Tag Archives: innovation

Learning From The ‘Not-So-Nice’ Volunteers

graphic by Jayne Cravens representing volunteersI am trying to find and revive some of the most popular articles and commentaries I’ve written over the years that were hosted on other people’s web sites, many of which are now only available on archive.org, and then only if you can remember the URL of the defunct site.

In 2004, I was invited by Mary Merrill to write a column for her December Topic of the Month. My topic was:

Learning From The ‘Not-So-Nice’ Volunteers

The premise: we have a lot to learn from the “not-so-nice volunteers”, the people who are putting their time and energy into defending human rights, addressing social ills, and battling institutions who they feel are attacking their quality of life or an element of their community that they treasure. And we have a lot to learn from the people who manage such volunteers.

I’ve reposted that article on my own site.


Tech & communications jargon versus reality

The Guardian, a media organization based in the UK, has a wonderful online program called the Global Professionals Network, “a space for NGOs, aid workers and development professionals to share knowledge and expertise”. They also have an occasional feature called “The Secret Aidworker,” a column written by anonymous aid workers, talking about the not-so-great parts of humanitarian work.

The most recent blog is an aid worker talking about the “dark side” of humanitarian / development communications. Like me, she trained as a journalist, and it affects both her approach and her ethics regarding public relations and marketing. I was so struck by these two paragraphs from her blog:

The international community is too focused on using gimmicks in outreach campaigns rather than considering who their audience is and what they want. I was recently asked to design an outreach campaign to educate the local community we work in about the work we do. So keeping in mind the low literacy rate of our audience and the limited access they have to online and print media, I designed a communications campaign accordingly. However, that was considered old and outdated.

For my organisation, the use of new technology such as apps and social media held priority over the local regional media, even though I explained much of these were inaccessible to the people we were trying to reach. Too often people think that if a country has access to the internet and mobile phones, every one has access. They don’t consider the cost of mobile data, the literacy rate, or if the locals would even use their devices the same way as in the US and Europe.

Oh, I SO hear this! Not just in humanitarian work, but in all communications work for nonprofits, governments and other mission-based organizations, anywhere. I hear from nonprofits wanting to explore using SnapChat that haven’t updated their web site in months.They want to host a hackathon to develop an app while their manager of volunteers is refused money for posters for a volunteer recruitment campaign. They want to know the best engagement analytics software to purchase while their online community is quiet for weeks, with no staff posting questions, no volunteers sharing information, etc. They want a crowdsourced fundraising campaign but haven’t sent thank you’s to donors this year. They want a viral online marketing campaign to promote something but balk at the idea of a staff person visiting area communities of faith and civic clubs to build personal relationships with local people, especially groups that represent minorities that are under-represented within the organization’s volunteer, client and donor base.

Anyone who knows me knows that I have long been a promoter and advocate of ICT4D. I wrote one of the first papers – back in 2001 – about handheld devices, what were then called PDAs (personal digital assistants), in health and human services, citizens’ reporting, advocacy, etc. I am a pioneer regarding virtual volunteering. I use, and advise on the use of, social media to promote a variety of information and network with others. I regularly post to TechSoup’s Public Computing, ICT4D, and Tech4Good community forum branch about apps4good – smart phone applications meant to educate people about maternal health, help women leave abusive relationships, connect people with emergency housing and more. So I certainly cannot be accused of being a Luddite. But with all that said, I also still see the value of, and know how to leverage, printed flyers, printed posters, paper newsletters, lawn signs, newspaper ads, radio ads, radio interviews, TV interviews, TV ads, onsite speaking engagements, display tables, display booths and other “old fashioned” ways of communicating.

This aid workers blog reminds me of the early days of the World Wide Web, when I would hear an executive director of a nonprofit or the director of a government program talk about how great the agency’s new web site was, but as they talked, I realized they’d never looked at it themselves, and weren’t really fully aware of what the Internet was.

wizardToo many senior staff are bedazzled by buzzwords and jargon they’ve heard from consultants, giving their employees orders to do something based only on what they think is “hip” now. I am just as frustrated by organizations that overly-focus on the latest social media fads for communications as I am by organizations that ignore all things Internet and smart phone-related.

What should you do if you face this in the work place? Use small words and lots of data with your senior staff, and stay tenacious. Remember that a list of potential expenses and budgets for time can make a case for you to do a comprehensive, realistic communications plan. And be explicit and detailed on how your communications efforts will be evaluated for effectiveness.

