Sonal Shah, White House social innovator and former Head of Global Initiatives at Google.org gave an inspirational lecture about innovation in the US Government at Portcullis House on the 18th January 2012.
As a former Head of the White House’s Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, Sonal served on President Obama’s Transition Board where she oversaw the Technology, Innovation and Government Reform working group. In the inaugural Digital Leaders Annual Lecture last night she talked about philanthropy, social enterprise and civic participation; opening up US Government data and how government needs to change to innovate. She also mentioned two really interesting case studies:
• Text4baby programme, which used a model set up in Africa to give advice by text to HIV and Aids patients. It’s for low income expectant mothers who don’t use the internet so instead they received a weekly text with advice on what to expect in their stage of pregnancy. They could also text to ask for more advice. Johnson and Johnson provided the information and advice and a cell phone company provided the free text service for two years
• Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors project, an initiative where the Bloomberg foundation awarded grants up to $24 million to five big-city US mayors for programs that address key priorities in their respective cities. Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed planned to use his city’s $4.2 million grant to create a 311 phone system and address homelessness and panhandling
Sonal’s list of ‘needs’ for innovation in government included:
- appetite for risk, in the next decade we need to create new structures for the next 100 years
- civil society to work with government to work out metrics for success
- scale good ideas and move on from pilots
- more people in government working on innovation
- find ways to get ideas and solutions from bottom up, changing government’s top down mentality
- lawyers in government who think differently and innovatively
- university courses on social enterprises – the largest student club in Harvard is the social enterprise club but there are courses on social enterprises
The lecture was followed by a lively question and answer session chaired by Justin Webb from the BBC, and then a lovely glass of wine. Also in attendance was Nick Hurd MP, who agreed with Sonal that government innovation needs an appetite for risk.
A good evening all round I think. Such a shame that Sonal isn’t on Twitter (I looked and there are about 600 Sonal Shahs and she definitely isn’t one of them, she said!) but the impact of her speech was clear in Tweets afterwards.
It’s always interesting for those of us in GDS to hear about how innovation and change in Government is being approached internationally. As @nettienoodles said on Twitter last night “Sonal Shah is inspirational on how to solve what seems to be insolvable”
It was the inaugural lecture for the Digital Leaders programme and an audio version will be on their site in a few days but you can read Sonal’s biography here and follow further conversation on Twitter with the following hashtags
: #DigiLeaders #SonalShah
Jane O’Loughlin (@teacampLondon) works with the Programme team at GDS and is the organiser of Teacamp