Revolutionary communication innovations
An Egyptian woman talks on a mobile phone in Tahrir Square Feburary 12, 2011 in Cairo, Egypt.
June 10th, 2011
12:30 PM ET

Revolutionary communication innovations

Editor's Note: Sam Wainwright is a Research Associate at the New America Foundation.  This post is part of the Global Innovation Showcase created by the New America Foundation and the Global Public Square.

By Sam Wainwright – Special to CNN

New communications tools and behaviors are spurring innovation worldwide, revolutionizing finance, community, business, giving and government.  Here are some fascinating examples:

Finance: Mobile phone technology is empowering individuals to directly exchange money through their cell phones, bypassing traditional banking institutions. Companies like Square and their headphone-jack card reader let anyone with a smart phone accept credit card payments.

Mobile banking has developed even faster and spread far wider around the world. In Kenya, M-PESA connects over 65% of households to mobile money services. Websites like Kiva.org turn individuals into micro-financiers, allowing them to make $25 loans to anyone in the world.

Community: P2P technology is also facilitating near-free global communication through technology like Voice over IP (VoIP), turning even niche marketplaces into global exchanges.

Start-ups like Speak Shop, a web-based marketplace of Latin America Spanish tutors, allow  anyone, anywhere to brush up on their Español via Skype.

Alternative “mesh” Internet architectures are also emerging as challengers to traditional notions of centralized, institutional control over the web. When the Egyptian government attempted to shut down the country’s Internet last February, Egyptian hackers turned to mesh networking to bypass the blackout.

Business: People aren’t the only ones connecting in new ways. There are new direct company-to-person interactions, whether as simple as announcing deals on Twitter, or as complex as a Spiroxil’s system for detecting counterfeit prescription drugs in the developing world with a cellphone camera.

Companies are connecting with new workforces by crowdsourcing small tasks with Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, or by partnering with not-for-profits like Samasource to build sustainable internet-based jobs for people in poverty.

Giving: Charities have also benefited. Direct giving through text messages became a major source of international philanthropy – especially disaster relief – following the Haitian earthquake last year. Meanwhile, sites like GlobalGiving connect individual donors to grassroots charity projects with unprecedented levels of transparency and accountability.

A free service called ChildCount+ uses text messaging to coordinate community-based health providers in Africa. Beside providing for the social good of improving the delivery of health care, ChildCount+ means more patients end up coming back for follow-up appointments.

Government: Lower barriers to communication are also allowing individuals to hold governments accountable in ways never before possible. Ushahidi maps have been revolutionary in increasing government transparency. The free and open-source software allows anyone to report location-tagged information, and has been tweaked to track everything from street violence in Kenya to infrastructure damage from the Haitian earthquake. Residents of D.C. even used it to track snow removal during 2010’s “snowmaggedon.”

Perhaps most strikingly, many of these new interactions begin with the ethos of “free” and seek out new ways to monetize innovation outside of traditional cash-for-goods-rendered transactions. For example, Ushahidi software generates revenue by offering set-up and hosting services.

As Chris Anderson noted in his book Free: The Future of a Radical Price, “free” is “a word with an extraordinary ability to reset consumer psychology, create new markets, break old ones and make almost any product more attractive."

Taken together, all these breakthroughs suggest that the truly innovative work in the global economy is increasingly divorced from traditional models of individual ownership and old boundaries of communication. Indeed, new forms of communication are leading the way.

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Topics: Innovation • Technology

soundoff (17 Responses)
  1. Malcolm Richards

    Water Balancing – A Solution to unemployment:

    I believe that flooding throughout the United States will be greatly reduced in the future, if not entirely eliminated, by balancing the nation’s water supply.
    What if we controlled river outlet systems so that the excess flood threatening water was transported far away? The unwanted water could be dissipated in areas of the country that are constantly threatened by drought and forest fires. Water redistribution system technology already exists for such a system of water balancing throughout the country – regardless of the Continental Divide and other obstacles – through aqueducts, canals, pipes, locks, pumping technology, tunneling etc. Experts, using sophisticated computer modeling, would have to decide when it is time to begin draining the flood prone waterways threatened by excessive rainfall or snow melt off. Local, already saturated, areas would be relieved because the excess water would be sent far away. The partial drainage or drawing down of these threatened waterways could start well before the predicted inundations begin.
    Badly needed water arriving from the flood threatened areas could be put to good use in the drought weary, forest fire prone areas of our country. In fact, some of the water receiving states would probably be willing to pay for the precious, transported water thereby mitigating some of the national cost of the water balancing system.
    The construction of a national water balancing system could be spread over an extended period of time – starting with flood prone waterways – and funded through a program similar to the depression years Works Progress Administration (WPA). This national water system could become part of the badly needed rebuilding of our national highways and bridges infrastructure. As far as unemployment problems go, everyone should be able to find a decent paying job in such an environment. Like the WPA era, unskilled laborers as well as skilled workers would be required to construct a national water balancing system.
    Perhaps this paper is premature, but I truly believe that water balancing from coast to coast and north to south is in our nation’s future. Water (sometimes referred to as the new oil) is far too valuable to be wasted by devastating flooding.

