Urgent Evoke

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Local Vision with Global Potential

A First Nations Community has taken the economic crisis into their own hands. Suffering at the loss of income, job and social support services (like many North Americans at this time), residences of the community have joined together to create a local economic system that combines innovation, collaboration, community and technology.

For the past 18 months, the 6000 member community have been devising a plan that bridges local business, economy with culture and community. Two years prior, 42 year old resident James Whitefeather met with community leaders at Salt Spring Island in Vancouver to discuss their success with local currency. "I was fascinated by not only how ambitious their idea was, but how their community stuck together and made it happen. I thought, we can do this too", he recalls. But Whitefeather had a bigger vision - one that bridges the generations in his community - that bridge is mobile technology.

Whitefeather has spent the last two years not only sharing his vision with his community, but working with them - and industry members - to make it happen. He notes the difficulty in balancing his Native heritage and beliefs with Western values and norms often accompanying information & communication technologies: "How do you convince a generation of Elders that a gadget will not only help the local economy, but help restore, maintain and share our native culture?". He shakes his head and smiles at the recollection, "I wasn't sure I could do it, but I knew I had to try".

Whitefeather's vision included a handheld device that would not only work to exchange local currency or trade items or labour, but also a way to stay in touch, post events, and share stories, pictures and videos. Once the Tribe leaders established the new currency system, and had the support of the local banks, business and shopkeepers (no small feat in itself), Whitefeather had to decide what this device would be. With funding from a large Northern Innovation Grant, and business collaboration with Apple and Telus, each household that agreed to participate was given an iPhone (a lend system for two years), along with several 'smart cards' for quick transactions. "The iPhone made the most sense because we could create applications that were specific to our needs". Those homes that wanted and could afford another iPhone were given discounts and incentives for additional phones. "It was a lot of work, a lot of talk and negotiation to get the corporates to work with us, especially in a holistic way that worked out for both sides. But, we did it. I'm really amazed that it worked out. Two very different worlds collaborating - but it's doable" he said.

Whitefeather then prompted people - young and old - to create applications that could process transactions with local currency (similar to PayPal), and process trades and labour exchange (a combination of Bump & Business Card exchangers). Residents could also do community services for reward points. To encourage youth members to participate, Whitefeather solicited the help of Shanna, his 14 year old daughter - an avid player of computer games. The two of them developed a reward system where young people would gain experience (XP) for picking up garbage, raking leaves, removing graffiti and so forth - whatever the community needed. They acc**ulate XP (which is tracked via the application on the iPhone) and can be 'cashed in' once they have enough for local currency or credit for businesses in the community. Youth members can share their progress with their friends through the application, and they can keep track of who is active in the community. "It becomes a competitive game that keeps us interested, but still doing good deeds for the community", Shanna notes.

But a new local currency to promote local economy wasn't the only thing Whitefeather was interested in. They developed an application that allowed community members to share stories of their past, their tribes and their experiences. Combining written stories, podcasts and visuals of photo & video, the application works to thread strands of culture and community together. What was his inspiration? "My Great-grandfather and I sat in my kitchen one evening, and he began a tale of the history of our people. It was my one of my favourite teachings. I had a recording device on the table because I had been recording this amazing bird chirping outside my window that morning. I decided would press record while he was talking. I had completely forgot about the audio file until he died a year later. I played the recording and I was so moved. What a gift I had! I wanted to share this with my family, my community. And that's how I came up with this idea. I shared his oral history, along with my own written stories and pictures."

I ask how sharing the iPhone with his daughter works out as I'm taking a picture of his phone. He laughs. "She's getting her own, she's doing odd jobs to save up for one. That pink cover is hers, she's marking her territory".

Not all community members have totally embraced the new technology - it's not for everyone. "I'm really not interested in these gadgets, but I understand that it might be a useful tool to bring us together and make us stronger " said an Elder from the community "Sometimes we have to think outside of our own framework and embrace other ways doing. For the younger people, this integration of old and new makes sense - it's how they were raised" he added. Those who don't want to use the iPhone can use a 'smart card', similar to a debit card that works with the local currency, although they don't get the reward of the interactivity the iPhone can provide; "I'd rather just go and visit people and talk," he said, "but my 16 year old grandson is always sending messages to his cousin who lives too far to see often. I think this is good for him, and for the family."

Views: 13

Comment by Tracy K. on April 10, 2010 at 5:03pm
Note: This story is fictional, and the picture fabricated via MS Paint & my iTouch :)
Comment by A.V.Koshy on April 10, 2010 at 5:22pm
let's hope it comes true


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