My other blogs that relate to this:

Firsts… or almost

logoI didn’t invent virtual volunteering. I started involving online volunteers in 1995, and did a workshop that same year about it for what was then the Nonprofit Center of San Francisco (now Compasspoint), but I didn’t know it was called virtual volunteering, a term coined by Steve Glikbarg at what was then Impact Online (now VolunteerMatch), until more than a year later. I know, and frequently remind people, that online volunteers have been providing services to various causes since the Internet was invented, long before I got online in the 90s. But I was the first to try to identify elements of successful engagement of online volunteers, via the Virtual Volunteering Project, I think I was the first to do a workshop on the subject, even if I didn’t call it that, and I’m very proud of that.

I didn’t write the first paper on using handheld computer tech as a part of humanitarian, environmental or advocacy efforts – I wrote the second. At least I think it was second. It was published in October 2001 as a series of web pages when I worked at the UN, at a time when handheld tech was called personal digital assistants, or PDAs. People are shocked that the predecessor to the smartphone and cellphone was used to help address a variety of community, environmental and social issues before the turn of the century, that apps4good isn’t all that novel of an idea.

And I probably didn’t write the first papers on fan-based communities that come together because of a love of a particular movie, TV show, comic, actor, book or genre and, amid their socializing, also engage in volunteering. Those kinds of communities played a huge role in my learning how to communicate online with various age groups and people of very different backgrounds, which in turn greatly influenced how I worked with online volunteers. In fact, I can still see some influences of that experience in The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook. But I stopped researching them in 1999. So I was quite thrilled to recently to find this paper, “The media festival volunteer: Connecting online and on-ground fan labor,” in my research to update a page on the Virtual Volunteering wiki that tracks research that’s been done regarding virtual volunteering. It’s a 2014 paper by Robert Moses Peaslee, Jessica El-Khoury, and Ashley Liles, and uses data gathered at Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, in September 2012. It is published on Transformative Works and Cultures, an online journal launched in 2009 that looks at various aspects of fan fiction (fan-created fiction inspired by their favorite movies, TV shows and books), comic book fandom, movie fandom, video game fandom, comic and fan conventions, and more.

It’s nice being a pioneer… though I don’t think my early contributions are much to brag about. But I do enjoy seeing things I thought were interesting back in the 90s finally getting the attention they deserve.

Also see

Early History of Nonprofits & the Internet.

Apps4Good movement is more than 15 years old

vvbooklittleThe Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook, a book decades in the making, by Susan J. Ellis and myself. Tools come and go, but certain community engagement principles never change, and our book can be used with the very latest digital engagement initiatives and “hot” new technologies meant to help people volunteer, advocate for causes they care about, connect with communities and make a difference.

Fewer Pilots, More Scale: Making Digital Development Work

Back in September 2014, I starting whining about the lack of anything sustainable coming from most of the hackathons / hacks4good / apps4good I was seeing popping up all over in support of nonprofit organizations, government initiatives and various communities, in the USA and abroad. My whining culminated in this blog, where are the evaluations of hacksforgood / appsforgood?

I’m so pleased to see this outstanding blog (IMO) by Ann Mei Chang, Executive Director at U.S. Global Development Lab at USAID, which says, in part:

“despite the potential impact, distorted incentives encourage one-off, flashy pilots (many sourced through hackathons, contests, and PR opportunities), undermining the potential for sustainable and scalable digital solutions. In fact, the proliferation of duplicative and uncoordinated mobile health applications caused an overwhelmed Uganda Ministry of Health to call a moratorium on further efforts in 2012, to ensure a focus on interoperable and sustainable systems… (in developing countries, there is) a lack of relevant platforms and infrastructure (that) means that developers end up spending the vast majority of their time rebuilding similar components from scratch, ending up with less time and money to truly innovate. Too much time and effort is wasted on duplicative work like beneficiary registration and tracking, negotiating and integrating with mobile operators, and promotion and distribution. The result is one-off systems that are fragile, unintegrated, not designed to scale, and unsustainable.

“This cannot continue. The development community needs to invest in reusable systems and the collaboration necessary to build and use these systems. This will mean smarter solutions designed for scale and sustainability.”

Right on, Ann Mei Chang & USAID!

