Funded! This project was successfully funded on October 10, 2013.


When problems find people, amazing things can happen.


We're now in the final stages of our campaign - "Days to go" turn to "Hours to go". There are still a number of offers still available through our pledges, so remember - the more we raise the more we can put into the new website development, and the more we can ramp up book promotion. £4,500 would be a wonderful target to reach. So join us, and be a part of charting "The Rise of the Reluctant Innovator"!

About the project

“This important, timely book gives the reader an invaluable insight into the workings of the world of social entrepreneurship. It is a must-read for students, practitioners, policy makers and anyone with a passing interest in how to work for the greater good” - Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder of the World Economic Forum and co-Founder of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship.

Featuring the likes of Medic Mobile, WE CARE Solar, Ushahidi, PlanetRead and DataDyne - with a Foreword from Archbishop Desmond Tutu - "The Rise of the Reluctant Innovator" highlights the personal stories of ten social innovators from around the world. Ten social innovators - ordinary people - who randomly stumbled across problems, injustices and wrongs and, armed with little more than determination and belief, decided not to turn their backs but to dedicate their lives to solving them.

Take Brij Kothari, for instance. Watching yet another Spanish movie in his friend’s apartment to avoid writing up his doctoral dissertation, Brij makes a throwaway comment about subtitles, which plants the seed of an idea and spawns a literacy initiative that has had, in Bill Clinton’s words, “a staggering impact on people’s lives”.

Worried about the political turmoil in Kenya, and concerned at the lack of information that is forthcoming from his adoptive country, Erik Hersman mobilises his own five-strong army to conceive, create and launch a web-based facility that revolutionises how breaking news is disseminated worldwide.

Parachuted into the middle of sub-Saharan Africa with a brief to collect public health data, and confronted with a laborious, environmentally wasteful paper-based system, paediatrician Joel Selanikio finds the perfect outlet for the skills he acquired as a Wall Street computer consultant.

Intending to ground himself in the realities of global health during his internship in rural Malawi, Josh Nesbit discovers that it is hard to sit on the sidelines and soon finds himself proposing a solution to overcome the difficulty of connecting patients, community health workers and hospitals.

After watching local doctors and midwives struggle to treat critically ill pregnant women in near-total darkness on a Nigerian maternity ward, where an untimely power cut can mean the difference between life and death, obstetrician Laura Stachel delivers a solar-based solution that enhances survival prospects.

Observing how well the autistic son of a close friend responds to the therapeutic effects of a Chinese massage technique that she has advocated using, Louisa Silva is convinced that the treatment has the potential to benefit thousands of others, but she needs to prove it.

Haunted by the memory of being separated from her older sister during a childhood spent in foster care, and horrified that other siblings are continuing to suffer the same fate, Lynn Price resolves to devise a way to bring such people back together.

Until a visit to the dermatologist turns her world upside down, Sharon Terry has never heard of pseudanthoma elasticum (PXE), but when she discovers that research into the disease afflicting her children is hidebound by scientific protocol, she sets about changing the system with characteristic zeal.

A serious head injury threatens to derail Shelly Burton’s sporting and academic ambitions, but after a sudden brainwave rekindles her passion for Africa, a series of serendipitous encounters lead her to refocus her efforts - and life - on promoting music and dance as a tool to help rebuild the lives of former child soldiers.

Encounters and conversations with leftover people occupying leftover spaces and using leftover materials, at home and abroad, led architecture professor Wes Janz to view them as urban pioneers, not victims, and teach him a valuable lesson: think small and listen to those at the sharp end.

Why do we need this book?

Despite the tens of billions spent each year in international aid, some of the most promising and exciting social innovations and businesses have come about by chance. Many of the people behind them didn't consciously set out to solve anything, but they did. Welcome to the world of the "reluctant innovator".

This book fills a much-needed gap in the social innovation/social entrepreneurship market, one which is currently dominated by books which - often at no fault of their own - give the impression that meaningful change is only possible if you're an MBA, or a geek, or have money or influence, or a carefully laid out five-year master plan, or all five.

By highlighting the stories of ten ordinary yet remarkable individuals, and the impact their work is collectively having on hundreds of millions of people around the world, "Rise of the Reluctant Innovator" will show us that anything is possible, planning isn't everything, and that anyone anywhere can change their world for the better.

What kind of stories will be told?

Take Brij Kothari. One evening in 1996 he was watching a DVD of Pedro Almodóvar's Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown with friends in Ithaca, New York. The dialogue was in Spanish and the subtitles in English. Out of nowhere an idea popped into his head. As a Spanish-language learner, he wished the subtitles were also in Spanish. Turning his attention home, he wondered whether India could become literate if Bollywood-made Hindi films and songs were shown with the lyrics subtitled in Hindi.

Children following along with SLS (Photo: Planet Read)
Children following along with SLS (Photo: Planet Read)

The idea behind same-language subtitling - or SLS - was born. Today, thanks to Brij Kothari's organisation Planet Read, Indian primary-school children numbering in the hundreds of millions have learnt or are learning basic literacy simply by watching their favourite television programmes. Not bad for something conjured up in front of a Saturday-night movie.

Then there's Laura Stachel, whose organisation - WE CARE Solar - designs portable solar lighting kits for maternity wards in developing countries. When she first went to Nigeria she planned to work on a different problem altogether, but quickly realised that a simple lack of lighting was responsible for an unacceptable number of mother and child deaths. With maternal mortality rates in Nigeria among the highest in the world, with a ratio of 11 maternal deaths occurring for every 1,000 live births, she turned her attention to helping design, build and distribute solar kits to solve it. "As an American doctor, it was inconceivable that a hospital could function without reliable electricity," she says. "The lack of lighting for a caesarean section was a problem I had never imagined."

