Changing the world, 1% at a time

Last week I agreed to take part in a “global co-creation event” which would involve “running with the cheetahs” and meeting “fast moving changemakers”.  No, I had no idea what any of that meant either, but there were some enthusiastic Dutch people behind it, and it involved spending a day in the excellent Hub Islington so I thought I’d give it a go.

The gang behind the event run the 1% Club, which they define as:One Percent Club logo

The online platform that connects people who have smart ideas with people, money and knowledge around the world.

I was interested in the suggestion that people could lend their professional skills to projects in developing countries via a digital network, so was disappointed to find that there only ever seem to be 5 or so projects asking for that kind of support on the site. I’ve since realised that these are only the projects posted in English, with another 40 or so in Dutch, but even so the requests for funding seem to outnumber those asking for skills by a factor of 6 to 1.

The 1% Event, however, is all about taking this principle of donating skills and making a day of it.  They had identified 11 development projects from around the globe, and created 11 teams to tackle them.  Or at least, to spend a few hours trying to tackle them.  Four of the teams were in Amsterdam, with others in London, Nairobi, Cape Town, Kampala, Cairo, Buea and Ramallah.

I think the concept that underpins both the site and the event is an interesting one, and worth exploring,  but to my mind they fell down a bit on the execution.

The 8 locations were all connected via live streams and Skype, which was ambitious, and sometimes brilliant, but often unreliable.  There was also quite a bit of time spent on pre-amble, and even group singing (in Amsterdam… watched in bewilderment from London!), before things really got going and we were given our briefs.  This only left 3 or 4 hours for our small team to understand the project, do some research, discuss options with the project owner, refine, and prepare a short presentation.  I suspect some of the world’s problems may take more than 3 hours to solve… but perhaps it’s a start!

In spite of my cynicism, the serene Dr Fatumo who gave us our brief seemed genuinelySomali women pleased with what we came up with, and hopes to make real use of it. She works for a charity called Hirda working on a range of projects in Somalia and they were looking for ideas to help boost a campaign they’re running to combat FGM, which is rife in Somalia with 80-90% of girls being circumcised by the time they are 8 years old. (For the less squeamish amongst you, FGM stands for Female Genital Mutilation, which isn’t something I thought I’d be learning about on a sunny Friday in London, but I’m glad that I did!).

The aspect of our proposal that was most relevant to SmallSeeds was the suggestion that they use radio and the fixed and mobile internet to tell the stories central to the campaign.  Both a fictional story (perhaps creating a radio soap that follows the lives of a range of families, those that do and do not practice FGM) and the real and very powerful stories of the women who are willing to share their experiences.  The World Service recently ran an item on the use of soaps to deliver health messages, and Hirda have already found that the most success they’ve had is when girls share their stories – the web and mobile can help amplify those in a vast country with some of the highest mobile phone usage in Africa.

So in spite of the heat, the group singing, the flagging live streams, and the insanity of trying to understand a complex and sensitive issue in such a short space of time, I do feel it was a day very well spent.  I also think there are some interesting ideas worth pursuing around how people in an increasingly connected world could make quite a big difference by lending a small amount of their expertise.  I’m sure there are other organisations out there who are also exploring just that, so my plan is to find them and see how they stack up.

In the meantime, hats off to those crazy ambitious Dutch guys, and thanks to The Hub for their hospitality!

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A is for… Accountability

Every Christmas I like to give each member of my family a Good Gift. One of the things which appeals is that I know my money is being used for something very specific. I may not know the name of the villager or village that receives the goat, the beehive or the books, but I am confident that somewhere one of those items has been paid for by me.  I know where my money is going, and I know that the additional handling fee charged by the charity pays for their overheads.

I can’t say the same for the monthly contribution I’ve been making to UNICEF via Payroll Giving. The money has been whisked off into the ether once a month and although they do send a quarterly magazine I’ve no idea which of their many projects I may have supported. I hope it wasn’t all headed notepaper and executive flights.

My point here is not to parade my charitable works, but to pick up on the theme of accountability. It’s something that matters to me when I choose how to give, and to which causes, but it strikes me that there’s less of it about than there could be. It’s also an area where digital technology should be able to have some impact.

My very early thinking on this is that there are probably two main areas where charities and NGOs could (should?) be harnessing the power of the web to achieve and demonstrate greater accountability.

The first is around connecting donors to the causes they are supporting in a much more direct way. Even in fields where contributions can’t be neatly attributed to a goat or a beehive, shouldn’t donors at least know which campaign or project their money is going towards? In addition, wouldn’t it be great to be able to follow the progress of your chosen cause in real time, or receive updates? This is already something that the team at See The Difference are exploring – charities post initial videos explaining the specific project and targets they are raising for, and then post a Job Done video showing the impact of the donations made.  I’m sure there are also individual charities who are doing something similar via their own sites, newsletters or social media updates, but it would be great to see more of it.

I suppose a downside to this model (moving more towards sponsorship than general giving) is that the less fashionable or appealing causes might get left behind.  In a recent Dispatches the WWF came under criticism for only offering “popular” large mammals for adoption – where were the endangered fish and amphibians, many of which are in a worse state than elephants or even the famous panda? Perhaps it’s not as easy to get excited about a cuddly-toy version of a swamp dwelling toad…

And then there’s the issue of all of that headed notepaper, and how that gets paid for, which brings me on to my second point – using the web to publish data about how money is spent. I know charities need to be able to pay their overheads, but personally I’d rather they were more transparent about it. I’d like to know up front “x pence in every pound is spent on running costs” and I’d like to see that number going down over time, or be able to compare between charities.  The Charity Commission does require registered charities to send them annual reports, but doesn’t seem to publish them.  Charities do tend to publish these themselves online, but often as impenetrable PDFs, buried deep in their sites. (In the case of the NSPCC I had to hunt very hard, and found that it’s kept in a separate site altogether!). It strikes me that this is powerful, publicly available, data and more could be done with it.

I think donors in the digital age should hold charities more to account, and that the web could be a powerful tool to enable that.  But there is carrot here as well as stick… being more accountable or transparent could also encourage further giving, along the lines of See The Difference or the mighty Kiva, and should make the whole process more engaging.  And if all of that adds up to more goats and less notepaper, then I for one will be a happy giver.

Picture of a goat