Mathias Antonsson

Random subjective observations of what's on my mind


1 Comment

Real-time Learning

A quick google search indicates that the terminology; real-time learning, first appeared within online education. One definition used was “… forms of education in which students learn from instructors, colleagues, or peers at the same time, but not in person.”

I thought of it after chatting about Ushahidi with co-founder and former CEO Juliana Rotich on my podcast. (To listen to the episode, subscribe to “Plurrify” in your podcast app, or go here.) Juliana explained how core funding gives innovative entities the flexibility to explore new ideas and to learn through mistakes and that this is what had allowed Ushahidi to be continually innovative after its initial success. Or in other words, to keep innovating new products, not just maintain its current.

This is a rather elementary concept, however I’ve yet to come across a social entrepreneur or an organisation of any kind for that matter, that has explained this in a simplistic way.

I shall henceforth talk about this as “real-time learning”.

For innovators and entrepreneurs in the ICT space, or at least for the successful one’s, this is intuitively known. However not by the donors or the donor community. Note above that Juliana highlighted the importance of core funding, something that unfortunately today is only employed by a minority of donor entities.

Project-based funding, the funding norm today, means that you formulate a project plan, which in turn influences your deliverables, which then are linked to the budget. Once you pivot – yes for truly innovative organisations and projects it’s not a matter if you’ll pivot, but when – then you have to re-write the project plan, update the deliverables and the budget. Besides being time-consuming, and not having any impact on your deliverables, this is often when the relationship between donor and implementer gets tested.

From a donor perspective it appears that the implementer doesn’t know what they’re doing – which ironically they often don’t, if they did, they wouldn’t be innovating. From an implementer perspective the donor appears unsupportive and slow to react. Both lose confidence in each other and down the rabbit hole you go.

Having been a funder, a recipient, a go between and an implementer of ICT projects I’ve seen good projects fail simply because of overly bureaucratic processes and unrealistic or poorly managed expectations. Often without either party understanding why and what really happened.

Even on successfully implemented projects, talent is often wasted on heavy, barely read, documentation. This is not only a waste of time on a successful project, but when it fails, which most innovative ICT related projects do, it’s even worse. Worse case scenario, project-based funding causes harm. It ties up scarce talents, i.e. good innovators and entrepreneurs, in document heavy processes, moving them away from implementing, and having actual impact. I’ve seen this happen many a times. Yet, the current structures remain the same and as long as they do, so will the outcomes, and that includes some donors causing more harm than good when investing in innovation.

It’s a donor myth that there are many great ideas out there. Even more so if you consider the limited amount of entrepreneurs that can successfully implement the aforementioned idea. That combination is rare. So what can one do? Simple, only invest in organisations or individuals that you trust.

Invest in talentUse your clout to connect them to resources.
Give them space to perform.

To decide which organisations or individuals to trust and invest in, each donor must set their own tolerances. However I’d suggest that the implementers that employ real-time learning would be put front and center. In the long run, they will be successful.


Leave a comment

Plurrify podcast

I’ve lived on four continents and have had the world as my workplace. Working for big multilateral actors with project management, ICT’s and communication in every role imaginable from donor, broker, recipient and implementer. It’s been a very rewarding journey both professionally and personally. More than anything I’ve had the pleasure of meeting great people from across the globe that in different ways are part of the solution; making the world and our communities a better place. People are the key. Their stories inspire and gives me hope that we can achieve a better tomorrow. Together and for everyone. So how do you get their stories out? Well, one way is through a podcast.

 So I started the Plurrify podcast.

The larger question Plurrify pursue is; are there any patterns as to why the social entrepreneurs interviewed on the show have been successful where most fail? Is it down to personality? Organisational philosophy? Stubbornness? Drive? Innovative minds and ideas? Serendipity? Fifty other things? A mix? Or none of the above?

Realising and supporting the idea that the collective mind is greater than the individual, I decided to make these discussions public through a podcast series. This allows us to attempt to solve the greater issue together. Add your expertise, perspective, professional experience and knowledge to the process. I want the Plurrify podcast to be a journey we embark on together.

I’ll use this space to post reflections on the conversations in the podcast. Staying true to the tagline “random subjective observations of what’s on my mind”, there will be blog posts when I find it relevant, or am inspired. Stay tuned.

Plurrify RSS | Plurrify on iTunesPlurrify on Facebook | Plurrify on Twitter


Leave a comment

Ushahidi i Nepal – Hur öppna data och crowdsourcing räddar liv

Gästblogg för Open Knowledge Sweden | Extern länk

Ushahidi

Plötsligt skakar världen. Som uppväxt i Nepal har du fått berättat för dig att det bara var en tidsfråga innan jordbävningen skulle komma, det utgör dock ingen tröst när verkligheten hinner ikapp. Vi vet idag att över 8000 människor förlorade sina liv. Jag förstår lyckligtvis inte personligen skräcken som ofrånkomligen måste följa, då jag själv bara upplevt mindre jordbävningar. Däremot förstår jag frågorna. Jag bor bara ett par hundra meter från Westgate, den galleria i Kenyas huvudstad Nairobi som attackerades av terrorister i september 2013 med dödlig utgång.

