[The Gates Foundations Grand Challenges Explorations grant proposals are just 2-pages for a $100,000 grant that explores brave high-risk high-rewards ideas. Unfortunately, they don’t provide any feedback whatsoever on rejected proposals, making it hard to reframe, revisit, and reapply.]
In September 2004, I started advising a student team designing a low-cost windmill for a rural community in Western Kenya. From windmills to telemedicine systems, low-cost diagnostics to science education programs, innovation spaces to affordable greenhouses, an exciting, gratifying and serendipitous journey ensued. A decade of personal and professional growth was punctuated by spectacular failures, humble successes, amazing friendships, and excellent collaborations across Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, India, Cameroon, Sierra Leone, and many other countries. Along the way, the Humanitarian Engineering and Social Entrepreneurship (HESE) Program was founded at Penn State and the curriculum was institutionalized. Hundreds of students across the university have worked with diverse in-country partners to develop and launch technology-based social ventures, and published over 70 peer-reviewed articles. HESE ventures have touched the lives of over a million people. It has been a good ten years.
While this quest for improving the human condition has yielded a few ‘game changers’, there have been countless everyday ‘frame changers’: moments that have challenged my beliefs, values and rational assumptions. Moments that have made me revisit my philosophy of engagement and rethink my concepts of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Some moments have raised questions and others have led to answers; the vast majority, though, have just made me scratch my head and smile. After all, what’s more amusing than the paradoxical simplicity and complexity of development challenges, and what’s more invigorating than the humbling universality of the human condition?
On this tenth anniversary of my engagement with Africa and experiments with HESE, I am launching a daily cartoon called Frame Changers. Frame Changers strives to capture learning moments in the broad areas of Sustainable Development, Humanitarian Engineering and Social Entrepreneurship. From rural communities and chaotic marketplaces of Africa to entrepreneurship classrooms and non-profit boardrooms in the United States, Frame Changers are everywhere. In this age of ever-diminishing attention spans, a 15 second investment is all that these thought-provoking cartoons aspire for. Some Frame Changers are funny, others are satirical, incisive, futuristic, inspiring, hypocritical, and some others, just are. They are just moments, plucked from time and space.
Frame Changers emerged over a decade but were crystallized on an airplane and articulated immediately thereafter in Kenya in May 2014. Jabez Issa, a wildlife painter from Nyeri, Kenya who did the sketches for The Kochia Chronicles, worked feverishly for three weeks to churn out ~225 sketches that met my exacting standards. A two-week fieldwork stint by the Indian ocean in southern Mozambique provided the perfect ambiance to convert the scenes and sketches into a series of cartoons. Several family members and friends helped firm up the design elements and proofread the captions. I am hoping that my professional blog and Facebook page will take these Frame Changers far and wide into the minds of social innovators and aspiring game changers.
Don’t feel compelled to search for questions, or answers, or questions in these answers.
But, please do scratch your head…and smile…and share these Frame Changers.