Miriam Niehaus

7 July, 2015

Let’s all be Hedgehogs

ICSC_Logo1As we talk about how political, planetary, and technological disruption affects civil society we sometimes get caught up in what we do not do well and how overwhelming the challenges we face are. So we decided to look for positive and motivating examples out there: We ran the Twitter challenge #BeTheHedgehog and asked for examples of particularly innovative projects and ideas.

To us, hedgehogs symbolise radical innovation because as curling up into a ball – their very successful defence strategy for millions of years – became ineffective when the car was invented, hedgehogs changed their strategy and learned how to run.

This is what we ask of ourselves and others: Don’t stick to what has always worked but be innovative, brave and bold like hedgehogs. Plus, share those ideas so we can all learn from each other.

Here we would like to share some of the fantastic “civil society hedgehogs” which people suggested to us and why we think they are particularly noteworthy:

Médecins Sans Frontières and Google joining forces to fight Ebola

Being faced with the widespread challenge of getting patient information out of a high risk zone at a MSF treatment centre in Sierre Leone, an MSF doctor mobilised a colleague who in turn reached out to Google. Together, MSF and Google developed a specialized tablet that could be dipped in chlorine for disinfection, be removed from the facility, with its server running on battery power. Two aspects are particularly impressive: First, this is a great example of a civil society and business alliance. Although many ICSOs have several corporate partnerships, forging alliances with businesses is still a very tricky topic. Second, the MSF colleague who reached out to Google could do so without going through the hierarchies of the organisation. He was apparently working in an environment that enabled employees to take initiative and drive it.

The world’s first climate liability suit

In this very recent first climate change liability suit the Dutch CSO Urgenda and 900 co-plaintiffs won a case in which the Dutch court ordered the state to cut its emissions by 25%. It is a common activist strategy to bring lawsuits against a state in rights-based issues. However, with climate change CSOs and activists have struggled to frame it as a (human) rights and tort law issue so far. So the innovation lies within taking a successful strategy and tailoring it to this seemingly very different topic. What is additionally remarkable in this case is the way Urgenda developed the strategy and harnessed support. It used an open online forum, asking others to share experiences of their cases and ‘crowd-pleading’ via various media channels to attract co-plaintiffs.

Mobile Phone Participatory School Governance Project

In this project Plan partnered with Nokia to include students, parents and teachers via mobile phones in their schools’ governance. This not only improved the flow of information of urgent or persistent problems in schools but also went a long way to better include the stakeholders in decision making and improving monitoring and accountability. In addition to the creative use of ICT, partnering with business, and the participatory component we also liked that Plan has an award for their most successful and creative projects, celebrating good ideas.

Going forward

Hedgehoggy merchandiseThese are just a few examples of the civil society hedgehogs that inspired us and showed us that innovation in our sector is already happening. However, we think civil society has to push innovation even more and we hope that these and other examples keep inspiring all of us to try new approaches, so we can all get better at what we do.

Although our twitter challenge has officially ended we still invite you to share your examples of innovation here and via Twitter using #BeTheHedgehog. We look forward to continue learning from you and from each other on this platform.

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