My Backpack of Mentors

When I began my journey of social entrepreneurship two years ago, I had an exciting idea, passion for change and a skill set I could leverage to take things forward. While these were all important, my biggest asset on this journey has been my backpack of mentors. It is the backpack that every entrepreneur needs, to not only survive, but succeed in the remarkable journey of entrepreneurship. Mentors come in different shapes and sizes (not all mentors have to be pepper haired and deep-voiced), guiding and encouraging you at the many crossroads, road blocks and bumps you will encounter. 
In my opinion, the backpack of mentors usually has one, all or a combination of different types of mentors. At the expense of getting carried away with the backpack metaphor, I present to you four types of mentors: 
The Compass:  you’d be lost without them. These are the mentors that have years of experience under their belt, experience that gives them a unique perspective towards decisions that seem mind boggling to you. When you find yourself facing complex decisions and tough trade-offs, a skype call with these mentors can bring truckloads of clarity. 
The Gatorade: This is your power booster, the mentor who fuels that fire in your belly.  As an entrepreneur, the temptation to call it quits may lurk in the dark corners of disappointment and it is at times like these that you need someone to help you recharge, re-strategize and prepare for re-attack. In most cases, these Gatorades have fought their own share of disappointments making their commitment contagious and their struggle inspiring. 
The First Aid Kit:  These are the seldom used but intensely useful kind. You reach out to them when things are about to fall apart, think funding crises or scale-up challenges. They bring influence, power and networks that can prove essential in your hour of need. These are the ones you can depend on to pull you out of tight spots and buck you up for the journey ahead.
The iPod: What is a journey without music in it. These mentors add life to your days. They are the source of spark in the mundane everydays and the spirit boosters during the inevitable downs and lows. They are you partners in the dance of the life of a startup. They make every second of running a startup fun and infuse their infectious excitement and passion into the venture. 
This is the survival mentor kit that is essential for every startup and GRID is extremely fortunate to have a host of mentors that fulfill one or more of these roles. Sometimes a mentor can be both a compass and an iPod, sometimes it can be just one, but whichever position they hold it is essential for a budding venture.  
Here is to all the GRID Mentors, you make for a great backpack: 
Shwetlena Sabarwal, World Bank
Fawzia Naqvi, Soros Economic Development Fund
Mike Trucano, World Bank

Dr. Sean Roberts, Elliott School, GWU

Jehan Ara, P@sha
Obaid Ullah Khwaja, Flikkable
Hamad Khawaja, Google
Every GRID success is a testament to your support and guidance! GRID could not have asked for a better team of champions! pan1_0

The Who, What and Why of GRID

This is for all those who have loved, supported and endorsed GRID but don’t fulllyyyyy understand what GRID is. I present to you GRID 101.

Who is Mariam?

A passionate development practitioner, an international development student and an aspiring social entrepreneur, Mariam Adil believes in the power of young people, especially women, and has a vision of a world where empowered girls are not a minority but a norm. Her favourite quote this year is “Why can’t “run like a girl” mean win the race?”

In addition to her roles and responsibilities as an Economist (Consultant) with the Africa Education Global Practice at the World Bank,​ Mariam is working towards mainstreaming games as development solutions through her initiative GRID – Gaming Revolution for International Development. Mariam is committed to making the world a better place, one game at a time. ​

What is GRID?

GRID, The Gaming Revolution for International Development, gamifies the practice of International Development by creating low-cost digital games that simulate the challenges in designing, implementing and monitoring development projects. We aim to revolutionize the practice of international development by introducing video games as development solutions. These solutions range from capacity building tools for development workers to awareness building tools for project beneficiaries.

Imagine a world where policy-makers can simulate the impact of providing textbooks versus training teachers in public schools in Ghana or teenagers in Malawi can play a simple quiz game on their phones that raises AIDs awareness or young adults in India can be inspired for a career in hoteling by an interactive game on hotel management. With a push towards innovative use of technology in international development, and the recognition of the effectiveness of games as social impact tools, the stage is set for games to revolutionize the practice of international development.

GRID Games:

  • Randomania: Allows development practitioners to think about the challenges of evaluating projects and designing randomized control trials. The game takes the player through the different scenarios they can face in the field and walks them through a decision tree based on the actions of the player.
  • StereoWiped: Inspired by the design of mahjong tiles, it challenges the player to match portions of a stereotype such as “ I am a girl” and “I like pink” and then breaks them using a statistic such as 2 out of 3 girls around you like blue more than pink. So you keep having fun, but you raise awareness about stereotypes in the process.
  • Pipeline:
    • Games for creating behavior change around the issue of open defecation;
    • Game for encouraging Science and Math Education in Gambia;
    • Games for changing parental perceptions on Early Childhood Development.


