to meet some more NGOs.

Please check out the new site and give us your feedback and suggestions.

1 week to launch

October 8, 2009

It is almost exactly one week until we launch the Betavine Social Exchange in Johannesburg.  I will be standing up in front of the Sangonet Annual Conference delegates at 17:30 on the 15th October …

The development team and the content team are rather busy right now testing and debugging and trying to get the copy together ready for the big event.

I am also putting together a press release with Vodacom , our local supporter, to be released soon.

Here is a sneak preview of the challenge page:

new challenge page with test content

new challenge page with test content

We are still looking for people to help with the pilot, sign up here:

Please follow the action on twitter:  stevewolak and the hashtag #bsxpilot

OTA 09 and weekend working

September 29, 2009

OTA 09 at Imperial College on the weekend was fab!

Hundreds of mobile developers came together for tech sessions and an overnight hack in the “Great Hall”  at Imperial College, London.  There was even a “real” dalek to keep us in order …see   OTA 09 – Great Hall with Dalek .

I met some great people their and the Betavine Team worked the registration desk for the Friday and Saturday.

I was given a speaking slot at 9am on Saturday morning … not expecting a huge crowd but was pleasantly surprised to find some Betavine Social Exchange enthusiasts who had come especially for my talk!

A few snippets of my talk can be found on YouTube.

Following the talk I interview 3 very interesting people who clearly had a passion for bring technology to the developing world.

I was intrigued by Iris comments on “social entrepreneurs” …entrepreneurial in thinking whilst focussing on social problems.

Guillaume raised the issue of BSX challenges becoming “dead letters” i.e. getting lost and no-one working on the solutions.  We will work on features to help challenges to remain visible.

Joel thinks BSX could be a “great tool for connnecting people …”  – that is our aim and we will be seeking lots of feedback from our users to ensure we do this.

Please sign up for the pilot here:  BSX pilot.