Thursday, April 29, 2010

Disrupting Philanthropy: Changing the Rules

I'm thrilled to announce this upcoming conversation in New York City on May 11 about the changing policy, technology, and data landscape for philanthropy.

Changing the rules to change the world

As part of the seminar series hosted by the Stanford University Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, I'll join Steve Gunderson of the Council on Foundations, Diana Aviv of Independent Sector, and Rob Reich from Stanford's political science department to talk about major forces changing philanthropy. Join us in New York by registering here and/or on twitter at #sempacs.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Who is in, who is out?

Crowdsourcing changes the lines that define the "inside" and "outside" of an organization. This is the real revolution of Ushahidi and similar tools - the awareness that the people in the situation are a source of information about the situation, whether it be a snowstorm in the US capital or an earthquake in the poorest country in the Western hemisphere.

It's not the technology, it's the behavior and expectations about where information lives, who has it, and who can use it that will change how change happens. The poorly copied photo at the top of this blog shows a map generated by text messages from truck drivers as they pay bribes (Hat tip to Megan Smith of The truck drivers become not just the people most immediately affected by the corruption, they also become news sources about the corruption and a step toward a solution to the corruption.

At a discussion earlier this week with a class of incredible high school juniors and seniors involved in their school's journalism program, I learned of a service called Twilio. This lets anyone set up a standard SMS number to which people text information. The students were considering setting this up for the school paper/website so that all 1900 students at the school could contribute "news" as it happened - whether it be updates on power outages, information about neighborhood events, or real time coverage of the prom, a teachers' strike, or the lunch menu. Talk about changing who's inside and who's outside. All 1900 students become "community sensors" for the reporters, editors, publishers of the news. One doesn't replace the other, it augments them and changes how they each relate to the final product.

Then I read this beautiful speech from Crystal Hayling about who's inside and who's outside philanthropy. Under the heading, "Five things we know but keep forgetting," she reminds us that technology is just a tool, but it's a power tool. From the Silk Road to interstate highways, from radio to television, from the internet to smart phones, technology changes how we connect and with whom. It changes to what information and networks we are adjacent. And, in doing so, it changes who is inside and who is outside.

Here's the slidedeck I shared with the students - examples of ways that data and crowds are changing change.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Philanthropy DataJam!

"What would you do with philanthropic grants data if you could get it easily, mash it up with other sources, and build apps or other tools that could help you make sense of it?"

That is the question for this event at The New America Foundation on May 10, from 12:30 - 2:00 pm.

Open Data: Philanthropy’s Future Fuel For Change

We'll be joined by some of the foundations leaders already sharing their data, online giving platforms, members of the Obama Administration's Open Government initiative, experts from the Sunlight Foundation, The World Bank, open aid data advocates, software application makers, open technology advocates, and the media. I hope you will join us via videostream, Skype, and Twitter.

We will videostream the event.
We're working on a skype call in line.
Join in via Twitter at #GiveData.

I'm delighted to be hosting this event with The New America Foundation, The HAND Foundation and The Sunlight Foundation.


I write a lot about open data. I laugh at tweets that say "Open is the new black." Or "Transparency is the new black." I have been arguing for two decades now, in various forms and media, that foundations have a lot more than cash to give to the fields they are trying to change - they have data and information as well.

Simply put, foundations have a lot of information at their fingertips that is possibly of use to those they fund. (And those they don't). Their daily activity - grantmaking - generates a ton of data (more accurately, terabytes of data) that might be useful to policymakers, nonprofits, the media, activists, community members - if they could get hold of it, mash it together with government data or research data - and look for new patterns, new stories, or new solutions.

So, let me say how excited I was to hear that The World Bank has opened its data sets to the public. That TechSoup Global and Guidestar International are merging. And that GrantsFire has become a project of The Foundation Center. And that the Mott Foundation streams its grants information. And that the Ford Foundation's new website has a searchable database of all their grants (next step is to make this exportable, right?) And that some of the online giving marketplaces are interested in making their APIs public.*

These are all steps toward data sharing. The meeting on May 10 is another step in that direction.

*In English, a public API means opening up the software tools that allow others to access and use your data.

Friday, April 23, 2010

What Should the Secretary of State Ask?

The Chronicle of Philanthropy flagged this story from Hattiesburg, Mississippi yesterday about a plan by the Secretary of State to review the 38000 nonprofits registered in the State.

The headline and story made me think about Rob Reich's "Anything Goes" research on the rate (98+ %) at which the IRS approves new nonprofits every year. And notice that up to 25% of the nation's nonprofits may lose their tax exemptions this year because of a filing requirement certainly raises key questions about the ecosystem of organizations.

