Monday, January 22, 2007

Aligning investments across virtual worlds

  • What does philanthropy look like in a virtual world? This was a session discussion at NetSquared 2006 and the notes are here. This topic may be picked up for NetSquared 2007 (n2Y2) - now under construction.

  • Why would anyone /philanthropy care about this? Here's what interests me...
    1. First, some definitions. Virtual worlds are online 3D interactive spaces where each player has to make up their story - there is no 'game' per se, you do what you want to do. Two very popular ones are SecondLife and
    2. Much of what is happening in these worlds centers around community building and market opportunities. Many people in SecondLife (AKA 2L) are making money, designing and selling things to other people in the game.
    3. Community building includes people getting together to build gardens, to design spaces, to discuss hot topics, to go to lectures online, etc.
    4. What is emerging much more slowly is a government. Instead, many small fiefdoms with their own rules are developing. (We may very well see a replay of modern European history unfold from fiefdoms to kingdoms to nation-states to nations. Or not.)
    5. Philanthropy in the real world operates in relation to markets and government.
    6. So the big question is, what does philanthropy look like in the absence of a government? - what is the public good, who is the public, how does it express itself? These questions are not only engaging thought exercises - in many parts of the globe the same dynamics of emergent market economies and/or restructuring/emerging government regimes are very real issues - and the civil sector, philanthropy, communities in those places are evolving in relationship to those changes.
    7. Questions about philanthropy may be answered as the denizens of 2L decide to create an overarching government and tax themselves to pay for certain public goods. Or...
    8. Philanthropy - voluntary private action for the public good - might emerge in such a way that an overarching government is not necessary. Or...
    9. Philanthropy might emerge as just virtual representations of what we know in the real world. The nonprofit island, hosted by TechSoup and paid for, rumor has it, via a donation from Second Life's millionaire - Ashne Chung Studios. Or....
    10. Philanthropy might be an extension of the real world, as it has been for the American Cancer Society which has raised at least $40K in real world dollars through virtual walkathons. Similarly, Save the Children sold virtual yaks to help real children and Camp Darfur is an active discussion and activist-mobilization space in 2L. And you can read about the "virtually homeless."
    11. Maybe 2L will be a way for philanthropists to quickly get input and ideas from a vast, diverse (though not representative) community with which they would otherwise not interact. Or a testing ground for ideas. Or a place to let their nonprofit partners share ideas without having to travel anywhere.
    12. might be something totally different.
    13. Now, imagine we could take the question of Aligned Investing into SecondLife. Since there are no regulations guiding philanthropy in 2L most of our assumptions about how foundations work don't matter. If you could start from a blank slate, what would you want philanthropy to do? How would you want to ensure that it did those things?
    14. Maybe SecondLife is the place to develop an index of social well-being against which community organizations (philanthropists included) would measure themselves....
    15. Your thoughts....?

    FYI, Beth Kanter and Rik Riel have some of the best blogs about Second Life and how it relates to the nonprofit sector:

    And, then, of course, there is satire.

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