Social innovation with my Cambodian teammates

TODAY, A GUEST POST from Phnom Penh-based innovation consultant Akira Morita. Akira is a founding member of Design Kompany’s creative collective.

Today a guest post from Phnom Penh-based innovation consultant Akira Morita. Akira is a founding member of Design Kompany’s creative collective.

IT WAS DURING my third Startup Weekend that I was a coach at, in Siem Reap, when I realized I had no idea what it was like to actually participate in this world of quickly assembling ideas and forging them into a clear, well-formed business pitch.

Then I thought: ‘that’s not right. I need to change this.’

Which is how I wound up entering an ‘idea competition’ with a group of Cambodian youths this summer.

THE INKLING. I had watched, coached or spoken at these [startup event and pitching session] things before (I don’t know why—because I was a ‘design thinker’ and a ‘consultant,’ maybe? Is this why people ask you to sign up for things like this?) Whatever the reason, I was always happy to be asked and said ‘yes’. But like I said, I had never personally participated in something that gets people together to quickly come up with an idea for a thing that’s cool (and is needed. And works).

The ASEAN Impact Challenge was a chance.

Deciding to ‘do it’

First a little bit about the contest we are still awaiting word about this week. (Fingers crossed!)

THE CHALLENGE. ASEAN Impact Challenge is an idea competition that gathers people from ten countries in Asia, to compete in coming up with an idea and pitching it. It has to be a social innovation that exists, or gets thunk up on the spot.

It’s organized by SCOPE Group, an ‘international impact consultancy,’ and it’s also supported by Malaysian Governmental agencies, too. It partners with other private companies and organizations (More:

The teams of 5 people each have to go through an application process (dead simple and virtually everyone gets accepted), then undergo a full-day workshop on human centered design.

Our ideas get made into 3-minute pitch videos that explain the big idea, then those are submitted to the judges in Malaysia. (This is our status presently, awaiting word on our entry—this week.) Eventually, two teams from each country will be selected to compete live in Kuala Lumpur in November. Coaching. Incubation. (I think. The details of this event is best conjectured at, since the organizers are not necessarily forthcoming with exact details, probably because it’s their first time organizing it.)

Why did I do this? Same reason I do everything. Practice. Trying new things.

To practice ideating for real—with a team. I wanted to do more than side-line coaching with the youths here, to see if I can work with them and help them experience something that results in real growth.

How I found my Cambodian teammates

I ATTENDED AN ORIENTATION session in July, and asked around in a wildly open-format way for teammates. ‘If you are still not sure about what you’ll pitch, I’m looking for team mates.’

Ideating in Phnom Penh

Two people came up to me afterwards: one ended up forming her own team, but the other turned out to be a perfect match for me. A recent graduate with a business degree, TT had experience with his family tailoring business that made him eager to help garment sector workers (his sister was one once, before she started her tailoring business.)

We brought in our mutual friends SL and ST, who had professional experiences in media and marketing, to help us.

We found the last member, another ST, later in our video making process.

‘CHAOTIC.’ The process turned out to be more chaotic than I’d imagined. I’d thought, ‘We have a whole month, surely it will be quite simple,’ but I didn’t account for just how busy these young people were. We could only meet in the evenings and on weekends, and two of them in particular had to travel all the time for their jobs.

We had to meet in parts to refine our idea, write and plan the video, then shoot footage and edit in a three-day sprint. Luckily, the video guy, SL, and marketing gal ST had participated in Startup Weekend before, so they were used to the pace, and could deliver on what we needed, which is a video that’s ‘good enough.’

IDEATION IN PRACTICE. Coming up with ideas in a group was the trickiest part for me. I had three idea generating sessions, twice in three and once with just TT, and by the time we came to the final idea it was almost mid-August.

I had wanted the process to be driven by the other team members as much as we could afford to, given the time constraints. I wanted to respect and nurture their creativity. But in the end, I was the one giving more ideas out, and encouraging the others to pitch their ideas in, and think beyond their initial idea was tough. In the end, I had to synthesize the various input I gained from the members into an idea that addressed the needs put forward by TT of creating livelihood for the rural youth, which everyone is happy about.

Once the idea in place, going through a CANVAS process and making sure the idea holds up, and storyboarding the video and planning the shoot, were pretty straightforward, if not necessarily the most FUN part of the process for everyone. I led these efforts and the team participated as they could. We all worked hard to meet the deadline, and I’m very much pleased with the result:

Related: Watch it here:

Lots to say about this. But for now, I’m thinking about how my growth was in learning just how complicated a group collaboration could be, and at the same time, how much fun it is. I was lucky to have such open and friendly team mates and for me the biggest challenge was to forget my default role as a leader, and enjoy the experience fully! —AM