DIY Africa: Empowering a new Sierra Leone
November 14th, 2012
08:36 AM ET

DIY Africa: Empowering a new Sierra Leone

Editor's note: David Sengeh is a doctoral student working at MIT’s Media Lab.

By David Sengeh, Special to CNN

(CNN) - When Kelvin Doe, a then-13-year-old from Sierra Leone, saw that off-the-shelf batteries were too expensive for the inventions he was working on, he made his own at home. Kelvin did not have the privilege to do his project in a school environment. Rather, he was compelled to act by necessity and for the joy of solving practical problems. Kelvin combined acid, soda, and metal, dumped those ingredients in a tin cup, waited for the mixture to dry and wrapped tape around the cup to make his first battery. He failed several times before completing a final, working prototype. He hasn’t purchased a battery since.

Next up: A generator. Kelvin made one of those by hacking an old rusty voltage stabilizer he found in a dustbin. The generator’s motor, plug, and other components are either homemade or picked from the garbage. In addition to providing electricity to his home, where neighbors come to charge their mobile phone batteries, the generator powers Kelvin’s homemade FM radio station, fully equipped with a custom music mixer, recycled CD player and antenna that allow his whole neighborhood to tune in. Now 16, Kelvin has expanded operations: he employs his friends as reporters and station managers, tasking them to interview spectators at local soccer games and keep the calendar of requests for his DJ services at parties and events. The average age of his crew is 12.

I am a doctoral student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab working on developing the next generation of prosthetic sockets and wearable mechanical interfaces. I am motivated to do this work by the needs I have seen in my country, Sierra Leone, and elsewhere. At the MIT Media Lab, I have access to immense resources and expertise. But it has become apparent to me that when I take the prostheses back to Sierra Leone, the machines and technologies needed to maintain them will be left at my lab. And, as important, the recipients of the technology will not have participated in finding solutions to their problems nor shared in the joy of creation. FULL POST

Filed under: Design • Education • entrepreneurs • Future • Innovation • Robots • Social change • The Next List • World
November 13th, 2012
10:42 AM ET

Nalini Nadkarni: The tree-climbing scientist who brings plants to prison

By The Next List Staff, CNN

(CNN) - Nalini Nadkarni is a pioneer in tree canopy research and co-founder of the Sustainability in Prisons Project, which aims to teach inmates about ecology. Watch a 30-minute profile of  on Sunday at 2 p.m. ET on CNN’s “The Next List."

Here's a primer on why she is fascinating enough to make The Next List.

Why you've heard of her: You probably haven't. Unless you're a tree climbing scientist or an inmate in Washington state (more on that soon). Oh - or you may have seen "Heroes of the High Frontiers," an Emmy-winning National Geographic film. She's in that. Or maybe you were one of the lucky few to get your hands on the "Tree Top Barbie Doll" she developed. FULL POST

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Filed under: Education • Environment • Innovation • Science • Social change • The Next List • Thinkers • World
October 5th, 2012
04:15 PM ET

Sparking innovation in cities, one geek at a time

By Jennifer Pahlka, Special to CNN

Editor's Note: Jennifer Pahlka is the Founder and Executive Director of Code for America. Watch The Next List’s full 30-minute profile of Pahlka this Sunday at 2 p.m. ET

Code for America seems to have struck a chord with many people. It’s easy to understand the value of bringing young tech and design folks into government and having them learn from each other because, whether they give it a lot of thought or not, their relationship with government is pretty important.

Our program seems to promise to fill a need they didn’t necessarily know they had, or create a possibility for something better when they had thought change was impossible.

But beyond the notion of promise, what is the real need for cities to innovate? There are many answers to this question, and the one I hear most often is that the public sector must keep up with the private sector.

When interacting with government feels outdated, it sends a signal to citizens that their government isn’t benefiting from the efficiencies that private companies have found in recent years. It's not taking advantage of the new networks of participation that we see all around us. As the pace of change accelerates in our daily lives, that gap can grow, and it can result in an erosion of trust.