Vad händer? Vad är det för oväsen? Var är min familj? Mina vänner? Vad är klockan? Var borde dem hålla hus nu? Var är min telefon? Varför svarar dem inte? Vad skall jag göra nu?

Förvirring. Oro. Rädsla.

När klarheten så smått börjar återkomma och det värsta adrenalinet lagt sig, frågar en del av oss hur vi kan hjälpa till. Mängden saker som behövs i dessa situationer är oräkneliga, allt från en hand att hålla, till vatten, bloddonationer, information och storskaliga räddningsinsatser. För allt detta krävs koordination. Det är där Ushahidi kommer in. Där vi spelar roll. Där Ushahidi räddar liv.

Jag har fått privilegiet att skriva en serie gästbloggar för Open Knowledge Sweden, och kommer i dessa att exemplifiera hur vi bidrar i humanitära kriser från Syrien och Ukraina till Nepal. Hur vi har utvecklat produkter såsom Ushahidi som kartlägger och organiserar crowdsourcad information, eller PingApp som snabbt kontaktar och ger dig information om statusen på dina vänner eller kollegor när krisen är ett faktum. Jag kommer även beröra hur det är att jobba i en världsledande liten organisation med huvudkontor i Nairobi, långt från vår svenska trygghet och trendiga New York där jag tidigare bott och arbetat.

Men en sak i taget. Vi börjar från början. Varför är öppen data och crowdsourcing relevant i en krissituation? Hur kan det bidra till att rädda liv?

Den 25e april i år förändrades livet för många i Nepal för alltid. Somliga var bara inom ett par minuter bortom räddning. Andra hade fortfarande en chans, men det måste gå fort. I Nepal agerade Kathmandu Living Labs (KLL) direkt. De satte upp ett tillfälligt kriscenter, utomhus, för att minska risken för att själva fastna i rasmassor under efterskalven. Deras arbete att genom öppna data kartlägga Nepal intensifierades, och dem crowdsourceade information för att förstå var rasen var som värst, var människor satt fast, var vägar hade rasat, var det fanns vattenbrist etc. Allt lades upp på en karta, öppen för alla, men i krisens grepp främst för räddningspersonal. Information är makt, information räddar liv. Desto mer du vet ju bättre kan du planera, prioritera och utföra en räddningsaktion.

Ushahidi_Nepal

Skärmdump av kartan med rapporter

Enkelheten är nyckeln. Tillgång till information såsom öppna data, och tillgång till mjukvara som kan sortera och organisera information från en mängd källor såsom sms, Twitter, Flickr etc. gör skillnad. Stor skillnad.

Mjukvaran de använde var Ushahidis flaggskepp, kallat just Ushahidi. I vår globala värld är det kanske inga konstigheter att en produkt utvecklad i Nairobi, som användes av FN och räddningsorganisationer redan under den stora jordbävningen på Haiti 2010, kan användas var och när som helst, särskilt som det är en open source produkt, men det gav mig kalla kårar. En stolthet bara överträffad av den för min vän från New York som idag flyttat hem till sitt Nepal och var instrumental i KLLs arbete.

Till syvende och sist handlar det om människor. Dem som moder natur håller gisslan, dem som fritas av de som under hennes hot tvingas jobba utomhus.

 

Läs mer om jordbävningen i Nepal här:
BBC: How ‘crisis mapping’ is helping relief efforts in Nepal
Wired: Nepal’s Aid System Is Broken. So These Lifesavers Hacked It
Nepali Times: Mapping the aftermath


2 Comments

New Noise

As some of you noted I left Kenya briefly in the summer to work from Sida HQ in Stockholm as I was awaiting my new posting. Stockholm did show itself from its sunny side, and learning about the work, processes and strategies at HQ was certainly a good experience. Even better, it was fun to meet up with friends without the usual time pressure I normally experience once I’m back home.

Anyway, the (European) summer has passed and I have – finally – gotten my new posting. As of about a month ago I joined Ushahidi. “Ushahidi”, which means “testimony” in Swahili, mapped reports of violence in Kenya after the post-election fallout at the beginning of 2008. This platform is now used in 150+ countries worldwide for all sorts of issues mapping. It’s a non-profit tech company that specializes in developing free and open source software for information collection, visualization and interactive mapping. Ushahidi builds tools for democratizing information, increasing transparency and lowering the barriers for individuals to share their stories.

