The Open Government Initiative has invited intern Samantha Snabes to share here about her insights into the intersection between social entrepreneurship and human space exploration in a continual series. You can reach Samantha here or follow her on Twitter here

 

Innovation…Impact…Entrepreneurship…these are a few of the words that often accompany the word social within the growing movement focused on charging humanity with making a difference and enabling change. And while exclusive language and players have emerged to rally much needed  groups and resources, myself and others would argue that the effort is not new, rather inherently part of the DNA of many organizations and agencies…including NASA.

So what is it?

When pressed to provide a definition, I have championed the below:

Social entrepreneurship involves creating sustainable, large scale change to benefit humans living in space and on Earth by applying innovative solutions using entrepreneurship principles to address the most pressing social and environmental problems.

Ok, so what does this mean?

As evidenced above, defining a meta-topic such as social entrepreneurship is an arduous task.  Tactically, this could involve designing a simple water quality monitoring system to be used by astronauts on the International Space Station while providing satellite data to NGO’s in Honduras attempting to identify the best location to implement a gravity-fed resource to support locals lacking clean water. After having the pleasure of participating in several conversations with others active in the social good movement, I have come to appreciate social entrepreneurship as a mindset. Social Entrepreneurship thus provides a call to action for individuals and institutions to come together to effect change and solve challenges relating to basic human needs.  This includes providing microloans to overcome poverty, opening datasets, designing mobile applications, or inventing instruments to travel in a backpack under extreme conditions, on Earth or in Space.  The possibilities are endless, limited only by our own creativity and demand cross disciplinary solutions that bridge geographic and atmospheric boundaries.

Why NASA?

While complexity is often associated with human space exploration, life in space has many striking similarities to the simple challenges and isolated environments experienced by many living in developing countries or in remote areas. For example, to support human survival, space travels requires mitigating issues related to accessing clean water, emergency response, disease control, food scarcity and waste disposal. This must be accomplished in a hostile, time-constrained environment demanding lightweight, portable solutions requiring little power and technical training.

Overcoming these physical challenges is not limited to hardware developments and often simply requires access to information.  Technology advances over the last 50 years have now opened up new possibilities to extrapolate solutions from data provided by orbiting satellites to support emergency response, crisis mapping, environmental monitoring, and disaster prediction on Earth.  Conversely, organizations in remote areas such as Antarctica have the potential to offer space partners information on human behavior within extreme conditions and lessons learned in medical telemetry.

How do I get involved?

Several initiatives currently facilitate social entrepreneurial efforts within NASA, including:

 

Fragile Oasis

  • A virtual forum supported by NASA to use the unique orbital perspective to inspire people to improve life on earth, to get the word out that the International Space Station is an incredible global asset, to highlight the scientific advancements being accomplished on the International Space Station, and to inspire students to academic excellence.

International Space Apps Challenge 

  • Demonstrating its commitment to the Open Government Partnership, NASA is working with space agencies around the world to coordinate an International Space Apps Challenge to be held in 2012 that will encourage scientists and concerned citizens from all seven continents – and in space – to create, build, and invent new solutions in order to address challenges of global importance.

Random Hacks of Kindness

  • RHoK was founded in 2009 in partnership between Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, NASA and the World Bank as a community of innovation focused on developing practical open source solutions to disaster risk management and climate change adaptation challenges. The scope of RHoK has now been widened to include any application that can have a major effect in the developing world. RHoK is now holding “community” events, such as the Waterhackathon, focusing on water sector applications.

LAUNCH 

  • NASA, USAID, Department of State, and NIKE joined together to form LAUNCH in an effort to identify, showcase and support innovative approaches to global challenges through a series of forums. LAUNCH searches for visionaries, whose world-class ideas, technologies or programs show great promise for making tangible impacts on society.

NASA/USAID- SERVIR 

  • NASA and USAID signed a five-year memorandum of understanding on April 25 2011. This agreement formalizes ongoing agency collaborations that use Earth science data to address developmental challenges, and to assist in disaster mitigation and humanitarian responses. The program integrates satellite observations, ground-based data and forecast models to monitor and forecast environmental changes and improve response to natural disasters in Central America, the Caribbean, Africa, and the Himalayas. SERVIR helps inform science-based decision-making in the areas of climate change, health, agriculture environment, water and weather.

As these initiatives reveal, the correlation between survival in Space and Earth is significant and opens endless collaborative opportunities between those exploring the universe and living on Earth.   We invite you to share your ideas or efforts as we work together to highlight those commonalities that benefit humanity. What other projects or applications would you suggest?


About Samantha

samantha.l.snabes@nasa.gov