Curry Stone Award 2011

Rethinking socially responsible design in a mobile world

"The Curry Stone Design Prize was created to champion designers as a force for social change. Now in its fourth year, the Prize recognizes innovators who address critical issues involving clean air, food and water, shelter, health care, energy, education, social justice or peace". Yesterday was an exciting day for us as we announced FrontlineSMS had won the prestigious 2011 Curry Stone Design Prize. This award follows closely on the heels of the 2011 Pizzigati Prize, an honourable mention at the Buckminster Fuller Challenge and our National Geographic "Explorer" Award last summer. It goes without saying these are exciting times not just for FrontlineSMS but for our growing user base and the rapidly expanding team behind it. When I think back to the roots of our work in the spring of 2005, FrontlineSMS almost comes across as "the little piece of software that dared to dream big".

With the exception of the Pizzigati Prize - which specifically focuses on open source software for public good - our other recent awards are particularly revealing. Last summer we began something of a trend by being awarded things which weren't traditionally won by socially-focused mobile technology organisations.

Being named a 2010 National Geographic Emerging Explorer is a case in point, and last summer while I was in Washington DC collecting the prize I wrote down my thoughts in a blog post:

On reflection, it was a very bold move by the Selection Committee. Almost all of the other Emerging Explorers are either climbing, diving, scaling, digging or building, and what I do hardly fits into your typical adventurer job description. But in a way it does. As mobile technology continues its global advance, figuring out ways of applying the technology in socially and environmentally meaningful ways is a kind of 21st century exploring. The public reaction to the Award has been incredible, and once people see the connection they tend to think differently about tools like FrontlineSMS and their place in the world.

More recently we've begun receiving recognition from more traditional socially-responsible design organisations - Buckminster Fuller and Clifford Curry/Delight Stone. If you ask the man or woman on the street what "socially responsible design" meant to them, most would associate it with physical design - the building or construction of things, more-to-the-point. Water containers, purifiers, prefabricated buildings, emergency shelters, storage containers and so on. Design is so much easier to recognise, explain and appreciate if you can see it. Software is a different beast altogether, and that's what makes our Curry Stone Design Prize most interesting. As the prize website itself puts it:

Design has always been concerned with built environment and the place of people within it, but too often has limited its effective reach to narrow segments of society. The Curry Stone Design Prize is intended to support the expansion of the reach of designers to a wider segment of humanity around the globe, making talents of leading designers available to broader sections of society.

Over the past few years FrontlineSMS has become so much more than just a piece of software. Our core values are hard-coded into how the software works, how it's deployed, the things it can do, how users connect, and the way it allows all this to happen. We've worked hard to build a tool which anyone can take and, without us needing to get involved, applied to any problem anywhere. How this is done is entirely up to the user, and it's this flexibility that sits at the core of the platform. It's also arguably at the heart of it's success:

We trust our users - rely on them, in fact - to be imaginative and innovative with the platform. If they succeed, we succeed. If they fail, we fail. We're all very much in this together. We focus on the people and not the technology because it's people who own the problems, and by default they're often the ones best-placed to solve them. When you lead with people, technology is relegated to the position of being a tool. Our approach to empowering our users isn't rocket science. As I've written many times before, it's usually quite subtle, but it works:

My belief is that users don’t want access to tools – they want to be given the tools. There’s a subtle but significant difference. They want to have their own system, something which works with them to solve their problem. They want to see it, to have it there with them, not in some "cloud". This may sound petty – people wanting something of their own – but I believe that this is one way that works.

What recognition from the likes of the Curry Stone Design Prize tells us is that socially responsible design can be increasingly applied to the solutions, people and ecosystems built around lines of code - but only if those solutions are user-focused, sensitive to their needs, deploy appropriate technologies and allow communities to influence how these tools are applied to the problems they own.

Further reading FrontlineSMS is featured in the upcoming book "Design Like You Give a Damn 2: Building Change From The Ground Up", available now on pre-order from Amazon.

FrontlineSMS 2011 Curry Stone Design Prize Winners

FrontlineSMS is excited to announce that we have been awarded the Curry Stone Design Prize, a prestigious award which recognizes the valuable contributions of social design pioneers across the world. The award "was created in the belief that designers can be an instrumental force for improving people’s lives and the state of the world". The FrontlineSMS team is honoured to be recognised as one of the prize winners. According to Ken Banks, FrontlineSMS Founder:

We're honoured, surprised and excited to win this Prize, particularly when you consider most Curry Stone winners over the years have concentrated on physical design. This Prize, combined with our recent Buckminster Fuller Challenge "honourable mention" and last year's National Geographic "Explorer" award, see us taking FrontlineSMS - and the mobile-for-development sector in general - into new territory.