For those unaware, quite a few readers here I’d guess, Ushahidi is very well known in the ICT4D space worldwide. The people behind it also started the famous iHub and are Ted speakers.

Image

I joined to work on Making All Voices Count. Funded by, amongst others, Sida. The aim of Making All Voices Count is a substantial push towards effective democratic governance through increased transparency and accountability. Twelve countries across Africa and Asia will be the “playground”. Our Ushahidi team will head the innovation part, focusing mostly on mobile or web solutions. We will award grants to organisations or individuals, place “fellows” within the governments, have mentors to increase the effectiveness of the initiative and so on.

Suffice to say it will be much hard work, but it’s fast looking as the most exciting project I have worked with.

With USAID as another donor the call for proposals was officially launched yesterday by President Obama. So here we go!


4 Comments

Leaving On A Jet Plane

I was afraid that my posts would eventually become less frequent and more sporadic. Just didn’t think it would happen this soon. My workload has been keeping me away from the writing I guess. Since I wrote last I have organized a Policy Forum for GESCI and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland where we hosted experts on ICT, Education, Science, Technology and Innovation from ministries across several African countries. We presented and discussed the critical link between skills development and education, innovation and enterprise creation (more here).

The capacity building part of “my” project, where we had 15 students within four areas (animation, graphic design, games development and digital music production) has also concluded and their graduation ceremony held. Their work was truly impressive and the animated short film below, which is the result of great cross-collaboration between the students, perhaps the most striking piece. More examples of their work is available at www.culturalindustriesafrica.org.

I’ve also been on my first safari which was absolutely phenomenal. Watching leopards, lions, elephants, giraffes, rhinos, zebras, jackals, wild dogs etc. go about their day and play in the wild is something I would recommend everyone to do at least once in their lifetime.

Jackal and giraffe in Ol Pejeta Conservancy with Mount Kenya in the background.

Jackal and giraffe at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy with Mount Kenya in the background

However the main reason for this blog post is in regards to the upcoming Kenyan election. Last time the outcome spurred ethnic violence that left many dead and even more homeless. Whether or not we will see the same unfortunate turn of events unfold this time remains unclear, but is surely the main topic of conversation here right now. No matter what, and since I am not working on the elections, the decision has been made that I will be in Tanzania for the next couple of weeks.

I am not sure if I will have access to internet or a phone while there, so I feel it wise to inform everyone now in case I become seriously offline in March.

Laterz!


2 Comments

Hey Hey, My My

Some of you have been wondering why I’m writing in English. As the blog celebrates 1000 views, I figured I’d show why:

MyWorldMap

The map shows where the blog visits are from. All in all 37 different countries are represented. Pretty cool. Top 3:

  1. Sweden
  2. United States
  3. Kenya

.
Hope I’ll give you all reason to keep coming.

Happy 2013!


Leave a comment

Uncomfortably Numb

I’ve been asked about my views on the gun control and Disney debates. I think this Mark Twain quote sums it up pretty well:

“Don’t argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.”

That’s my way of saying I have better things to do than spend time on what should be non-issues. The gun control debate in the US is about as sane and fact based as the health care debate. Both plagued by strong lobby influences for a status quo. In regards to the Disney debate I simply cannot comprehend, with everything else going on in the world, how anyone can find time to commit to such nonsense. Let alone be upset about it.


Leave a comment

Settle For Nothing

Banks have clearly gone from ”too big to fail” to ”too big to jail”. HSBC was complicit in laundering money for drug cartels and for harboring terrorist money transfers, but didn’t get indicted. These BBC, Al Jazeera and The Economist pieces will give you some context if you’re unfamiliar with the topic. I often speak about incentives, and the incentives for banks couldn’t be clearer; screw up the world economy with schemes and outright fraud, no worries, you won’t go to jail and the taxpayer will bail you out. In fact support drug cartels and terrorists and you’ll be fined, but walk. Even walk with partial bonus payouts. What?

Well, there is another example, namely Iceland. They argued that the banks are private companies and as such the taxpayers are not liable for their mistakes and held their banks accountable for their extravagancies, letting them go BANKrupt (yes, pun intended).  What happened? Iceland recovered fast, other sectors spurred by the human capital and competence previously locked up in their banks. Proof of concept for the argument that the banking sector produces very little actual output compared to other sectors. Well, something more happened too, the UK declared them a terrorist state. Iceland a terrorist state, laughable! Hopefully the worst misuse of the vague terrorism definitions and laws that will ever be committed. Read their President’s excellent views on the topic here.

This impunity development is so obviously horrific I won’t even bother going into details as you simply don’t need details to understand why it’s awful in its entirety. Therefore I will leave you with a link to a brilliant and short video on the HSBC verdict and instead focus on an interesting development in Kenya.

