OpenIDEO Launches New Program for Climate Innovation: #COPisHere, Fellowships

Paris 2015 COP21 With the United Nations conference on climate change (aka COP21) kicking off next week in Paris, OpenIDEO has just the thing for those of us who want to participate but can’t be there in person. It’s the organization’s new Accelerate initiative, a global effort to support innovators, spark action and use design thinking to tackle our biggest environmental challenges.

Jason Rissman, managing director at OpenIDEO, presented the program on a panel at the Social Innovation Summit in Silicon Valley (Nov. 17–18) and extended a special invitation to storytellers and climate change solution innovators: participate in OpenIDEO’s Climate Innovator Stories Challenge. The organization is accepting contributions until Dec. 11. I sat down with Rissman to find out more.

Julie Noblitt for TriplePundit (3p): What will OpenIDEO be doing at COP21?

Jason Rissman: One of our team members is going to Paris for an event called Place to B, a hub of storytellers and journalists to connect with other storytellers as part of our Climate Innovator Stories Challenge, which was one of the first initiatives we launched with our Accelerate program. We want to elevate stories of inspiring climate innovations and also start connecting with more storytellers, because their talents and skills are so needed for translating great innovations happening in the climate space and sharing them with more people.

We’ve called upon our community, friends and partners to organize events under the hashtag #COPisHere with the idea of celebrating local climate innovation and getting together to brainstorm ideas of how to better support climate innovation. We’ve truly been blown away by the response that we’ve seen.

Within just a couple of days, we’ve heard from about 100 people from over 35 countries ranging from the Democratic Republic of Congo, to Fiji, to Pakistan, to Zimbabwe, to Australia, to Spain, and all over who want to get together in their community and be part of the conversation that’s happening in Paris. We feel that everyone has a role to play, and not just in terms of speaking out or protesting or marching in the streets, but also with their creativity. We feel there is a great opportunity to activate the world to creativity to support innovation to help address climate change.

3p: You said during the Social Innovation Summit panel that #COPisHere is for celebrating local climate innovations. Are you hoping to highlight larger numbers of smaller stories?

JR: Yes, absolutely. And part of the reason is that we see Accelerate, our new program to celebrate climate innovation, as being a program that’s intended to be co-created with our community. And, the best way to learn about how to support climate innovators is to get to know them.

This is part of a Human-Centered Design process where we start with identifying and understanding our users and those that we’re designing for. We want to get to know innovators and learn more about ways we can support their work. We’ve been encouraging our community and our friends to organize events in their areas and to likewise get to know people who are working on climate innovations.

Rob Han
Rob Han was inspired by an OpenIDEO challenge program to create the Refuture app.

3p: I was looking at some of your featured innovators, for instance Rob Han, who created the Refuture app. Would he be an example of somebody who has gone through your process and benefitted from your materials and sponsorship? 

JR: We see this happen somewhat frequently. Someone gets inspired enough by the [human-centered design] process that they actually want to start convening people in their own community to teach it, and that’s definitely part of Rob’s story. Rob was encouraged through participation in our challenge to follow his dreams. He was in a job that was leaving him feeling the emptiness that a lot of people can feel when they are not in a job that’s inspiring or allowing them to tap into their interest in having social impact. Eventually he quit his job and when he did he wrote our team and said, “Thank you. I just quit my job and it’s because of you.” Which made us all very nervous! But he was off to the races as an entrepreneur, and a social entrepreneur. We’ve been inspired by his story.

3p: I heard you say, “We’re not trying to do ‘IDEO Green’ – we want people to take this and make it their own.”

JR: Yes. We were inspired by companies and organizations that have partnered together for impact – for example a current project that IDEO has partnered on called The Powerful Now, a platform on aging and the opportunity to rethink what aging means. We are different from other challenge or competition platforms in that people form teams, they work together, they form community, and collaboration is really at the center of it. That’s true to the DNA of IDEO – we see great innovation coming from diverse perspectives working together, because that is where creativity really is sparked. We don’t know exactly what that looks like yet, but we’d really like to hear from organizations that would like to be part of the program and we can think about it together.

3p: Let’s say it’s five years from now and Accelerate has exceeded your wildest dreams for what it can achieve. What would you like to see come out of this?

JP: Part of the center of the program is technology and it’s hard to imagine where the technology will be five years from now. But, the greatest latent energy source in the world is the creative energy of people around the world who are interested in helping address environmental and social issues. We want to help tap that energy source and provide a way for people who are creative, energized, engaged, and passionate about working on the planet’s future, to be able to find a project where they can have the most impact. If Accelerate is wildly successful, it’s really about helping connect anyone who is interested in making a difference to projects where their skills are needed and wanted.

3p: Is there anything else you would like for Triple Pundit readers to know or do – a call to action for them?

JR: Yes, three things. If you are a storyteller or innovator related to climate change, please participate in our Climate Innovator Stories Challenge. We’re accepting participation until December 11. Just today we announced a fellowship program. We’ll be focusing on three storytellers and three innovators and working to support their efforts and their impact.

If you like to get together in person to convene people, we are asking people around the world to hold a conversation with people in your community and brainstorm ideas about how to better support climate innovation via our #COPisHere initiative. As people hold those events, we hope they will share pictures and ideas with hashtag #COPisHere.

And, if you are a partner or an organization that is interested in this call to support innovation related to climate change, just reach out using the link on our Accelerate page. We want partners for the program. All of our challenges are sponsored and we are trying to build a strong ecosystem of support for all of these efforts.

Image credits: 1) Ron Mader from Flickr under Creative Commons License. 2) Photo used with permission of Rob Han and Open IDEO.

Julie Noblitt

Julie Noblitt is a social enterprise strategist, tech-for-social-good geek, writer, and community manager pursuing her MBA at Presidio Graduate School for Sustainable Management in San Francisco.