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7 Digital Social Innovations for your Christmas Wish List!

16th December 2016

Written by Toby Baker from Nesta's Policy and Research team

A quick look at the (open source) santa tracker tells us that there are still a few days to go before Santa takes off.

So if you are still in need of some Christmas present inspiration, don’t worry! We’ve put together a collection of great gift ideas that can change the world for the better and still fit under your Christmas tree this year.

Stock your fridge with Christmas treats via fairmondo, assemble your Raspberry Pi Snowman, turn on your Arduino controlled christmas lights and prepare to impress your loved ones with fantastic gifts!

1. The Fairphone 2 - The Open and Transparent Smartphone

Fairphone_2_(25882860055)_(cropped) (1).jpg

It is tempting to ignore the moral ambiguity surrounding some of our favourite technological products. The Fairphone proves that there are ways to combat two of the tech industry’s biggest ethical concerns: the conditions of workers and the sourcing of minerals.

Fairphone is the world’s first ethical smartphone. The company mandates a minimum wage for all its workers, and, on top of this, has created a ‘Workers Welfare Fund’ which receives contributions out of the profits from phone sales. These efforts are in stark contrast to the ‘prison-like’ standards found in some Chinese factories manufacturing products for Fairphone’s competitors.

Fairphone also tracks the supply chains of all its components to reduce the chances that any are sourced from conflict zones. This has enabled them to announce the first ever Fairtrade gold supply chain!

The phone itself is impressive. With a sleek design and Android operating system, the Fairphone aims to compete with the latest handsets. Perhaps most impressively, the phone is designed to last five years. This long life-span is down to its status as the first modular smartphone available in shops. Rather than relying on manufacturers for repairs, users can order individual replacement parts which they can easily substitute.

Of course, once the new Fairphone has been unwrapped on Christmas day, make sure that old phones are recycled. The Geecycle platform, for example, will let you donate your phone to refugees.

How much will it cost? 529 EUR

Where can I buy it? Find a local stockist or order online

2. Yibu - Learning to Play with Data

Yibu is a ‘smart toy’ from Frog Design which helps children learn through play. Most digital games position the child (or adult) as a passive observer of a virtual world on a screen. Yibu, however, combines on-screen entertainment with sensory exploration of the real world.

Wooden toys are embedded with sensors that gather real-time data (light, sound, temperature, direction and rotation). As the child moves the toys, the changing data is reflected on a tablet as a changing narrative within a game. The game is structured as a series of challenges which can be solved by finding the right data-inputs at particular moments.

Frog Design have opted to make Yibu an open platform with a modular design so that anyone can create compatible games as an app to be played using their smart toys.

How much will it cost? No on sale yet, but we like it so much we couldn’t resist adding it to our wish list!

Read More and Watch a Video

3. Crowdfund a Social Project


A Crowdfunded Archeological Dig. 

Want to shrug consumerism this year and fund social projects through your Christmas giving instead? Online crowdfunding platforms have enabled community fundraising to operate in previously unimaginable ways. You can support good projects of all shapes and sizes, whether they’re taking place on your street or on the other side of the world.

A number of platforms across Europe are dedicated to specific areas of giving. For example, Goteo and 1%Club host social, cultural and educational projects in Spain and The Netherlands respectively. Find community-led projects in UK public spaces on Spacehive, fund legal cases via CrowdJustice, or sponsor an archeological dig via DigVentures!

If you wanted to give through an investment rather than a donation, Bettervest, Lendosphere and Joukon Voima are three platforms than offer either a return on a loan or an equity stake in projects. The perfect gift for an aspiring ethical investor! Based in Germany, France and Finland respectively, they each have a different geographical and project focus.

How much will it cost? Depends on your generosity!

Where can I buy it? Find the right platform from our guide.

4. Have a DIY Christmas with Open-Source hardware boards


The Arduino and Raspberry Pi open-source circuit boards can be used to build a host of useful (and less useful) gadgets. These are perfect gifts for a DIY hobbyist looking to start their own project, or replicate one of the thousands of open-source designs which have been shared online.

There are over twenty Arduino and Raspberry Pi boards available, ranging from the entry level ‘Arduino Uno’ and ‘Raspberry Pi Zero’ to more advanced versions. Some are designed to be wearable, while others are tailored for Internet of Things applications.

Kick things off with a Raspberry Pi Starter Kit and a subscription to a Make: Magazine. Then you’ll have built your own digital social innovation by the New Year! Here are a couple of ideas to give you some inspiration:

The Smart Cane for the Blind

This Arduino cane uses sensors to detect obstacles and alerts the user through vibrations. If you’re worried about difficulty, fear not! According to its designer, “even a kid can make this in a couple of hours”. Aside from the Arduino Uno board, the materials required to build the cane cost around €10.

Bicycle Safety - Wearable Indicating Lights

This open source design involves sewing one of Arduino’s wearable boards into a jacket. Cyclists can control the indicators via buttons sewn into the cuffs.

How much does it cost? An entry level board costs €20.

Where can I buy it? View the full list of Arduino and Raspberry Pi products.

5. Haven't got a garden? Buy a tree anyway 

Carbon offsetting has been around for a while, but Treedom have taken it one step further. Treedom is a digital platform that enables you to sponsor the planting of a tree from its ‘menu’. The online ‘menu’ lists the CO2 recapture potential of each tree. Once you’ve bought a tree, Treedom creates an online page for your tree which is updated with information and photos following its progress. This digital platform is helping farmers, supporting the environment, and helping to recapture CO2 emissions.

If you want more to show for your generosity this Christmas, Apadrinaunolivo, a social enterprise based in Oliete, Spain, will send you olive oil in exchange for you sponsoring an olive tree and supporting the local environment via their platform.

How much does it cost? Trees range from €5 - €20, while adopting an olive tree will cost €50.

Where can I buy it? Go directly to Treedom or Apadrinaunolivo.

6. Turn your family and friends into Eco Fashion Icons using on online platform

Information about the sustainability of clothes is hard to find. There are a growing number of digital tools to help you pick the perfect socially and environmentally conscious Christmas Jumper this year.

Visit Lissome for a directory of sustainable fashion brands, or shop directly for men’s clothing on Brothers We Stand. Not My Style are also launching an app which will give you information on the varying ethical standards of fashion brands.

7. Learn a new language with Chatterbox


Start 2017 by improving yourself and supporting refugees at the same time! Chatterbox connects refugees with those learning languages.

Despite being highly-qualified in the native countries, refugees struggle to find employment. Chatterbox works to combat this, while also offering a solution to the UK’s severe language skill deficit (estimated at a cost of £48bn per year). Chatterbox offers conversation practice or tuition, both online and in person.

How much does it cost? Classes start from £13 per hour and student discounts are available.

Where can I buy it? Find the list of languages available and get in touch here.

And after Christmas?

Feel like you’ve indulged yourself over the Christmas period? Don’t worry! Sign up to GoodGym to burn those extra pounds while helping local communities at the same time, and share your leftover food using one of these food sharing initiatives.



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