    June 11, 2011 at 9:07 pm | Reply
  2. David E. Moore

    Fareed, I am someone that watches your show consistently. i am a high school dropout and started my first company at 25. as I watch your program related to innovation, i realize that your focus is one that reflects a macro analysis. true innovation, while large impact are companies like Apple, most innovation does not come from (as you make clear on your program) from these companies. my questions revolves around "true" innovation. my company is now 30 years old and is a leader in our business segment. how did we do that? what is the impact on the US economy and why do people look to large companies and ask about innovation. how can we discuss this? true innovation comes from imagination and drive. government and venture capital come after the fact. as you continue to ask your viewers (and in your case, many government and business leaders) how we create innovation, i feel that you seem to focus on, either government or venture capital perspectives to discover the solution. education is critical, innovation comes from imagination and drive? I would very much appreciate some format that will allow me to discuss this perspective - just not sure how to open that door.

    June 11, 2011 at 11:55 pm | Reply
  3. Tim Sweeney

    Who are you guys kidding about new innovations in America..The EPA and Government Regulations will "strangle" any new ideaS,,THAT IS WHY OUR JOBS HAVE GONE TO CHINA,, THEY DON'T CARE ABOUT THE ENVIROMENT..any thing new is screwed from the begining here, if you don't believe that just give it a try...

    June 12, 2011 at 12:07 am | Reply
  4. Ahmed Johnson

    It figures Freaky Fareed would choose a picture of an Islamic whore with a western invention. Muslim theives. She is likely to be setting off a roadside bomb.

    Tell me Fareed, what has the Muslim EVER invented? They are theives that steal from other cultures, other religions, other peoples. Under every Mosque lay the bones of the innocent slain by the bearded black servants of the false demonic god Allah and his bastard faggot slave Mohammed.

    Hear oh Islam, thou art the children of death and darkness!

    Allah is a false god and Mohammed is his false prohet. From the line of Hagga and Cain has the Muslim come: snakes in the grass!

    Muslim beards hide the ugly simian face as they colonize the West. You Islamic decievers! You're the dirty apes of the false god. You are the line of Cain. May the true god damn you all to hell.

    may the horsemen of the second coming ride through your lands! I curse all Islam! I call it down upon your unworthy heads! Fear fire and the quaking ground that slams your children under rocky slabs of stone – forever you shall cry!

    Swing deep the sickle and reap the earth wherever Islam roams! Bring to the Muslim Death Blood and Fire! Let their cities go black. Let their people weep blood! May their weedy children be no more! Soon you shall no lamentations as The Great Earthquake comes against the holy sites of Islam! it will rain rocks upon your heads – for seven days shall you fall!

    have a good one.

    June 12, 2011 at 3:02 am | Reply
    • Nassar Salley

      John, your ignorance is making you sound this way. You need to learn Arab history. I'm not an Arab but I know what Arabs have contributed to world science and civilization.

      June 12, 2011 at 12:47 pm | Reply
      • Ahmed Johnson

        I said "Muslims" not A-rabs, but please do, articulate the many inventions that make Arabic culture worthy to rule over it's conquered peoples. Please, elucidate. If were not for the Western need for oil, A-rabs would still be digging holes in order to poop into them. Nomadic bedouin dirt.

        A-rabs are anthropologically from the line of Cain...Philistines ("Palestinians") that sacrifised children to Baal and to this day harass the true children of Abraham's inheritance: The Jews. This is why Muslims cannot stand the existance of the Jews. For centuries Muslims tortured and broke Jews just as Mohammed broke the statues of the ancient kabba where "Mecca" now squats like a whore.

        A-rabs (Muslims) are jealous of the Jews. For the Jews are the true offspring of Abraham. A-rabs are the result of a lack of faith and the sin of adultery – a bastard race. A bastard line; the unworthy children of Cain and darkness. God Damn you all!

        June 13, 2011 at 12:39 am |
    • watchwhatyoupost

      to ahmed johnson-
      The majority of my friends are muslim. although i am a christian, i must say i truly believe islam can often be more peaceful than christianity. Also, islam DID discover/advance many things, especially in architecture and medicine. they are responsible for the discovery of blood circulation, the discovery of pox being contagious (not a disease braught on by failure to follow religion). Their mosks and art are beautiful. Among other things they invented the windmill, surgery, chess, vaccinations, numerical numbering, parachutes, refinement process, metal armor, and so much more i couldn't list it all. Ps. Fareed zakaria is a great journalist. do not insult his writing abilities because of your religious views.

