Blog Archive


4 June 2015

Southern Innovator Scale-Up Begins: Get on Board!

Southern Innovator achieved a great deal during its first phase. The magazine’s concept was beta tested as five issues were developed and rolled out across the global South. Feedback and comments came in from around the world and the magazine was refined based on user responses and experience.

During this time, a plan was developed to scale-up Southern Innovator over the next five years. We would like to do this in two phases. Contact us to learn more about the plan, what resources we require and how to get involved. What is on offer is truly remarkable: an ability to connect with the best and brightest of the global South at the very moment they are shaping the new world of the 21st century. Many have failed to grasp this opportunity and thus have been heavily damaged during the economic crisis; principally because they have failed to understand profound global changes and to see how they can use them to improve what they are doing (though, if they had been reading Southern Innovator, they would have been very clued up!).

Southern Innovator is a product of the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC), so it is able to directly plug into the UN’s network of global resources helping countries and people. This is a substantial resource and not to be overlooked. Getting involved gets you plugged in and switched on!

Read more here:

27 March 2015

Reflecting on What Has Been Accomplished: The David South Consulting Impact Summary

The David South Consulting Summary of Impact is now available online. It covers work undertaken around the world from 1997 to 2014. This has included the rising use of the Internet to communicate, publishing during a major crisis, the campaign to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), modernizing online health resources and how hospital’s communicate in the 21st century, and chronicling some of the most powerful trends sweeping the planet as the global South increases its wealth. 

As powerful information technologies find their way to even the remotest and poorest places on earth, what is communicated on these platforms becomes more and more important. While governments may believe they can ring-fence and hold back the spreading of ideas – both good and bad, negative and positive – ideas will spread because human beings are ingenious communicators. Even if mobile phones and the Internet were to disappear tomorrow, people would find other ways to spread ideas. The future will be ever-more shaped by those who can spread useful ideas even faster. With the right idea, a problem can be tackled or solved. Most of the problems plaguing today’s world can be solved. The advances made in science and technology in the past half century are mind-boggling and many innovations are held back because of fear societies are just not ready to adapt, or because certain interest groups would rather not share what should be a common human inheritance. A simple newsletter, humble in its design, can have a profound impact if the content resonates with people’s dreams and aspirations; if the knowledge and ideas it contains makes them more powerful or able to act.

A magazine can be so much more than just pretty pictures and nice colours if its content captures a common and shared experience neglected by other media. Southern Innovator magazine is an example of this at work.

DS Consulting Impact Summary 2015

14 January 2015

Reflecting on What Has Been Accomplished: The Southern Innovator Impact Summary

The 2012 to 2014 Summary of Impact for Southern Innovator has been published. It sums up what has been achieved to date, details the top features of the magazine and why it is the way it is, and, most importantly, makes a pitch for the magazine continuing past the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) deadline year of 2015. Southern Innovator was founded to aid in the push to achieve the MDGs as the final years approached. It seized on two phenomena running in parallel that could super-charge the meeting of the goals, if seized upon by governments. One was the rapid and widespread take-up of mobile phones and information technology; the other was the 21st-century innovator culture this technology was shaping.

Now that the next goals are being debated, it is time for Southern Innovator to scale-up and build on its achievements to date. Have a read of the Impact Summary and dream with us of a bigger Southern Innovator!

SI Impact Summary 2015

16 November 2014

Southern Innovator at GSSD Expo 2014

Southern Innovator Issue 5 at 2014 Expo Southern Innovator Issue 5 was distributed to participants at the GSSD (Global South-South Development) Expo 2014 and at the 6th annual AIDF Disaster Relief Summit.

Southern Innovator has attended every Global South-South Development Expo (GSSD Expo) since 2011. This year’s Expo – from the 17th of November until the 21st in Washington, D.C. – marks the beginning of a new phase for Southern Innovator (SI). The magazine has outgrown its humble beginnings and is now negotiating the funding for a major global expansion. In September of this year, Southern Innovator began talks with television programme makers in order to launch an SI television presence and an online video service. Southern Innovator is also exploring ways to match this rich media content with an expanded and improved online and mobile offering and a funding platform specialising in social ventures and supporting innovators. SI will also look for ways to continue to support efforts within UNDP and the wider UN family to encourage and support innovation in all its forms.

As 2014 comes to a close, this is an outstanding opportunity for the right partners to get on board with this unique global media brand producing “content for the 21st century”. Contact the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC) here to discuss this further:

In the meantime, our sixth issue is underway and also represents a great way to reach readers across the global South. We are seeking sponsors to help with expanding our print run and also to fund various supplements to accompany the magazine.

28 July 2014

Issue 6 Will Launch in Autumn 2014: Get on Board!

Issue 6 of Southern Innovator will tackle the theme of science, technology and innovation.  It will ask: How are people using these three gifts of the European enlightenment in today’s global South to end poverty? For this issue of Southern Innovator, we hope to do things differently: the plan is to bring on board sponsors and advertisers to amplify the impact of Issue 6. We wish to do this through several ways: one is to seek the financial support of a sponsor to help us increase the print run from its current 5,000 issues to 15,000 issues. At present, the core development and print costs of the magazine are being paid for by the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC). But any support we can get on top of this will allow for an expansion of the audience we can reach and what we can offer them.

Another change will be the inclusion of supplements in the magazine to increase the quantity of resources that can reach our readers. This can be very creative. For example, small handbooks on a particular aspect of the issue theme that can help our readers would be interesting. Or, sponsoring a paper-made tool that readers could fashion into something useful for their work. An example could be a paper microscope adapter for mobile phones or smartphones. We are also open to other ways to increase the utility of the magazine for our readers and basically all options are on the table as long as they fit with the issue’s theme and the purpose of Southern Innovator.

Looking ahead, we are also seeking long-term funding for the magazine to take us to 2016 and also to enable us to scale to a level of reach we feel is necessary to have significant impact across the global South. To date, Southern Innovator has been ‘lean and mean’, run on a small budget with a tiny team. The editorial team is based in London, UK, the design team in Reykjavik, Iceland and the UN team in New York. This has worked well because it has forced us to be prudent with resources and to be very creative. But we have reached the physical limitations of this approach, and, to be frank, feel we are not living up to the potential of the magazine because we do not have the people and team to reach scale. As an example, we can only afford to publish in the English language, which means we miss out on billions of non-English speakers. We would like to have regional issues and bureaus, to be able to leverage the SI brand to offer a range of resources and products that are truly transformational for innovators, to stage events that bring together like-minded individuals, and to come out more frequently and regularly (this has been restricted by the way the UN has allocated the funding for the magazine: a rather unfortunate UN ‘innovation’ has been funding delays stretching to six months in some cases).

If our potential sponsors and advertisers could see what I see when the magazine reaches readers, I do not think they would hesitate to get on board and support the magazine. Often innovators feel like they are plowing a lonely furrow, unsupported, isolated. Or are enjoying significant local success but can see how what they have learned can help others but lack the time or means to share their wisdom and experience.

That “a ha” moment when we meet somebody who tells us the magazine “gets them” is especially rewarding. Most recently, this happened over and over again at the Global South-South Development Expo (GSSD Expo) held in Nairobi, Kenya towards the end of 2013.

Hollywood has given the world the highly entertaining Iron Man series of films. The fictional Tony Stark dazzles us with his inventions and his awesome innovator’s ocean-side lair. If you liked that film, then you will love what we see happening all around the global South and feature in the magazine. Most of our innovators lack the flashy resources and wealth of a Tony Stark but they are no less innovative and creative, often working in the harshest conditions on the planet. They are our ‘Iron Men’ and ‘Iron Women’.

Help us to further share the innovator’s spirit of Southern Innovator and transform the world, one good idea at a time!

24 June 2014

You Heard It Here First: Influencing Perspectives on the Global South

In 2013, UNDP launched its yearly global human development report ( The theme was the “Rise of the South: Human Progress in a Diverse World”. For those who have been following our e-newsletter Development Challenges, South-South Solutions, or, been reading our magazine Southern Innovator, this will not come as a surprise. Both the e-newsletter and the magazine have consistently championed a new perspective on the global South and have shown through solid evidence that a fundamental shift is underway in the world. Both publications have been influential in shifting perspectives and priorities, and most importantly, in drawing attention to the plentiful abundance of innovators: all part of a global innovation culture. As can be seen below, the seeds of the HDR can be found in the first issue of Southern Innovator, launched in 2011.