There's a growing realisation that socially-focused mobile tools can be part of the socially responsible design world, particularly if they are user-focused, and built around appropriate technologies which allow communities to build and design their own solutions to their own problems. This is an approach we have been championing for years, and it is wonderful to receive such recognition.

Warm congratulations to Hsieh Ying-Chun, the Grand Prize Winner, as well as Atelier d’Architecture Autogérée (AAA), also winners of the prize along with FrontlineSMS - we are honored to be recognized alongside them.

For further details about the Prize, and the other winners please see below press release, published today on the Curry Stone website:

The 2011 Curry Stone Design Prize Winners were announced today with an official presentation ceremony to follow on November 7th at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Hsieh Ying-Chun is the Grand Prize Winner; he will receive $100,000 from the foundation with no strings attached. Hsieh is a leading Taiwanese architect who for over a decade has deployed his talents in rural areas decimated by natural disaster. Hsieh works throughout Asia, training villagers to build locally appropriate dwellings in response to devastation such as the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, the 1999 Nantou earthquake, and the 2009 Morakot typhoon in Taiwan. Through Hsieh’s hands-on education process, villagers reconstruct their own community foundation, knowing they will live in buildings with greater safety, structural integrity, and sustainability.

Two additional 2011 Winner Prizes, of $10,000 each, will be awarded to Atelier d’Architecture Autogérée (AAA) and FrontlineSMS.

Atelier d'Architecture Autogérée is a collective of architects, designers and social scientists who transform urban spaces through collaborative endeavors. Based in Paris and founded by Romanian architects Constatin Petcou and Doina Petrescu in 2001, AAA has become an engine for engaging citizens in shaping their own cities through building, farming, and artistic intervention. AAA acts as a creative instigator, empowering local communities to carry out and sustain their own ideas for urban regeneration.

FrontlineSMS was founded in London by Ken Banks in 2005 to enable effective communications channels for communities in the developing world. FrontlineSMS leverages the ubiquity of mobile phones and familiarity of text messaging to turn an offline laptop into a communication hub. The simple innovation empowers villagers, aid agencies, and news services to exchange information easily among groups.

The Curry Stone Design Prize was created to champion designers as a force for social change. Now in its fourth year, the Prize recognizes innovators who address critical issues involving clean air, food and water, shelter, health care, energy, education, social justice or peace. Nominees for the Curry Stone Design Prize are selected by an anonymous, rotating group of leaders representing broad fields of design, as well as humanitarian advocates from related disciplines. A jury reviews the nominations to choose one Grand Prize Winner and two Prize Winners. Emphasis is placed on emerging projects and ideas that may not have yet been taken to scale. The Curry Stone Design Prize was founded by Clifford Curry, an architect and recognized pioneer in senior housing, and Delight Stone, a historic archaeologist and social justice activist. Dr. Louisa Silva and Gary Feuerstein serve as board members.

Grand Prize Winner, Hsieh Ying-Chun establishes a cooperative network of designers, contractors, and residents that supports local needs. His simple designs ensure that every villager can have a hand in building their own home. His work has generated job opportunities and environmental awareness, while protecting local diversities and cultural traditions. After completion, he makes the design plans available in creative commons. Hsieh’s work has helped thousands of people.

Prize Winners:

Atelier d’Architecture Autogérée (AAA), Paris, France Collective Urban Architecture

FrontlineSMS, London, England Community Solutions Through Mobile Technology

CURRY STONE DESIGN PRIZE FESTIVAL, Harvard Graduate School of Design

Prize Ceremony & Presentation: Monday, November 7th, 2011 6:30-8:00pm Harvard GSD, 48 Quincy Street, Cambridge, MA RSVP

Three Workshops at the GSD: Tuesday, November 8th, 2011 12pm-2:00pm, CSDP Prize winners Hsieh Ying-Chun, Constantin Petcou and Doina Petrescu, and Ken Banks will each lead a workshop.

The Curry Stone Design Prize Festival is presented in partnership with the Loeb Fellowship and the Department of Urban Planning and Design, Harvard Graduate School of Design. For more information on the Curry Stone Design Prize, Events and Winners, see: or Twitter @currystoneprize.