Urgent Evoke

A crash course in changing the world.

Capacity-building in Africa by moving educator/entrepreneur to Africa with capital and project, to create jobs and provide training in open-source collaborative systems.

(This is a placeholder image. I need a graphic designer!)

Gong Hao is a Chinese phrase translating approximately as 'together we are great' or 'being better by being together' with connotations of 'synergy' (the wh*** is greater than the sum of the parts) as well.

Before you can achieve anything you need a 'brand' - an idea or vision, and values, that people can clearly identify and associate with. Gong Hao's values are openness, collaboration and wealth creation. Our vision is of a future full of new possibilities and hope - greatness through working together.

1. The Place

Summary: An online project with global impact, Gong Hao will be based in Africa and will provide jobs and training opportunities. (I currently teach in high schools and universities in Taiwan.)

1.1. Every project needs a base camp. As an internet venture, Gong Hao is not tied to any particular location and is free to locate itself anywhere as long as internet access and electricity are reliable. The processes and tools involved are not especially difficult to master, and any reasonably smart person is capable of mastering them. I have ten years of experience in education, so I know what is involved, and am confident that it will be cost-effective to develop a centre of excellence in one of several African countries.

1.2. Gong Hao is intended to foster global awareness, collaboration and idea-sharing through the medium of the internet, especially among students. As a catalyst for change, it can potentially make a difference to every person who becomes involved - anywhere in the world - and by extension to all the people they come into contact with.

2. The Challenge

Summary: Address the opportunities revealed by the first season of Evoke related to learning content, educational and business processes, online tools, and the way in which Africans are often dependent on external providers for web-based solutions.

2.1. The academic content of Evoke is excellent, and if optimised for teachers worldwide could be a very potent teaching tool;
2.1a. for students participating in their own language to learn about social issues
2.1b. as motivational content providing opportunities to practise/learn another language
2.1c. as a tool to learn about business processes, project planning, etc.

2.2. There is strong demand from teachers for an ongoing Evoke-style program, rather than the current limited ten-week format.
2.2a. reduced time pressure allows students to research issues more deeply
2.2b. teachers can localise content and make it more relevant to their students
2.2c. interaction between students creates a global community and long-term friendships
2.2d. idea-sharing between teachers allows for ongoing refinement and development of new content
2.2e. a more systematic approach and clearer metrics allows for student reports and award of certifications

2.3. The first season of Evoke has identified several key needs which, if met, could result in many more social innovation projects being created.
2.3a. there is a need for 'spaces' where chat, deeper discussion, and other interaction can take place outside the parameters of the formal program
2.3b. members have indicated a need for collaborative space in which to develop content - ie a wiki that is part of the official structure
2.3c. members need to be able to form special interest groups (as well as cla****) or guilds, some private some public, to focus on their pet topics and spin-offs
2.3d. templates or structured tools for the creation of projects would channel participants' energy into 'business DNA' solutions, facilitate clarity, and identify stumbling blocks that can then be brought back to the community for analysis
2.3e. other tools, eg USHAHIDI or Moodle, would enable users to replicate existing successful projects in their own communities
2.3f. if users could make announcements about their needs it would be easier to locate specific resources, ie a classified advertising facility

2.4. As investment continues into the hardware necessary to enable wider internet access across Africa, the software skills of the region are lagging behind. Many people have great ideas that they can't put into practise because they are not able to build websites of their own.
2.4a. without education in the use of open-source tools, the only alternatives are expensive proprietory solutions or so-called "freemium services" which are designed to collect data with the intention of selling something to people who don't have a lot of spare cash.
2.4b. lack of skills condemns Africans to be consumers rather than producers of services that add value
2.4c. content and services created by non-local organisations is unlikely to meet local needs as effectively as equivalent-standard offerings from local producers, resulting in lower value for the local consumer, which reduces the usefulness of the internet and affects the ROI of the organisations investing in hardware

3. The Idea

Summary: To create an online learning platform using FREE open-source tools, with initial content similar to Evoke plus additional tools which will facilitate the creation of new projects (from the idea stage to "seed-funding ready"), make this platform reproducable and customisable by anyone, and offer additional content and services on a for-profit basis. There will be three versions of the finished product completed simultanously, and development will be in three phases.