HDR 2013 The cover for the 2013 Global Human Development Report and its theme “The Rise of the South”.
SI Prototypes

In 1997, I was the Managing Editor for Mongolia’s first national human development report. The challenge was to deliver a report that reflected the new thinking on poverty expressed in the 1997 global human development report – that it was possible to apply human know-how to eradicate poverty within a generation – and to communicate the story of Mongolia’s turbulent transition years in a way that placed the people at the centre of the narrative, and to do it during a major economic crisis. The team decided to take a sharply different approach to the design of the report, placing the photograph of a child on the cover and using children’s illustrations throughout the report. It showed that human development is not just a series of charts and statistics, but is about making life better for the country’s large youth population. The cover also had a minor adjustment to how the title is presented, discarding the staccato breaking up of the words human and development, to run them side by side as “Human Development”. A subtle change but one that was picked up by the global human development report in its future editions. The report also chose to use its design and printing as a spur to improve the publishing industry in Mongolia. Devastated by the economic crisis, the domestic printing companies lacked the resources and skills to publish to modern standards. Working with a Mongolian publishing company, the large print run of the report (20,000 copies) was able to transform the company’s fortunes, enabling them to purchase new computers and equipment.

HD_Report_Mongolia_1997_Cover Human Development Report Mongolia 1997.
Human Development Report 1997 HDR 2013  The 1997 global human development report and the 2013 human development report.

19 March 2014

Southern Innovator Down Under: Two Scandinavian Designs Meet

Southern Innovator took a brief detour to Australia in November 2013 and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit the iconic Sydney Opera House. Designed by legendary Danish modernist architect Jørn Utzon in the 1950s, the project was plagued by controversy and conflict as its design was considered too radical. An excellent book (pictured below) details the conflicts with politicians and the general public and how the design went from being despised, to an Australian architectural landmark. Utzon’s design was selected after a global competition for concepts and was radical outside and in. Using innovative construction techniques in order to create the billowing sail effect of the complex, it was also a pioneer in green architecture inside (though much of the original plan was not entirely fulfilled). For example, it uses passive heating and cooling technologies throughout and draws on plentiful sea water surrounding the building to cool and warm the public spaces. During my visit, there was an exhibition of Danish design in the lobby, placing Utzon’s work in the wider context of Danish modernism and its connection to social and green design. The Opera House also has an outstanding gift shop with many opportunities for budding architects and designers to learn more about the building (and buy Lego kits to take home!).

Southern Innovator is designed by graphic designer Sólveig Rolfsdóttir in Iceland and has tried to be as innovative in its design and production as the people we feature in the magazine. The energy used by the designers to make the magazine comes from 100 per cent renewable energy sources in Iceland. The paper the magazine is printed on is from renewable forest resources. As much of the content as possible is sourced directly from the global network of innovators in order to avoid duplication of resources when it comes to photographs. The magazine is deliberately kept to 60 pages to lesson its weight when being shipped. It uses a larger text font size than would normally be used in commercial magazines in order to aid people with visual impairment or who are reading the magazine in low-light conditions. The binding is designed to be robust and we expect the magazine to receive a fair bit of abuse on its journey to reach readers. The cover is laminated so that dirt and water can be repelled and the magazine quickly wiped clean. The graphic design is purposefully kept simple in order to reach as a wide a group of readers as possible. We hope we have stuck to some of the core principles of modern social and green design when creating Southern Innovator. And that its content is also another masterpiece of human creativity!

Utzon, Sydney and SI Issue 4 Photos: Jill Lawless

13 March 2014

Southern Innovator Issue 5 Published and Ready for Launch

Southern Innovator‘s fifth issue has been published. The print run is 5,000 copies and will be distributed around the world through the UN’s networks and partners. It is possible to receive copies of the magazine to help with distribution.

Issue 6 will cover the theme of Science, Technology and Innovation. It is possible to sponsor Southern Innovator, either by helping to fund the printing costs, or by paying for the insertion of a supplement in the magazine. Supplements must be relevant to the issue’s theme and useful for our readers. Southern Innovator is also seeking long-term funding to help us expand and be able to publish more regularly and to expand the resources associated with the Southern Innovator brand.

Issue 5 cover photo 3

15 February 2014

Southern Innovator Issue 5 Being Printed and Readied for Launch

Southern Innovator‘s fifth issue is being printed and will soon launch. It is a significant milestone for the magazine since its first launch in 2011. The magazine has been able to gather stories on innovative solutions to the many challenges facing the global South in the 21st century. Distributed around the world and featured at the Global South-South Development Expo, it offers a unique opportunity to directly reach the current generation of global innovators.

It is a missed opportunity if any institution or government fails to support Southern Innovator at this critical time while the magazine’s profile grows.

Issue 6 will cover the theme of Science, Technology and Innovation.

Page 6 Southern Innovator Issue 5
Cover of Southern Innovator Issue 5

3 January 2014

Green Economy Thoughts Published in India

Happy New Year! 2014 kicks off with an article on innovation and the green economy published in the newsletter It covers the current state of the green economy and the role innovation should play in making the green economy more relevant and more successful. Drawing on what has been learned in producing the magazine Southern Innovator, it ties in well with the upcoming fifth issue of Southern Innovator on the theme of waste and recycling (see posts below).

Keep checking back to learn more about what is in store for Southern Innovator in 2014. The sixth issue is on the theme of science, technology and innovation. Don’t make the mistake of failing to get involved and support the magazine as we gather research resources for this issue.

Southasia Disasters newsletter December 2013

20 December 2013

Southern Innovator Issue 5 Awaits Sign-Off

Southern Innovator‘s fifth issue is ready and is currently being reviewed in New York at the UN Office for South-South Cooperation. On the theme of waste and recycling, it asks some challenging questions about how the world uses its resources and what this means for the advancement of human development, in particular in the global South.

The sixth issue will get underway in 2014 and is on the theme of science, technology and innovation. Southern Innovator is looking for invitations to come and see what innovators are working on and what has been accomplished. Time is tight, so please contact us now to liaise on travel schedules for the first two months of 2014 (January and February). In the past, Southern Innovator has been invited to see first-hand innovators at work in Cuba, South Korea and China.

Cover of Southern Innovator Issue 5

As 2014 approaches, SI will draft some thoughts on what has been accomplished and will peer into the future and offer some perspective and thoughts on innovation and resilience in the 21st century.

Page 46 Southern Innovator Issue 5 Southern Innovator Issue 1 at the Tianjin Eco-city in China.

10 December 2013

Southern Innovator Issue 5 in Production

The fifth issue of Southern Innovator is on the way. It explores innovators in the global green economy and who are tackling the issues of waste and recycling and how to use resources efficiently while raising living standards and boosting human development. Southern Innovator is a great opportunity to reach cutting-edge innovators around the world. Don’t miss this opportunity to support the magazine in 2014 and 2015. The magazine is beginning a new phase in how it is distributed by partnering with innovators to help reach more readers.

Cover design to use

5 November 2013

Southern Innovator Issue 4 Launches in Nairobi, Kenya at Global South-South Development Expo 2013

Volunteers Welcome with Southern Innovator Issue 4  Volunteers help launch Southern Innovator’s fourth issue at the Global South-South Development (GSSD) Expo in Nairobi, Kenya.

The fourth issue of Southern Innovator magazine has launched at the Global South-South Development Expo (GSSD Expo) 2013 in Nairobi, Kenya. Southern Innovator Issue 4 visits the new cities being built to tackle the challenges of a rapidly urbanizing 21st-century world. The magazine also highlights some of the solutions being devised to the challenges people face as the world becomes a majority urban place.

Some innovators are building new cities from scratch, applying the latest thinking and hard-wiring in cutting-edge information technologies and innovative environmental measures to create ‘smart’ cities and eco-cities. Architects are designing and refining homes that are beautiful and functional, easy to build, affordable and conserve energy. Social entrepreneurs are innovating ways to create liveable and socially inclusive urban areas, often in places where planning has been scant and where incomes are very low. All those featured in the magazine were chosen for their focus on improving human development and their ingenuity and fresh thinking.

Southern Innovator champions a 21st-century global innovator culture. The magazine profiles and celebrates the innovators across the global South finding new ways to tackle poverty, create wealth and improve human development and achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). In its first issue in September 2011, Southern Innovator featured the people who are re-shaping new information technologies – from mobile phone apps to Internet technologies. Many of the innovators profiled in that first issue came from Kenya.