Kenya and other African countries are not seldom ahead of the rigid Western countries when it comes to new innovative ideas. One of the best examples is M-Pesa. A mobile phone based money transfer system that is a branchless banking service. You simply open your account and load money into it and transfer to other people’s phones. Perhaps this superstar ICT product, which is so simple it is SMS based, will be the solution to the impunity currently enjoyed by the banking system.

This brilliant Kenyan idea could be to the banking system what file sharing was to the movie and music industry. However if you think the movie and music industry lobby was bad, resulting in laws that turned almost entire populations into criminals, then what do you think the banking lobby will do seeing as they already can get away with laundering money for drug cartels, supporting terrorism and getting the whole country of Iceland labeled as a terrorist state? Then again, if the Mayans were right, it’ll be sorted on Friday.


4 Comments

Mouthful of Love

Leaving a meeting yesterday I got into a conversation with a security guard. Or rather he got me into it as he walked up asking me:

–          Are you French?
–          No, erhm, why?
–          Are you married?
–          What? Well, no.
–          You should marry a nice Kenyan girl. She will love your money.
–          OK, well, call me crazy but I want my future wife to love me for whom I am.
–          Why? You will have a great family and she can take care of everything for you.
–          Not really what I am looking for…
–          You’re crazy! It would be so easy for you, all you would have to do is pay for it.

At this point I assumed he was going to “recommend“ someone, but instead he went into a five minute monologue about his life up until now. Unexpected on so many levels.

I mentioned this conversation to a Kenyan friend and his response was also unexpected.

–          Forget the Kenyan or African women, they will suck you dry.
–          Hmm…
–          Then, once you’re dry, she will leave you for someone else.
–          That’s a bit harsh isn’t it?
–          No. Find a mzungu (Swahili word for white person).
–          Yeah…?
–          Yes. Sucked dry!

And so goes another day…

UPDATE:

I’ve been informed this text is racially insensitive, and yes it is. I wrote this post for that very reason, to highlight the existing discourse. In fact I’ve been told similar things several times before. I thought it implicit by the way I presented the text, but let me clarify to make things absolutely clear; the views expressed above are NOT mine, nor are they shared by me.


Leave a comment

A Twisted State

Hand on heart, when was the last time you screwed up at work? How bad was it? Did it make the newspapers? That’s the reality quite a few people I know operate in. Here’s an example from a few days ago:

UN 1-state

A typo. Sometimes that’s enough to make CNN and Al Jazeera. Look up the definition of “an honest mistake” in the dictionary and this photo could be next to it. The keen of you will have noticed that it’s the @UN account. The very same Twitter account me and my then boss started in 2009 (novelty fact: then called @UNIC). I truly feel for my successor who had this misfortune, as I know better than most how difficult the job is and how meticulous one has to be.

Back when I used to manage it we didn’t have a team, and since news doesn’t take the weekend off it was rather stressful at times. I remember many mornings, especially on Saturdays or Sundays, going through the news from home and reading one tweet 20-30 times before posting it just to make sure it was correct. The Gaza flotilla story in 2010 is a terrific example of how difficult it could be. Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, had released a press statement with the headline:

“UN human rights chief condemns violent interception of Gaza aid flotilla”

It’s unusually outspoken to be the UN, condemnations aren’t common. Since this was before my morning coffee I must have gone over the tweet and our guidelines in my head at least 50 times before I posted. All of this under time pressure to make sure we carried the story. The combination of a UN official for once actually expressing a point of view and the fact that we posted it early on meant it went banana bonkers. Viral doesn’t begin to cover it. I think we got over 10,000 new followers that day, and this was at a time when we perhaps only had a 100,000 or so followers. It turned out to be a catalyst for the account. After that single tweet we would gain around 5,000-10,000 new followers per week no matter what stories we reported on. It was the catapult to our mature account that live coverage of events was to it in its wee beginnings.

Social Media is an unforgiving business. Can you imagine making a mistake and then instantly showcasing it to over a million people? Yet, you have to be creative and push the envelope to attract attention and spread your word. It is therefore exceptionally important that the business environment you are in is aware of the fact that mistakes will happen. And that it is forgiving when it inevitably does. Operating under the assumption that the guillotine is behind every typo is a sure way to stifle any creativeness and innovative spirit. This is universal no matter what business you are in. But with Social Media I would argue that being conservative is to the detriment of the business as the account in all likelihood will be counterproductively boring. Bad to good accounts do information, great accounts do infotainment. It carries that twist that makes you want to know more.

I’m sure my successor will emerge stronger from this. She will go over the routine, surely add some new cool tools to her bag of tricks and come back with ignited passion. She can always find solace in that she’s not alone. UN Radio knows how to deliver that aforementioned twist with the best of them:

UN Radio Tweet

Twisted twist