It is what fuels many communities to defund local government, turning off streetlights and no longer maintaining infrastructure. The public is convinced their money isn’t well spent, and the results often guarantee that it’s not.

Cities must also innovate because they are in crisis, at least financially. Multiple revenue sources are being reduced (including support from federal and state programs), need for citizen services is increasing, and their workforce is retiring and leaving them with fewer workers but huge pension liabilities. Twenty-six municipalities have gone bankrupt since 2010, and more are likely to as it becomes harder and harder to push off inevitable financial meltdown.

There’s an upside to this, in that the crisis is forcing conversations about innovation. As Rahm Emmanuel said, “never let a good crisis go to waste.”

I’d argue that cities also are in a renaissance of ideas, growth, and optimism. To me the real reason cities must innovate is that the existing model of providing services doesn’t scale. There are big important things we must fund together; it just doesn’t make sense for everyone to take their own garbage to the dump every week, or for each house to capture and use its own water.

But we ask government to do so much, including things we can do for ourselves, for our neighbors, for our community. When a neighbor helps a neighbor with a trapped animal instead of calling city services, or when a community cleans up a park for a fraction of the cost of having public servants do it, the model starts to scale again.

The trick is figuring out government’s role in encouraging and coordinating these actions, and to the extent that digital technology has gotten pretty good at coordinating collective action, government must get good at technology too. Not the big enterprise technology of the 1990s, but the lightweight, simple technologies that real people actually use. The technologies and interfaces that connect us to our networks and help us do things together.

Governments, and citizens partnered with government, need to learn how technology can teach us how to act like citizens.

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Filed under: Geek Out • Innovation • Social change • The Next List • Thinkers
September 28th, 2012
09:27 AM ET

The trash queen of Guatemala

Editor's NoteJoyce Maynard is the author of best selling novels "Labor Day" and "To Die For," as well as the explosive 1998 memoir "At Home in the World." She maintains a home in San Marcos la Laguna, Guatemala.

Susana Heisse is an environmental activist who uses the “eco-brick” to promote recycling and proper nutrition in Guatemalan schools. She will be profiled on CNN's The Next List Sunday, September 30th, at 2 p.m. ET.

By Joyce Maynard, Special to CNN

I first met Susanne Heisse in the fall of 2001, when I traveled to Guatemala with the plan of spending a few months in the astonishingly beautiful little Mayan village of San Marcos la Laguna, on the shores of the clear blue waters of Lake Atitlan.

It would have been hard to miss Susanne: at six feet tall, she towered over every indigenous person in the village, and most of the gringos, striding down the narrow stone paths of the village in her flowing skirts, with her flowing hair, and her big, commanding voice. She'd talk — in somewhat unconventional English, or her native German, or Spanish — about a subject few of the rest of us (at our yoga classes, and drumming circles, or taking our daily swims) chose to think about: The unromantic topic of trash. FULL POST

Filed under: Environment • Innovation • Social change • The Next List • Thinkers • TV
September 17th, 2012
01:51 PM ET

Carbon negative in Costa Rica

By The Next List staff, CNN

(CNN) - In 1974, 23-year-old Juan Sostheim was tapped as director of Burger King in Europe. He opened the company’s first franchises on the continent and introduce millions to a phenomenon known as the “Whopper.”

Today, the former fast food king has traded in his crown for a new title: owner of Costa Rica’s first carbon-negative company, a sustainable farm and eco-resort known as Rancho Margot.

“What I’m doing today is basically the sum of my experiences,” say Sostheim. “I understand it’s a little bit crazy, but I think it should give people some hope that we all can change.” FULL POST

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Filed under: Culture • Environment • Innovation • Social change • The Next List • Thinkers • World
September 11th, 2012
07:00 AM ET

Former fast-food exec goes green

By The Next List staff, CNN

(CNN) - Juan Sostheim is a pioneer in scalable, sustainable living. As founder of Rancho Margot, a luxury eco-tourist resort, educational facility and organic farm in Costa Rica, he’s demonstrating that “living off the grid” is not only possible but practical for large-scale communities.