SI ( is based on intensive research and produced by the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation in UNDP (UNOSSC) (formerly the Special Unit for South-South Cooperation in UNDP). UNOSSC organizes an annual Global South-South Development Expo (GSSD Expo) (, a roaming celebration and gathering of Southern innovators previously held in New York, Washington, D.C., Geneva, Rome and Vienna. This year’s Expo is being held in Nairobi, Kenya (28 October to 1 November 2013) and is hosted by the UN Environment Programme (

SI is being distributed through the United Nations’ network and partners and reaches some of the world’s poorest and remotest places, as well as the vibrant but stressed growing global megacities. It is hoped the magazine will inspire budding innovators with its mix of stories, essential information, facts and figures, images and graphics.

We hope you enjoy the magazine and find its content interesting and illuminating: a snapshot of a fast-changing world awash, as we found out, with innovators, creators and do-ers making their world a better place. It is possible to sponsor issues of the magazine, either through helping to fund its print run, or through sponsored inserts covering that issue’s theme with relevant content for our readers.

19 September 2013

Southern Innovator Goes Forward with Issues 4 and 5 and an Expo in Kenya

As I write, Issue 4 of Southern Innovator is at the printer and being readied for its formal launch (ISBN 978-0-9920217-0-2). Issue 5 (ISBN 978-0-9920217-1-9) is in production and being readied for its launch at the Global South-South Development Expo (GSSD Expo) to be held in Nairobi, Kenya from 28 October to 1 November 2013.

At this point, Issue 6 is also in the works and scheduled for release in 2014.

This next phase for the magazine is critical: the magazine has developed a reputation for chronicling a growing innovation culture in the global South. It is reaching highly influential readers around the world, many of whom are leaders in their countries and communities. In short, it is a powerful communications tool for reaching these individuals.

It is now possible to sponsor the magazine (sponsorship helps to pay for the printing of the magazine) or to fund relevant inserts to be included in the magazine to help our readers. Southern Innovator is a cost-effective tool for reaching a large audience spanning many cultures, countries and communities.  The magazine, for it to continue to be successful, requires adequate funds to cover the costs of research, editing, design and printing. Why not include supporting Southern Innovator in your plans to reach innovators in the global South?

2 August 2013

Southern Innovator: The Next Phase

So much has been accomplished in the first phase of developing Southern Innovator magazine. It has reached out around the world to uncover a thriving global innovation culture comprising many pioneers and innovators. Three issues were printed and distributed across the globe from 2011 to 2012: a total of 15,000 print copies. A fourth issue is ready on the theme of cities and urbanization and awaits funding to clear so it can be printed.

The magazine uses an eye-pleasing design and layout developed in its design studio in Iceland. Experts in public design and cross-cultural communications work on each issue. A further two issues will be completed in 2013 and they will cover the themes of waste and recycling (Issue 5) and science, technology and innovation (Issue 6).

The magazine is currently seeking partners to help with the costs of printing and distributing the magazine. There are also opportunities for the right partner to support the magazine’s brand with tools that can help our readers. Stay tuned for more news on the magazine’s development!

Action Plan 2013
Background Paper 2013

6 March 2013

Issue 4 Starts its Journey Around the World

All edits and revisions have been completed for the fourth issue of Southern Innovator. This marks the point at which the magazine will find its way around the world, either digitally, or in its paper, hard copy form. While this happens, Issue 5 will go into full production. It is never too late to get on board and support Southern Innovator. In fact, connect with us early and benefit from our continued growth throughout 2013. Each issue of Southern Innovator is a densely-packed distillation of innovation and innovators drawn from across the global South.



17 December 2012

Issue 4 Ready: Cities and Urbanization is the Theme

Issue 4 of Southern Innovator has been readied for release after a busy production schedule taking in China, South Korea and Austria. Issue 5 is now under way and tackles the opportunities available in a world seeking fresh thinking on how to balance finite resources with an increase in human development. Clever solutions are available across the global South, we found, and the future looks very bright!

Issue 4 Cover


Issue 5 Cover in Development


6 December 2012

Issues 4 and 5 in Heavy Production in Next Two Weeks

As the year comes to a close, the next two issues of Southern Innovator are in production. Fired up by the many innovators met at the Global South-South Development Expo (GSSD Expo) recently held in Vienna, Austria, the magazine will feature some of their ideas and innovations. Recent trips to South Korea and China have also heavily influenced these issues.

Southern Innovator is both designed and printed using 100 per cent renewable energy. It is part of the philosophy underpinning Southern Innovator to challenge ourselves to do things differently, better and to strive to be open to new thinking and ways. Already, it is possible to look back over the past couple of years and see some of the innovators we first profiled now overseeing globally scaled-up initiatives and innovations.

We look forward to 2013 with great enthusiasm and hope we can scale up the Southern Innovator project to the next level.


26 November 2012

Whirlwind Global Tour and Issues 4 and 5 in Production

November has been a very busy month: From visiting projects in China and South Korea to meeting a plethora of innovators at the Global South-South Development Expo (GSSD Expo) in Vienna, Austria, SI has learned much. It is now time to complete issues 4 and 5 and make plans for 2013. A glimpse of what is coming can be seen below:

23 October 2012

SI Straddles the Globe in November

After a busy couple of weeks, Southern Innovator (SI) is swiftly moving into its next phase. November will be a very busy time for us here at SI. The beginning of the month will see SI go to China and South Korea gathering stories and material for issues 4 and 5 of the magazine. Stay tuned to see the fruits of this trip and what it will have to offer innovators. As November moves to its final weeks, SI will join many other innovators from the global South at the Global South-South Development Expo (GSSD Expo). SI made its first appearance at last year’s Expo in Rome, Italy and this year’s Expo will be in Vienna, Austria, hosted by UNIDO. While all this globe trotting goes on, issues 4 and 5 of the magazine will be coming together and readied for publishing before the year is out.

Can’t wait to read issues 4 and 5 of SI magazine? Then have a read of the October issue of Development Challenges, South-South Solutions.

3 October 2012

The Southern Innovator Online Presence Grows

Based in New York, and hosted and run by UNDP,  Southern Innovator‘ s website archive continues to grow with stories.

And search engines such as Google are making it easier to find the content based on key words and terms.

26 September 2012

Southern Innovator Ready for UN General Assembly

Print hard copies of Southern Innovator‘s third issue are now available in New York. And just in time for the UN General Assembly, which is meeting this week. While this is not the intended audience for Southern Innovator, I hope it proves an inspiring read for those attending the General Assembly.  Issues 4 and 5 are in development and will be published in 2012.

17 August 2012

Southern Innovator Issue 3 Ready for Printing and Global Launch

All the corrections have been made and Southern Innovator‘s third issue is ready to launch. With a slight tweak on the theme – from agriculture to agribusiness, reflecting the many innovative business models featured in Issue 3 – the magazine will soon join issues 1 and 2.

Work is already underway on issues 4 and 5. The themes for these issues are Cities and Urbanization (Issue 4) and Waste and Recycling (Issue 5). The excellent expert-contributed website The Global Urbanist will be helping out with Issue 4.

With three issues completed, I think it is now possible to see the vision and thinking behind the magazine and also to grasp the potential of a concept like Southern Innovator. This is a good time to come on board and support the magazine as either a sponsor or advertiser. Contact us at

Southern Innovator has recently been working from London’s start-up epicentre of Hoxton/Shoreditch. Located just a short walk away from London’s ‘Silicon Roundabout’, Southern Innovator is able to enjoy the buzzing atmosphere of the area that is home to many innovators from around the world.

23 July 2012

Southern Innovator Issue 3 Mock-up Ready and Awaiting Sign-off

Issue 3 of Southern Innovator has been completed and is now receiving its final check to make sure the copy is as correct as is possible. A tentative publishing date will be sometime in August. While we wait on the wheels to turn, work is already underway on issues 4 and 5. The themes are Cities and Urbanization (Issue 4) and Waste and Recycling (Issue 5). If you are a potential advertiser or sponsor, then consider the release dates for these issues to be autumn and winter of 2012. In the photograph below, the first three issues are shown in a spine view together for the first time. It is possible now to see how the design allows for continuity from issue to issue and makes collecting all the issues of Southern Innovator a smart way to keep your bookshelves looking handsome and relevant.

