The Community of Change Makers

'Seeing the world with partnership and opportunity' – Geraldine de Bastion started GIG with hope to be a part of a global change. Now, seven years later, her non-profit organization brings together like-minded community of change makers, who use technology for the greater good

What is GIG (Global Innovation Gathering) and how did you start it?

GIG is a registered charity and non-profit organization. GIG started in 2013, and it was a result of me having a very hybrid life, being part of Re:publica, which is Germany’s, and one of Europe’s, largest festivals on digital technology. I got to travel a lot and I tried to find like-minded people who were also working with technology for social good and I got to visit a lot of different innovation spaces, especially on the African continent. I thought that it would be fantastic if these people could be featured at re:publica and we could make our event less euro-centric and let in other views from the world. I started researching and contacting people and when we all convened in Berlin, we found that we didn’t want it to be a one-off event, but a network. And the NGO that we have today developed out of that. We’re a vibrant community of change-makers and people who think ahead and are trying to support their local communities with technological development.

You put a strong focus on creating diverse teams. How do you think Germany is positioned in terms of diversity?

I think we still struggle with diversity issues in Germany a lot. Of course, there are some communities that have taken this issue very seriously. But in many parts of the tech industry it’s still a catastrophe, both when it comes to patriarchal structures and women having an under representation and leadership positions in Germany, as well when it comes to representation of minorities. We’ve had anti-discrimination laws introduced, but there’s still a gap of the actual practice. At re:publica there is gender balance in our speakers, we have a complete barrier-free program for people with different disabilities to visit. And at GIG it’s very important that all people are meant to be as equally represented and appreciated. Before Covid, it was very crucial for us to gather once a year and meet physically and exchange ideas. We want to actually produce tangible results that have an impact. At our first gathering somebody said that there’s so many different people here from various backgrounds, but we all speak the same language. And that’s a beautiful sentiment that our network represents well.

“We want to actually produce tangible results that have an impact”

In regards to diversity and inclusion, you work with a lot of leaders, entrepreneurs, but also companies. What can they change or incorporate in their setting?

I think you can lead by example. Be the person who gives young women the opportunity to rise to leadership position, be the person that gives somebody with a migration background the benefit of the doubt and goes beyond stereotypical impressions. Don’t accept the status quo and speak up about those issues.

How are you dealing with the digital transformation? What are the challenges and the opportunities?

We’re lucky in a way, because as a global organization we’re used to working remotely. We have team chats and regular online check ins, because we have team members who would never be in the office at the same time and this helped us during the Corona time to adapt, because we were used to spending a lot of time communicating online. So it was more about making sure that mental safety of our team members was taken care of. We have a mailing list, but we also have a WhatsApp group. Every day we share whether it’s about job or learning opportunities, but also questions. People would come and say: ‘I’m trying to build a new water filter system with this local material, do you have any advice for me?’. We try to use platforms where we share knowledge so that it’s tangible beyond our community.

You focus a lot on supporting research and technology. Why is that important?

We believe in power of the local and making technology available to people, so that they have access to the internet and to different kinds of technological development, that they can be best equipped to come up with their own solutions for local development issues. A lot of our members that have innovation spaces try to provide an infrastructure to their communities from co-working spaces to hardware machinery space where you can learn how to create your own devices, along with learning how to code and program software. We believe that if these kinds of technologies are accessible and shared it can bring the greatest development potential. A lot of the things we work on as a network are co-created and can be designed in various places by different people. One project that we run is called Caribou.org, which is about open source health care devices, especially for people with disabilities. It’s a beautiful sentiment, because every human is individual and every human’s health care needs are also individual.

“We believe that if different kinds of technologies are accessible and shared it can bring the greatest development potential”

You also work with developing countries. Which markets are the biggest right now?

I get asked this question often and specifically to the African continent, where each of the fifty four countries has its own trends and unique things that are happening. But there are definitely countries that are really exciting. For example, we hosted the first re:publica in Ghana two years ago and it was fascinating to see the enthusiasm that young people approach digitization with. It’s not a naivete, it’s a different level of motivation compared to what we have here. In Germany, we often get this fear of the digital and the concern how this is corrupting our structures in society.

What is your vision and goal for the future of GIG?

I truly believe that we need to change the way that we look at the world in this binary ‘developed or not developed’ way, we need to take our fear away in Europe that there are people from the Middle East or Africa wanting to come here and take everything away and start seeing the world with partnership and opportunity. We need to understand that we’re in this globally together, because of climate change and that we have to find answers to actual, pressing questions if we want to keep any of the comfort of the status quo that we enjoy today. And I hope that GIG can play a role in that. We want to make people understand that the world is much more nuanced and that technological innovation can come from the Global South and can help us here in the North. I hope that we can work on some of the technologies and innovations that are going to help the world within GIG, whether it’s climate or health solutions.

“We need to understand that we’re in this globally together, because of climate change and that we have to find answers to actual, pressing questions if we want to keep any of the comfort of the status quo that we enjoy today”

Do you have any advice what an individual can do about that and be part of this impact?

Absolutely. I think it’s always a good idea to get engaged in various projects and being part of the local community. There are a lot of ways to become part of this global conversation and making the world a bit of a smaller place, especially now in the times of Covid. We’re not traveling, but still trying to build meaningful connections.

Thinking as a collective rather than individual – do you think that’s now changing in our society?

My hope is that in our personal isolation, in the time of global crisis, we find ways of feeling more connected and see the need of community. A lot of beautiful things happened during this terrible pandemic of neighborhood cycles coming together, people forming social structures that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. And my hope is that this sentiment will win over the need of self-protection and shutting yourself off against others.

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