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James van der Walt

Social Entrepreneur, Ugesi Gold

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Level 1 Social Entrepreneur - Gaming principles to solve rural electrification in Africa.

I'm working on a battery charging station social business for rural electrification. A good analogy is that of a water-well. The small utility business (micro-utility) is started by the locals who sell electricity. This serves as the source of electricity (well), which the local community visits with batteries (buckets) for recharging. These battery packs are then taken back home where they can power smaller electrical appliances like lamps, radio, small TV etc.

There's a massive brain drain from the rural areas as young people migrate to the cities where they believe to find a better life. Unfortunately this is not true and millions end in the slums. We have to stop this and I think gaming coupled with social business is the key. If we can make community upliftment projects fun for the locals they will have a higher success rate. Rural electrification fail because there is a lack of ownership and fun. Free electricity does not work. There must be community involvement. Gaming principles might help.

So how can I make this project into a game? I'm hoping you would help me brain storm a bit. Here are some random ideas.
- Get experience points for charging a battery (both for the users and the utility business)
- Achievement for the longest lasting battery
- Once though experience is earned the user can spend points to either get a bigger battery or maybe even his own solar home system.
- Make the utility business money free. Use a trading system as seen in games. Ie. they trade their skills or goods to get electricity. This will help get rid of that notion "I am poor". So put everyone on the same playing field.
- Start organic farm as a source of good to trade. (Goods trading as in WOW)
- Good gathered at the utility can be sold to the cities to stream money back into the community.
- Bring in an auction house so skills can be traded locally?
- Once the rural-utility reach a level they can start another utility. They can maybe share XP as incentive?


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    Apr 13 2013: Hi James - You are onto a great idea to use gaming to address rural electrification in Africa. And I think there is confusion about what games can do and how they do it. When you say make projects "fun" for the locals it sends a message to some people (like the locals) that people think they are children who can be amused by simple toys. Then people feel that games are being used to fool them or manipulate them.

    The real power of games is to bring people together and focus them on achieving common goals by working collaboratively. Jane McGonigal in her book, Reality is Broken, says games have four traits: 1) Goals; 2) Rules; 3) Feedback Systems; and Voluntary Participation. The place to start is to provide feedback systems. Your idea about earning points is a feedback system. Expand on that. Let everybody see the points that people are earning (like a leaderboard) and make sure everybody feels the rules are applied fairly so people actually do the work to earn points and don't cheat. That simple feedback system will encourage more and more participation by more people - assuming they feel the goal is worth their time and they feel the rules are reasonable and applied fairly.

    Then people will start to see how they can collaborate so they can all earn more points and use their points to get things they want. Daniel Pink in his book, Drive, says people like work that makes them feel they are part of something bigger than themselves where they can achieve meaningful goals and get better and better at what they do. Use those drivers. It will be "fun" but will also be more serious and substantial. Jane McGonigal calls it "hard fun".

    I have applied these principles and more to the way we can structure work and I provide specific case studies of this in my book, Enterprise Games. You can get it as a Kindle book on Amazon. You have a good idea. Keep with it.
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      Apr 15 2013: Oh wow! Thank you for the comment Michael. It's great to hear an expert opinion. 1) Goals; 2) Rules; 3) Feedback Systems; and 4) Voluntary Participation. It sounds like common sense yet I've never put the game principles into words.

      Since my goal is to give the opportunities to women only it should create a sense of belonging you described. They need to be empowered to save the world. Then of course you have smaller goals (quests?), each comprising out of common tasks plus a few virtual ones. I think the first objective for me is to make a list of tasks that need to be performed, so I can play with colouring them in. ;)

      I think I'll go get your book. Mind if I pop a question once in awhile?
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        Apr 15 2013: James - please feel free to ask questions. Games can be a powerful way to organize work and motivate people if you do it right. Anyone who reads my book is a scholar - and if you also like my book you are automatically promoted to rank of genius... :-)

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