He set up a research project that raised 748 ideas, and settled on five new business cases. By Ciaran Ryan.
When the Covid lockdown was first announced in March 2020, most companies turned their attention to the existential threats bearing down on them: cash flow, staff safety and how to survive the next few months.
Coenie Middel, a chartered accountant, innovator and serial entrepreneur, embarked on the most ambitious project of his career: the search for innovations that would help people survive a post-Covid world.
He engaged research teams from around the world, looking for solutions that would change the world for the better. The team managed to raise 748 innovative ideas that got crafted into five implementable business cases, available for anyone to use.
“When we were faced with lockdown, my focus turned towards finding solutions that could solve the real problems that we are facing as a society, food insecurity, problems relating to health, education etc. instead of only trying to make it through the next few months. I believed then as I do now that the way we conduct business and interact as a society is probably going to change in some fundamental ways, and we had better prepare for this,” he says.
One of these innovations, Food Call (http://www.forthinnovation.com/foodcall.html), solves the problem of wastage in government food distribution programmes. In many countries, governments have been forced to launch food distribution programmes, but up to 40% of this is wasted because of inefficient distribution. Food Call solves this by using existing food stores and logistics chains rather than having to set up parallel distribution chains – which is where the wastage has been found to occur. NGOs and governments can issue food vouchers to dependants, who then redeem these at the participating stores.
Food Call is getting an enthusiastic response in countries like Spain and Mexico, but not yet in SA – though Middel hopes that will change.
Another innovation called Universal-Teacher (http://www.forthinnovation.com/universal-teacher.html) brings a much higher standard of digital creativity to the virtual classroom. This is where Middel is in his element. He developed a string of media companies, such as Dondoo Studios, involved in virtual and augmented reality; Talent Planation, which provides new technologies in the field of education and it was a simple matter of turning this technology loose on a much broader canvas. .Universal Teacher is helping teachers to stay closely connected to learners by offering them high quality, engaging content produced by the very best teachers in the market. “We all know what impact a great teacher can have on our lives. A good teacher may be talking to 25 kids in a class, but should be talking to millions. We find the super-hero teachers and make them available on a vast scale through the use of technology,” says Middel. There are 13.4m learners in SA and 26,000 public schools, and the results show that educational standards are declining. Universal-Teacher aims to make the best online education available to everyone.
Tech Scout (http://www.forthinnovation.com/tech-scout.html) is another product developed by Middel and his team to assist businesses to get online & educated with digital platforms as a strategy to overcome the Covid lockdown. He found that many small businesses don’t know how to manage their businesses online, nor did they have the digital skills in rudimentary applications such as Excel and Word. “In the past, if you wanted to do a course on Excel, Word or accounting software, you had to go to a physical location. A lot of the cost of training went into paying for physical infrastructure, such as classrooms. With Zoom or other similar tools you can reach hundreds of thousands of people,” adds Middel. Two small towns in Italy are currently testing this new online “business digitalisation” training programme, which focuses initially on simple tasks such as how to operate email, search functions, Word processing, and then basic coding. The potential for tech scout is huge, and could completely alter the economic trajectory of participating towns, and will assist struggling municipalities in helping businesses to recover, so they can pay their rates and taxes. Tech scout is busy signing up volunteers to help local businesses embrace the convenience and economic possibilities of going online.
My Health Monitor (https://myhealthmonitor.online/), a health and wellness app, is another innovation by Middel and an obvious response to the Covid crisis. The app, called My Health Monitor, is already developed and being rolled out to users at a small fee. “Many people are in lockdown and employers are losing physical contact with them, so they could be overlooking employees’ psychological issues, or actual physical illness,” says Middel. The app was used as a tool in the development and training of elite Olympic athletes, but has now been modified for use by the general public. A company with say 500 staff, or a medical aid with 10,000 members, can get a report on the overall wellness of staff and members. The app is already in use in 11 countries, and in addition, the teams Covid Busters concept (http://www.forthinnovation.com/covid-busters.html) can now be offered in conjuction with My Health Monitor at a low cost of $1 per month per employee or medical aid member.
Yet another innovation launched by Middel and his team is Wennovation (http://www.forthinnovation.com/wennovation.html) , which is aimed at providing world-beating management skills to social enterprise organisations and NGOs, which are now under severe pressure for funding. Many of them are having to provide services on a vastly reduced budget, which means making their rands stretch further. “We are able to show them how to make their budgets go further, how to source additional funds, and how to innovate their organisations,” adds Middel.
You can find out more about these and other innovations at: http://www.forthinnovation.com/