It made me think about the discussion we've had here on this blog about "Crowdsourcing community needs" and peer review as part of the nonprofit (and some would add, foundation) approval process.

It made me think of the efforts by the folks at to map the number of nonprofits and then get the AGs offices in each state to release the data in a way that anyone could access it.

Which, of course, got me thinking about Open Data and philanthropy - which always gets me excited - and about which we have a fun announcement coming out on Monday (stay tuned).

And it really made me wonder "What is the Secretary of State's survey going to ask?" The story in the Hattiesburg American doesn't answer that question. All it says is:
"... the secretary of state's office in the next few weeks will mail letters to the nonprofits to ask questions about their fundraising and their activities. "Mississippians are the most charitable people in the country. We need to know these groups are doing right by them," Hosemann said."
Ooh, that is so intriguing.... What would you ask of nonprofits in your state if you could survey them to find out if they are "doing right by [the people of your community]?" What a great opportunity to crowdsource questions from the people of Mississippi (and elsewhere) to inform such a survey.
  • What do the people want to know?
  • What should they want to know?
  • What do they have a right to know?
  • What do you want to know?
Go ahead - add your questions for the Secretary of State in the comments below - AND - send them directly to Secretary Hosemann on this form. Here is the direct page for the Division of Securities and Charities at the Secretary's Office.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Considering assumptions

Cartoon by Joel Pett

I had a chance to meet some of the folks from Sana, one of the winners of the Vodafone Wireless Innovation Challenge that were announced yesterday at the Global Philanthropy Forum.

Sana, formerly known as MocaMobile, uses an open source platform to connect rural health providers, often nurses, to centralized medical expertise. The nurses can send texts, photos, and diagnostic information to a secure site where experts can help with diagnosis and treatment for specific situations, ranging from chronic disease to emergency response. What is really important about Sana is not the technology but the focus on developing locally relevant standard practices of care. Connecting local medical workers to each other so they can choose the practices, develop the protocols, standardize the procedures in their context. It's like helping doctors, nurses and community health workers design and implement their own Checklists - specific to their situations. And then putting those checklists on a secure, affordable, electronic platform that connects expertise. The goal? Patients get better care, faster.

I had hoped to meet the people behind FrontlineSMS: Credit, which builds on the infrastructure of texts messages that is already changing how we monitor elections, coordinate disaster relief, and oversee aid delivery, to use that infrastructure to provide financial services to individuals everywhere. These are incredible tools. Like some of the other social innovations featured at GPF this year - such as SamaSource, Catalista, The Extraordinaries, ViewChange - craft their ideas about social solutions from the assumptions of the global network that now connects us.

Thinking about how global + connected changes our assumptions is key. Cell phone access and connectivity by themselves solve nothing (see Joel Pett's heartbreaking cartoon above). And good intentions are not enough.

Global and connected can shift our thinking about "who," "where," and "when." If everyone with a mobile phone can connect to a global network then everyone is a potential source of wisdom, an actor, a collaborator, a changemaker. Everyone with a phone can contribute expertise, data, action to the global network and everyone with a phone can get data, expertise, and advice to inform their actions. They may not need to be in the same place, or working in the same time zone. Individual actions can inform others, ripple out and up, draw from and give to each other. There is two-way connectivity, so "broadcast" or "pushed" or "top down" approaches to change don't take advantage of this new reality - only those strategies that see everyone on the network as "inside" the change process will do so.

Of course, those are only shifts to your assumptions if your used to thinking from a vantage point within an organization that does things for others. If you're used to thinking from the perspective of the community, the grassroots, or the "others" - then even these are shifts of direction so much as shifts in scale.

I saw this most clearly comparing the stories from the Vodafone prize winners with those of the Goldman Environmental Prize winners. The Goldman Prize celebrates the impact of individuals - more than 150 in 79 countries over the last 21 years. Each of the individuals honored changed local practice that eventually influenced national or regional policy - whether it be for the protection of elephants, sharks, or indigenous people. And all of their incredible accomplishments relied on networks of individuals and organizations, cross-sector partnerships, and advocacy. They were making change happen that mattered to their own immediate lives, communities, and livelihoods. The Goldman Prize winners seemed to assume, no matter where they were from or what issue they were working on, that they would need help from elsewhere, that they'd need to involve everyone that they could, and that "on the ground" expertise was at least as important as "expert expertise."

Working with distributed decision making, networks of individuals, local expertise, and crowdsourcing is a big change if you are used to hierarchies, organizational leadership, and service delivery. This is why some uses of technology are so disruptive to some business as usual. But it's also fair to assume that to some changemakers and grassroots organizers the technologies just expand business as usual or make it more visible to outsiders. Which is why it is most important to realize that it is not the technology that matters, it is what we do with it.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Conference confluence update

The great volcanic disruption continues - with impact on millions of people's lives. It has also accelerated a lot of well-planned conferences into even better, more integrated use of livestreaming, twitter, etc..