5 July 2012

Southern Innovator Issue 3 Almost Complete

The final touches are being made to the third issue of Southern Innovator. The issue covers the theme of Agriculture and Food Security and is the result of intensive research. Much of the structure of this issue benefited from the Global South-South Development Expo (GSSD Expo) held in December of 2011 at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) based in Rome, Italy. An example of the artwork that can be found inside Issue 3 is below:

3 June 2012

Back From Cannes, Back to Work

Issue 2 of Southern Innovator was officially launched during the High-Level Meeting on South-South Cooperation at the United Nations in New York from May 22-25. The global roll out has begun and the magazine is available for distribution and sharing.

I briefly took in the 2012 Cannes Film Festival last weekend. It was a privilege to see the spectacle and join a film party. I also had the opportunity to see a snapshot of the global South’s creative economy through its many filmmakers displaying their films in the Cannes marketplace. Even I was surprised by the number of films set in Inner Mongolia and on the theme of Mongolian history! I will be approaching some of these people in the coming weeks to see if we can collaborate for the upcoming Cities and Urbanization issue of Southern Innovator (Issue 4).

I also had the opportunity to meet the representatives of the Kenyan Department of Film Services and hope I can visit them sometime soon.

A TV reporter at the Cannes red carpet.

Issue 3 is also busily underway. The theme is Agriculture and Food Security and a timely one, with the global population hitting 7 billion this year. Various options are being considered for the cover and they can be seen below. As is the case with all issues of Southern Innovator, sponsors can either choose to fund the issue’s production costs, advertise on a page or collaborate in the production of a supplement to be inserted inside each issue. Southern Innovator offers sponsors a great opportunity to reach a global audience and one that is on the cutting edge of change and innovation.

15 May 2012

Southern Innovator Issue 2 Being Printed and Readied for Global Launch

The presses rolled this week for Southern Innovator Issue 2. The magazine will shortly begin its global launch. Southern Innovator is also looking for a special sponsor or two for the magazine. And it is possible to advertise in the magazine but space is limited.

Southern Innovator Issue 2 rolls of the presses in Reykjavik, Iceland.

8 May 2012

Southern Innovator Expanding in 2012

Southern Innovator magazine is moving forward for 2012. Issue 1 launched in May 2011 in both its electronic and print versions. The response since then to the magazine has ranged from readers valuing the stories and information profiled, to other readers admiring the sharp graphic design and illustrations. Southern Innovator‘s second issue went online in March 2012 and the print version is slated for release in May 2012 (contact to get copy orders in early). The third issue is currently in production and issues four and five will also come out in 2012. Contact the Southern Innovator team to find out more about how to sponsor the magazine, advertise in the magazine or to receive copies for distribution.

5 April 2012

Looking Back Over the Past 6 Years

I was asked to pull together a brief summary of what has been achieved since work began on the e-newsletter in 2007. While it can be difficult to gauge some aspects of this work – and resources are limited – it is possible to sketch a journey from a very different place back in 2007. This was just the beginning of the global economic crisis, and for many people, the turbulence of the following years has come as a big shock.

What has been noticeable is how far-reaching many of the ideas featured in the e-newsletter have been. What seemed fringe and marginal, is now front-and-centre in much of the world’s media. Think of the noise now generated about Africa and technology. The e-newsletter has tried to balance catching the drift of new trends with seeking out a common element of human resilience and innovation in the face of enormous obstacles and challenges. It is this aspect that seems to cross borders so well. Human ingenuity and creativity in the face of hardship is a compelling story.

Since 2010, in collaboration with Icelandic graphic designer and illustrator Sólveig Rolfsdóttir, we have tried to express this innovation culture in a visual form. It feels like we have more started on a journey still than come to its end. Like we have only just scratched the surface and have so much more to learn and experience.

23 March 2012

Issue 2 of Southern Innovator has Launched

While it was just an idea in December 2011, Southern Innovator’s second issue has come to life and is now live online (ISSN 2227-0523). Its theme is youth and entrepreneurship. With global youth unemployment levels continuing to rise, fresh thinking of the kind found in Southern Innovator‘s second issue is urgently required.

Southern Innovator‘s second issue has many new features to help readers and make knowledge-sharing easier. The magazine’s design is also closer to the original vision conceived back in 2010 in collaboration with Icelandic graphic designer and illustrator Sólveig Rolfsdóttir.

7 March 2012

Issue 2 of Southern Innovator Getting Final Edit

Having completed its review in New York, Southern Innovator‘s second issue is undergoing final tweaks and edits before being launched. There will be two versions: one online (the first to be launched) and a second print version to follow. Issue 2 – in its design and structure – is closer to the original vision of a magazine. Readers will find clearer signposting of resources, some new features and a greater mix of story lengths. Those who loved the clear and modern graphics of the first issue will not be disappointed: there is much more eye-catching graphic design in the second issue. I feel like the full vision of what we dreamed about back in 2010 has come to be. And I look forward to hearing back from readers on what they think about Issue 2, while we carry on with Issue 3 and its agricultural theme.

6 February 2012

Issue 2 of Southern Innovator Magazine Finished

The second issue of Southern Innovator is laid out and awaiting final sign-off. This issue will have a few, significant changes which we hope will make the magazine more useful for readers. This includes a design more closely following a traditional magazine structure – a visual step-change from the first issue. Readers will also find more vivid colours throughout the magazine. An example is below:

The magazine is seeking partners to co-share the production costs. This is a rare opportunity to support a publication that has been called “Graphically beautiful & informative” and reaches a global audience. If interested, then contact

17 December 2011

Issue 2 of Southern Innovator Magazine in Production

Issue 2’s theme is Youth and Entrepreneurship and is currently in production. Issue 3 will focus on Food Security and Agriculture (FAO). The magazine is seeking partners to co-share the production costs. If interested, then contact

The magazine is a rare opportunity to reach a large global audience, many of whom are in fast-growing emerging market countries and comprise the next generation of innovators and pioneers. The cover concept in development is below:

New Development Challenges, South-South Solutions Template

Designed by Icelandic graphic designer Sólveig Rolfsdóttir, the new template makes an evolutionary change from the template first introduced in 2007. For the first time, a QR (quick response) Code now links the e-newsletter to the Southern Innovator website.

13 December 2011

Southern Innovator Goes to South-South Expo 2011

Southern Innovator made its way to the annual Global South-South Development Expo (GSSD Expo), which was held this year in Rome, Italy and was hosted by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. It was great to meet many of the people presenting their work at the Expo and to catch up with the team at the Special Unit for South-South Cooperation.

21 June 2011

Southern Innovator Now Online

The online edition of Southern Innovator Issue 1 is now available online.

Read it here:

A global roll out for the magazine is underway. The campaign is starting using existing communications channels, both online and in the UN system. An example of an ad is below:

31 May 2011

Southern Innovator Magazine is Printed and Readied for Distribution

I had the pleasure of visiting the printing plant to witness the presses rolling with the first issue of new global magazine, Southern Innovator. The magazine has been in careful development and saw its name evolve from Creative Sparks to Southern Innovator. As Shakespeare noted in his play Romeo and Juliet, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” And it is what Southern Innovator is that counts the most.

This first issue is just the beginning of a process, a back-and-forth dialogue with our readers as we refine and improve the magazine to boost its impact. The first issue’s theme – mobile phones and information technology – was chosen because of the sheer dynamism of this area and some jaw-dropping achievements: the growth of mobile phone usage in Africa represents an unprecedented take-up of a new technology, often in some of the poorest places on the planet. That impresses and it seemed right to share information about the amazing people behind this phenomenon and the lessons they learned along the way. It has also become clear in the research behind the monthly e-newsletter Development Challenges, South-South Solutions (published since 2006), that significant future development gains will not happen without the aid of mobile phones and information technology, and, important to note, will need these tools to raise living standards for all the world’s people in an environment of increasing competition and pressure for resources.

Used right, mobile phones and information technology allow the efficient use of resources. But, as anyone who has worked with technology knows, this isn’t a given. Vast sums of money and time can be squandered if technology is not used intelligently, or lessons not learned from past failures. It is hoped Southern Innovator‘s first issue can contribute to a better use of resources, and by taking a broad look at what is happening out there, enlighten readers to new ideas, people and concepts.

22 May 2011

From Geneva to Cannes and back to London

Last week was busy with travel, taking in Geneva and Cannes. Throughout the trip the weather was perfect. My first taste of a Cannes beach-side film launch party did not disappoint: it was equal parts silly and otherworldly.

14 May 2011

Off to the Printers with a New Name: Southern Innovator

The new global magazine Creative Sparks now has a new name: Southern Innovator. It is off to the printer and shall be released very soon. Keep an eye here for more details as the magazine launches and rolls out across the globe. It is a complex endeavour to pull together a global magazine to a tight budget and this is only the beginning. A small but talented and experienced team have been working on the project and have received cooperation and assistance from many people spanning many countries. It is hoped the magazine will play a helpful role in the push to achieve the Millennium Development Goals as 2015 approaches.

