March 19, 2014

Disrupting the nonprofit sector

ntc crowd
A scene from last year’s NTC (Photo by JD Lasica).

Target audience: Nonprofits, cause organizations, foundations, NGOs, social enterprises, businesses, educators, journalists, general public.

Caroline AvakianThe 2014 Nonprofit Technology Conference, which took place last week in DC, is a conference that so many nonprofit tech and communications staffers look forward to every year because of the great sessions, useful tips and tools, and awesome people committed to using technology to advance social good.

I was pretty excited when I saw that there was a “Disrupting the Nonprofit Sector” session. I like forward-thinking panels of this type because I look to conferences for two things: practical tools and updates on my sector that I can use straightaway on Monday morning, and importantly, sessions on the future of our sector. Continue reading

August 18, 2011

Innovation: Taking cues from nature

“Our life is half natural and half technological. Half-and-half is good. You cannot deny that high-tech is progress. We need it for jobs. Yet if you make only high-tech, you make war. So we must have a strong human element to keep modesty and natural life”

Nam June Paik, Artist (1932 – 2006)

kiwanjaThere’s a saying in the technology world which asks “What would Google do?” When I’m confronted with a problem, I’d rather ask “What would nature do?” Why? Well, if you believe Google have the answer then you’re immediately assuming that modern technology – in some shape or form – is the solution. More often than not that’s the wrong place to start.

I recently sat on a panel at the Aspen Environment Forum, which focused on the use of social media in the environmental movement. (You can watch the video here, or read my summary of whole the event here.) Many people had already made their minds up that Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and so on were ‘the’ answer, before really thinking through what they were really trying to do, what their message was, or who the different audiences would be. That’s also the wrong place to start.

Asking what nature might do immediately pulls us away from looking for a modern, high-tech solution and more towards a simpler, low-tech (and potentially more appropriate and sustainable) one. It also encourages us to think entirely out-of-the-box.

So, if you were to ask “What might nature do?”, what kind of solutions might you come up with which you otherwise might not have?

1. Elephants

Some of my earliest mobile work back in 2003 was in Southern Africa where I was asked to help understand and apply modern communications technology to local conservation efforts. One of the bigger problems people were trying to tackle back then was human-elephant conflict – elephants ‘encroaching’ on farmland and destroying livelihoods literally overnight. In response, some farmers resorted to poisoning or shooting elephants. Not a good conservation outcome. Continue reading

January 21, 2011

Want to take action on a cause? The road ahead just got easier

Peter Deitz
Peter Deitz, the whirlwind behind Social Actions. (Photo by JD Lasica)

 

Social Actions moves the open source ball forward for the cause community

Guest post by Amy Sample Ward
amysampleward.org

I’ve followed and supported the work of Peter Deitz and Social Actions ever since hearing about his passion and ideas a few years ago. There’s a lot happening with Social Actions right now, but one bit of news is really exciting and needs to be highlighted: some incredibly important technical enhancements have recently been made to the Social Actions API. (Here’s what an API is.) Earlier this week, I got ahold of Peter to get the full scoop! Here’s our exchange:

Let’s start at the beginning: What is Social Actions and where does the API come in?

I describe Social Actions as an aggregation of actions people can take on any issue that’s built to be highly distributable across the social web. We pull in donation opportunities, volunteer positions, petitions, event, and other actions from 60-plus different sources. That’s today. A few years ago, microphilanthropy had just a handful of pioneering platforms.

The Social Actions project began in 2006. I wanted to make some kind of contribution to the world of microphilanthropy. My intent was to inventory every interesting action I came across to make it easier for people to engage in the causes they cared about. There wasn’t much scalability in the way I was pursuing the project.

In 2007, I realized that a much more effective way to aggregate interesting actions would be to subscribe to RSS feeds from trusted sources. I wrote about the potential for aggregating RSS feeds of giving opportunities in a blog post called, Why We Need Group Fundraising RSS Feeds. Three months later I had a prototype platform aggregating actions from RSS feeds, with a search element around that content.

Around  the time of the Nonprofit Technology Network’s 2008 NTC conference, an even brighter lightbulb went on. I remember sitting in a session by Kurt Voelker of ForumOne Communications, Tompkins Spann of Convio, and Jeremy Carbaugh of The Sunlight Foundation. They were talking about APIs. (API stands for Application Programming Interface, and refers broadly to the way one piece of software or dataset communicates with another.) In fact, the name of the session was “APIs for Beginners.”

