Ewa Wojkowska
Thursday, February 18, 2010 - 03:00

By Ewa Wojkowska
Co-Founder and COO

How it all began...

Lots of people have been asking us how we came up with the idea of Kopernik, so I thought I would dedicate this blog post to telling you about that!

Both Toshi and I have worked in international development for about a decade. We've worked in Timor-Leste, Indonesia, Sierra Leone, Laos and Thailand. We've worked with local communities, government ministries, NGOs and donors. And we've worked on a wide range of issues from working to improve access to justice for the poor, public sector reform, elections, to recovery from the devastating earthquake and Tsunami in Aceh.

We have been privileged to work for the UN, and really lucky to meet many amazing and dedicated people who work tirelessly to make the world a better place.

At the same time, we knew that in order for development to be more effective, new ideas and innovation were necessary. Yet so frequently, we felt, in the UN, things are done the same old way that they've been done for years.

The community of ‘development experts’ tends to be very small and rather closed – and is not conducive to spur innovation. We knew that so much innovation is taking place in the private sector and wondered why these two worlds remained so separate.

We wanted to do something about it.

Since September 2007 we've had so many different ideas. Some bordering on the ridiculous. The problem we wanted to solve has always been the same. How can real development problems, faced by real people, be solved in a more effective way.  And we wanted to tap into the potential of a much broader community.

The model has evolved almost daily and then in early 2009, we came up with one model of solving long standing development problems by asking people of various professional backgrounds for bold ideas. The foundation of this model was a clear statement of issues, articulated by the communities in developing countries who are living with those problems.

But based on our own experience, we instinctively knew that it would be difficult to get a clear statement of challenges. We were stuck on this for a while.

One night, after some good food and some more good wine, at our place in Brooklyn, we suddenly came up with the idea of reversing the idea. Why don’t we start with the proven ‘solutions’, and let the communities (represented by local organisations) articulate instead how they want to use the solutions (technology) to solve their existing problems.

This was a little ‘Copernican Revolution’ for us, as we are now starting with supply (menu of possible options to solve common development challenges) and then from here our partner organizations can articulate the demand.  

And given that so many challenges are common to many developing countries (lack of clean drinking water and lack of power supply for example) - we think it makes a lot of sense.

Honouring my Polish background we decided to name our venture ‘Kopernik’, the Polish name of this great Polish scientist.

And that's how it all began.