Mariam’s Achievements related to GRID:

  • Presented GRID on stage at Clinton Global Initiative University at a session moderated by President Clinton
  • Awarded “Best Social Venture” prize at GW Business Plan Competition
  • Awarded The GWU Knapp Fellowship for Entrepreneurial Service-Learning
  • Recipient of the Elliott School’s Wilbur J. Carr Prize
  • Received “Honorable Mention” award at UN PeaceApp Competition
  • GRID has been featured in Washington Post, WB Today, GW Today, Global Voices and VentureBeat.

Why Games?

  • Games can be used to promote social change: Games can help raise awareness, bring social issues to the forefront and provide a fun opportunity for introspection as well as public action.
    • Behavioral Change: “Tell me, & I will forget, Show me, & I may remember, Involve me, & I will understand” Confucius. Games offer a platform to engage and involve in the process of building awareness. Games can offer an interactive medium for information dissemination that moves away from brochures and pamphlets. Policy makers can use games to build awareness around projects such as health interventions and trigger behavioral shifts.
    • Promote dialogue: Dialogue around serious social issues such as racial stereotyping, birth control or women empowerment can be tricky to initiate and sustain. These issues are so deeply inscribed in our social constructs that few people question them and even the ones that do, find it difficult to engage in a dialogue around them. Video games can target these social constructs and prompt individuals to challenge them in a fun way. Games can bring the dialogue to the comfort zone of people, specifically youth, and leverage the convenience of technology and interactive nature of video games to promote social change.
  • Games are a great tool for capacity building: Video games can help development practitioners and students better understand the challenges of designing, implementing and evaluating development projects by offering a complementary learning method to more formal training.
    • Simulate decision making: The interactive nature of video games can prepare development practitioners for the complex decision-making and behavioral challenges that they face on a regular basis. Games are able to simulate several layers of decisions (or nodes of a decision tree) in an engaging manner, a complexity books or presentations cannot fully address.
    • Build perspective around trade-offs in utilization of public resources: Games offer a safe environment to simulate the effects of policies and understand the trade-offs involved in the decision-making process.
    • Visualize the counterfactual: We often hear that policy makers cannot attribute the impact of their projects to their intervention unless they are able to observe what would have happened in the absence of an intervention (counterfactual). Since the counterfactual is unobserved, advanced econometric techniques are used to estimate the counterfactual. Imagine if policy makers could now also visualize this counterfactual by simply “undo-ing” a policy in a simulation. This allows development practitioners to compare and contrast different policy interventions through video games. For example a game that simulates the education sector in Nigeria, can provide a policy maker with a sense of the opportunities and challenges of investing $10 million in teacher training versus curriculum reform.

The GRID Team (in no particular order):

Rizwan Nusrat, Adil Shafi, Taimoor Ul Hassan, Maryam Bilal, Kiran Javaid

For more:

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Tech is the easy part – don’t forget ‘peopleware’

Wait... What?

AnthropologyThere’s a popular saying amongst the tech and development crowd that 10% of an ICT4D initiative is the tech and the rest is…. well, the rest. I’ve recently heard a modified version that says 5% is the idea and 10% is the business model, and the other 85% is…. well, the rest. The ‘rest’ is mostly made up of people, culture, context and the stuff of anthropologists.

At the Slush conference in Helsinki in November, I joined a short ‘Fireside Chat’ with Tanya Accone (UNICEF) and Mika Valitalo (Plan Finland) about the importance of that other 85-90%, which Tanya referred to as ‘peopleware’.

Tanya kicked off the panel by asking people to think about how much time they’d dedicated to the technology of their start-up idea or their tech solution – the hardware and the software – and to then ask themselves how much time they’d spent on the people component. “People are what will make or break your idea,”…

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The Innovators: Rugged Communications and The Last Digital Mile

Practical Initiatives Network - the PIN blog

by Kristen Sissener, @kristensissener of @PairedAir.

In development we often hear discussions about the challenges of so-called “last mile” delivery. We mostly associate these challenges with the delivery of medications, supplies and other tangible items. But what if the goods in question are digital rather than material? What if what we need to deliver in that last mile is simple communication?

As we publish this inaugural post for our new series “The Innovators”, it’s only fitting that we kick off with an innovator working to address the very foundation upon which all others depend: communication.

But first, a fun thought experiment: Imagine you don’t have phone, wireless, or internet connectivity. Yes it’s difficult. But that’s not all: now imagine you are working in the jungles of Panama. You have already achieved the nearly impossible, creating a micro-enterprise run by local women who make and sell bags using different types…

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