If you’re a socially conscious nerd, cool, and chic, you can make a difference in the world, wrote the Economist. Indeed, being geek is chic, especially in the Silicon Valley, where it’s a norm among the young aspiring next Mark Zuckerbergs, Marissa Mayers, or Jessica Jackleys of the world. But that trend is not unique to the Silicon Valley. Here in DC, the crucible of NGOs and non-profits, social entrepreneurship, blending innovative technology with social change, is an emerging trend—with results to prove its efficacy and affect
The Uber Geek
One such cool über geek is Nick Martin, the co-founder and president of TechChange, a tech startup company that offers online technology training for social change. A graduate of Swarthmore College and The University for Peace, Nick’s clarion call to social change began early on when he first started an award-wining conflict resolution and technology program for the elementary schools called DCPEACE.
“I knew I wanted a career in social change. I felt strongly it should involve tech in some way. I believed education was the key to everything,” said Nick.
This desire for social change, using innovative technology and education, was the genesis of TechChange. Its primary goal has been simple: offer online technology courses to people, both locally and globally, so they are empowered to employ technical skills gained in their field.
“We’ve got a nice niche focusing on online learning for international development and helping organizations deliver their content,” said Nick.
To that end, Nick advocates for geeks who make a difference in the world, teaches at many prestigious DC institutions, blogs, and travels regularly to Africa.
Nick teaching a course at Amani Institute and iHub in Nairobi.
Nick at the 1776 TechCockail Startups.
You the Uber Geek
But you don’t have to be Mark, Marissa, Jessica, or Nick to make a difference in the world. You can be an ordinary Joe or Jane, a graduate or an undergraduate student, a working professional or retired. And if you’re interested in working in the developing world, in the areas of conflict management, health provisioning, governance, and aid management, you can do so—by using the platforms these entrepreneurs have created and by following the advice they’ve imparted. Nick’s advice and insight for students at TechChange are:
What you put into the courses is what you’ll get out of them.
Though designed for powerful, engaging, and interactive learning experience, you still have to be self-directed and motivated.
Online learning should be social, so share as much about your best practices with others in your class as you can. In a course like mHealth, you may be sharing your best practice with a health worker in Uganda or a doctor in Argentina.
Development agencies want employees with tangible technological skills who can transition outdated processes and update them with automated ones or create efficient ones.
Other Uber Geeks
Some students at TechChange are development professionals working for international aid agencies. Some are recent graduates. Some are tech savvy. Some are completely new to technology but with an abundance of passion. In other words, they all are cool geeks who want to make a difference. One student, Trevor, who enrolled in several courses at TechChange made such a difference. He shares his journey.
“I found three key features of TC105 very valuable to me: the relevant information, the interactive experience, and the access to a network of experts in mobile tech,” said Trevor.
Uber Social Entrepreneurs
For those who aspire to go beyond and become social entrepreneurs, Nick advices:
You can’t do it alone. Find a team with complementary skills who feel as passionate about social change as you do.
Everything will take twice as long and cost twice as much, so plan accordingly.
Fail rapidly, learn quickly. Get the product out first. And constantly improve.
Do a few things well, and see how the market responds.
We offer a course in social entrepreneurship where you’ll meet global founders who share their experiences with the students.
Be a Cool Geek. Be Chic. Be the Change.
By Jules S. Damji