Mobile readyRevised with new information as of December 29, 2016

NetAid logo
A free resource for nonprofit organizations, NGOs, civil society organizations,
public sector organizations, and other mission-based agencies

Jayne Cravens, www.coyotecommunications.com


What Was NetAid?

NetAid was an anti-poverty initiative, started as a joint venture between the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Cisco Systems.
Its web site was www.netaid.org. The initiative no longer exists, though a legacy of the initiative, www.onlinevolunteering.org, continues to this day.
 
NetAid was meant to harness the Internet to raise money and awareness for the Jubilee 2000 campaign, to raise awareness for the challenges in developing countries, and to allow people to volunteer online, donating their skills to help people in the developing world.
NetAid's goal was to make global philanthropy to support developing countries more efficient.

The NetAid web site was launched in September 1999, with President Bill Clinton, Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain and Nelson Mandela, South Africa's former President, logging on. NetAid was globally launched with concerts on October 9, 1999 at Wembley Stadium in London, Giants Stadium in New Jersey and the Palais des Nations in Geneva. Unlike events like BandAid, ''We Are The World'' and Farm Aid, where wealthy entertainers performed and made pleas for the more fortunate to donate money for those with far less, but after the event, the public's commitment to the cause evaporates quickly, NetAid was meant to be far different. NetAid's organizers wanted to create lasting action and impact.

In an October 7, 1999 New York Times article,
Djibril Diallo, then UNDP public affairs director, said ''We want to use the computer to help change how the world looks at poverty and motivate people to help.'' He said UNDP began examining ways of combining music, high technology and altruism more than a year before the NetAid concerts. The article notes that the NetAid web site was meant to be "a clearing house of information on the state of world poverty and the agency's programs as well as a means of raising money." The article quotes Mark Malloch Brown, then head of UNDP, who said ''The difference between this and earlier concerts is that we created a vehicle for people to come back, not just on the night of the concert with the one check they write. But instead, here's a site they're going to come back to time after time.'' The article also noted that the web site "will permit groups and people with particular needs to register them in a Netaid database. It will also allow people who are willing to donate particular skills or materials to register them in the database."

Speaking backstage at Giant Stadium during the concert to a reporter from Wired.com, Robert Piper, described as manager of the NetAid site for UNDP, said: "Our focus is not really just raising money. We're looking for long-term engagement and commitment. If people could donate one day every month it would have quite an impact."

A link to the NetAid site featured prominently on the UNDP web site home page for many months (screen capture).

NetAid concerts

Performers at Wembley Stadium included: Eurythmics, The Corrs, Catatonia, Bush, Bryan Adams, George Michael, David Bowie, Stereophonics and Robbie Williams.

Performers at Giants Stadium included: Sheryl Crow, Jimmy Page, Busta Rhymes, Counting Crows, Bono, Puff Daddy, The Black Crowes, Wyclef Jean, Jewel, Mary J. Blige, Cheb Mami, Sting, Slash, Lil' Kim, Lil' Cease, and Zucchero.

Performers in Geneva included: Bryan Ferry, Texas, Des'ree and Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

The Wembley show was at capacity; the U.S. show suffered from very poor ticket sales.

By the end of the concerts, it was reported that the NetAid website had received over 2.4 million hits and raised $830,000 from 80 countries.

Concert criticisms
 
In an October 1999 article in the Washington Post, just before the concerts, it was noted that Harry Belafonte, the actor and musician who helped organize the event, and another supporter, actor Danny Glover were quitting the initiative, unhappy at how the event was organized and money raised would be distributed. 

NetAid after the concerts

Following the concerts, NetAid was spun out of Cisco as an independent nonprofit, based in New York City. The staff at NetAid tried various approaches to raising awareness of extreme poverty and raising money for anti-poverty projects undertaken by other organizations, through a variety of different campaigns. As of August 2000, the Netaid.org Foundation listed as its board of directors: Mark Malloch Brown of UNDP, Don Listwin of Cisco Systems, Carol Bellamy of UNICEF, Quincy Jones and David Morrison.

In 2000, NetAid launched an online volunteering matching service on its web site, in partnership with the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme, part of UNDP. This was in keeping with the goal of NetAid to create lasting action.

