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Empowering Each Other Through Community

The OpenIDEO Fighting Ebola team reflects on the power of communities to tackle global needs. Before the challenge, we each felt overwhelmed and helpless in the face of the Ebola crisis. Throughout our time here we discovered that when people come together, great things happen.

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Through community and creativity, we were able to generate new solutions in the fight against Ebola.
Flash back to late September, 2014. The Ebola epidemic had reached a crisis point. President Obama announced the need for a global response. And the five future members of the Fighting Ebola team were just learning about this incredible opportunity to help OpenIDEO and USAID generate breakthrough solutions. 

Each team member was passionate about OpenIDEO - that was a given. Debbie and Sarah, for example, were seasoned meetup coordinators. Jamie, previously a program officer for USAID, led outreach for the Women’s Safety Challenge and was a key part of its incredible success. But faced with the overwhelming magnitude and gravity of the Ebola epidemic, none of us felt, as individuals, we had the power or experience needed to make a difference. As Deb, our challenge manager, said, “As a business person who focuses on social justice start-ups with no experience with infectious disease or global health, what did I have to offer? How could I be a part of the solution?”

Hilary, our platform manager, had similar thoughts. “Having recently returned from Guinea where I lived 2.5 years as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I had been racking my brain as I watched the epidemic spin out of control on the news---what, possibly, could I contribute?”

But was we rapidly came together and created the Fighting Ebola Challenge, it became clear that as a group we could have a huge impact. In a matter of days, the platform was live and contributions began pouring in. The OpenIDEO community rallied around the challenge like never before. Jamie, our outreach manager, noted, “I knew we as a community were capable of great solutions to this epidemic. Still, I was blown away by the incredible response we saw.”

We worked each day to grow the community and bring more voices to the conversation. We reached out to the tech community, to fashion designers, to universities, social entrepreneurs, makers, doctors, aid organizations, and more. Deb mentioned, “I am a connector by nature and my mind went immediately to who needs to be a part of this conversation? Our team looked broadly at our networks, eagerly reached out and people responded. People showed up, joined the conversation and added their own insights in the fight against Ebola.”

Once the people joined the platform, as Debbie discovered, the work had just begun. We quickly learned how to connect ideas and thinkers to truly collaborate and develop the concepts into solutions. “Learning the art of connecting complementary ideas in a field where I wasn’t an expert was challenging. I quickly learned how to motivate people and help them take their seed of an idea and grow it in collaboration with other ideas.” 

And then there was the incredible energy we saw happen off of the platform. “Experts and organizations reached out from all around the world,” said Sarah, the communications manager. “To capture all of the interest, we created a rapid workshop toolkit and worked closely with groups like Impact Hub and schools like Duke, NYU and RISD to create spaces where local communities could come together and add to the conversation.” 

By the end of the five weeks, over 600 ideas had been submitted, more than 1000 people had joined the online challenge, and even more were inspired and energized by the amazing work we saw unfold. The OpenIDEO platform became a place where anyone could contribute their ideas, their experience and their voice to the global epidemic. 

Before the challenge, as individuals we felt fearful and helpless. But throughout this experience, we discovered that as a community we really can design better, together.  We each have something to offer and we are all needed as part of this global conversation.

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Dedication, inspiration and a sprinkling of magic here and there. Definitely one to build upon............. Thankyou IDEO Team!