The funniest new media comment on the volcano? Those following updates on Twitter are urged to use #ashtag as the, um, hashtag.

The best version of lemonade from lemons? Those who took advantage of the stranded social entrepreneurs in the Oxford/London area and launched #TEDxVolcano.

Back to business - following up on the post on the Global Philanthropy Forum, which started last night, please note the correct hashtag is #gpf2010. Also note the conference is live streaming sessions to London and Paris for those who can't get to California. Details are here.

Tonight is the award ceremony for the Goldman Environmental Prize - here's the list of winners.
The organizations run by the winners all get linked to Global Greengrants, so you can make a grant to support their work directly. This is one of the simplest, and smartest, leveraging tactics I've seen from a prize program.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

A confluence of conferences

I made it out of the UK on the last plane to leave Heathrow before all air space was shut down.

Having had the honor of being in Oxford during the Oxford Internet Institute's Unleashing Philanthropy conference (slides and speech here, tweets at #oiiphil), OxfordJam and the Skoll World Forum 2010, I've made it back to San Francisco in time for the Global Philanthropy Forum and the Goldman Environmental Prizes.

Sunday night it is my honor to help kick off the Global Philanthropy Forum, along with the Case Foundation and at a Social Innovation Fair. The fair features the following:

Monday night at the GPF the winners of the Vodafone Wireless Innovation Challenge will be announced. On Tuesday night the Conrad Hilton Foundation Humanitarian prize will be awarded.

Also on Monday night, at the San Francisco Opera House, the 2010 Awards Ceremony for the The Goldman Environmental Prize takes place. (It is a shame about the overlap)

Tweets from GPF will be coming from @gpforg and hashtagged at #gpf2010

Tweets from Goldman Prize will be hashtagged at #GEP10
(although the SF Opera House has notoriously bad cell reception, City Hall, where the after party rocks, is much better.)

Friday, April 16, 2010

Data are the new platform for change

I had the great honor of spending a day learning with several Internet entrepreneurs, leading online giving marketplace managers in the UK, Dame Stephanie Shirley - the UK Ambassador for Philanthropy, and several scholars at the Oxford Internet Institute on Wednesday, 14 April. You can find the slides from the presentation here and the text of the presentation here and here. I will post video as soon as I get it.

Here is the basic argument:
  • Data are the new platform for change
  • Data and technology and social enterprise are not coincidental trends in philanthropy; they are linked
  • These two trends are fundamentally disrupting the types of enterprises that produce, and are privileged for producing, social goods.
  • These new enterprises are bringing with them demand for new types of governance
  • Changes in the enterprises and governance structures are changing how we finance social goods
  • Changes in enterprises, governance, and finance demand new regulatory structures, tax and corporate privileges
  • Taken together, this all leads to fundamental disruption of how we produce, distribute, and finance social goods.
That the speech coincided with the opening of the Skoll World Forum 2010 was key. It was also remarkable that Guidestar International and TechSoup Global went public with their merger on Wednesday, and that the Foundation Center and Grantsfire announced their alliance the same week. The day of open data in philanthropy - of data as the platform for change - is upon us.

I'm delighted that we will be able to pursue these issues of Open Data and Philanthropy with colleagues in DC and around the country via live stream in a first-ever event on May 10. I am working with the New America Foundation, HAND Foundation, and Sunlight Foundation to host a "datajam brainstorm" on open data and philanthropy. More details soon.


Saturday, April 10, 2010

April in Oxford

Here's what is happening this week in the not-so-sleepy little town of Oxford, England.

Skoll World Forum 2010. Since 2004 the Forum has brought together the many worlds of social entrepreneurs. Running from April 14-16, by invitation only, the Forum includes widely recognized speakers, selected delegates, and Skoll Awardees for 2010 and years past. Follow the Forum on Twitter at #swf10.

Oxford Jam - a conference "in relief." April 14 - 16. Free and open to the public, in parallel to Skoll World Forum, at the Oxford Jam Factory. Organized by Ben Metz, formerly of Ashoka. This will be good. Twitter at #oxfordjam

Oxford Internet Institute policy forum on Unleashing the Potential of e-Philanthropy. I'm honored to be the keynote speaker for this event, which will draw from the Disrupting Philanthropy paper and the Open Philanthropy manifesto. In preparation I've been brushing up on the UK social sector, British English, and British brands. (Check out hwayoungjung's Flickr set.) Will post slides, etc. after the plenary and events on April 14. Twitter at #OIIphil