In addition, Ben Ramalingam’s recent Institute of Development Studies blog points out that responsible digital development must also consider the risks of unintended consequences, exaggerating existing inequities, security, and repression.

USAID helped draft the Principles for Digital Development, a set of best practices for building technology-enabled programs, starting with the user. The Principles have been endorsed by over 50 development organizations, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Sida, UNICEF, WFP, and USAID. In February, USAID launched a report based on conversations with donors, implementing partners, and development practitioners to better understand how the Principles work in real-world contexts and how we can best integrate them into our organizations.

Also see:


UNICEF invites orgs to apply for funding for tech innovations to help children

global_logo_2013UNICEF is inviting technology organizations developing tech solutions with the potential to improve the lives of the world’s most vulnerable children to apply for funding from its recently launched Innovation Fund.

UNICEF Innovation Fund plans to invest in open source technologies by increasing children’s access to information, opportunity and choice. UNICEF identifies opportunities from countries around the world including some that may not see a lot of capital investment in technology start-ups. They are hoping to identify communities of problem-solvers and help them develop simple solutions to some of the most pressing problems facing children.

The fund focuses its investments on three portfolio areas:

  • Products for youth under 25 to address a range of needs including learning and youth participation;
  • Real-time information for decision-making; and
  • Infrastructure to increase access to services and information, including connectivity, power, finance, sensors and transport.

The projects must be open source and have a working prototype. They can involve developing a new technology, or expanding or improve upon a preexisting technology.

Key Dates

  • 1 February 2016: Launch of global Requests for Expressions of Interest
  • 26 February 2016: Closing date of the Requests for Expressions of Interest
  • Early-March 2016: Selected companies and institutions will be contacted and will receive a Request for Proposal
  • Mid-March 2016: Virtual or in-person pre-tender briefings with selected companies and institutions will be held
  • End-March 2016: Full technical and financial proposals are due from selected companies and institutions
  • Early-April: Contracts will be awarded to selected companies and institutions

More information about the challenge and how to submit an idea.

For more information about UNICEF’s work in innovation, visit: www.unicef.org/innovation and www.unicefstories.org

Follow on Twitter: @UNICEFinnovate

Also see this TechSoup thread about UNICEF’s Wearables for Good Challenge 


Wearables for Good Challenge by UNICEF

The Apple Watch, the Fitbit, Google Glass and many other wearable tech are luxuries for tech-savvy consumers. But could wearable tech be used for diagnosing deadly diseases, monitoring pregnant mothers’ health, tracking air quality, alerting people with “push notifications” or warning of an earthquake’s early vibrations?

UNICEF, in partnership with the microprocessor company ARM and the design firm Frog, is hosting the Wearables for Good Challenge. Blair Palmer, innovation lab lead at UNICEF, says in this summary story from DevEx that UNICEF’s interest in convening the challenge is to “ask these questions and provoke the industry and people to think differently on a global level and not just have these things come out of Silicon Valley. The wearables challenge seeks applications that can provide low-power, unintrusive, highly durable solutions in low-income settings, and many sensor technologies fit that bill. Close to 1 billion more people are expected to come online by 2017, and UNICEF is taking note, Palmer said.

The challenge is now closed to applications. The challenge has garnered 250 submissions from 46 countries across 6 continents, with nearly 2000 registrations from 65 countries. 10 finalists have been selected. Each finalist will then be assigned to work with 1-2 coaches during 2 calendar weeks (10-28 September). Coaches will provide feedback to finalists in order to help hone their ideas for final submission. The challenge partners will award $15,000 to two winning proposals for wearable and sensor products with social impact potential. The winners will be announced by November 2015.

A summary of the finalists:

Communic-AID: A wearable device that facilitates record keeping, aids in the tracking of medications that have been distributed in a post-disaster context and allows the patient to take part in their treatment.

Droplet: a wearable water purification device in the form of a bracelet, to make safe drinking water available to everyone

GuardBand: a system that helps protect children from abuse and observes their health.

Khushi Baby: a wearable platform to bridge the world’s immunization gap is a system for tracking vaccination and mobilization in the last mile.

Raksh: named after the Sanskrit word “safeguard,” this is a low cost (25$) bluetooth-based, ear-worn multi-parameter monitoring platform.

SoaPen: a wearable and portable soap re-designed to encourage hand washing amongst young children to reduce the risk of catching and spreading disease thereby increasing their lifespan.

teleScrypts: seeks to solve the challenge of providing health care workers with advanced healthcare technology in low resource communities at a low cost.