18 November 2010

Creative Sparks Cover and Back Cover

17 November 2010

Creative Sparks Magazine Almost Ready for Publishing

The new magazine Creative Sparks is now receiving its final read-through and approval. The first issue’s theme is Mobile Phones and Information Technology and chronicles what has been called the Development 2.0 Revolution: the use of innovative new technologies to radically alter the dynamics of development. The proliferation of mobile phones across the global South and even into some of the poorest places on earth is probably the most graphic example of this force in effect. Here is another snapshot of what to expect inside Creative Sparks:

11 November 2010

Transforming How the UN Communicates in a Crisis

From 1997 to 1999, I led the communications office for the United Nations in the Northeast Asian nation of Mongolia. The country was buffeted by two major crises: the economic and social chaos wrought by the transition from the command economy of the previous Communist system, to free markets and democracy – called at the time the largest peacetime economic collapse since WWII – and the Asian Crisis of the late 1990s.

Up to that point, most of the UN’s communications had been internal and directed back towards headquarters in New York and Geneva. Most of the UN mission’s communications activities had been administrative reporting exercises (something the UN does a lot of) and gathering of data for major reports. Some of this is, of course, necessary and unavoidable. But it also has a negative consequence: a tendency to be focused inwards and upwards, ignoring the plight of the very people you have come to help. It can also be a comforting busy-ness for people who are living under extreme distress.

I established the UNDP Mongolia Communications Office (have a look at some of the publications in Google Books), and began to transform how the UN communicated within Mongolia, as well as outside the country. The Office pioneered a structure and strategy that has since been modeled by the UN around the world. The Office was one of the first UN missions to go online and was praised in a global UN survey for having the fourth-best UN website in the world. When the UN won the Nobel Prize in 2001, it was communications initiatives like the UNDP Mongolia Communications Office which were cited as a major factor in the awarding of the Prize. The Office pioneered online and offline communications, and broke new ground. The country’s first human development report was one such case.

As can be seen, the MHDR eschewed obscure graphics for its cover and instead focused on the story of the Mongolian people during the transition years. It featured case studies telling of the hardships of that time and took a radically new approach to how human development reports were launched in a country. The MHDR was free and was distributed across the country, backed up with an intensive media campaign and road show. The popularity of the MHDR was such that a second run of 10,000 copies was published. Unlike many other reports and publications by international organisations, the MHDR was designed, laid out and published in Mongolia. This was a critical initiative in kick-starting the Mongolian publishing industry, badly hurt by the economic crises. The process of producing the MHDR introduced a modern approach to publishing and media publicity and was the catalyst for a new design movement in Mongolian publishing. Some examples are below:

7 November 2010

Bringing Modern Design to British Healthcare

From 2001 to 2003, I led a transformational project simultaneously bringing  a modern child health web portal and a modern online brand image, to the UK’s top children’s hospital. For younger people, it will be difficult to recall how out of step the UK was with the wider developments in new media and design at the start of the 2000s. My work in Mongolia, an isolated North Eastern Asian nation undergoing the worst post-WWII economic crisis in the 1990s, proved valuable in guiding the GOSH Child Health Portal project. Understanding the value of the internet as a communications tool, and how critical design and strategy were to the successful use of this technology, came about from raw need. The combination of geographical isolation and the urgent desire to communicate with the wider world, meant innovation was the only route to take. The UK, on the other hand, suffered from enormous complacency and arrogance born of its former status as a global economic and military power. The internet just shone a bright light on this and forced the pace of change in the UK to catch up, and as has been noted in a recent study finding the UK the most advanced online commerce economy in the world, the UK made vast strides in the early 2000s from where it was at the start of the new millennium. I dug out this image from the archive that sums it up nicely: on the left is before the launch, on the right after the launch:

Another key element to the success of the project was communication. It was highly unusual at the time for a health service project to so publicly and transparently communicate its progress and achievements. At every stage and milestone, the project team informed the wider public, the national and international media and colleagues and patients and their families about what was happening and what needed to be done. Below is a typical excerpt from the hospital’s newsletter:

Fast-paced and award-winning, the GOSH Child Health Portal deployed a number of techniques pioneered in my work in Mongolia. It partnered with high-quality content-makers like the BBC and drew on the talent and expertise embedded in the organisation. It created a cascading cycle of success and achievement. Some of the design from the project is below:

6 November 2010

Bringing Modern Design to Development

A sample of design used in a project document from Mongolia in 2005. In this project, we took a complex mix of data and tried to build a snapshot of the country situation that was also visually appealing. Note the people icons: specially custom-designed for the Mongolian milieu.

In Turkmenistan while working on reports, I commissioned a local graphic designer to develop some icons for a document:

In the development of Creative Sparks, we are drawing on this past experience to create visually clear and instructive images and design for the magazine. One example follows:

5 November 2010

Creative Sparks Magazine Coming

Creating a new magazine never fails to engage. The new magazine Creative Sparks is no exception. This new magazine for UNDP’s Special Unit for South-South Cooperation is currently in development for a launch in the coming weeks. I shall detail the creative process fully when it is published, but here is a sneak peek at what could be inside:

21 October 2010

Austerity Comes to Britain: Been There, Done That: Twice!

Yesterday’s UK budget has been called the ‘austerity budget’. It envisions sweeping public sector cutbacks combined with tax increases and reduced welfare budgets. On a personal level, it represents the third austerity budget and regime I will have had to live through in my lifetime. The first austerity budget was in Canada during the 1990s. It came with a perceptible increase in homelessness, families needing food banks, crumbling infrastructure and epic jurisdictional fighting between various levels of government. At the time, I interviewed the esteemed liberal economist John Kenneth Galbraith on his views on the challenges this made to the post-WWII consensus on social supports. Shortly after that interview, I took up a new role as the head of communications for the United Nations mission in Mongolia (1997-1999). A turbulent and chaotic time, I was quickly thrown into the twin crises of post-communist economic and social collapse and the Asian financial crisis. I wrote a briefing during this time chronicling the ups and downs of life in Mongolia. A less eloquent and polished work than the excellent When Money Dies by Adam Ferguson on the German Weimar hyperinflation, it still hums with the energy of the maelstrom of economic and political uncertainty.

13 October 2010

New Magazine!

Just back from a trip to Canada and am headlong into the production of a new magazine. The magazine is being made in collaboration with Icelandic graphic designer and illustrator Solveig Rolfsdottir. As the magazine progresses, I shall post more on the blog about its creative journey and details about its launch.

19 September 2010

September Issue of Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

I enjoy sharing online the powerful stories carried in Development Challenges, South-South Solutions, as well as my back catalog of development-themed publications stretching over 13 years. They are available on Scribd for free download and reading. With the UN’s Millennium Development Goals meeting convening for three days next week in New York, the views on Scribd have jumped from between 50 and 100 a day, to a high of 774 views on Saturday.

September’s issue has a story on Maker Faire Africa 2010. This gathering of clever African inventors, innovators and creatives met in Nairobi, Kenya in August. It is proof people are positively tackling the continent’s problems. Devastated by hyperinflation for years, Zimbabwe has been repairing the damage done as prices stabilised in 2009. An interesting twist on this process emerges in the buzzing cafe and restaurant scene where people are socialising and doing business deals with their wi-fi laptops. In another story, a couple of African mobile phone applications are getting attention and prizes for improving access to health information and resources. Africa’s middle class are growing and are demanding a different media to match their aspirations. And media entrepreneurs are tapping into this to forge new publications and TV formats. And finally, the global food demand brought on by rising populations and rising prosperity requires greater agricultural yields. And Brazil is showing how to do this with its innovative food science research and application.

In August, the stories included how India has used information technology to fight food inflation and manage prices. It offers a good example to other countries looking to control high inflation and keep food staples affordable for the poor and those on low incomes. Used well, information technology can introduce significant efficiency savings that work to counter rising prices. Another story explores the growing mobile phone applications market and how this is also an income-earning opportunity for the global South too. A Rwandan coffee shop chain has shown how sharp branding and design raises the profile and value of the country’s famous coffee beans. And in Brazil, some pioneers are developing new platforms to deliver inexpensive digital content to people on low incomes and the growing middle class. It is a business model that will make many a fortune over the coming years.

