Tag Archives: unv

The legacy of early tech4good initiatives

UNLogoThe Internet changes so quickly. As does our offline world. It’s amazing not only how quickly web sites go away, but how often entire initiatives are scrubbed online as well – even major United Nations initiatives that were covered extensively once-upon-a-time in major media. That’s a big problem if much of your professional work has been for and with online initiatives.

I’ve been working with organizations online since the 1990s, and many of those organizations are long gone. The initiatives I worked with may have gotten coverage from major media outlets and had huge names behind them back in the day – David Bowie, Bill Clinton, Bono, Nelson Mandela and more – and done a lot of great work, but when those initiatives go away, so do their web sites, all their research and all the records of their work – sometimes from the Internet Wayback Machine as well.

You may think outdated information is no longer useful and should go away. The reality is that “old” information is often vitally important. If anything, it often offers baseline data you can use to compare with data now, and together, it shows you, for instance, if the situation has improved for women online, or if the challenges for women getting online are the same now as they were in the 1990s, or if the promises made now regarding technology are the same unrealized promises from 20 or 30 years ago, and on and on. Having access to old information can also help you avoid previous missteps – or rediscover something that never should have gone away that you can use now.

If you can remember a defunct initiative’s web site address, you can often find archived versions of the site at archive.org, a site I use at least a few times a month. But if you can’t remember a defunct initiative’s URL, you may never be able to find deleted information again. And, as has already been noted, archive.org may not have the web site; sometimes, new owners of an organization ask for old web sites to be taken down, and the site complies.

Early in 2016, I started spending a lot of time updating various pages on Wikipedia related to subjects of greatest interest to me, including several defunct tech4good initiatives. Many times, when I’m trying to find information about a now-defunct volunteering or tech initiative, a Google or Bing search leads me to a page on Wikipedia, but the information isn’t always up-to-date or complete. When I can improve an entry, I do. But a big problem with Wikipedia is that someone can come along at any time and rewrite and delete all of your hard work – or even delete an entire page you have relied on for reference for modern research projects and proposals. I’ll keep updating Wikipedia, but I’ve realized there’s a need to create a more permanent archive of some of the volunteering and tech initiatives with which I’ve been associated, as well as those that I know did great work in the past.

So I have created the following pages on my own web site, to more permanently capture this information. Some pages are just summaries, while other sections are comprehensive. Whenever possible, I’ve included the original URLs, so that you can use archive.org to see complete web sites of these initiatives yourself, if they are there at all. I hope this info is helpful to those who worked on such initiatives in the past and would like to reference this work, as well as helpful to those doing research on the impact of nonprofit/NGO tech use, tech4good, ICT4D, volunteering and other initiatives.

I also hope these pages will be a caution to those who launching so-called disruptive technologies, or a tech tool or management approach the designers believe is entirely new and innovative, or a tool or approach with some pie-in-the-sky promises: always look at what’s been done before. You might be surprised to find that what you were promising now, or think you invented, was talked about many years ago:

United Nations Tech4Good / ICT4D Initiatives, a list of the various UN initiatives that have been launched since 2000 to promote the use of computers, feature phones, smart phones and various networked devices in development and humanitarian activities, to promote digital literacy and equitable access to the “information society,” and to bridge the digital divide. My goal in creating this page is to help researchers, as well as to remind current UN initiatives that much work regarding ICT4D has been done by various UN employees, consultants and volunteers for more than 15 years (and perhaps longer?).

United Nations Technology Service (UNITeS), a global volunteer initiative created by Kofi Annan in 2000. UNITeS both supported volunteers applying information and communications technologies for development (ICT4D) and promoted volunteerism as a fundamental element of successful ICT4D initiatives. It was administered by the UN Volunteers program, part of UNDP, and during the tenure of UNITeS, the UNV program helped place and/or support more than 300 volunteers applying ICT4D in more than 50 developing countries, including 28 Least Developed Countries (LDC), making it one of the largest volunteering in ICT4D initiatives. Part of the UNITeS mandate was to try to track all of the various tech volunteering initiatives and encourage them to share their best practices and challenges with each other. UNITeS was discontinued as an active program in 2005.

What Was NetAid?
A history of the NetAid initiative, part of which became the UN’s Online Volunteering service. This is what I was referring to specifically with all that name-dropping at the start of this blog.

Lessons from onlinevolunteering.org
Some key learnings from directing the UN’s Online Volunteering service from February 2001 to February 2005, when I directed the initiative, including support materials for those using the service to host online volunteers. This material, most of which I authored, was recently removed from the latest version of the OV service.

