Karen Baker of WHAM goes from Women 2.0 Startup Weekend to TEDxBayArea TEDwomen

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Two weeks ago, I sat in a crowded auditorium and listened to others give their pitches at Women 2.0 Startup Weekend. I knew no one, had no technical background, and debated with myself whether or not I should give a pitch too. I sat in my chair and listened; and when I finished listening, I stood up and gave my pitch for Women's Health and Mobile (WHAM). Today I sat in a crowded room again, this time listening to TEDxBayArea TEDWomen visionaries share their stories of change. When I stood, this time I was able to join them in sharing my story.

In the two weeks between Women 2.0 Startup Weekend and TEDxBayArea TEDWomen, a world changed.

Ten women in the Bay Area gathered together inspired by the idea of using mobile technology to improve conditions in a slum in Mumbai. After coming together from my initial pitch, we worked for 48 hours to focus on domestic violence, flesh out a mobile application's features, and make a compelling case. Team WHAM tied for the Women 2.0 Startup Weekend prize of "Most Likely To Change A Million Lives" and moved on to TEDxBayArea TEDWomen, but in between something shifted.

We talked more with our local partner on the ground in Mumbai; we struggled more with how our application fit their needs; and we asked ourselves what it was, really, that we wanted to do. We realized that to design a mobile application that would "change a million lives in the developing world" was problematic because we did not know those million people whose lives we were setting out to change.

We realized that we had to step back and in doing so, we refined our concept from a mobile application to a web-based partnership between the million lives in the developing world — their ideas, solutions, concepts — and the million technically-savvy lives in the first.

It works like this.

  • Any organization, NGO, or group of people in India that have defined a mobile application-based solution to a community issue posts that solution on the WHAM web forum.
  • Any individual in India (or the rest of the world) that has technical expertise sees that solution and can volunteer to help code, program or otherwise develop it.
  • Once the solution-cum-application is developed it can be launched, hosted, and maintained via the web interface of the WHAM platform.

The WHAM platform is a layer of intelligence that integrates with mobile SMS to provide more complex features in any mobile application. It allows non-smart phones to run applications with mobile commerce features, data analysis and collection features, workflow management features and the like.

We're no longer designing a solution for the millions of lives in the developing world. We're simply enabling those millions of lives to design solutions for themselves. By kickstarting a partnership between local solutions and global technical resources, WHAM gives them access to the tools, the technology, and the pool of able developers they need.

Startup Weekend, Women 2.0 and TEDx Bay Area Women all came together to offer the resources I needed to get out there in the start-up world and develop my solution. My team proposes that we close the gap between local know-how and technical know-how to go and do the same. Who's in?

This guest blog post was authored by Karen Baker for team WHAM (pictured below).

Follow Karen on Twitter at @karenebaker and WHAM at @wham20. Follow them on Facebook here.

 

About the guest blogger: Karen Baker is a freelance user research consultant and is looking to enter the innovation consulting field. Recent projects include ethnographic research in China for a multi-national beverage company and a media campaign highlighting civil rights abuses for the Asian Law Caucus. Karen’s passion lies in bringing people together to foster new initiatives for social innovation. To that end she has facilitated workshops on mixed race issues, classes on human-centered design and community discussions on social entrepreneurship. Her interests include mental health and women’s rights within the API community, and she continues to volunteer as a mentor in an Asian-American youth program at Helms Middle School in Richmond. Karen graduated from U.C. Berkeley last May with a B.A. and high honors in Rhetoric and a minor in Chinese language.