16 September 2010

New Website on the Way

With summer break now behind us, and the autumn gradually unfolding (the pace seems slower with the economic uncertainties all around), my new public website is being assembled. Icelandic graphic designer Solveig Rolfsdottir is working on the project and I hope this is the beginning of many more collaborations.

5 August 2010

Global Urbanist Story

The interview below also became a story for the excellent Global Urbanist website: Cities for All shows how the world’s poor are building ties across the global South

An Interview with Co-editor Charlotte Mathivet on Cities for All

1) We are now living through the largest increase in the world’s urban population and much of this growth is haphazard and poorly planned. It seems like a vast and over-whelming phenomenon. How can the concept of the ‘right to the city’ change this?

In my understanding, urban growth is not haphazard or poorly planned in “developing” countries. Rather, I think that urban “planning” or lack of planning is done with a goal of generating more benefits for powerful interests and fewer benefits for poor people. We cannot categorize the right to the city as a concept, as it will not change anything. Instead, we must think of the right to the city as a lively alternative proposal; a banner under which social movements, academics, and social organizations are struggling against the perverse effects of neoliberalism in cities such as the privatization of land, public spaces and services, land speculation, gentrification, forced evictions, segregation, and exclusion. This right to the city is based on a dynamic of process and conquest, in which social movements are the engines driving the achievements of this right.

As David Harvey argues (see pp. 22 in Cities for All), “the right to the city is not simply the right to what already exists in the city; it is also the right to transform the city into something radically different.” The phenomenon of the city is analyzed and envisioned by an incorporation of a comprehensive and interdependent vision of human rights to achieve the goal of reclaiming the city for all its inhabitants. The right to the city itself will not stop the over-whelming phenomenon of urban growth. The consequences produced by implementing this collective right would rather change people’s daily lives by achieving more equality in cities as well as in the relationship between the city and countryside in regards to growing urban populations.

2) Your book clusters together many cases from across the South. From your research, which cities offer hope and what changes did they make?

Cities are not offering hope. People are the ones who promote change and hope, struggling for a better quality of life, with justice and peace. The book does not only focus on the South – although most articles come from the South – because we wanted to show that people are facing similar problems worldwide. It is interesting to understand the links that can arise between movements, experiences, and organizations from around the world. Hope comes from learning of different experiences. For example, if a social movement in South Africa successfully avoided an eviction from a slum, it may help another social movement in Brazil to strengthen its own strategy. One of the book’s goals was to articulate the various South-South experiences and enhance the links between different regions. Cities for All was launched during the World Urban Forum, in Rio de Janeiro in March 2010, where HIC wanted to enhance civil society’s perspective of the right to the city. During the launch, and also outside the WUF in the parallel Urban Social Forum, social movements and organizations were able to meet and share their experiences (see It was through these spaces that various authors presented their articles and shared their reflections about the right to the city, and other activists from social movements also shared their own experience, like the South African shack dwellers movement Abahlali baseMjondolo. These South-South links were also developed in the field as social activists from Palestine, South Africa, Brazil, went on a field visit to the Rocinha favela, the biggest informal settlement in Latin American. It was these kinds of experiences of articulation that HIC had hoped to generate through the book.

3) You highlight the existence of “cities without citizens”: the vast numbers of slum dwellers and the poor who live mostly ignored by authorities (unless they are in the way of commercial development). How can these people change this situation and what actions can they take?

The expression “cities without citizens” means the exact opposite of the right to the city proposal. The city, overtaken by the interests of capital, has ceased to belong to the people and thus Henri Lefebvre advocates for the “rescue of human beings as the main protagonist of the city he has built.” This alternative to the present global paradigm proposes to allow people to participate in the process of creating the city in terms of urban planning, decisions-making, budget, public policies etc. It is possible for people to influence their own lives and the community. That is why social movements are struggling to achieve the right to the city. For instance, the Movement of Pobladores in Struggle (Movimiento de Pobladores en Lucha) works with the dwellers in a district in Santiago, Chile to participate in the planning through demonstrations, training and the election of one of their leaders in the Municipality’s Council. Indeed, the right to the city refers to the “search for solutions to the negative effects produced by globalization, privatization, scarcity of natural resources, increasing global poverty, environmental fragility and their resulting consequences for the survival of humanity and the planet.” (Cities for All, 2010). There is no miracle solution, and the right to the city is a banner around which people can organize themselves to articulate their struggles and demand social justice. We learn from various experiences that people first organize themselves in order to make claims against things that affect their daily lives, such as forced evictions. Then they are able to formulate a proposal, for example education and capacity training, and then finally they may be able to participate or influence in public policy development or in the inclusion of the right to the city in a country’s legal framework.

4) The book has several cases from Africa. The continent is experiencing renewed economic growth and vast population change. What lessons can be learned from past failures in urbanizing African cities?

First, as we all know, the principal failure in the way that Africa has been urbanized stems from the structural adjustments programs introduced by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which implemented free market policies with terrible impacts on the African social landscape. The consequences have produced a deeper gap between the city and countryside and also within the city between the rich and poor, as Joseph Fumtim, author of an article about Cameroon in Cities for All stated “In a city like Yaoundé, it is shocking to observe the contrast between, on the one hand, the construction of paid parking lots and the expansion of roads and highways, and on the other hand, the prosperity of capitalist centres of accumulation and exchanges compared with less-marketable areas (poor neighborhoods).” A very important thing to realize is that a city life is not a synonym for a better life or a miracle solution for poor people, as well as “the capitalist way of life”. This kind of miracle solution through development as promoted by the IMF and WB cannot be applied in an authoritarian manner, convincing African countries that they need to further develop. This is a very important issue to remember: African nations and their people have to find out effective solutions on their own to overcome poverty, which they are doing, without copying development models from the North. The “development” way of thinking, initially brought on by colonizers, is an illusionary ideology that has had damaging effects on the most vulnerable of Africans.

Cities for All shares several African experiences from Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana, and South Africa: one common topic affecting these countries is the problem of forced evictions, due to the rural exodus and growing urbanization. It is therefore very important for the right to the city to include a perspective of linking the struggle between rural and urban movements, because problems in cities and the countryside are closely connected, especially in Africa.

5) Development Challenges focuses on how people can innovate to reduce poverty. What successful examples of social innovation in cities have you discovered in your work, and how can they be applied to the new cities of the South?

I do not think that there can be a miracle solution and it is very difficult to apply social innovations to other countries without understanding the history and the social, economic, cultural and political context. Also, a lot of social initiatives based on the right to the city are coming from these “new cities of the South”. Indeed, the book highlights original social initiatives: protests and organizing of the urban poor, such as the pavement dwellers’ movements in Mumbai, India where people with nothing, living on the pavements of a very big city, organize themselves to struggle for their collective rights, just as the park dwellers did in Osaka, Japan. Another innovative experience came from the children’s workshops in Santiago, Chile, aimed at including children in urban planning in order to make a children-friendly city. Another step of the right to the city is the implementation, and the legal framework of the right to the city. As this collective right is not simply judiciable, it leads a difficult struggle to create, for example: a Ministry of Cities, participatory budget planning, and a City Statute, like in Brazil; a Right to the City Charter, like in Mexico City Federal District; or including this right within national constitutions, like in Bolivia and Ecuador.

6) You conclude with the slow city approach. How can this work in fast-growing urban areas where people are looking to quickly escape poverty, or are seeking rapid improvements to their quality of life? Would they not find a slow city approach frustrating? An illusion it may be for many, but aren’t people aspiring to the consumer lifestyle that they see in the media (house, car, nice clothes etc.)?

First, it must be made clear that Cities for All is not intended to be a recipe book. The slow city experience was chosen as a conclusion to the book in order to present a different approach, but not to propose a clear solution to follow. Concluding with the slow city experience, which is radically different and difficult to apply in African and Asian cities where the spread of urbanization is uncontrollable and leads to major problems, emphasizes that the fight for the right to the city involves imagination and the desire for another possible city, depending on each particular context. The right to the city’s approach is not a dogma or a doctrine; it is a banner of struggles for social justice and human rights for all. The important element is the need to create something radically different. This book presents a great diversity of contexts from different world views, all with a consensus of wanting to change the inequality, poverty, and exclusion produced by the effects of neoliberalism and privatization, forced evictions, climate change, spatial segregation, lack of access to basic services, etc. Moreover, slow city experiences have been developed outside of wealthy European countries, for example in some small Argentine and South Korean cities. It is very important to highlight that the slow-city’s proposal is part of an alternative global proposal of the right to the city as well as of degrowth. This new paradigm, movement, and art of living challenges the dominant myth of the intellectual orthodoxy that aims to make growth, progress, and development and their concrete consequences inevitable certainties in our lives, excluding all alternatives. Alternatives do exist, as demonstrated by the right to the city. Obviously, it is a very long-term struggle to inform people about this idea, because for a long time we have all been hypnotized by the mass consumption of goods. We can no longer allow more time to pass before changing our way of thinking and living. Dangerous threats like climate change, the scarcity of raw materials, population growth, the lack of water, and pollution are already changing our lives.