Tech Volunteer Groups / ICT4D Volunteers
A list of tech volunteering initiatives, some defunct, some still going strong, that recruit tech experts to volunteer their time support either local nonprofit organizations or NGOs in developing countries regarding computer hardware, software and Internet tech-related tasks.

The Virtual Volunteering Project
In 1995, a then-new nonprofit organization called Impact Online, based in Palo Alto, California, began promoting the idea of virtual volunteering, a phrase that was probably first used by one of Impact Online’s co-founders, Steve Glikbarg. In 1996, Impact Online received a grant from the James Irvine Foundation to launch an initiative to research the practice of virtual volunteering and to promote the practice to nonprofit organizations in the United States. This new initiative was dubbed the Virtual Volunteering Project, and the Web site was launched in early 1997. After one year, the Virtual Volunteering Project moved to the Charles A. Dana Center at The University of Texas at Austin, and Impact Online became VolunteerMatch. I directed the project from December 1996 through January 2001, when I left for the UN; the project was then discontinued. This is an archive of the Virtual Volunteering Project web site just before I left.

Early History of Nonprofits & the Internet
The Internet has always been about people and organizations networking with each other, sharing ideas and comments, and collaborating online. It has always been interactive and dynamic. And there were many nonprofit organizations who “got” it early — earlier than many for-profit companies. So I’ve attempted to set the record straight: I’ve prepared a web page that talks about the early history of nonprofits and the Internet. It focuses on 1995 and previous years. It talks a little about what nonprofits were using the cyberspace for as well at that time and lists the names of key people and organizations who helped get nonprofit organizations using the Internet in substantial numbers in 1995 and before. Edits and additions are welcomed.

Also see:

Incredibly Sad News re Gary Chapman Internet Pioneer

This article from the Nonprofit Quarterly about nonprofits losing critical archives as tech changes rapidly. In the article, the Atlantic is quoted:

Digital space is finite and expensive. Digitally stored data can become corrupted and decay as electrical charges used to encode information into binary bits leak out over time, altering the contents. And any enduring information could be lost if the software to access it becomes obsolete. Or a potent, well-timed coronal mass ejection could cause irreparable damage to electronic systems.

Deriding the monetary value of volunteer hours: my mission in life?

moneysignsDuring a presentation on volunteers at a local government agency that I attended a few weeks ago, the program manager proudly noted that the agency’s volunteer contributions are the equivalent of 21 full time employees, and gave a value of their time at more than a million dollars, based on the dollar value per hour promoted by the Independent Sector. That was one of her very first points in her presentation, and this was the ONLY reason offered during the entire session as to why this agency involves volunteers; she then went on to what volunteers do.

I wonder how the agency’s volunteers would feel to know that they are involved because they replace paid staff? Because they “save money”?

This agency said the greatest value of volunteers is that they are unpaid and mean the agency doesn’t have to hire people to do those tasks. I have so many, many examples on my blog and web site – linked at the end of this blog – regarding why those statements lead to outrage, and how they actually devalue volunteer engagement. These statements reinforce the old-fashioned ideas that volunteers are free (they are not; there are always costs associated with involving volunteers) and that the number of hours contributed by volunteers is the best measure of volunteer program success (quantity rather than quality and impact).

Put this in contrast to a paper on volunteer resource management practices in hospitals which I read today. The post about it on LinkedIn promotes this quote, “volunteers contribute greatly to personalizing, humanizing and demystifying hospitalization.” The paper, “Hospital administrative characteristics and volunteer resource management practices” is by Melissa Intindola, Sean Rogers, Carol Flinchbaugh and Doug Della Pietra and the description never once mentions the value of volunteers as being a monetary value for their hours, money saved, employees replaced, or any other old-fashioned statements to tout why volunteers are involved. I haven’t read the entire paper (it’s $30 – not in the budget right now), and maybe they do talk about these values, but from the summaries of the paper, it sounds like they understand the far better reasons for volunteer engagement, and that this understanding guides their recommendationss.

I’m not opposed to using a monetary value for volunteer hours altogether, but it should never, EVER, be shown as the primary reason volunteers are involved, or even the secondary reason to involve volunteers. If a monetary value is used, it should always come with MANY disclaimers, and should follow all of the other, better, more important reasons the agency involves volunteers. It should come many pages after the mission statement for the volunteer program and the results of volunteer engagement that have nothing to do with money saved.

