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Duke University

Innovation and Design for Global Grand Challenges

Duke University via Coursera

This course may be unavailable.


The purpose of this course is to introduce you to current global challenges in conservation and development, including changes in both sectors. This course will inspire you to rethink assumptions to address global challenges in conservation and development, and introduce you to new models and approaches that harness technological, behavioral, and financial innovation. This course will equip you with the insights, skills and approaches necessary to successfully overcome these obstacles. In addition, this course will provide participants with the tools, models, and approaches to address global grand challenges in conservation and development, to question fundamental assumptions, and to create and execute new solutions. Course participants will be trained in the processes around innovation and design to address global grand challenges. This includes content focused on constructing innovation pipelines, principals of design and engineering unique to the developing world and to conservation (Design for the Other 90%), on harnessing and developing disruptive technologies, principles of behavior and marketing, and on overcoming the challenges with setting up social ventures.

The course format will facilitate the development of a global community of innovators who will help solve the current and future grand challenges our planet faces in conservation and development, and will encourage thinking about how to do so that rethinks traditional assumptions and approaches within both conservation and development. This course will leverage the incredible idealism and interest in social entrepreneurship, design, and innovation among the millennials, in the US and abroad, and is intended to appeal to those interested in the maker movement. It also seeks to engage individuals in the developing world who are closest to the problems of conservation and development, who would benefit from the approaches taught in the course, and who can leverage their own knowledge of local culture.


Welcome and Course Overview
This course will focus on new approaches to development problems that harness technological and financial innovations, coupled with entrepreneurship, to improve the scale, sustainability, and efficacy of development and conservation approaches. Specifically, the course will seek to ask: How can the next generation of technologies, coupled with new financial innovations and approaches, help address conservation and development challenges and rethink assumptions? How can science and technology help us deliver more services with less costly infrastructure? To achieve these goals, the course will be split into four segments: 1) Review of the major challenges, current approaches, and criticisms of those approaches for development, including what development has been effective; 2) Review of the major challenges for conservation and the current debate in the field of how we may transform conservation; 3) Rethinking assumptions to solving the grand challenges in conservation and development, including review of new technologies and innovations; and 4) Design, marketing, and entrepreneurship for addressing global grand challenges.

To get started, begin by watching the Welcome Video, view the Course Overview document, and review the Course Resources information I provided. I hope you enjoy the course!

Grand Challenges of Development
Most stereotypes of the developing world paint a simple picture of a subsistence farmer with impoverished children. However, when we dig deeper into the data, we find the developing world exhibits substantial complexity that belies traditional stereotypes. In fact, many of our assumptions about the developing world and how to address its problems may be wrong. In this module we will review, with lectures and interviews with some of the world’s best experts on the subject, many of the Grand Challenges of Development—food security, global heath, governance & the rule of law, and response to humanitarian disasters. We will also review the global development-industrial complex, and how it both benefits and undermines the development aspirations of nation-states. Finally, this module engages deeply with two important development case studies: the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and the 2014–2015 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, from those who have been at the front lines of the humanitarian response to these tragedies. To get started, begin by watching the video "Paradoxes in Development."

Grand Challenges in Conservation
We are in the middle of a period of extraordinary change on the planet, a sixth great mass extinction. Unlike the previous mass extinction events, this is the first extinction in Earth’s history that is driven by the actions of a single species. During this period, the earth has been fundamentally changing physically, chemically, biologically, and ecologically. The problems of extinction and habitat destruction are increasing exponentially, while our solutions are incremental. Conservation remains at times technophobic, risk-averse, reactionary, intransigent, and uninspiring, but it is changing. Much as humans have caused these problems, we have the ability to solve them. This module will present the Grand Challenges in Conservation, from wildlife trade, to energy, to climate change, to addressing the underlying drivers of global extinction. You will hear from leaders of some of the world’s most important conservation organizations working on these topics. We will examine the current debate underway in the future of conservation.