TermoTell: a real time temperature monitor and alert system, designed to save the lives of children under five at risk of Malaria.

Totem Open Health: an open platform and ecosystem for wearable health technology, including: sensors, data collection, storage, sharing, analysis and algorithmic interpretation.

WAAA!: Wearable, Anytime, Anywhere, Apgar is a mobile phone, text-based surveillance service that systematically transmits live APGAR data via soft patch sensors located on a newborn baby.

Follow #WEARABLESFORGOOD and @UNICEFinnovate on Twitter for updates about this and other similar campaigns.

UNDP Technology for Citizen Engagement Challenge

undp tech challengeA key focus of the the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Strategic plan 2014-17 is inclusive and effective democratic governance. “We are committed to supporting citizen participation and engagement in policymaking and governance, to foster more peaceful and inclusive societies.” That’s why UNDP is launching the “Technology for Citizen Engagement Challenge”.

“UNDP invites you to come up with technology-enabled solutions that can help to better engage citizens in addressing some of the challenges faced in our daily lives. UNDP offers both funding of up to $10,000 and mentoring support to help turn the best ideas into reality.” Winning teams will also be invited to attend the 2nd Annual Build Peace through technology conference in Nicosia, Cyprus on 25th & 26th April 2015.

Examples of the use of networked technologies and tech innovations to help narrow the gap between citizens and decision makers that UNDP has supported:

  • In Georgia,  ELVA uses mobile phones to facilitate rapid responses to incidences has led to a restoration of community safety and security in often volatile circumstances.
  • In CyprusHands on Famagusta brings together Greek and Turkish Cypriot architects who use new technology to create a future vision for the divided city of Famagusta.
  • In conflict-torn East Ukraine, UNDP is using a mobile app to crowdsource reports of structural damage, which will in turn, help UNDP help the government plan how to best rebuild.

So what are we looking for?

Do you have an idea for a technology enabled solution that can help to better engage citizens in addressing the following issues?

Common Vision for the Future – How can we use technology to bring together different groups to imagine a common vision for the future? Submit your ideas for how to embrace differing views to find common ground by sharing a vision for the future.

Inclusion through Diversity – How can technology help to diversify the voices that inform policy by embracing more inclusive decision-making processes? Submit your ideas for how to increase dialogue between citizens and decision makers so that a multitude of voices are represented in public policy, including those of women and youth.

Improve access to public services and data – How can we utilize technology to improve access to public services and/or data? Submit your ideas for how better access to services and data can strengthen trust in institutions and encourage greater public participation in decision-making.

Deadline for the submission of ideas is Thursday 5th March – Apply here

Guidelines for applicants

FOLLOW: @UNDPEurasia@UNDPArabStates  and @mahallae on Twitter for updates.


Research Fellow re: in Civil Society Organisations and research, Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility

Closing date: 14-Jan-2015

De Montfort University”s Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility is offering the position of a Research Fellow to work across a number of European and national research projects, including:
GREAT (www.great-project.eu)
RESPONSIBILITY (http://responsibility-rri.eu/?lang=en)
Responsible-Industry (www.responsible-industry.eu)
CONISDER (www.consider-project.eu)
Network Analysis and Simulation of Civil Society Organisations in Research
Human Brain Project (http://www.humanbrainproject.eu/)
DREAM (http://dream2020.eu/)
SATORI (http://satoriproject.eu/)

The CCSR contributions to these projects share the focus on responsible research and innovation (RRI). As research fellow you will be expected to work on specific aspects of these projects and also create synergies between them. You will conduct high quality research, shape the work and take initiatives, and publish the results of the work in high quality outlets and publications. Working closely with leading scholars from a range of disciplines, you will also contribute to the initiation of new research initiatives of the Centre.

Job Details


Tweets from UNDP Ukraine’s Social Good #inno4dev summit

I had the pleasure of live-tweeting the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Ukraine office’s recent Social Good #inno4dev / #2030now summit, highlighting the many excellent tech-for-good initiatives happening all over Ukraine.

Tweets were tagged with #uatech4good, which I’m hoping will catch on as a tag for any tech4good initiative in Ukraine that tweets about their work, including those with no UN-affiliation. If you have a computer, app, Internet or other tech-related projects helping people or causes in Ukraine, please use the #uatech4good tag when you talk about it, so we can know about it!