3.1 Phase 1: Build a website using entirely free open-source tools:
3.1a. to offer an Evoke-style experience without the time constraints as detailed in 2.1 and 2.2 above
3.1b. with all the facilities necessary to enable the creation of more social innovation projects as detailed in 2.3 above
Phase 1 should be complete by end August 2010, before the start of the new school year, and can be accomplished with minimal resources. (Multi-language support is available if crowd-sourcing translations can be accomplished.)

3.2 Phase 2: Clone phase 1, and make it available FOR FREE in three different ways:
3.2a. JOIN GONG HAO (unmoderated/commmunity moderated) - anyone anywhere is free to use the site and learn, act, imagine, collaborate, plan, and initiate projects
3.2b. TEACH GONG HAO (teacher moderated) - a seperate site which teachers can use as an online school for their students, more tightly focused on structured learning and a****sment with less 'adult' interaction
3.3b. CUSTOMISE GONG HAO - anyone anywhere will be free to download and install the complete Gong Hao package on their own web server (or local computer) and add/change material/features of their own as they see fit
Preparation for Phase 2 can be completed as part of Phase 1, however it will be time-consuming to administer on an ongoing basis. Software upgrades, troubleshooting, community management, etc all create a need for a full-time staff to take care of this.

During Phase 2, customer service can be outsourced temporarily but the permanent solution is to develop a community around the project that will be able to meet its needs as it grows. Phase 2 is therefore an investment/development period, leading to monetisation. Phase 2 will include relocation to a permanent base of operations, preferably in Africa and should last about one year.

3.3 Phase 3: Monetisation of Gong Hao, by providing additional services and content on a paid basis using a similar model as the one used successfully by the Joomla! development community. eg:
3.3a paid moderation/mentoring/teacher services for schools which are able to pay for specialist input to their online cla****
3.3b. specialist webhosting and management (ie we set up and maintain your Gong Hao installation for you, under your own URL)
3.3c. pay-for-access content in addition to the core material
3.3d. corporate sponsorship/social responsibility programs - especially by enabling companies to enrol their staff into Gong Hao with a branded presence and professional guidance to devlop socially aware thinking and the habits of innovationthat are also useful in business
3.3e. providing specialised real-world teaching staff to schools wanting to complete the Gong Hao program - eg in Taiwan where I currently live and make my living as a freelance teacher.
3.3f. suggested: some kind of franchised certification program under WBI supervision

4. The Money

Summary: This is a business. It can make money, potentially lots of money. It may need investment funding, although not necessarily. US$1,000 seed funding would be nice, the right mentor is essential. There are various obvious options listed below, but the key thing to remember is that Gong Hao engenders the creation of communities where large numbers of people with a shared interest and passion congregate. Surely we can find a way to sell something to these specific demographics?

(Edit: Since I wrote this, Evoke has modified the awards by teaming up with Global Giving. This creates more opportunities to think about, and I'll try and update this section in the next few days.)

4.1 I have the resources to build this platform myself with/without the US$1,000 seed-funding, but it would be a significant investment in time and money. (Some programming needs to be outsourced.) There is no way I can afford the ongoing administration and development, so it needs an immediate source of income or else a capital injection which will enable me to devote myself to it full-time.

4.2 I live in Taiwan, which has a strong for-profit educational industry which I work in. There is interest among educational establishments in using this platform, which creates the potential to act as a service provider and recruit/train a group of teachers who will conduct specialised cla**** in schools. Margins are typically at least 60%, potentially up to 200%, and this could prove to be a lucrative sideline alongside the core web platform.

4.3 Schools worldwide may be willing to pay for online services such as specialised mentoring or moderation, or for additional teaching resources. This is untested.

4.4 Organisations which decide to run their own website may opt for a managed solution in which we provide a hosting package and ongoing technical support, development, etc. Again, this is untested and is also unlikely to be a big earner.

4.5 Most large corporations have social responsibility programs and/or staff training programs which could benefit from joining Gong Hao. We could offer specialised support for companies participating in a complete outsourced social innovation program, complete with company-branded presence in a global community, ie advertising. The most obvious applications are:
4.5a a company-wide social innovation program which fulfils the companies' social responsibilities by focusing staff (say 1-2 hrs/week) on global issues and at the same time fosters the habits of innovation which are the lifeblood of any business
4.5b Gong Hao as a tool to teach language skills, specifically report writing and presenting

4.6 Basing the project in Africa will, over time, create a pool of skilled labour in an emerging market with strong demand for locally-produced web-platforms. Low labour costs also make it theoretically possible to provide outsourced services to clients worldwide through services such as elance.com but ths is unlikely to be a big earner

Social web projects need to acquire a critical mass of users in a limited time in order to be successful. Based on past experience, I don't have the ability to achieve that on my own. We will also probably need an injection of cash, and would prefer to work with investors who would also take an active interest in the development of the business. Additionally, selling an online training program to major corporations while I am based in Taiwan will probably be difficult, and we will need introductions and representation.

