How Virginie Legros Guignard is using innovations in technology to rebuild communities across the globe.
by Alexis Boddy
Many people say that technology isolates us. That we spend so long on our computers or phones or tablets that we don’t see what’s around us, leaving us unable to form meaningful connections with others. However, what these people miss is the amazing, connective power of technology. That it can create, build and foster communities worldwide. That new innovations, rather than distancing us from each other, can ultimately bring us closer together.
Virginie Legros Guignard understands the transformative, life-altering effect of innovations in tech. Her organisation, COCÖÖÖN, set up in 2018, seeks to assist, repair and rebuild communities through the power of technology combined with the power of community. Read on to find out how.
Did you always want to be an entrepreneur?
I was a very creative child, prodigious in painting, making models and other figurative works. I later trained as an architect at the Lille School of Architecture and went on to work for an agency. While there, I developed a strong interest in technical management, supervising teams and project management.
I escaped a serious accident at the age of 28, which made me reevaluate my values and my core beliefs. By the age of 31, I decided to take a break from my career and pursue my passion for historical battle reconstruction, which lead to me becoming an international specialist and moving to Switzerland to pursue it further. From there, I became actively involved with ideas concerning collective intelligence, project management, AI, Blockchain and growth-hacking and how new technologies can bring us closer than ever before.
So what inspired you to come up with the idea for your organisation?
The world we live in has become crazy. Some countries are on fire, others on the verge of famine or social disruption or armed conflict. Biodiversity has been severely impacted, the environment is being ransacked, climate change is racing away from us and nobody is reacting anymore.
From all of my previous experience, I had seen the real-world implications and benefits of technology and community-building and I wanted to make a difference. The idea for COCÖÖÖN came after I took on the coordination of a MOOC (massive, open, online course) in 2016. We taught over 600 students throughout the French-speaking world, with over half residing in Africa. I saw the possibilities and life-changing advantages of technological innovation. It can create tangible differences for individuals and their communities.
COCÖÖÖN was born out of a desire to change the world through empowering people to find concrete solutions to the problems in both their immediate surroundings and the world at large. We work with a wide range of people, for example, victims of war from Daloa in Côte d’Ivoire, people relocated from Cameroon, those who find themselves homeless. We worked with them to find themselves a new home, a place in society, or the chance to return to their home region with a new, viable life project.
What is your process or approach?
We have a 360° approach, which is vital when completing projects of this kind. Every community is different, with its own, unique make-up. We start with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and make sure that we are meeting the primary needs of the people. We then work with each community to create autonomous, sustainable solutions through our community reinforcements, eg. water, energy, communication, training, agriculture, entrepreneurship and resilience.
Our approach is defined by our system of ethical values that myself and my team have created. It essentially puts people, and their interests, at the centre of everything we do. We begin with an analysis of each, individual community and see what areas can be repaired or recreated. We have certain programmes that are adaptable and we can mould them to local needs and the specifics of a certain place or group of people. We also have a comprehensive system of IT tools and services which we can develop within a community’s infrastructure. These include platforms and technologies for governance and business, our online university, tools to help with literacy and many, many more.
Any community that wants to evolve or feels the need to be repaired following traumatic events, can benefit from our programmes. This can be anything from a small boost, to a complete framework to help with a range of issues, from a difficult economic situation, food crisis or conflict to improving education provision. Out of respect, we don’t impose ourselves on any community, we only provide help when we have been asked. Except in cases of natural disasters, such as Mozambique.
What challenges exist for your organisation and how do you stay inspired?
We are a young organisation (founded in 2018), so we realise that it will be our achievements and our values that propel us forward and earn us a good standing within the international community. As we become more recognised, the challenges grow and change and we are now at a time when we need to invest in creating essential tools for our programs.
With the creation of the COCÖÖÖN Consortium, we hope to advance a range of technological innovations in blockchain and artificial intelligence, which will help us to develop and implement international coaching in new and exciting ways. The world is changing so quickly and technology is changing even faster. We need to stay mindful of this change, so that our beneficiaries will be able to fit into the modern world. We do this in conjunction with our research laboratories and our Innovation Valleys which started in Switzerland at the Vallée de Joux. This is a school of applied innovation, dedicated to creating and innovating, including a specific section for the development of virtual reality.
My main role-models and sources of inspiration are Martin Luther King and Gandhi. I greatly admire both men and I always appreciate their qualities when I see them in other people.
About The COCÖÖÖN
The COCÖÖÖN is a consortium that helps to create, manage or repair communities. This is done through technological innovations, such as an online university and providing services to individual communities so that they can evolve, grow and heal.
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