14LCS Idea Accelerator: Transforming Technology into Social Change


[Photos from left: Yee Won Chong; Ann McAlpin; Jeric Kison; Ashish Sinha. Check out their videos on NTEN’s Instagram: @NTENorg]

On September 6 in San Francisco, over 250 attendees at NTEN’s Leading Change Summit (14LCS) convened for its finale event: the Idea Accelerator. After three days of exploring ideas, gathering feedback on projects and concepts, and thinking critically amongst nonprofit peers, the Idea Accelerator gave participants the chance to switch gears and think about how to put their ideas into action.

“When we were planning for the inaugural LCS, the key outcome from our perspective was that it should be a unique space for people to connect and share ideas, of course, but also to feel like those ideas weren’t simply a conversation at a conference reception – that those ideas could turn into real projects, programs, campaigns, or applications,” said NTEN CEO, Amy Sample Ward. “In order to ensure the work and concepts that emerged throughout the workshops had a launch pad, we created the Idea Accelerator as the final day’s focus, pushing those ideas into possibilities.”

Designed by Emily Lonigro Boylan, Owner and Creative Director, and Demetrio Cardona-Maguigad, Director of Strategic Design, both of LimeRed Studio, the Idea Accelerator offered the chance for partners who might not have met otherwise to connect on common ideas, and work with coaches to refine the project to meet shared goals. The goal was to surface ideas to create real, world-changing impact that make people’s lives better.

“We wanted to give nonprofits a chance to propel their world changing ideas, especially as they are often overlooked in the tech community,” said Emily. “We wanted to create a fun and collaborative environment to pitch an idea, help them think strategically, and find like-minded individuals to work through their ideas together.”

Out of the 24 ideas that were pitched at the Idea Accelerator, only eight could advance to the final round. The final eight pitched their ideas onstage to three judges — James Rooney, Microsoft; Deena Pierott, iUrbanTeen; Sonya Watson, Tides Foundation — and attendees, who scored the pitches across five categories: Community, Creativity, Technology, Collaboration, and Sustainability.

Yee Won Chong took home both the Community Choice and First Place prizes, which included a Microsoft Surface Tablet and passes to both the 15NTC and 15LCS events, for the project: “Say This, Not That.” Supported by teammates Zenzel Lewis, CSRA EOA Inc. Head Start, and Kristen Thompson, Center for Reproductive Rights, this project aims to create a platform that will identify harmful phrases and words in order to avoid perpetuating harm onto others. Yee Won, a Strategist, Trainer, and Consultant for social justice, and former Development and Communications Director at the Western States Center, was inspired by a conversation at 14LCS, which led to the initial project pitch.

“I wanted to connect technology to my interest in nonviolent communication and to educate people about how our words can cause unintended harm,” said Yee Won. “Words matter, and it’s surprising how certain acceptable, everyday words convey violence. This platform we pitched addressed topics such as violence, racism, classism, sexism, and ableism.”

The second prize went to “Connections – Aged-Out Foster Kids and Caring Adults,” a concept put together by Ann McAlpin, Executive Director of CASA Child Advocates of Montgomery County, and teammates Jill Beasley, Aptify; Ken Goldstein, Benevolent; and Kait Steele, 826 National. The project aimed to support people who came of age in the foster care system after they turn 18 and are declared “independent,” to point them to resources and to measure the results of their work with court-appointed special advocates and other mentors.

The third prize went to “Campus Light,” a project by Ashish Sinha, Program Director at the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, and Jeric Kison, Digital Marketing Specialist at the Canadian Cancer Society, that aimed to deploy a website that facilitates peer-to-peer communication & resources for specific colleges, and provides support for students struggling with depression & psychological disorders.

The concepts that were pitched for programs, platforms, and more—from a centralized control panel that would revolutionize the way that nonprofits issue phones and numbers to frontline workers, to a networking app that acts as a matchmaker to conference goers with similar interests—demonstrate that if social change professionals are given time and space to incubate new ideas, they can come up with innovative approaches to meet needs that have not yet been met by technology. Each winner was asked: “How does your project transform technology into social change?” To learn what they had to say, check out the link to the Instagram videos via the @NTENorg account. All Idea Accelerator participants will be encouraged to continue to refine their pitches, work on their projects, and document their progress going forward on NTEN’s blog.

For the full list of project pitches, visit: http://www.nten.org/article/14lcs-idea-accelerator-pitches-onward/.