If you believe some of the recent headlines, you'd think we're heading for a dystopian future where technology takes over and robots rule. But keep reading and you will see a different story emerging; a story of what happens when entrepreneurs get creative with technology like 3D printing to create inspiring solutions that change people's lives.
How do these innovation-infused social impact projects begin? Does it take a grand vision, a lengthy planning process, grant funding or a fairy godmother? Maybe that is the case for some. But for Enabling the Future, it began with an inventor-artist, a South African carpenter with a few missing fingers, and a boy named Liam.
Liam was born without a fully formed right hand. His mother saw an online video of a mechanical finger that was created by artist Ivan Owen for an inspired carpenter who saw an earlier video of puppet hand. Ivan said, "I made it and put on YouTube and didn't expect anything to happen."
But things did happen. As the volunteer project progressed, each step was met with challenges. It turns out for Liam and thousands of children around the world who share his reality the expense and lack of accessibility to materials, doctors and resources make prosthetics for most children completely out of reach. Add to the fact that growing children mean constant recalibration and fabrication and a solution seems hopeless.
Enter technology. Thanks to 3D printing, digital design, an insistence on an open source platform, a Google group, social media and an online mapping tool, Enabling the Future now has a growing community of more than 10,000 people and chapters around the world. A person can upload measurements on a Friday and have a 3D hand printed by a local builder by Monday. The story is released by Freethink on Facebook's new "Watch" platform.
Given the impact of this organization, it is easy to forget that it began with one person exploring a single solution. Technology, enabled by inspired humans is a force that can change the world. Ivan says, "You don't need a master plan. You need show up and put something into motion."
So are you feeling motivated to start your own positive influence project? Here's all you need to do to get started.
1. Put yourself out there
While it is fun to imagine what is possible, you don't have to start with the end in mind. Ivan Owen set the wheels in motion for Enabling the Future simply by doing what he loves which includes "chasing the next thing that looks interesting and doing all sorts of weird and fun stuff." He simply created a mechanical puppet hand and step-by-step, a movement to make prosthetics better and cheaper for everyone was born.
2. View barriers as your best friend
Innovation eats challenge for breakfast. It was only through the seemingly impossible task of designing prosthetics for growing kids that the process of 3D printing was considered. This technology democratized manufacturing, making the solution accessible to all. Because there was an openness to new and interesting solutions Enabling the Future can now "email a hand through space."
3. Include others
"If enough people come on board, there is so much potential," says Jen Owen, Beyond Impact's wizard behind the curtain. Instead of guarding your idea, worrying about who may steal it or lawyering up, the team was able to quickly scale their impact. Today thousands of volunteers and recipients are connected and creating life-changing technology. "We're not making hands, you are helping kids gain confidence." It turns out that improving the lives of other people is a team sport.
Jen Owen sums it up best when she says, "I definitely didn't expect the crazy things coming out of my garage would end of changing the lives of people in countries I haven't even heard of." By being present, flexible and open to possibilities, it is absolutely possible to create positive impact. So... how are you going to create your version? The world needs you to get started.