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.
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:
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?