Scaling-up Social Impact by Giving Away Value? We're Open to that Idea.

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Source: Ashoka

Open source thinking is no longer a skill reserved for software engineers, but a valuable skill for social entrepreneurs. It's an exciting topic to discuss, and many in the Ashoka family believe that open growth platforms have begun to replace crowdsourcing as the next brightest frontier in social innovation. To really get this conversation moving in the right direction, Stanford Social Innovation Review has launched an interview series with leading innovators who are using open source thinking to make social impact. SSIR's first interview, moderated by Ashoka's Roshan Paul and Alexa Clay, catches up with Stephen Song, an Ashoka Globalizer and founder of Village Telco, a social enterprise that aims to make starting a telephone company as easy as starting a blog.

Why did you choose to use open source for this idea? Why not set up your own cozy, lucrative partnership with one firm, and capture the market?

What open source allows for is a fast-track toward trust. We approached a manufacturer with the design and said we would give it to them for free, on the understanding that they gave away the design for free — no patents — but that they could use it wherever and however they wanted. So there were no tricks. Everything was on the table: They got a free product, we got a deal to build the system, and we very quickly had a working relationship built on trust.

People like to contribute their ideas and energy if they know someone else isn’t going to profit from it. We benefit from an international network of over 500 people from all around the world, who help and contribute in different ways: developing the software, de-bugging it, spreading the word, testing, etc. Besides, nobody likes the big, incumbent communication companies — so we also benefited by being the little guy up against the Goliaths.

Be sure to check out the interview in its entirety. And stay tuned for future entries in this SSIR series which will be released over the coming weeks.