7) And finally, how do you see the next decade unfolding and what will cities in the South be like? Are we on the cusp of a new, dark age akin to the misery of Europe’s cities during the industrial revolution?

I am not a forecaster or an “expert”. We are all able to choose having a positive or a negative outlook on the future. Looking at the power imbalance between forces that want and act for changes – like the movements in the World Social Forum – and the financial, economic and politic powers like the upcoming G20, we can see a dark future where the interests of the most vulnerable will not be the priority. However, looking at the experiences by and for the people, we can not consider them poor, but rich of knowledge, cognitive capital, and with courage to change their lives and their communities, through self-management and autonomy. Cities for All aimed to show this richness and that in all of our struggles for social justice, we need to strengthen the perspective of an indispensable utopia in order to build a better world. In this sense, the challenges are for civil society to deepen links between different movements to build a stronger global strategy, during events like the next World Social Forum in Dakar February 2011. The right to the city’s proposal is an interesting way of positioning human rights in a specific space. It represents a new paradigm, aimed at a revolution of conscience and practice. It is a powerful tool to reinforce social movements and struggles and knowledge-building, which HIC has been working on for decades.

Charlotte Mathivet’s new book, Cities for All: Proposals and Experiences Towards the Right to the City, can be downloaded here: English, Spanish and Portuguese.

5 July 2010

Mongolian Stamps from the Late 1990s

The Mongolian post office is one of those places that loves to pander to the world’s philatelists by making kitschy and quirky stamps. Here is a selection I dug out of the filing cabinet from back then:

22 June 2010

An Austerity Primer

Today (June 22), the new British government tabled its first nakedly austere austerity budget. Living in the UK over the past few years since the global economy hit the wall in 2007 has been a bit surreal. It has felt little like past recessions. People still pack shops, restaurants and bars, credit is cheap and easy for many, mortgages historically low, lay-offs light by comparison with previous crises.

But as the hurly burly of the global financial crisis has whirled its way around the media, few were surprised by what was on offer in today’s budget: rising taxes, fewer services, pay cuts and no pay rises and layoffs. Much of it is in tune with the new global consensus of hair-shirt wearing.

For Generation X (, austerity is something they know about first-hand. The economic crash at the end of the 1980s was felt across the Western developed countries, while the chaotic and brutal collapse of the Communist countries ( at this time brought even greater hardship to Generation Xski. That was a more traditional crash, and the response was large-scale layoffs, bankruptcies, people thrown out of their homes and hiring freezes across industries. It seemed like every building and home in London was for sale and in my native city, Toronto, subway advertising just completely disappeared as marketing budgets were cut. Generation X had no choice but to work and innovate its way out of the slump. Generation X was called the “slacker generation” and were blamed for their plight. Yet, today’s internet is one of the many fruits of this time. Generation X proved to be a highly creative and innovative generation, albeit one that has been characterised as highly nomadic and self-reliant.

But there are now several cohorts of young people who have never known economic contraction, austerity or even a real recession (let alone the Greatest Depression, as some have labelled the current crisis). This generation of youth have lived through rising incomes, increasing employment, more material goods and services, and the delights – and pitfalls – of easy credit. In the UK, it was common to hear 20-year-olds, moan about not being able to afford a large home straight after graduation (as if that was anything close to normal or desirable).

I have experienced first-hand two bouts of austerity measures in my working life: the first, in Canada during the 1990s: a much-touted “success” case by austerity junkies. And the second time, while working for the United Nations in the North Eastern nation of Mongolia, a country experiencing two simultaneous crises: the 1997 Asian Crisis (, and the worst post-WWII peacetime economic crisis at the time. The 1990s were a pretty wild ride for me, to put it bluntly.

In the middle of the austerity crisis in Canada, I interviewed the great liberal economist John Kenneth Galbraith – an eminent Keynesian ( – about what was to be done. You can read the interview here: Man out of Time: The world once turned on his ideas, but does the economist John Kenneth Galbraith know the way forward?

In Mongolia, I was immersed in the middle of the crisis and worked on many projects and programmes to turn things around. You can read a briefing report I wrote in the middle of the crisis in 1998 here:

3 June 2010

2010 Hay Festival (Hay-on-Wye, Wales)

I spent the past weekend at the Hay Festival in Wales. The talks are always enjoyable and I thought I would jot down a few snippets from them:

Nassim Taleb (he of the Black Swan fame): “US more dangerous than any other country”, “do to the US what is being done to Greece”, “we need a charlatan-proof society”, “only change on the planet is here (the UK) with David Cameron (new prime minister)”, “Cameron understands the danger of expert era… he understands the dangers of debt, of large organisations”, “the restaurant business is like mother nature: it works beautifully and doesn’t get a government bail-out”.

Heather Brooke (tireless campaigner for freedom of information in the UK): to paraphrase: civil servants need to stop treating the public like a nuisance, she was never threatened during the MPs expenses scandal that led to the termination of many political careers, sees the vast array of information collected in the UK on the public must be available to all, she spent five years trying to use the new freedom of information laws to little effect, while the Daily Telegraph newspaper was able to access information on MPs expenses by paying cash: she found it said a great deal on how far the UK has to go in its attitude to transparency and access to information.

I also caught James Lovelock, the scientist, and originator of the Gaia theory. He was a delight to listen to no matter what your views on the global environmental crisis. He seemed to rather enjoy provoking the audience and challenging many cozy commonplaces. He continued his call for the building of more nuclear power stations (and a poll of the audience found most supported him on this), while also saying the Royal Navy would have to be expanded in the near future to control increasing migration resulting from degrading environments. On the other hand, Niall Ferguson, the high-profile historian and author, turned his talk on the UK’s poor history curriculum in schools into a job interview with the new coalition Conservative/Liberal Democrat government. It brought a cringing moment during the Q and A as the new minister of education, Michael Gove, and Ferguson blew each other’s horn, so to speak. Ferguson snapped at various members of the audience to drop their imperialistic historian crap (I paraphrase but he did actually say “crap”). Ferguson is a polished lecturer however, and held the audience’s attention as he dissected the sorry state of the history curriculum. He even drew laughs from the audience over his marital woes (Ferguson left his wife for the glamorous and brave Ayaan Hirsi Ali).

21 May 2010

May and April Issues of Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

The global economic crisis is now entering its next and anticipated phase of escalating sovereign debt bankruptcies (countries going bust). In November 2009 I attended a UN conference in Geneva that both forecasted much of what we see unfolding now, and inspired with case studies on how people across the global South were responding to the economic crisis.  I thoroughly enjoy writing Development Challenges because it is always a nice antidote to the doom and gloom and shows the enduring resourcefulness of people in the face of adversity. And the April and May issues were no exception.

In April’s issue, two stories from Africa show how farming on the continent is taking advantage of new developments. In Kenya, a farmer used the internet to boost his crop and tap much-needed resources to help his community. In the West African nation of Ghana, a chocolate company has become a big success in the UK by focusing on quality and a strong brand. The buzz we all get from a cup of coffee is also fueling the buzzing urban Indian economy. In the battle for the loyalty of the nation’s coffee drinkers, a tale is told of economic success and income gaps. Access to credit in a banking crisis is a problem shared by small and medium enterprises around the world. In Iran, one solution has been helping people access credit for growth and weather the economic turmoil. For decades, China had the reputation of being a nation of cyclers. And then rapid economic growth and rising incomes clogged the streets with cars. But the electric bicycle has become a sturdy solution to the traffic-clogged streets and the expense of running a car.

The May issue honed in on India’s expanding solar-power grid in villages and how this in turn was creating job opportunities for poor women. The problem of food security in Africa is being addressed in a creative way by a Nigerian woman. She is on a one-woman mission to show that a career in farming is not only profitable and rewarding, it is also cool. Anyone who has been to a health food store of late will have heard the buzz about the açaí berry. Harvesting this berry in Brazil has become an economic boon for once-poor farmers and a Southern success story. And finally, the story of the biggest increase in the world’s urban population unfolding right now across the South, is also fueling a rise in story telling. In short, the book industry across the South is growing as people want to read about their new lives and as incomes rise.