The web site allowed non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and UN-affiliated projects serving the developing world to recruit and involve online volunteers in various projects (virtual volunteering). UNV took over management of the online volunteering portion of the NetAid site entirely in 2001 and, in 2004, the online volunteering portion of the site was relaunched entirely under UNV at its own URL, www.onlinevolunteering.org. This online volunteering service continues to this day.

In 2000, Charity Village published an in-depth analysis by Graham Francis under the title, "Why did NetAid fail to raise more money from the visitors to its Web site?." In response to these and other criticisms regarding its finances, NetAid published a web page in November 2001 citing its record of donations to anti-poverty initiatives to date, such as granting "$1.4 million to 16 poverty alleviation projects in Kosovo and Africa well over the $1m that had been raised from the public to that point... the remaining $10.6 million was dedicated to creating an innovative institution that will generate new support for reducing global poverty over the long term. Since January 2000, NetAid has used approximately $2 million to catalyze new support and partnerships for fighting global poverty." See "NetAid's Commitment to Accountability" on the NetAid web site, November 2001, archived from web.archive.org for more info.

In February 2001, Time and NetAid announced a pioneering initiative aimed at collecting donations through Palm VII handheld computers, allowing volunteers to collect credit card data from friends and input the information into the NetAid web site via these newly-wireless devices. The experiment "pushes the envelope for Web-based charities, according to analysts, who said the bid to turn handhelds into virtual wallets faces some significant hurdles--for example, guaranteeing the privacy and security of contributors." See the CNET News article, "Taking donations from the Palm in your hand", by Gwendolyn Mariano, February 2001, for more info.

NetAid also explored the use of video games for social change, co-founding the Games for Change movement in 2004. NetAid's work with games was initially offline, beginning with the "NetAid World Class" board game, which piloted in California, Massachusetts and New York in 2003. In 2004, NetAid co-produced a game with Cisco called "Peter Packet," which addressed how the Internet can help fight poverty, focusing on issues of basic education, clean drinking water and HIV-AIDS.

By 2006, NetAid had narrowed its focus to raising awareness among high school students in the USA regarding poverty in developing countries.

The different campaigns of NetAid are chronicled through archived versions of its web site, www.netaid.org, available at the Wayback Machine.

In 2007, NetAid became a part of Mercy Corps, a nonprofit international humanitarian aid organization. MercyCorps later discontinued the initiative and no longer promotes the brand. The spun-of online volunteering initiative, www.onlinevolunteering.org, managed by the UN Volunteers program, continues to this day.

For researchers and journalists

The best way to research the different programs of NetAid over the years is to look up:





Note that many media archives are behind paywalls. Your local public library can help you access these for free if you visit the library onsite.

I also have an archive of articles from various publications before the concerts, as well as articles that criticized NetAid. Contact me at jc@coyotecommunications.com if you would like access to such. Please give me your complete name, the name of your university or media organization, your geographic location, and the reason you want access.

Also see lessons from onlinevolunteering.org. This is a list of key learnings from the UN's Online Volunteering service from February 2001 to February 2005, including support materials for those using the service to host online volunteers.

Why do I care?

In 2000, UNV created a new position, the Online Volunteering Specialist, and contacted me to apply for the job. I did so, and began in the position in February 2001, based at the UNV offices in Bonn, Germany. I both directed UNV's online volunteering responsibilities through NetAid and the online materials and online activities of the United Nations Technology Service (UNITeS). I substantially revamped the online volunteering portion of the NetAid web site, making it much more focused on helping organizations involve volunteers and to reduce the number of people signing up for assignments without understanding that virtual volunteering is a real commitment (and thereby reducing the number of volunteer drop outs). You can compare the August 2000 version of http://www.netaid.org/ov/ to the August 2 2002 version of http://www.netaid.org/ov/ to see how I changed the site. I then oversaw the negotiations to move the online volunteering service entirely to UNV under it's own URL, www.onlinevolunteering.org.

I authored this list of lessons from onlinevolunteering.org, based on my experience directing the service from February 2001 to February 2005.

Also see:


 The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook

available for purchase as a paperback & an ebook

from Energize, Inc.
Completely revised and updated, & includes lots more advice about microvolunteering!
Published January 2014.



 
 

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