This week's module will demonstrate ways to: (1) apply our unparalleled innovation capacity and harness our technological advances to engineer resilience to global environmental changes; and (2) change demand and incentive structures to alter our behavior, and improve our ability to monitor and protect species around the world. Finally, this module looks in-depth at one of the world’s most important biodiversity hotspots, Madagascar, an 8th continent that has served as a laboratory for evolution. To get started, begin by watching the video "Conservation Grand Challenges."

Exponential Technology and Open Source Innovation
The democratization of science and technology has given us powerful new tools to apply to the grand challenges identified in previous modules. Technology has gained exponentially in processing power, memory capacity, sensor density and number, pixel capacity, and storage. Current advances in molecular biology are rivaling (and in some cases overtaking) the rate of change that we have seen in computing and information technology. The democratization of information technology, coupled with the global spread of mobile platforms, particularly smartphones, allows for revolutionary new approaches in conservation and development that were impossible a decade ago. We have new ways of monitoring the planet from low cost sensors on artisanal fishing boats, to drones and to nanosatellites, that allow us to monitor the planet at multiple scales with unprecedented resolution and cadence. 3D Printing allows for faster prototyping and decentralization of manufacturing. Greater degrees of global connectivity allow us to crowd source the world for new ideas through open innovation. Open source approaches can help develop and/or source new ideas or products, distribute the burden for collecting and analyzing data, co-design new solutions, and share in the burdens of research, publication, and funding, while simultaneously engaging the public.

This module is an introduction to these new tools and technologies for conservation and development through lectures, technology demos, and interviews with leading engineers, innovators, and entrepreneurs who are at the cutting edge of some of these areas. These interviews include leaders at Indiegogo, XPRIZE, Planet Labs, and USAID. You will receive an in-depth look at open source innovation, including how to run a crowdfunding campaign. You will closely examine the internal mechanics of two of the Grand Challenges for Development programs: maternal and child health, and using innovation to design a better protective suit for Ebola.

To get started, view the video "Emerging Technologies for Conservation and Development, Part 1."

Behavioral Innovation, Financial Innovation, and Design
Behavior is the cutting edge of adaptation. It can be the fastest way to meaningful change and also the biggest barrier against it. Behavioral innovations such as incentives and rewards, harnessing competition and gamification, knowledge gaps, social pressure and networks, fear, self-identity and self-worth, and altruism provide powerful new tools to accelerate change and break down barriers. Financial innovations are a subset of behavior change. They include pay-for-performance mechanisms such as direct payments for conservation, advance market commitments, social impact bonds, conservation finance, conservation credit trading platforms, as well as harnessing new tools and platforms such as crowdfunding, microinsurance, microcredits, peer-to-peer lending, pay-as-you-go mechanisms, and franchise schemes. Finally, design is the application of behavioral science and anthropology to products and systems. When done well, design can integrate the needs of people and species; the possibilities of technology; and the demand for impact, sustainability, and scalability.

This week's content is an introduction to new models of behavioral and financial innovation, and design theory. This module features lectures and interviews with Asher Jay, a creative conservationist who uses art and marketing to end wildlife trafficking, Krista Donaldson, the CEO of Design Revolution (D-Rev), and Ron Gonen, the cofounder of Recyclebank, a model of how behavior change, technology, and entrepreneurship can solve environmental challenges.

To get started, view the video Design for Impact."

Once you have your idea or innovation, how do you translate it into an enterprise (entrepreneurship) or a startup within a company or institution (intrapreneurship)? How do you influence other companies to adopt your novel approach (extrapreneurship)? How do you create a social enterprise, a value-driven organization that borrows heavily from tools of the private sector, or a new for-profit venture that has a double bottom line – the twin aims of both profit and impact? This module is an introduction to the art of the start – from understanding how to think about your business model, to putting together a team, to pitching for funding, and getting to scale.

To get started, view the video "Introduction to Social Entrepreneurship."

Taught by

Dr. Alex Dehgan


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