Years of whining about this has paid off: the Independent Sector noticed yesterday and tweeted some responses to me. Not sure why it took so many years for them to notice my oh-so-public whining, particularly since I tagged them on Twitter every now and again…

I guess it’s time to again recommend this new book, Measuring the Impact of Volunteers: A Balanced and Strategic Approach, by ChristineBurych, Alison Caird, Joanne Fine Schwebel, Michael Fliess and Heather Hardie. This book is an in-depth planning tool, evaluation tool and reporting tool. As I wrote in my blog about this book, “I really hope this book will also push the Independent Sector, the United Nations, other organizations and other consultants to, at last, abandon their push of a dollar value as the best measurement of volunteer engagement.”

Also see:

UN innovation events show how far they’ve come re: ICT4D

The change is stunning. And welcomed.

Back in 2001, my first year working as an employee of the United Nations, I was a part of a little department of six people (and various interns over the years) within UNDP/UN Volunteers, managing two projects: the Online Volunteering service (then part of NetAid) and the Secretary General’s United Nations Information Technology Service (UNITeS). Our team could not have been more excited to talk about virtual volunteering, technology for development (ICT4D), ICT4D projects by volunteers in the fieldhandheld computer technologies in community service/volunteering/advocacy, citizen-designed tech solutions, using tech to work with remote volunteers, crowd-sourcing for development (though we didn’t call it that then), south-to-south knowledge exchange ONLINE, hacks 4 social change (though we didn’t call it then), and other tech4good activities to anyone who would listen! It was an incredible four years of my life.

Unfortunately, many of our UN colleagues never understood our projects – or our boundless enthusiasm for such. Despite our events, workshops, one-on-one meetings, online resources, singing and dancingdrums, support from the Secretary General, Kofi Annan, whatever else we could think of, our activities were met with eye rolls by many of our colleagues. By the time I left that assignment, the new head of UNV (now long-gone) was proudly proclaiming that most of our initiative’s activities, save the online volunteering service, were finished – not because they had met their goals, but because they weren’t needed, and never had been. Even the UNITeS web site was taken off-line for a few months (hence why I keep a version here). Our team went its separate ways.

UNDP innovation logoNow, 13 years after we came together in Bonn, Germany and tried to get the rest of the UN excited about our crazy ideas, and nine years after most of our activities were ended, it’s fascinating to see UNDP in particular fully embracing those ideas: The UNDP SHIFT campaign, focused on innovation (and many of the ideas we tried to promote back at the start of the century – see graphic at left), is the week of 22 September 2014, headquartered in New York City (the “Social Good” summit) but happening all over the world, including here in Kyiv, Ukraine (details soon!).

We can’t take any credit for this change happening, of course. But my colleagues can feel good to know that we weren’t quite as crazy as people thought we were – we we really were on to something worth pursuing by the UN. We were just a decade or so early!

(although… we were pretty crazy…)

Somewhere, Sharon Capeling-Alakija is smiling.

I’m in Kiev (Kyiv), Ukraine

Yes, I’m in I’m in Kiev (Kyiv), Urkaine for this UN two-month assignment. I hope to blog in-depth about my work soon, but for now, I’m just too busy (it’s only day two here at work) and too tired once I get home. Two things I’m working on: articulating a very big strategy (have to have a draft by next week) and coming up with communications ideas in relation to the global celebrations for World Humanitarian Day (Aug. 19 – follow #humanitarianheroes and visit the official web site for more info).

I am already tweeting a bit – actually, mostly retweeting, re: info from UN agencies here, or information about here, that I’m finding helpful for my work. So follow me on Twitter if you’re interested.

My boss here in Ukraine is very full of energy and ideas! He’s already given me much to do!  

Was pleased to find I’m in the same building as the UN Volunteer program officer and three UNVs! Their work isn’t really the primary focus of my work… but you just KNOW I won’t be able to stay away from them….

International Volunteer Day for Economic and Social Development

December 5 – today – is International Volunteer Day for Economic and Social Development, as declared by the United Nations General Assembly per its resolution 40/212 in 1985.

This is not a day to honor only international volunteers; the international in the title describes the day, not the volunteer. It’s a day to honor, specifically, those volunteers who contribute to economic and social development. Such volunteers deserve their own day. Such volunteers are part of the reason I bristle at all the warm and fuzzy language used about volunteers.

I think it’s a shame to try to turn the day into just another day to celebrate any volunteer — there are plenty of days and weeks to honor all volunteers and encourage more volunteering; why not keep December 5 specifically for volunteers who contribute to economic and social development, per its original intention?

And just to be clear: by volunteer, I mean someone who is not paid for his or her service, and if he or she has a “stipend”, it covers only very essential expenses so the volunteer can give up employment entirely during his or her stint as a volunteer, rather than the stipend being as much, if not more, than some mid and high-level government workers of a country are making. Yes, that’s a dig.

Here’s how I volunteer.