Ken Banks: Social Innovator and Founder of Frontline SMS

Ken Banks is a technological and social innovator working at the nexus of technology, anthropology and conservation. He founded Kiwanja.net in 2005, an organization dedicated to guiding NGOs in how to appropriately incorporate technology into their missions, working specifically with mobile technologies. He’s been a techie before anything else – learning how to code at 14 he obtained a hobby which, later in life, helped him land more jobs than did his business experience in college. He began doing non-profit work in Zambia after signing up for a volunteer gig as a young man, and subsequently finding that his interests were at home in this part of the world.

Kiwanja, since its inception, has been wildly successful. They have spearheaded projects for huge biodiversity conservation organizations like Flora & Fauna International and UNEP; in addition they’ve partnered up with Grameen Technology Centre. Most notably they developed Frontline SMS, a free open-source software used by a number of non-profits to collect and disseminate information via SMS messaging. Banks believes that the power of mobile phones is “ubiquitous”, hence why he was so geared toward a software that does not require internet connection and is centered around the mobile phone.

Banks has won countless internationally-recognized awards for his efforts since Kiwanja. As of now he spends most of his working time in his home town in England, but travels frequently as a Fellow Faculty of Pop!Tech in Camden, ME, and as a National Geographic “Emerging Explorer”, just to name a few of his most recently-acquired epithets.

What I found particularly interesting, which I’ve mentioned in a previous blog-post, is Banks’ opinion of the message being sent toward “innovators-to-be”. He believes that what they truly want to hear about are the motivations, the greater goals behind the work, and that all too often educators in the field focus too much on the metrics, logistics, etc. While I wonder if this is appropriate, I’m pleased to learn that professionals in the field are not weary of “the big dreams” that young adults have. Usually I hear about how these are generally not well-thought-out, and rightfully so! It was, nevertheless, surprising to me to learn that the first opinion he has of young dreamers is the opposite of jaded.

Some useful links and videos relating to Ken Banks:

Kiwanja

Ken Banks Twitter
Ken Banks at Pop!Tech Video

“A Bottle of Beer Inspires Emerging Explorer Ken Banks to Create an Innovative Computer Software Program”

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