Working with a staff of about 45 people and some 10 to 15 rotating volunteers, Sostheim produces all the food for the resort on the premises. He heats the water - including that for the massive hot tub with swim up tiki bar - by composting; he fuels their kitchen with methane gas from cows and pigs; he generates his own electricity; and he creates bio-fuels.


Rancho Margot began nine years ago when Sostheim, a former Burger King executive turned industrial chemical magnate, bought a cow pasture in what once was a Costa Rican rain forest. Concerned about environmental issues and food security in developing nations, his goal was to create a profitable resort dedicated to sustainability. Now he hopes to see Rancho Margot transition into a thriving, teaching community - one that still caters to tourists, but does not depend on them in full. To this end, he is planning a residential community where about 100 families can live and work on the ranch. By collaborating with the local population, Sostheim hopes to create a prosperous and fully integrated community able to sustain itself for generations.

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Video urges Singapore couples to make babies - like, now
August 7th, 2012
04:36 PM ET

Video urges Singapore couples to make babies - like, now

By John D. Sutter, CNN

(CNN) - This week's over-the-top marketing campaign is a YouTube video from Mentos that hopes to convince Singaporeans to get busy. Like literally. It asks them to "make a little human that looks like you and me" and "make Singapore's birthrate spike" on National Day, a Singaporean holiday, which will be celebrated on Thursday.

"This August the 9th, it's time to do our civic duty," a deep-voiced man says in the video, produced by an ad agency on behalf of Mentos mints. "And I'm not talking about speeches, fireworks or parades." (Woman in the background: "But I like that stuff.") "I'm talking about the stuff after that stuff. I'm talking about making a baby, baby. You ready?"

Just watch the thing: FULL POST

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Filed under: Internet • Social change
The Big Idea: Should the U.S. 'airdrop' millions of phones into Syria?
This photo, of a rally in Syria in April, was shot with a mobile phone.
May 29th, 2012
10:25 AM ET

The Big Idea: Should the U.S. 'airdrop' millions of phones into Syria?

By John D. Sutter, CNN

(CNN) - Can communication tools stop a war?

That's basically the idea one CNN commenter put forward on Monday. Responding to a story about citizen journalists in Syria, who risk their lives to upload videos and photos of gruesome massacres by the government, a commenter called goingmeta had this to say:

Rather than bombing by air or invading by land or even sending in international observers, we should airdrop about 20 million video cell phones. If there are excesses and abuses, nothing would turn the tide so quickly as giving each man, woman, and child in Syria the opportunity to record them and hold the authorities accountable for their actions. FULL POST

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Filed under: Crowdsourcing • Innovation • Internet • Smartphones • Social change
May 1st, 2012
02:36 PM ET

How computer code could better our cities

Check out this CNN video. Code for America's Jennifer Pahlka explains.

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Filed under: Design • Innovation • Internet • Social change
April 12th, 2012
04:00 PM ET

Games 'tap into the best version of yourself'

By John D. Sutter, CNN

(CNN) - Think video games are evil? Spend some time with Jane McGonigal.

McGonigal - a designer who's queen of a genre called "Alternate Reality Games," or ARGs - believes games make us better people. They can be used to combat climate change, reduce poverty and, as she knows personally, help victims of conditions like depression, head injuries and cancer recover more quickly.

"Games are an extraordinary way to tap into the best version of yourself, the most determined, the most creative, the most resilient in the face of failure, the most likely to collaborate with other people - sort of heroic qualities," she said in a recent interview with CNN's "The Next List," which will feature McGonigal on Sunday at 2 p.m. ET. "And it seems that if we play more games - games that we love - these qualities can actually spill over into our real lives." FULL POST

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Filed under: Future • Gaming • Innovation • Social change • Tech • The Next List • Uncategorized
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