      July 3, 2011 at 12:14 am | Reply
      • Ahmed Johnson

        What nonsence...more Affirmative Action History...just like Freaky Fareed has a career due to liberal CNN Affirmative Action. Muslims do not invent...they steal. They do not build civilizations, they co-opt them.

        July 11, 2011 at 1:43 am |
  5. Nassar Salley

    Fareed Zakaria – GPS discusses innnovations in particularly science and technology to create jobs in the US, a very important subject I think. This issue reminds me of one thing I say all the time about inventions and innovations. Some inventions I believe rather impact us negatively when it comes to job creation. To just give an exaple, an ATM machine has taken the job of about three bank tellers. And there are many more examples of such situations but we see them as innovations. I don't think innovations that will put Americans out of work is a wise thing to embrace. The Chinese I believe use a lot of human labor, making it possible to create jobs for their level of economic expansion.

    June 12, 2011 at 12:17 pm | Reply
  6. Amir

    Yeah, That was acrazy comment but, very very true. The american public has no idea what they have lost in the last fifteen years because of the irratic and chaotic nature of the technology and the oldtimers mentality attached to it. THeir lost. Best thing that ever happens was when someone stepped down in thfar east not speaking of korea. America has credibality issues withing itself. Iran in most likley benefactor of the modern times. Russia aswell if they stay in touch with iran. China is obsessed with the american and africa cionsumer markers. When I mad ethe comment about sega... You have no idea, you(america) have not even the foggiest idea. Tranparency is only good for bottled water. All this other shit is corperate espinage cloaked under some form of regulation.THe fukn computers these people are on have been around for more than a decade. But because thier company is so huge and they can control vst amounts of the market your allowed that computer and that computer alon......when in fact real technology can do things like rip your heart out and put in a new synthetic on for the same price as two or three modern computers. But then again when technology is on it's way to you. Here comes another side track and were off to the insurance game. fucck the public for the next ten years let em watch cartoons.When people do not have the capacity to know where they should and shouldent stick their nose then you know their out of step with the times.The same approach to the issue goes nowhere consistanly. Everywhere I go peple are flashing their cell phones at me...I'm thinking that's great when I wa one of the first witih the super computers before the state and police wanted to steal it and bill gates them casm out with it and the press spinned just the right story for the pole and state. SO If I don't have a cell phone it's not because I cant catch up it's because I had on almost 17 years ago ......an dwe have moved on to something more......... It's time for these old timers to go for good here in America......... fogt the highschool kids they'll never have a clue. Producers vs. consumers.

    June 12, 2011 at 3:04 pm | Reply
  7. Pete

    You talked this Sunday about the short term plan to get the economy moving is improving infrastructure. I think such ideas which the President has had for some reason seem to be slow to move. Politicians are quick to move on rescuing banks and Wall Street with stimulus packages. But for some reason, it seems to respond very slowly to the electorate which hired them for the job.

    However, my 2nd point which is more crucial is any infrastructure "bank" will need a committee with rotating members to oversee any corruption. We have seen good examples in the recent past where large infrastructure projects have led to what has been called "wasteful spending." I presume this is a euphimism of corruption and we cannot account for it or "too big to account for." Examples the "Big Dig" or infrastructure projects in Iraq. Rotating members, whether they are retired politicians (clean ofcourse), beaurocrats, academics, judges etc...primarily those honorable members of society who have contributed and have no vested interest should be on such an oversight committee. Unfortunately, with all the money that seems to be flowing, an infrastructure bank has the potential to be as immune to corruption as our current political system.

    June 13, 2011 at 10:32 am | Reply
  8. GlobalGiving

    Thanks for including GlobalGiving in your list of revolutionary communications initiatives, Sam. We are among great and inspiring company in your article! In the vein of transparency and communication you might be interested in our Storytelling Project – our latest experiment in community feedback. (Do a search for "globalgiving storytelling project SSIR").

    June 13, 2011 at 1:22 pm | Reply
  9. kelsey

    Going with the theme of direct, transparent giving...SmallCanBeBig.org is a terrific example. 100% of every dollar given goes directly to a family facing homelessness in Massachusetts. They have helped more than 200 families and 400 children since their start in Jan 2009, serving as a springboard whereby families become sustainable rather than fall into a cycle of poverty. The model, which harnesses the power of small donations and personal networks, was inspired by the Obama campaign and Kiva.org

    Small Can Be Big!

    June 13, 2011 at 3:36 pm | Reply
  10. SarahPalin

    Do towels protect towel heads from brain cancer? I'm the lucky one. I can't get brain cancer. I don't have a brain.

    June 13, 2011 at 4:52 pm | Reply
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