You can view all of the tweets leading up to the event, and during and after the event here

Here are photos from the Ukraine event as well.

I hope that, for next year, UNDP Ukraine can do something much more ambitious and interactive, that will produce tech4good results by the end of the day, such as any of these activities:

  • A hackathon to build simple, easy-to-manage web sites for NGOs in Ukraine that don’t have a web presence, or need their web sites improved, AND that there is a commitment to make the web sites accessible for people using assistive technologies, ala the Accessibility Internet Rallies by Knowbiliy.org in Austin, Texas – thereby not only creating web sites, but creating awareness re: the needs of people with disabilities on the Internet.
  • An edit-a-thon to improve information on the Ukrainian version of Wikipedia regarding various development issues: HIV/AIDs, women’s empowerment, women’s history, vaccinations, migrants, etc.
  • A workshop about online volunteering for local civil society organizations, and following such, brainstorming with these civil society organizations about ways they could start involving online volunteers right away, and then having onsite volunteers help NGO representatives register on the UN’s online volunteering service and start recruiting for at least one online volunteering task.
  • Workshops on free and open source software (FOSS), how NGOs and civil society can use social media, how government agencies can use social media, etc. how videos can deliver messages that can positively influence/change people’s behavior, etc. (with lots examples from Ukraine), etc.
  • Dispersing IT volunteers throughout the city to help the elderly, women, refugees and other learn how to use particular computer or mobile phone tools.
  • A roundtable discussion – inviting everyone in the room to participate as well – regarding what needs to happen to ensure tech4good initiatives in Ukraine flourish, rather than disappear after just a few days, weeks or months.

My favorite parts of the Social Good Summit preparations and day of the event for Ukraine:

  • This tweet from Robert Rosenthal, regarding a blog I wrote several days ago about how the first UN team I was a part of tried to get the UN excited about various Internet tools, including handheld tech, for use in development way back in 2001.
  • Seeing my Ukrainian friends Artem and Dmytro walk into the room for the Kyiv event – I had gotten to invite them at the last minute, and was really hoping they would be able to present regarding their E+ initiative, which stated as an all-volunteer, spontaneous effort to get urgently-needed medical care for injured Maidan protesters back in January 2014. Initiative E+ continues to help those injured during the Maidan 2014 protests with long-term care, but now has branched out to manage programs for the children of Maidan victims, to provide Ukrainian soldiers injured in fighting in the East with pharmaceuticals and financial support the greatly-weakened Ukrainian government is unable to provide, and to help the children of military veterans. You can read about their activities on the E+ Facebook page  or on this E+ initiative page in EnglishIndeed, Dmytro got to present a bit regarding their initiative (thanks to UNDP for making that happen!).
  • Having a delightful exchange on Facebook with a colleague from Kyrgyzstan that I worked with in Afghanistan, regarding Social Good events by UNDP in his country.

Yet another wonderful work experience from my time in Ukraine!

CSOs: submit proposals by 17 Aug. for USAID & SIDA

The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and USAID announce a request for proposals to participate in the co-creation of a civil society innovation program. Sida and USAID are seeking to work with civil society organizations (CSOs) and other partners who want to contribute to poverty alleviation and democratic development, through innovative initiatives that aim to strengthen civil society. 

The civil society innovation program is part of a broader partnership established in 2013 between the Swedish government and USAID: Science, Technology, Innovation and Partnership (STIP), which aims to promote game-changing innovations with the potential to solve long­ standing development challenges. 

The civil society innovation program seeks new and established approaches to innovatively promote, strengthen, and connect CSOs by fostering systems where groups can access techniques, tools, and technologies to address their most pressing issues. To develop this civil society support mechanism, USAID and Sida seek partners with which to journey through a so called co-creation process. This will potentially result in one or more programs that enhance traditional civil society development assistance through use and scaling up of new and/or proven approaches which address opportunities for civil society development. 

More information is available on the SIDA web page for the civil society innovation program. We recommend that you review the Concept Paper for Civil Society and the Civil Society Innovation Addendum available in the upper right corner of that web page. Please also review the USAID Development Innovation Accelerator Civil Society Innovation Addendum as well as the Dgisio Hubs Illustrative Concept Paper for Civil Society Innovation, both available here.

Please submit your expression of interest in English to:

CivilSocietyInnovation@usaid.gov  by 11:59pm EST, 17 August 2014.