Dial Nokia for Social Change

Forever cementing its image as the champion of mobile telephony in emerging markets, Nokia launched a new product last week: a bicycle-powered cell phone charger. The idea isn’t new in the developing world—a couple of Kenyan students came up with a similar product last year—but Nokia’s will be the first commercially produced version. The device will initially be sold in Africa, for about $18, and will go on sale worldwide by the end of the year. Nokia wins all around: it adds to its eco-credentials with a great new sustainable product; and allowing people with limited access to electricity to charge a cell phone will not, I’m sure, harm Nokia’s already amazing sales figures in Africa, China, and India.

A little later this month, Nokia will conclude its first online crowdsourcing experiment, Design by Community.  Since March 15, readers of its blog, Conversations, have been contributing ideas to build “the ultimate concept mobile device.” Nokia would like to tell you that it’s all “a bit of fun,” but you can be sure it is taking this very seriously. The Nokia design team is learning to deal with how blunt online comments can be—”DON’T BE THE JUDGE FOR US. What is more important, don’t only steal our ideas which might make you a fortune,” says one irate contributor.  With polite replies and careful management, Nokia is slowly building a list of specs for its dream phone.

Now the cellular phone giant wants to apply this newly acquired wisdom to some of the planet’s bigger problems. Early last week, Nokia got together with the folks from The Feast conference to launch an online social-innovation platform called Change Connections. You and I can go to this Web site and submit ideas on how to improve education, personal health care, disaster planning, or any other burning issue that might catch our fancy. These ideas will form the conceptual core of an event to be held for technologists and researchers in New York in May. And, of course, it all comes back to Africa–where Nokia will continue the conversation by convening “over 200 critical minds and change makers” at an Open Innovation Africa Summit in October.

Now Africa, if you want a solution to your problems, you know who to call.

Image: courtesy Nokia.com

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