Woices delights


Woices is a beautiful little site ‘that allows people to create, share and consume echoes, audio records which are linked to a very specific geographical location or real world object. Woices ultimate goal is to extend reality by creating a new layer of audio information, what we call the echoesphere, that will make the world a more interesting place.’

Bekka and I are going to record a few Jozi walks through our favorite neighborhoods, aren’t we Bekka?

Google’s $10 million for social entrepreneurs


I’m always interested in what Google does for CSI (corporate social investment). In this case, they’re going to be choosing no more than five projects that ‘help as many people as possible, in any way’ and finding funding to launch them.

The winners will say a lot about how the company (and the people who vote for the ideas online) frame problems in different socio-economic contexts, and how they think these problems can be solved. Interestingly, the focus is on the idea rather than the people (you can submit an idea and suggest an org to carry it out, but Google will decide who should implement the project). I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing – ideas people are not always good at implementing – I only wonder whether they should also have had a more participatory process to decide on the who the implementers will be. Implementation partners should be measured by their experience and reputation – and what better way to measure that than to open this up to the wider community to help decide.

I also wonder why Google didn’t find a better way to enable people outside of the Google context (not necessarily offline users in the developing world, but at least those who spend less time online at telecentres etc due to high costs than their Northern counterparts) to help decide the winning ideas. If you’re going to get a community to decide, then you need to ensure that you have a representative sample to help decide it. Otherwise it will, once again, be someone else’s solution to someone else’s problem.

‘The Commons as a New Sector of Value-Creation’

David Bollier has a great article on onthecommons.org that talks about the differences between the ‘commons’ and ‘market’ sectors and their inter-relationship.

‘The commons sanctions idiosyncratic experimentation and creativity that is often too risky and costly for most markets to undertake. This is one of the key ways in which communities of social trust out-perform the market and corporate bureaucracies. The commons doesn’t have the expensive overhead or imperative to be marketable. The commons can afford to be flexible and customizable, especially to local needs. It has great appeal because it tends to be more culturally authentic than broadcast networks and Hollywood studios that cater to large, lowest-common-denominator audiences.’

What makes an organisation ‘global’?

I just wrote this as my letter in the iCommons Lab Report (to subscribe go here):

Dear friends,

Last week, the iCommons team had a short workshop session to practice the ‘Checklist on openness’ that we’re hoping to work with participants to develop at this year’s iSummit. We practiced by using an equally slippery concept that we’ve been thinking about a lot lately, which is the question: ‘What makes an organisation ‘international’?’

After an initial brainstorm to capture the key characteristics that we should be looking at (including things like staff, community, beneficiaries, mission and funding) we started looking more deeply at what boxes needed to be checked in order for an organisation to validly call itself ‘global’.

What we came up with probably posed a lot more questions than answers. For example, ‘Do you need an internationally representative staff to be an international organisation – or is it enough for the staff to be aware of diversity?’ And ‘Can any small non-profit organisation claim to have beneficiaries all around the world – and does it matter if most beneficiaries are in developed countries?’ And perhaps most importantly, ‘What does it mean if most of your funding comes from one part of the world, and goes to another part of the world?’

We did, however, come up with a few answers – all of which were incredibly illuminating.

If a global organisation is only as global as the respect that it has around the world, then we need to develop mechanisms to ensure that we are accountable to our beneficiaries, as well as to our funders. Peer assessment, in other words, should be built into everything that we do. This also means that we cannot claim to have too diverse a range of beneficiaries because we will not be able to serve them all, and we will therefore suffer from their negative assessment as a result.

The exercise also showed me how important the distribution of funds is in the development of a validly international organisation. If we accept that an international organisation must serve a wide variety of local beneficiaries, then the organisation should necessarily have more than one physical location. This means that the organisation should spend its money in more than one physical location, thus empowering the network to serve its beneficiaries more effectively.

This doesn’t mean that money is the only way to empower local communities, but it’s absolutely essential that the wide distribution of funds is part of the question of how global, really, is a particular organisation.

I did this very basic graph of where iCommons spends its money, and I feel that, although we’re doing pretty well, we can do more to distribute funds outside of HQ.


This is not an easy thing to say because it seems so hard sometimes just to keep the core economically sustainable. But I do think that it’s a conversation worth having – a conversation about the shifting identity of a global organisation in a shifting world.

What do you think?

Best wishes,


Handing over quietly

There was no cake, no champagne – not even a speech. And it’s only now that I’ve been able to take a breath, that I can say this about my decision to hand over the public leadership of Creative Commons South Africa to Dave Duarte.

In 2004, I came back to South Africa after an incredible 9 months at Stanford working with Creative Commons as part of my Reuters Digital Vision Fellowship programme, supported by Benetech. Benetech had funded my fellowship because I had originally pitched to the digital society entrepreneurship programme a project to use GIS systems to predict conflict in the African Great Lakes region. But a few months into the project, having been volunteering for Creative Commons, I realised that my passion was with this young organisation. Benetech supported my decision, even though it would have no direct contribution to their work in conflict management. For that, I cannot be more grateful.

After coming home in 2004, so many people need to be thanked for their help in growing this fledgling cause. I remember feeling like a bible salesman when I first started making appointments to go and see people I thought might be able to support, since at that stage, Creative Commons was only a year old and very unknown: a crazy idea by some funny-looking white American man that I believed South Africans should take ownership of.

My parents funded Creative Commons for the first few months. After that, the incredible Anriette Esterhuysen from the Association for Progressive Communications agreed to allow me to host an awareness-raising programme funded by Osisa with the APC, and then two amazing women, Luci Abrahams and Alison Gillwald agreed for the LINK Center at Wits University to host a two-year programme funded by the IDRC called ‘Commons-sense: Towards an African Digital Information Commons’ which supported Creative Commons in South Africa as part of its mandate. Two years ago, I started with iCommons – a new international organisation, incubated by Creative Commons, with HQ firmly on African soil. Since then, the team at iCommons has done an incredible job flying the CC flag with the fabulous CC Salons and consultation work that we’ve done to help organisations, communities, companies and individuals to understand the application of Creative Commons.

There are so many more people to thank – everyone who volunteered and supported Creative Commons when it was unknown but offered just the kind of vision they were looking for, everyone who listened to my continuous sales pitch about why CC was so great, and my dear friends who came to listen to me speak about Creative Commons when they made up 70% of the audience.

I decided to hand over my public leadership mainly because iCommons is now separate from Creative Commons in the sense that Creative Commons is no longer the sole member of iCommons – still a member but now one of four. At this very critical stage of iCommons’ independence, it is important for us to forge a new identity, separate from Creative Commons but still tied to the broad, common vision that we both share.

Handing over to Dave was an incredibly easy task. Dave is already a passionate volunteer. He has done some incredible things already in his teaching and community work to raise awareness of Creative Commons and its potential for innovation and sharing. Most of all, Dave fundamentally ‘gets it’ and he’s also a bit crazy in his own way which makes him exactly the right person to carry on the Creative Commons South Africa story.

I’m certain that we’ll still be working together in the many, many areas of mutual concern, and I can’t wait to see the great things that will happen to CCSA in the next few months.

Good luck, dear Dave. May the force be with you.