The partnership with Global Giving sounds like an excellent way to get the word out to potential sponsors. The services outlined in 4.5 above would be an excellent inducement to major corporations which donate to social causes, while the global education resources may be more attractive to other donors. I'm keen to work with such a well-established organisation which can make it possible to reach out to large numbers of people, whether they are donors, sponsors, or potential users of the sites.

Actually setting up the operations centre in Africa should not be classed as a charity project. I have experience teaching the skills required to build and maintain this type of website, and am certain that people in Africa are perfectly capable of learning to do so. The objective is to create a globally competitive centre of excellence which can turn a profit. There are many sources of funds available which may be willing to invest in this project if we can acquire some momentum by winning an Evoke award. eg Shell Aspire

At this moment, my objective is to secure the assistance of a top-class mentor who could advise and assist with these key components. After reading the bios of the available mentors I have drawn up a list of people who all individually could help Gong Hao a lot. But it's very difficult to say "I want this guy" because that means turning my back on some amazingly talented and cool people. So, if you don't object, I'd like to list all of them in no particular order and just hope that at least one will get in touch:

  • Erik Hersman, not just because of Ushahidi, but because of the obvious connection with AfriGadget and the iHub.
  • Sebastian Barajas, who not only can introduce Gong Hao to potential corporate users but also because he knows a lot about corporate finance.
  • Chelsea Seale, for her interest in developing young people in Africa, especially in the computing field, and her connections to sources of finance.
  • Anne Shongwe, because she already works developing interactive digital media in Africa.
  • Nicolas Gorjestani, who has access to people who can make things happen and is also focused on learning systems.
  • Jamie McAullife, an activist in the field of providing meaningful employment opportunities for vulnerable youth in the Middle East and North Africa.
  • Paul Gabie, the development specialist with a focus on education. Who else to talk to about providing education services on a fairly large scale in Taiwan, or globally online?
  • Derek Lomas, for his expertise in making online learning fun.
  • Roger Schank, because he has built a for-profit business around providing "learning-by-doing, story-centered curricula in schools, universities, and corporations."
  • Ethan Zuckerman, a serial entrepreneur who has experience shipping people like me to teach people useful stuff in the developing world.

5. The People
  • Myself: I am a freelance teacher from the UK, working in high schools and universities in Taiwan. I have been building websites as a hobby/skills development project for about five years, and have always been interested in social issues. I have extensive experience of living in different countries and cultures, and also volunteer at a local charity focusing on domestic abuse. I also ride a motorbike, sail, dive, learn Taiji and yoga, and am generally pretty gung-ho sort of guy.
  • Naturally, I have a network of collaborators, friends, associates, colleagues, etc., but haven't approached anyone to join this project yet as I am unlikely to go ahead without the mentoring support I need.
I'm drawing up a list of advisors, people I can draw on for ideas. So far, I have the following:
  • Emer Beamer of Butterfly Works, who is leading a project to integrate Ushahidi into the Joomla! web system - www.buildingbridges.co.ke
  • Chris Hallett software developer for the madblanks software that enables quizzes, complex user input, interactive comics, etc.
  • Don Foster, Member of Parliament (UK)
  • Graham Watson, Member of European Parliament
  • Jessie Chao, an auditor at Deloitte
  • Philippe Grelon, President of Veolia Environmental Services, Hong Kong
  • Gus Adapon, of Taiwan Business Angles Network, and Executive Producer of Pinoy Sunday, a movie about migrant workers
  • Jackie Goldbourne, who writes text books at Oxford University Press
  • Rueyling Tzeng, researcher at Academia Sinica
  • Florence De Changy, reporter with AFP and freelance doc**entary maker
  • Wendy Mitchell, fundraiser at the Chinese Garden in Portland, Oregon
  • Angela Wu, head of the English Training Centre at National Taiwan Normal University
  • Zefrank (tbc), viral marketing pioneer and the only person I've ever had an email from that actually gave a speech at TED
  • Elias Ek, President of Enspyre Consulting and co-Chair of the European Chamber of Commerce in Taipei's SME Centre
  • John Liao, head of Business Inubator Centre, Chinese Culture University
  • Sze-yi Chen, advocacy and fundraising at Garden of Hope charity
  • Brian, my dog
6. Progress so Far, Immediate Obstacles, The Future

