British Council Creative Economy

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8 January 2015

Finding the magic unicorn...

We sent UK creative entrepreneur Darshan Sanghrajka to the UN's Young Innovators forum at the ITU World Telecom Summit in Doha. He didn't find any unicorns - but he did find a lot of other smart, global pioneers.

Innovation - that fancy magical unicorn that Tomorrow’s World promised us in the form of flying cars, robots that did everything for you and world peace. The reality is, thinking up stuff is easy, whereas making it requires a whole heap of drive, collaboration and the ability to knock down walls made of the hardest material on this planet. The key to unlocking all of this? People and mutual respect. It’s often too easy to focus on the solution and forget what gets us there - people. People from all walks of life, rather than just people who work in technology, all coming together and marching towards the same goal.

© ITU/M. Li

Spending five days in Doha, at ITU World 2014, in particular taking part in the Young Innovators Programme, was extremely exciting as it combined technology, design, innovation and social impact - everything my company Super Being Labs is all about. Those 5 days filled me with a lot of renewed confidence.  The surge of hope came not just from what I saw but from what I saw behind everything I saw: innovation in the way of thinking.


Perhaps this was because of the amount of real diversity in one place. I don’t think I’ve ever met such a diverse group of people in 5 days - everyone from senior people at big companies and Governments, through to lots of international young social innovators from all over the world. There were ideas on local digital content, open source technology for disaster management, smart cities, climate change and the 'internet of things' for social good.

It was really fascinating seeing the whole spectrum of things - from  Nokia talking about their big plan to connect humans through technology, all the way through to those tackling societies' challenges like Khalid Al-Khudair, who founded to empower Saudi women and increase diversity in the Saudi workforce (that in itself proves that innovation doesn’t have to be just about fancy technology; social innovation is just as important).

© ITU/J.Leguerre

Ars Electronica curated The Lab, presenting thinking and innovation in the form of 16 amazing projects working within the context of telecommunications. The magic? It all came from artists and technologists working together.


Roboy created by Rolf Pfiefer and Pascal Kaufmann, developed at the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at the University of Zurich. What’s so special about a robot? Well, Roboy has an anthropomorphic tendon-driven arm (ANTHROB) and is a robot made to be designed around the human anatomy. That in itself is exciting but the real fun bit is that the development of Roboy Junior (the mechanical and software behind it) was created through an open-source approach. Look what happens when so many different smart people add to the work of smart people.

Mohammed EiRaffie a social entrepreneur from Egypt has created CORD to help people understand science through very simple robot building with basic objects that are easy to get. He does this because wants to inspire people, especially kids, to realise that they can use their surroundings and objects at hand to transform anything into something cool. He wants them to embrace science as something they can do, rather than something they learn. It’s a state of mind that can only help our society. If all of our science teachers were like him, we’d all be science lovers.

Sahar Pakseresht from Iran, an engineer who is creating Naji - a bracelet and mobile application that can locate an individual and provide life-saving services in the event of disaster.  Fatoumata Kebe, is doing a PhD in Space Debris and is also developing Connected ECO, a smart irrigation system that helps farmers excluded from the labour market

© ITU/Young Innovators

Marvin Arnold from Maryland, who is making Unplugged, a messaging application that allows users to communicate over a mesh network and so bypasses the internet. A totally distributed environment, with a SDK (Software Development Kit) that allows developers to build on it. That’s true smarts - developing on recent efforts to decentralise communications, so that people aren’t at the mercy of censorship and control.

All of the above probably asked a lot of questions that were not always orthodox and they probably talked to a lot of different people. That lead to results which make a difference.

Of course for any of this to be adopted on scale, it requires the big and the large to work together at some point. For that to happen, they both need to understand each other and have mutual respect. You need diverse support networks (collaborative ambition is something we champion at our social enterprise State of Ambition) to achieve anything in life.

Darshan Sanghrajka is ‎Founder at Super Being Labs & State of Ambition.  Super Being Labs is an innovation and design studio that harnesses the power of people to come together to make life brilliant for everyone and ultimately benefit society. Between 25-70% of  profits for each project go directly to support organisations tackling related social challenges on the front line.