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Q&A with Oxfam's Ian Sullivan

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We caught up with Oxfam's Digital Campaigner, Ian Sullivan, who's been joining us on the Maternal Health and Mobile Technology Challenge.

What's your role at Oxfam?

Digital campaigning can mean all sorts of things. Mainly I support the health and education campaigns team to figure out digital strategies to support their work. It can also be about producing content – blogs, videos etc – as well as getting our issues talked about by social media types.

Can you tell us a bit about Oxfam's work in maternal health?

Maternal health is a large component of our broader health work. Mainly we campaign for well-funded public health systems that provide free care for people when they need it. Maternal health is a really vital issue, as women and babies are still dying unnecessarily – that needs to change. We need great ways to get people thinking and acting on these problems.

What got Oxfam interested in open innovation?

I think organisations realize that there are a lot of talented people out there, with lots of ideas – as we’ve seen over the last few weeks on OpenIDEO. People outside of the NGO world will approach an issue in a totally different way to how we would so, for us, harnessing that creativity is a great opportunity. Hopefully, this will lead to concrete results that change lives.

So, how are you finding OpenIDEO?

I’m really enjoying it. I joined the community to see what was going on and I’ve learned so much about a lot of interesting campaigns and products that are out there.The community has saved me a lot of time and legwork trawling the internet, so thanks for that! I’m really excited to see how things develop over the coming weeks.

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Its great to see Ian looking outside NGO's and traditional service delivery routes for new solutions and partners. There is a confluence of events between people looking for more meaningful work outside the traditional corporate world and the ground swell of social enterprise startups that attach importance to societal impact and change. Traditional activists and foundation should actively include and support these new endeavors whenever they can to provide a baseline of what works and doesn't work when considering future efforts. In my opinion many social enterprises, due to their business focus offer opportunity of more sustainable solutions even though the delivery of their service or product may not be free. As a person that has actively been working on social enterprise to deliver SMS solution in sub Saharan Africa I feel locked out from having my tool included as possible solution due to fact that I am in the "business" of providing meaningful value to target population. Field workers, researchers, NGOs, and their funding sources, and their propensity to favor open source software solutions, need to include proprietary, for-profit ideas where and when they make sense. Social enterprises should be subject to same scrutiny of other tools, however, they should NOT defacto be excluded due to some litmus criteria test, that in my opinion comes from the "aid" mindset when the world is moving toward as President Clinton likes to say" People need a hand up not a hand out." Some social enterprises offer a sustainable way to give local populations a hand up instead of a hand out but we can't live or die by the validity of our solution if we can't get the opportunity to prove ourselves. The best thing funding sources could do is for a period of time REQUIRE a for-profit component be used in a field trial IF there is such a component available to delivery the needed service. It must start with Foundations or field workers and NGOs will not be forced to consider new and alternative solution delivery mechanisms that are currently outside their thinking and comfort zone..