Summary: I've given this a lot of thought and tried various things out. I'm pretty sure I now have a good handle on what is involved, have many ideas for the future, and have put a few wheels in motion:

6.1 I have a meeting scheduled next week with the Chair of the Education Department at NTNU, Taiwan's leading university in the field, to give a presentation on the use of Evoke in the classroom. If I can get NTNU on board then it is extremely likely that I'll be able to offer a classroom program next semester, in September. There are approximately 250,000 students nationally in any given year group.

6.2 I have experimented with a proof-of-concept website, and almost everything required is available "off the shelf" and can be integrated together, including: Complex user profiles, blogging, a forum, project management software, announcements, groups/guilds/cla****, school report card generating, wiki, Ushahidi, Moodle, and multi-language support. There will need to be a small amount of custom software, and I have already talked to developers about this:
6.2a The biggest single problem is how to link 'evidence' to personal profiles in a way that is easy for the user to understand. Blogging (as with Ning) is easy, but I want something more user-friendly and have spoken to a developer who has written similar applications in the past. It's do-able, but might cost some $s.
6.2b I'm terrible at graphic design, and will need to pay for (or solicit free) templates and artwork in order to make the site more visually attractive.
6.2c There need to be a few 'tweaks' to different softwares so that they share more information, eg user profiles on blogs, profiles, forums need to be synchronised. Everything is using the same database, so it's just a question of telling the software to look for A instead of B. Easily done by an expert.
6.2d The points system, user ranks, grades, etc., is not optimal at the moment, but the conversation continues about what would be the best approach to take. Technical solutions can follow the educational debate.

6.3 There are some legal issues with employing foreign teachers in Taiwan High Schools, all solvable. The simplest way is just to work with an existing provider, although this cuts profits considerably. The industry is in the middle of a "shake out" and it is probably possible to buy out an existing company for very little money and take over the license and resources.

6.4 I have been reading about the "World Without Oil" game, and others. As we're building an expandable platform, new modules such as WWO (or generated by the community) can be supplied as installable expansion packs.

Final Word

I'm very excited about this project! I came to Evoke after seeing Jane's speech on TED, because I am looking for new educational tools. Evoke is not exactly what I'm looking for, but it's a great first attempt and has shown me the way forward. Now that I'm familiar with the concept of ARGs, I can see huge opportunities to grow this market using a combination of free and for-profit services and tools. I have all the right skills, and I'm in just the right place at just the right time. I just need someone with a bit more relevant experience to guide me and help to get the word out.

Final final word: (21 May, 11am) I came into this program when it was already more than 2/3 over, and was then locked out twice by Ning for a total of four days. I work full-time, have other projects under development, and this week I have an extra-high workload. Completing everything, including this Evokation, to the required standard is a major challenge. As Evoke haven't yet managed to acknowledge my submission, I am assuming that there will be some leeway given to people like me who need to keep working on their Evokations. It's a plan, and plans are never 'complete' so I will continue to edit and add to this page until someone locks me out again. I hope that's OK.

Views: 47

Comment by Turil Cronburg on May 17, 2010 at 11:07am
I would love to see a training program that focused on "teaching" innovation. And combining that with a basic enthusiasm and awareness of the basic elements of a healthy society would be really useful for many businesses, in addition to the "normal people" that have been doing Evoke (for the most part). So yeah, I'm especially excited to see that addition, as a way to bring in the business community.
Comment by Ternura Rojas on May 17, 2010 at 11:53am
"There is strong demand from teachers for an ongoing Evoke-style program, rather than the current limited ten-week format" Ilike this statement.
I was not able to see the bussiness side of the project yet, and I think WBI are more interested in that side than any other feature (in their language $$$ is development).
I suggest you to add an introduction, abstract or summary of the project either here or in the email that you will send to formalize your Evokation.
This looks great! GOOD LUCK!, T
Comment by Ternura Rojas on May 17, 2010 at 11:55am
"a tool to learn about business processes, project planning, etc." thsi is also good and we really need it. EXCELENT!
Comment by Jeremy Laird Hogg on May 17, 2010 at 7:14pm
Excellent organization. I will be back for the next installment.


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