23 March 2010

March Issue of Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

The people behind MobileActive (an NGO dedicated to using mobile technology for social impact) have come up with a fantastic idea: Fail Fare ( It is all about people fessing up to their past ICT4D and mobile application failures and learning from these mistakes. I think this should be hard-wired into all development activities.

In March’s Development Challenges, South-South Solutions, an Indonesian tea drink sees off rival after rival in the battle for thirsty drinkers. It is rare to find a company that can withstand the onslaught of Coca Cola and Pepsi, but they have done it. Also in Indonesia, the country’s middle class are cleverly recycling their wealth back into local purchases and in turn creating more middle class jobs in the country. A great lesson for countries struggling in the downturn. And on the Indonesian island of Bali, a woman has come up with a way to reverse the devastating consequences of mass tourism on the island’s eco-system. Her rubbish recycling scheme has dramatically reduced tourist waste while creating jobs and cleaning up the island. And finally, in Brazil a cooperative of women in Rio’s poorest slum have successfully broken into the fashion industry, both improving their wealth by making high-end goods, and enjoying the benefits of flexible working to spend more time with their families.

In another piece of news, Development Challenges will be publishing handbooks about our stories and the great people we feature throughout this year. We also have a number of other developments in the works, so stay tuned.

And I took a journey down memory lane recently, and uploaded a handbook I worked on from back in 1999 with a team in Mongolia. The Environmental Public Awareness Handbook: Case Studies and Lessons Learned in Mongolia, was authored by the excellent Robert Ferguson. Robert and his hardworking colleagues G. Sumiya and Ts. Davaasuren, ran a wide-reaching programme and maintained a breathless pace as they worked with people across the vast country on small environment projects. Traveling in Mongolia is not for the weak, and at the time, the country’s dire food situation and serious economic and social chaos, made any journey arduous. But they did their work with great humour, and in turn inspired the many projects highlighted in the Handbook.

16 February 2010

February Issue of Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

The devastating and heartbreaking earthquake that struck the Caribbean island nation of Haiti on January 12th shocked the world. Haiti is a country that has struggled with crippling poverty levels and political instability for decades. My visit to the country in 1996 to cover the UN peacekeeping mission at the time, found a country socially devastated. The vast quantity of uncollected rubbish piled up on the streets defied belief. The tragic and degrading collapse in burial services for the dead, where I witnessed in a hospital’s morgue stacks of hundreds of dead children, the old and the victims of violence, still remains with me.

In the February issue of the newsletter, we cover the inspiring and swift response to this tragedy by the world’s technology community. In particular, how software developed in recent political violence in Kenya, and prototyped around the Global South, is connecting survivors to the aid they need. Another story covers a very clever solution to the urgent need to build lots of high quality, safe housing for the world’s rapidly growing urban poor. In Nigeria, many are starting to ask why the country isn’t making more of its technologically savvy software community. And in India, more progress is being made on powering villages with solar energy and boosting living standards.

27 January 2010

January Issue of Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

It’s a new year and many people are glad to see the back of 2009. While it has been a rocky journey for many (and what year isn’t?), there are many positive trends and amazing people out there, to give hope. In this month’s issue: a round-up of significant trends in Africa for 2010 that will help people to earn a good living and escape from poverty; a great story about an Ethiopian shoe company finding success around the world by selling online; several new inventions targeting the poor so they can keep their food cool and reduce wastage and the risk of sickness; and some grassroots inventors in Cairo trying to show their neighbours how to go green and save money.

Burning Ring of Fire

An interesting graphic was published today in the Daily Mail newspaper showing countries at risk of fiscal meltdown in 2010. The countries in the ring of fire are in danger, while the ones with green and yellow dots are the most stable and will attract investment.

6 January 2010

In their own words: Selected writings by journalists on Mongolia, 1997-1999

Launched in 1999 towards the end of my two-year assignment in Mongolia, this book is a unique resource for a developing country: a one-stop compilation of journalism chronicling the ups and downs of life in a country where the political and economic system has been turned on its head.  You can download the first part of the e-book here:

23 December 2009

December Issue of Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

As we draw to the end of the year, everyone and their dog is producing year-end round-ups and predictions. Most of the predictions for 2010 are trending towards the negative. But this month’s issue shows there is another story out there: artists are doing what they do best: re-imagining bad situations and in turn bringing hope, energy and inspiration. In the Congo, a movement of stylish gentlemen are raising standards of dress while earning a living in Africa’s vibrant fashion scene. New digital technologies are offering the ability for the first time to accurately track poverty in real-time and better target aid and help. And also in the Congo, a brewery has built a regional brand success story despite the ongoing civil war, poverty and unrest.

22 December 2009

Borders Bookshop Blowout

While shopping for presents in London today, I came across the spectacular blowout sale of one of London’s biggest book stores: Borders. The company had been taken over by a hedge fund and is now going out of business very fast. Probably the one image that sticks in my mind from visiting Borders today was this: the guy from Starbucks – head hung low – carrying the coffee shop’s logo roundel out the door, while the electric cable dragged on the floor. It all felt very fin-de-siecle.

23 November 2009

November Issue of Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

This month’s issue – and a UN conference – had me thinking a great deal about the global crisis. I went to the UNRISD Global Crisis Conference in Geneva, Switzerland (12-13 November) and jotted down what I heard discussed there in a blog report. As a consequence of the crisis, there are people suffering across the world, not just in developing countries of the South. And I don’t need to repeat here how ‘crisis’ is basically the normal for most people in the world. Certainly, the stories told by the presenters at the conference hammered that point home again and again.

My travels and work around the world have always left me feeling more hopeful than pessimistic. Not because bad things happen (and sometimes keep happening over and over again). But because I have seen and experienced first-hand people’s survival skills and how they develop ways to overcome these problems, often with slim resources.

One student I met at the conference filled me in on life in hyper inflationary Zimbabwe and how much it alters human behaviour. I sincerely hope people in other countries do not find themselves in that situation as the crisis evolves.

For the November issue, we detail how countries in Africa are re-branding for their new economic roles, how people are turning to long-forgotten foods to improve diets and food supplies (and make some cash), constructing some innovative thinking on tackling the crisis of housing in the world’s megacities (we are now a majority urban world, so this is a big problem to be solved), and finally, how those who seek out hard evidence for the validity of one development strategy or another can study and compare innovative villages in India, Colombia and across West and East Africa. I hope you enjoy the read!

18 November 2009

UNRISD Global Crisis Conference: A Blog Report

Back in London and working on publishing my new book. Please read my blog on the UNRISD conference, Social and Political Dimensions of the Global Crisis: Implications for Developing Countries, (Geneva, Switzerland, 12-13 November 2009). The conference highlighted a wide range of coping strategies deployed by people around the world to survive economic crisis. Yet it struck a pessimistic note, with many panelists believing worse is coming in a few years time as the consequences of the epic bank bailouts and stimulus packages emerge.

10 November 2009

The Global Crisis and Developing Countries: What to do?

I shall be blogging from the UNRISD ( conference on Social and Political Dimensions of the Global Crisis: Implications for Developing Countries, in Geneva (12-13 November 2009).

29 October 2009

Nowhere Boy at the BFI Film Festival

I joined my wife to catch the première of Sam Taylor-Wood’s Nowhere Boy at the end of the London BFI Film Festival. Covering Beatles’ John Lennon’s early years before the band took off for Hamburg, Germany, I found the film engaging because of the emotional turmoil between John and his mother and the young Paul McCartney. Rather unnerving walking up the red carpet and having all the cameras flash in your face (but trying to take pictures of other people).

Later at the party, met the director behind the new film documentary We Live in Public, Ondi Timoner. She had great success with her previous entry at the 2004 BFI Film Festival, Dig! Her current film digs deep into the impact the internet is having on all of us and offers some dark insights into the repercussions of social media on human behaviour.

10 October 2009

More of the Back Catalog Goes Online

For the past few months I have been posting previous work from DSConsulting. From 1997 to 1999 I headed the communications office for the United Nations mission in Mongolia. The office oversaw a busy publishing programme in English and Mongolian (at the time, the country’s biggest bilingual publisher). I also led for two years (2001 to 2003) an award-winning, ground breaking e-health project for Britain’s National Health Service. I have started to scan and upload the books and publications from that time as e-books. You can view and download these e-books here: