Monthly Archives: September 2016

travel is a human right

globe…Tourism and travel together has proven to be such a resilient industry that nothing is going to stop it. This has become a fact. It may be halted in certain destinations for a short period of time. But if these destinations are well established in the tradition of receiving people and have the right infrastructure and the right expertise then in the immediate and long term it comes back even stronger than it was. This has been our experience in many, many destinations all over the world. There is no stopping to this movement of people. I believe travel has become a human right. People are not going to stop traveling. They may alter their plans, they may postpone them a bit here and there, but the phenomena of traveling at the international level is going to continue to grow… No destination under the sun is immune from being affected or attacked. If not by a man-made terrorist or security related matter, then by a natural disaster. No place in the world is immune from this. I can challenge anybody to name me any place that tells me it’s impossible to have it. No place can claim to be 100% safe and secure. This is a fact. There’s never been anyhow. Does that mean that we stop traveling, we stop living as human beings, stop celebrating beauty of of life and the enjoyment that travel brings and the benefits that travel brings through it? We should never, ever do this…

In a nutshell, I’m not worried about the travel and tourism industry. I’m concerned about the lives of people and security of people, of course. We need to be concerned about security of travel. We have to put it at the heart of our objective. Security doesn’t mean we don’t travel. Do not travel or reduced travel is not an answer, it’s not an option.

— Taleb Rifai, Secretary-General of the UN World Tourism Organization, in an interview with Skift on August 29, 2016

World Tourism Day is September 27 each year, as designated by the United Nations General Assembly, and is meant to foster awareness among the international community of the importance of tourism and its social, cultural, political and economic value. The celebration also seeks to highlight tourism’s potential to contribute to reaching the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), addressing some of the most pressing challenges society is faced with today. The lead agency for the day is the UN World Tourism Organization.

In case you are wondering why I care so much about this particular day: I’m an avid traveler. I want to use my privilege to see different parts of the world, whether that’s something around the globe from me or in the next county. Travel gives me hope in humanity, because of the incredible kindness I experience. Travel gives me a sense of wonder, because of the incredible natural beauty and human-made marvels I see. Travel gives me a sense of brotherhood with all humans, because of the various representations of history I encounter. I want all people to get to experience this, particularly women. And the economic benefits to local communities regarding tourism are real and something I very much want to support.

Also see adventure tourism as a tool for economic & community development by me! This is a resource for those that like to explore developing countries / low infrastructure environments, as well as offering more about why I make travel a priority in my life.

OpenOffice needs volunteers – & a plan for future engagement

I love FOSS software! FOSS means Free and Open Source SoftwareOpen source software allows users (including online volunteers!) to study, change and improve the software at the code level, rights normally reserved for the copyright holder – usually, a large corporation. Free software usually refers to software that grants you the freedom to copy and re-use the software, rather than to the price of the software. But when I talk about it, I really am talking about cost-free-for-the-user software: it doesn’t cost a user money to use it, though donations are encouraged (and, yes, I donate).

As I’ve said before, It bothers me when I see people in countries where I work or visit – Afghanistan, Ukraine, Egypt, etc. – using pirated Microsoft software rather than LibreOffice or OpenOffice. Or when I see nonprofits struggling with expenses and spending huge amounts of money on proprietary software from multi-billion dollar companies rather than FOSS software. FOSS products are powerful, constantly debugged and upgraded, and feature-rich. The support forums for them are as good as anything large software corporations provide.

OpenOffice has been one of my favorite FOSS tools for years. It has word-processing, spreadsheet and presentation features every bit as powerful as Microsoft, at least for my needs, and it’s opened Microsoft files, and created them for me to send to others, as easily as it is for Microsoft to open old versions of its office suite, which many of the people I work with are still using.  But I also use LibreOffice, which is also a FOSS office suite, with all the same features. Why do I use both? Because, sometimes, one will do something the other won’t.

With all that said, there is a history behind these two FOSS efforts that is worth your reading, if you are interested in community engagement, volunteerism, responsive-management, transparency and mission-based organizations. The history shows how clashes regarding commitment and goals between paid leaders and devoted volunteers can lead in splits in programs, and shows the importance of ongoing cultivation of new volunteers – in contrast to assuming volunteers will just magically materialize, the way they always seem to have.

When the company that produced OpenOffice was purchased by the the for-profit corporation Oracle in 2010, Oracle became owners of OpenOffice. The thousands of volunteers that had been contributing to OO, constantly refining the product, as well as promoting it to others, were concerned at Oracle’s lack of activity on or visible commitment to OpenOffice. These volunteers are passionate advocates of FOSS, not just OO, and they were dedicated to seeing the tool not only continue, but continue to evolve, as all software must to survive. A group of OO devotees created the Document Foundation, a nonprofit organization to either manage OO once Oracle let it go – which everyone thought they would – or to create an alternative software. Oracle was invited to become a member of the Document Foundation, so that they Oracle could help with the transition when they discontinued OO. Instead, Oracle surprised everyone: the company demanded that all members of the Community Council also involved with the Document Foundation to step down from the council, claiming a conflict of interest, and things turned hostile. LibreOffice was born, and volunteers left in droves to join the effort to refine and promote it. In 2011, Oracle announced it was, indeed, ending development of OpenOffice and that it would give OpenOffice code and trademark to the Apache Software Foundation. OpenOffice continued to be refined and new releases came to fruition, but LibraOffice won the battle for volunteer developer participation.

From what I’ve read, I get the impression that the Apache Software Foundation folks envisioned that the developer pool for OpenOffice would come from seeded by IBM employees, Linux distribution companies and public sector agencies – in short, they thought other organizations would donate talent, because they had before, but they didn’t think about recruiting online volunteers themselves. And now the foundation is struggling with recruiting volunteer developers for Open Office. Things are so dire that the Apache Software Foundation recently outlined what discontinuing the product could look like.

Volunteers deliver the program of both of these foundations. Here’s what the Apache Software Foundation says on its web site:

All projects are composed of volunteers and nobody (not even members or officers) are paid directly by the foundation for their job. There are many examples of committers that are paid to work on the projects, but never by the foundation themselves, but rather by companies or institutions that use the software and want to enhance it or maintain it. Note that the ASF does contract out various services, including accounting, Press and Media relations, and infrastructure system administration.

I love that so many open office projects, including the Document Foundation/LibreOffice, have a commitment to their program being delivered by volunteers rather than paid staff, NOT because they want to save money, but because of the nature of their program itself, which they believe is best delivered by volunteers. They believe volunteer engagement is community engagement and that volunteers are the best people for program delivery – a radical idea I’ve promoted to a lot of nonprofits and gotten a LOT of pushback for.

One of the things I love about these FOSS efforts fueled by thousands of online volunteers all over the world is that they involve volunteers based on what they call meritocracy: new volunteers start by completing microvolunteering tasks, such as sending little patches for problems with the software they find, or sending helpful suggestions regarding improving the software, or replying to official online discussions about the software. Their micro contributions are valuable and consistent. When they have proven themselves to be reliable, trustworthy and helpful, they may be asked for more substantial contributions, or they may offer to take on a larger task themselves, and then complete it successfully. The core group of volunteers may feel the person has proven him or herself as a volunteer, that their commitment to the project is genuine and ongoing, and, therefore, their contributions merit their full inclusion in the development community, granting them direct access to the code repository and to conversations with other volunteers. This increases the number of volunteers and increases the ability of the group to develop the program, and to maintain and develop it more effectively. It’s a method of volunteer screening and recognition, all in one!

So, with all that said… can OpenOffice be saved? Yes – as long as the Apache Software Foundation leadership can make a strong case for OpenOffice to not only Microsoft, but LibreOffice as well. If they can, then attracting new volunteers is relatively easy – at least it would be for, say, me, to develop a very effective recruitment strategy for such, if they have a commitment to carrying it out. OpenOffice was downloaded more than 29 million times in 2015 – that to me says there is a lot of interest in this initiative continuing. Oh how I would love to help them make it so…

Kentucky, Tennessee, other parts of USA need digital access help

logoBack in the 1990s, I got into a heated debate somewhere online with someone who said community technology centers and computer literacy programs would be gone by the turn of the century. I knew there would always be a need for such groups, at least in my lifetime. And, sadly, I was right.

I love my home state of Kentucky oh-so-much. I lived there until I was 22, and really enjoy visiting whenever I can. I plan on retiring there some day. I think it’s an amazing state. But I also know that Kentucky has quite a few people who are under-educated, even illiterate, that are living in poverty, that are struggling with nutritional needs, health care, dental care and more. And when it comes to Internet speed, Kentucky is stuck in the slow lane – this story is from 2014, but not much has changed 2 years later.

But in addition, Kentucky, and its neighbor, Tennessee, don’t have many computer literacy projects or digital equity programs outside of its grade schools. Seniors, people in their 40s and over struggling with unemployment, and many others in those two states lack computer literacy skills: they don’t know how to use word processing programs, they don’t understand the Internet, they don’t understand online safety, and they may not even understand what’s installed on their smart phones. The nearest NetSquared group for Kentucky or Tennessee? St. Louis. Chicago. Columbus. Atlanta. Hundreds of miles away for most people in those two states. SeniorNet doesn’t serve either state. There is nothing in Kentucky or Tennessee – and probably a lot of other US states – like there is in big US cities known for their tech-savviness, or even like there is in many large cities in Africa. Portland, Oregon has FreeGeek and an NTEN Nonprofit Tech Club, Austin, Texas has Austin FreeNet and also an NTEN Nonprofit Tech Club, and San Francisco has more programs helping various communities with digital empowerment than I care to try to list here. Heck, I even discovered the Crook County, Oregon Mobile Computer Lab in Paulina, Oregon on a motorcycle ride a few years ago.

Not that there aren’t organizations expressing the need for such in these two states – and others, probably. ElderServe in Louisville needs a volunteer to teach basic computer skills such as how to operate a computer, email, Google, Facebook, etc. to its senior participants. The Louisville, Kentucky public library hosts computer literacy classes at many of their sites. Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee has computer classes for clients. in Nashville.

Does the University of Kentucky do anything regarding building the digital literacy of high-poverty communities or under-served people? Western Kentucky University? Eastern Kentucky University? Murray State University? University of Tennessee? Middle Tennessee State University? University of Memphis? Vanderbilt? Not that I could find. I used the names of these universitys, or the largest cities in these two states, and phrases like digital literacy, computer training elderly, and computer literacy at-risk teens to search.

Computer literacy projects, digital equity programs, “access for all” groups, geeks4good initiatives – even in 2016, these kinds of initiatives are still needed, not just in developing countries, but right here in the USA, and not just in Kentucky and Tennessee. I have no doubt that such initiatives could easily recruit qualified, committed onsite and online volunteers in these areas, and attract funding. There are lots of people that would love to teach classes, market the classes, find places for the classes, and build web sites for programs providing these services. Photos of seniors, rural people, at-risk youth and others engaged in these programs, and their testimonials after their participation, would be oh-so-attractive to sponsors.

If you want to start such a program in Kentucky, Tennesee, or wherever you are, there are lots of resources to help you:

  • NetSquared
  • Start a Cyber Seniors program
  • See the San Francisco Bay Area’s Community Technology Network for a model program
  • Archived web pages from CTC Net and its members: go to and search for and look at any of the web pages from mid 2005 and look up the CTCNet Center Start Up Manual and the CTC Toolkit, with resources regarding
    preparing a business plan, identifying potential partners, determining program focus, staffing, evaluation, budgeting and funding
  • United Nations Information Technology Service (UNITeS) contributions to the UNESCO Multimedia Training Kit, a list of the content UNITeS provided UNESCO in 2005. The overall kit was meant to provide trainers in telecentres, community media organizations, civil society organizations and the development sector with a set of modular training materials on information communications technologies; the materials were intended for use by trainers in face-to-face workshops rather than for self-instruction by learners. UNITeS contributions were regarding volunteer engagement in these community tech initiatives.

And I hope if you do start such an initiative, you will share information about such in the comments below!

Update: for clarification, I’m talking about digital literacy and access for all citizens – I’m not talking about a company hiring people to code or expanding its company operations in either state.

April 17, 2017 update: on a related note: “Tennessee will literally be paying AT&T to provide a service 1000 times slower than what Chattanooga could provide without subsidies.”

Screening applicants by reviewing their online activities

Is it appropriate to screen employees, consultants or volunteers using Google or Bing online searches, or searches on social media? It depends on so many things…

If that person is going to act in a capacity where they regularly represent the organization to the public, particularly through the press, or the person is going to interact with vulnerable populations – children, people with disabilities, women that have been the targets of domestic violence, people with dementia, etc. – yes, it’s completely legitimate to look them up online, to see what comes up. But you have to think clearly about what it is you are looking for. A person being politically active online, or expressing opinions online should not automatically exclude someone from working for you. Susan Ellis and I discuss this at length in The LAST Virtual Volunteering Guidebook,.

In 2012, this inquiry and response appeared in Dear Prudence, an advice column in Slate. It’s a good illustration of an online screening process going way, way too far:

Dear Prudence,

I’m in human resources at an organization with a conservative culture. As part of vetting candidates, I Google them, check Facebook, etc., to see if there is anything of an embarrassing nature. One young woman candidate, age 23, has me stymied. She has a professional-quality website chronicling her many accomplishments and a perfectly innocent Twitter account. Her recommendations are lovely. But everything on the Web about her has happened since 2009, the year she graduated from college. No Facebook account, no Myspace. I find this weird. I have never known a person under 25 who wasn’t all over the Web in high school and college. I thought of asking her, but if she’s clever enough to sanitize a Web presence, wouldn’t she have a story ready, too? I don’t want make unfair assumptions or ask an inappropriate question, but I also don’t want to be the idiot who hired someone who was in a sex scandal and have my career go down in flames. Should I take a chance? Is there a perfectly logical explanation I have not thought of?

Here is the response from Prudence, which I think is brilliant:

Dear Stumped,

How amazing that someone might get rejected for a job because the Internet is not full of her idiotic, juvenile activities. Think about how silly it sounds that you would find it reassuring if there were Facebook pictures of her at drunken frat parties or if you could read her deepest Myspace thoughts from high school. As hard as it may be to accept, some people just aren’t that interested in social media and their absence from it does not signify that they were part of an underage sex ring. In doing your due diligence you’ve discovered that as this young woman launched her career, she has a created a professional presence on the Web. She sounds exactly like the kind of person your conservative company would welcome. Don’t punish her because you can’t find evidence of something she has to hide.

Also, remember that some people may have two accounts on the same platform, one for their professional activities and one for, say, their Princess Leia cosplay activities. If you try to friend an employee or volunteer on Facebook, and are rejected, that could be because the person really wants to keep their personal life separate from their professional or public life, not because they are trying to hide anything.

Also, remember that there are many, many people with the same name. I’m stunned at how many people have my name too. I’ve never been to Albuquerque and was not in New Mexico in 1997. Yet, do a search on me with particular phrasing, and this comes up (not that rescuing sheep would preclude me from volunteering):another jayne cravens

Okay, one more thing to remember: search engine results can be misleading. For instance, a Google search of my name back in 2013 generated this link, which makes it look like I’ve been arrested (I haven’t – EVER):


This newspaper published information about a training I was leading back in my home town in Kentucky, but the Google result also captured other information on the same page in that newspaper, like a story about a woman who was arrested on an alcohol-related charge. To the untrained eye, it looks like it’s me! But you would know that only if you clicked on the link. Remember this when you are researching a new employee, consultant or volunteer online!


There are lots more suggestions and specifics about risk management, interviewing and screening online volunteers and setting boundaries for relationships in virtual volunteering among volunteers and between volunteers and staff and clients in The LAST Virtual Volunteering Guidebook, available both as a traditional printed book and as a digital book. Our advice is focused on working with online / remote volunteers, but it applies to working with any volunteers, including those who will do all of their service onsite, under the supervision of staff or another volunteer. Our advice is based on many years of working with online volunteers ourselves, consulting with people working with volunteers, and reading all we can, both in research and in the news, regarding working with volunteers and legal challenges around employee use of social media.

Also see:

Safety in virtual volunteering

Why You SHOULD Separate Your Personal Life & Professional Life Online

Keeping volunteers safe – & keeping everyone safe with volunteers

Why don’t they tell? Would they at your org?

volunteer managers: you are NOT psychic!

Safety of volunteers contributes to a shelter closing

Promises & Pitfalls of Global Health Volunteering

Dr. Judith Lasker, a professor at Lehigh University, published Hoping to Help: The Promises and Pitfalls of Global Health Volunteering” in January 2016. I have not read it. According to The New York Times review of the book, Dr. Lasker presents data from a few hundred programs that coordinate mostly short-term assignments (lasting weeks rather than months), gleaned from several surveys, dozens of interviews and some brief trips of her own. She did not look at large organizations like Doctors Without Borders , which are organized differently and generally do not use unpaid volunteers or, if they do, require much longer commitments for assignments.

“There is little evidence that short-term volunteer trips produce the kinds of transformational changes that are often promised,” Dr. Lasker finds. Of course, not all short-term volunteering is the same, but Dr. Lasker says the criticisms must be taken seriously, and that the most frequently published critiques have appeared in medical journals, which address the ethical problem of allowing medical students to work far beyond their training in communities with few resources. I would love to see some of these academic articles!

Sadly, few of these programs have been evaluated in terms of their impact on the communities where they serve. While the impact of surgical programs can be obvious and dramatic, efforts at screening for disease and disease prevention are often far less so. A representative of one program memorably told Dr. Lasker that they “just know” their work makes a difference, while a sizable minority of programs attempt no formal analysis of their achievements. Lasker asked for such and was in for a shock: “I did not expect how often the evaluation question seems to take people by surprise.” According to the Times, more than one of Dr. Lasker’s sources mused that the most beneficial aspect of the volunteer effort might be the cash infused into a community from the fees volunteers usually pay.

In addition, this short-term volunteering can lead to LESS understanding by volunteers of poverty. In an interview about the book, she notes that some participants come back with what she calls “bad learning,” and saying: “Poor people are so happy; they smiled, and sang and danced, and they don’t mind being poor”, stereotypes about poverty “based on spending a week where you don’t understand the language and where you only talk to people through translators.” (Also see: Extreme poverty is not beautiful)

“The developing world has become a playground for the redemption of privileged souls looking to atone for global injustices by escaping the vacuity of modernity and globalization.”

Dr. Lasker says, “Ultimately, my goal is not to advocate for all volunteering or to call for its dismantling. Rather, I hope to contribute to making it more effective and valuable to all concerned.” I feel exactly the same when I write about such.

Also see this story about lessons from the book Dr. Lasker teachers in one of her classes. And this blog by Dr. Lasker, “Orphanage visits–are they ever okay?”

And also see my own blogs on similar subjects:

The importance of Twitter lists

Twitter_logo_blueAs I said in a recent blog, called the awesome power of Tweet tags, I am still a huge fan of Twitter. As I said in that blog, I still get so much more out of Twitter than Facebook, professionally:

  • I get a great sense of what folks are doing in the areas of expertise and work I care about most
  • I can easily find and connect with amazing experts in areas of expertise and work in which I’m intensely interested
  • I can find what I’m looking for and easily screen out what I don’t care about
  • When I tweet, I get replies and retweets and even requests for more info – real engagement – as well as traffic to my blog and web site

Of course you should follow me on Twitter: @jcravens42

But you should also be aware of another way to leverage Twitter for your nonprofit, government or other mission-based organization or program: creating and sharing Twitter lists, where you curate accounts based on some aspect of your program’s mission or location. For instance:

  • an animal shelter should have a public Twitter list of other shelters and animal rescue groups in the area, and another list of accounts tweeting credible information regarding animal care and training
  • a small college or university should have a Twitter list of its own departments, faculty and students using Twitter to talk about their university work
  • a police department should have a Twitter list of other law enforcement agencies in the area and nearby, and another list of accounts by nonprofits addressing issues that contribute to crime prevention (homeless shelters, drug treatment centers, programs to help teens, etc.)
  • a city office should have a Twitter list of other city offices
  • a public school should have a Twitter list of registered nonprofits in the area focused on youth
  • a water and sanitation program in a developing country should have a Twitter list of similar programs in other countries, so staff can look for ideas they can use in their own area, and have a list of programs and organizations in-country that have funded or might fund the WATSAN program
  • an association of managers of volunteers should have a list of all of the nonprofits in the area with Twitter accounts, another list of all student groups at local colleges and universities in the area that regularly engage in public service, and another list of all civic groups in the area using Twitter.

Creating Twitter lists and sharing them with the public affirms an organization’s mission, establishes a program as a leader regarding that mission, creates valuable resources for people you are trying to serve, and creates another way for you to attract Twitter followers. It also makes it much easier for you to be able to check in with what’s happening with specific audiences – instead of following them all on Twitter, you put accounts on lists, and then read those lists when it’s time to catch up on a particular area of interest to you.

Here’s a good example: Northwest Oregon Volunteer Administrators Association (NOVAA) has several Twitter lists. One is made up of nonprofits in the greater Portland, Oregon area that tweet, a list of people tweeting about the management of volunteers, and a list of people and organizations that tweet about volunteerism and volunteer recruitment. By having such lists and sharing them with the public, NOVAA is helping promote its brand as an organization that can help organizations in the area, including nonprofits, schools and government agencies, regarding effective volunteer engagement. What would be great is if they also had a list of all public officials in the area, or that represent the area, that are on Twitter, so that they could easily follow what those people might be saying regarding volunteers and NOVAA members could more easily contact those representatives regarding volunteerism.

Here’s another good example: United Way of the Columbia-Willamette, also in Portland, Oregon. One of its Twitter lists is of its partner organizations on Twitter. Another list is of organizations focused on helping people and families work towards financial stability. Like NOVAA, they also have compiled a list of nonprofits in the greater Portland, Oregon area that tweet. So UW is using its Twitter lists to both promote nonprofits in the area and help people in the area find the services at nonprofits they need – in short, they are using Twitter lists as a part of their mission to “improve lives, strengthen communities and advance equity by mobilizing the caring power of people across our metro area.”

Here’s how it works for me: I maintain several public Twitter lists – lists of people and organizations that regularly tweet about subjects of interest to me. These lists affirm my areas of expertise and my interests as a professional, help establish me as a leader regarding some of these areas, and create valuable resources for people and organizations with whom I want to connect in some way. It also cuts down on how many people I have to follow on Twitter;  instead, I can put people and organizations on various lists, by subject matter, geography, whatever, and then check in with those lists as I like. I pick one or two of my lists a day, and then spend a few minutes going through the tweets of that list.

For instance, there’s my Tech4Good ICT4D, a list of people and organizations that regularly tweet regarding computers and the Internet used to help people, communities and the environment. Or my ework evolunteer list, which tracks people and programs tweeting about telework, telecommuting, remote work, virtual teams, distributed teams, virtual volunteering, etc. Or my CSR  list, which is made up of corporations that tweet about their philanthropic and social responsibility activities, and people and organizations that tweet regarding corporate social responsibility. My several public Twitter lists become both ways to brand my interests and expertise as well as a way to offer resources that others might find useful.

Take Twitter to the next level: make it not only an outreach and engagement tool, make it something that promotes your program through the lists you curate!

Also see: