I wanted to take this opportunity to let you know about the impetus behind Tiny Spark.
For several years, I worked as a public radio and television correspondent in Africa. During that time, I traveled around the continent, seeing a range of social enterprise initiatives and aid programs on the ground, each meeting with varying degrees of success. I also discovered that well-intentioned ideas, poorly executed, can actually do harm.
This was never more apparent to me than when I reported on a promising technology called the PlayPump, which was supposed to harness the energy of children to provide clean drinking water to thousands of communities in Africa. The device works like a roundabout – as the children spin round, a device beneath the ground begins to turn, pumping clean drinking water into a tank, which is then available to the entire community. Harnessing the energy of children in this way, to provide clean drinking water, proved to be a captivating idea; one that the public and donors fell in love with. But when I followed up a few years later, I uncovered an array of problems with the way the technology had been implemented on the ground and I was dismayed to discover that the promise of the PlayPump had fallen woefully short.
During my reporting trip for the follow-up story, I traveled to Mozambique, where I met women who had been without their own supply of clean drinking water for months, because their PlayPump had broken down and had never been repaired or replaced. As I sat in the sand with those women, hearing their stories of anger and frustration, I felt partly responsible for their plight. After all, it was my initial glowing report that had helped to catapult the technology on to an international stage where it received millions of dollars in additional financing.
As a result of this experience, I have come to realize that we need to ask hard questions about seemingly good ideas. We should look closely and more critically at celebrated social entrepreneurs and the programs they spawn across the globe. I want to follow up on promising technologies and see what happened to them five, ten years down the road. I imagine we’ll discover that many ideas that appear simple and “good” on the surface, are actually not simple at all and are likely fraught with moral and ethical complexities. And in the course of these discussions, I hope we will discover what ideas are worth replicating and why. Because I’m interested in constructive conversations rather than finger pointing – aren’t we all?
So please send me your ideas for guests and topics. Who do you find inspiring? Let me know what issues are troubling you the most and we’ll find someone who’s working on a solution. Who do you find especially irksome or innovative in the humanitarian or philanthropic worlds? What programs have more hype than actual results?
Drop me your suggestions and questions here. Or just leave a comment!