A Solar Suitcase at work (Photo: WE CARE Solar)
A Solar Suitcase at work (Photo: WE CARE Solar)

She never intended to build an organisation, and never chose to become a solar innovator, but seeing a problem she felt compelled to fix, she reluctantly became one. Solar Suitcases now save the lives of mothers and babies throughout the developing world. There are many more stories like these that need to be told.

Why am I the best person to tell them?

Great question. For the past twenty years I've worked at the intersection of technology, anthropology, conservation and development and, during that time, have lived and worked across the African continent. My non-profit work has been internationally recognised with numerous awards:

  • Sussex University Ambassador for International Development (2013)
  • Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (2012)
  • Cambridge News Award for Social Entrepreneurship (2012)
  • Pizzigati Prize for Software in the Public Interest (2011)
  • Curry Stone Design Prize (2011)
  • Ashoka Fellowship (2011)
  • Member of the UK Prime Minister's Delegation to Africa (2011)
  • National Geographic Emerging Explorer (2010)
  • Tech Awards Laureate (2009)
  • Pop!Tech Social Innovation Fellow (2008) and Faculty Member
  • Reuters Digital Vision Fellow at Stanford University (2006)

Over the years I've been fortunate to meet, collaborate with, and mentor some of the most talented social entrepreneurs. I believe we need to motivate and inspire people everywhere to believe that they too can make meaningful change in their worlds. This panel discussion with myself, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and author Tori Hogan from earlier this year pretty-much sums it up.

As I wrote on my blog four years ago:

"If we can help anyone on their journey, then we should. Whether that be giving advice or a positive critique on an idea, helping raise awareness through blog posts, giving tips on fundraising, making introductions to other projects and people with the same interests, or offering to be a future soundboard as their ideas grow and develop. These are all things I didn’t have when I started out, and using them productively now that I do is one of the biggest contributions I believe I can – and should – make to the future growth of our discipline. Our legacy shouldn’t be measured in the projects or tools we create, but in the people we serve and inspire".

This book is testament to that continued commitment.

What's my story?

I would count myself as a reluctant innovator. In 2004 I found myself working on the fringes of Kruger National Park in South Africa, trying to help the authorities improve communications with the local communities. Mobile phones were beginning to appear there and we considered using SMS to send group texts to community members. The problem was that no group-SMS technology worked in those kinds of hard-to-reach places. A few months later, the idea for a text-messaging platform was born one Saturday night over a bottle of beer and Match of the Day. The result, FrontlineSMS, today helps non-profit organisations in over 140 countries communicate critical messages with millions of the most marginalised and vulnerable people. FrontlineSMS has won a number of international awards since, including the 2011 Curry Stone Design Prize.

You can learn a little more about the ethos, background and impact of the project here:

These examples suggest more and more technological innovation will come about in unconventional ways - solutions created not by "traditional" innovators or technologists, but regular people who find themselves on the front line of a challenge, and who decide not to turn their backs but to take it on. The concept has already been featured in Wired Magazine in an article they invited me to contribute last summer.

What will the money be used for?

We'll use the funds to:

  • Create a dedicated website for the book, and to build on the theme of 'reluctant innovation'. The current holding page is here
  • Cover any remaining production and copy editing costs
  • Beef up promotion activities

Stretch goals

Any funds raised above our initial £3,499 target will allow us to build the best website possible, and work more closely with our publisher and agent to fulfill the maximum number of book evenings and presentation requests.

If we hit £4,999 we'll commit to a short tour of a number of schools, colleges and universities to give talks and introduce students to the concept of reluctant innovation and international development, and leave them free copies of the book.

A final word...

"Good inventions are often born out of need. Great ones are accidental"
- Partha Dasgupta
  Faculty member Computer Science and Engineering Department

Join us, and help inspire innovators the world over - reluctant or not.

Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter

All ten chapter contributions for the book are in and undergoing the watchful eye of our expert copywriter. We have a London publisher lined up and have just signed the book contract. So everything is in place. The only risk may be a delay in getting the book to market if more work is required with typesetting and proof reading, but we're working our hardest to get it right first time.


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    As a show of thanks, get your name, photo and Twitter handle/Facebook link listed in the "Supporters Hall of Fame" on the Reluctant Innovators website.

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    Just shy of twenty quid gets your name, photo and Twitter handle/Facebook link listed in the "Supporters Hall of Fame" on the Reluctant Innovators website, plus a free copy of the ebook (Kindle or iPad). The ebook will be available for download in December, with the rest of the reward delivered the following month.

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    Get your name, photo and Twitter handle/Facebook link listed in the "Supporters Hall of Fame" on the Reluctant Innovators website, and get a free copy of the ebook (Kindle or iPad) and paperback.

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    11 backers Limited (9 left of 20)

    For the budding social innovator in your life, a limited edition one-off Christmas special! We'll send a signed copy of the book (and a short message from you) to a friend or relative - guaranteed for Christmas delivery. No other rewards apply. UK addresses only. Postage, packing and Christmas paper included.

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    A corporate special! Have the author come and speak about the book at your company or event (travel included, England only). Plus you'll get ten signed copies of the book to hand out on the day. No other rewards apply. Event to take place between February and June 2014, dates subject to author availability.

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Funding period

- (30 days)