Harnessing Technology for Change

Great post from Rahim Kanani of the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations at Harvard about the Global Philanthropy Forum: Just a few weeks ago, the 2010 Global Philanthropy Forum convened in San Francisco. The three-day forum highlighted a number of key international challenges and opportunities facing investors and grant makers, NGOs and civil society, and multi-sector partnerships both public and private, as the industry of giving and receiving enters the second decade of the 21st century. While the overarching themes of the conference were not explicitly related to technological advancements or solutions to the world's most pressing problems, having attended a variety of sessions over the course of the conference, one of the most prominent threads was exactly that: harnessing mobile and internet technology for change, social impact, and accountability.

Catalista, for example, has developed a mobile platform to connect individuals interested in timely volunteer work for local non-profits in need, whereas The Extraordinaries pioneered the field of micro-volunteering, which helps organizations and supporters turn spare time into social value from a bus stop, cubicle, or couch. To-date, micro-volunteers have completed over 300,000 tasks for more than 200 organizations. Similarly, but in a reversal of roles and in the space of economic development across the developing world, Samasource enables marginalized people, from refugees in Kenya to women in rural Pakistan, to receive life-changing work opportunities via the Internet. The core of this concept is microwork -- little bits of labor that can be performed anytime and anywhere that add up to a real livelihood for their partners. Another example of mobile and social innovation in action is the work of FrontlineSMS, designed specifically to address a widespread communications problem facing grassroots NGOs working in developing countries. By leveraging basic tools already available to most NGOs -- computers and mobile phones -- FrontlineSMS enables instantaneous two-way communication on a large scale. The uses for such technology spans monitoring human rights violations, disaster relief coordination, election monitoring, emergency alerts, health care information requests, mobile education, and more.

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