11 Sep 2010
Another wonderful chapter in the Meedan story began on August 14th when we signed a research and software development agreement with the Qatar Foundation International to work on a cross-language, social, global education technologies.
A Blog Post is definitely in order. But which story to tell?
I could write an interesting but stiff blog post about the opportunities presented with a social and multi-lingual view to creating a global educational ecosystem bridging formal and informal learning networks, leveraging the emergent and powerful force of Open Educational Resources (OER), addressing the non-trivial issues related to multi-lingual workflow, and, generally, disrupting global ignorance by providing tools with compelling user interfaces to network a billion smart, young, hungry, insightful, and multilingual global learners and teachers.
I could write an inspiring post about my friend Fernando Reimers, the Dean of International Education at the Harvard School of Education, who has long encouraged me to think about Meedan in an educational setting and whose advocacy for such has definitely set the stage for this work. Read more here on Meedan's participation in Harvard's Advanced Leadership Initiative Global Education gathering spring 2010.
I could also write about the ways I feel this work for QFI- serving a younger population of learners - stands to benefit from the research and development we are doing for a religious scholars in the context of our Cambridge University project.
The lesson of new media, though, is that stories trump talking points. Much has been made of the power of story-telling in the foundation/ non-profit world. There are conferences and seminars now about story-telling for social entrepreneurs. Generally these stories run the arc from 'here is this interesting person in a neglected city/part of the world, here is their problem, here is our solution (which generally uses the toxic byproduct of the problem to create the economically viable solution to their problem), and here is how this 'scales' to create jobs, absorb Carbon Dioxide, and empower the masses.
This is Horatio Alger recast as the social entrepreneur- the arc of suffering to success.
Don't get me wrong, we need to tell stories that challenge us all to imagine changing the world. I do it for a living. It is just that there is a certain disconnect between the reality of the problems we are all addressing - (the unbearable facts of genocides and repression, the scourge of HIV-AIDS, 1.5 billion living on less than $1.25 per day, the staggering acts of intolerance that bring down buildings and set fire to holy books, and a long march of grim etceteras that follow) - and the optimism with which we propose our solutions.
The story about our QFI contract, though, is the story of what happens when you are willing to sell the road to changing the world as a modest, empathetic, and winding path. Our proposed approach to navigation? Follow the small (not so shiny) pebbles of failure. Smart, incremental failure, true; but failure nonetheless.
In this sense the story of our engagement with Maggie and her team is Meedan successfully implementing an iterative methodology to the work of social innovation. A process that is sold as: research, build, deploy, fail, repeat. There is still a 'long throw' big story at the heart of our work, but it feels really great to be selling a more rational, transparent, approach to developing meaningful software.