I knew I wanted to be in the session even without really knowing why. It was there that I realized my RSS-based process for aggregating actions could be so much more with a robust distribution component. I wrote a blog post called, Mashups, Open APIs, and the Future of Collaboration in the Nonprofit Tech Sector. I left that session knowing exactly the direction I wanted to take Social Actions.

And what would you describe as the purpose of Social Actions’ API?

There’s a groundswell of interest, on the part of “non-nonprofit professionals,” to engage with social movements and causes. It’s well-documented at this point that people are hungry to engage with causes they care about in various forms.

The premise behind Social Actions is that there are enough actions floating around on the Web that nonprofits produce, but that they’re not linked up properly or adequately syndicated. There are a million opportunities to take action on a cause you care about, but it’s not easy to find them. The Social Actions API attempts to address the distribution and syndication challenge while also encouraging nonprofits to make their actions more readily available. Continue reading

September 30, 2009

GoingGreen: Innovations in green tech

closeup
Photo by Salem Kimble

By Salem Kimble
East Bay Green Tours

Earlier this month, amid the picturesque backdrop of the Cavallo Lodge in Sausalito, Calif., a flurry of venture capitalists and industry innovators came together at the GoingGreen Conference from AlwaysOn. There were all manner of industries represented, from cement that absorbs carbon (Novacem) to low frequency wireless technology for long range monitoring (On-Ramp Wireless) to completely architected materials (Nanosys) and everything in between.

In fact, there was so much going on, let’s break down a few of the more intriguing elements.

Smart designs for buildings

Project Frog, a slick and friendly outfit from San Francisco, showed off their super quick building construction from partially pre-fabricated buildings that minimize waste during construction, save 50 percent in energy once built, and go up in an incredible six weeks’ time. Their smart designs take into consideration the building process and include things like designing doors and walls to fit the size that the wall material is when sold. Their flagship installation is at Crissy Field in San Francisco.

Buildings are important, but perhaps more intriguing are the people who are re-engineering the building blocks themselves, as Novacem has done. They have an alternative to Portland cement (standard material used in the majority of construction) that has a lighter carbon footprint at the outset and over the long term. Says Novacem’s Stewart Evans, “The big win is that Novacem has the potential to not only remove the 5 percent [of carbon] from creation [of the cement] but to take out 4 percent of carbon [from the atmosphere] over time.” Continue reading

August 14, 2009

Social Media Innovation Camps

Social media photo

JD LasicaLast year, I was involved in discussions with several organizations — and received a grant from the Center for Social Media — to research a proposal to launch a series of Social Media Innovation Camps around the country (and eventually the world).

In the past year, Social Media Bootcamps have begun to sprout up all over, some of them from marketing organizations, others by well-known public-spirited not-for-profits like Social Media Club, which has been a pioneer in this field, and the series of Europe-based NESTA-funded Social Media Innovation Camps, with plans for a camp in Brisbane, Australia, in March 2010.

Meantime, I recently co-presented a social media workshop for 10 daily newspapers at the Knight Digital Media Center, and I’m giving (with David Cohn) a Social Media Bootcamp for ethnic media publishers at Seize the Moment at San Francisco State on Aug. 28, as well as other workshops later in the year.

With that preface, I’m reproducing here (and taking down from Zoho) a Foundation Proposal that we developed — but never sent to any foundations — so that if any interested parties happen to come across it, you can contact us for more information. I still believe the idea has a great deal of merit (though would revise the project in several areas), and that a series of traveling Social Media Innovation Camps can be especially useful to the nonprofit community.

To: Foundation(s) to be named
Applicant: Socialbrite
Organizations we’ve consulted with on this proposal:
• Center for Future Civic Media at MIT
• Society for New Communications Research
• Institute for Civic and Community Engagement at San Francisco State University
• Social Media Club
• Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University
• Center for Citizen Media
• Media Giraffe Project at the University of Massachusetts
• Center for Renaissance Journalism at San Francisco State University
• Ourmedia.org

Contact: J.D. Lasica (jd at socialbrite dot org)

Duration of project: 1 year, then self-sustaining

Description of project: Nationwide series of educational bootcamps focused on increasing civic engagement through social media. The effort is undergirded by an online community of social media mentors and a resource center for social media, online curricula and peer-to-peer learning.

Geographic area served by project: The plan targets 10 cities and communities in the United States in the first year. We intend to expand after that to Canada, Mexico and Europe after additional funding is secured from corporate sponsors.

Beneficiary groups targeted: Independent and ethnic media makers; NGOs and nonprofits seeking to take up the tools of social media; publishers of citizen media, community news and hyperlocal news sites; college and university educators; K-14 educators involved in traditional schools and in after-school programs; public broadcasters; newspapers and broadcast news organizations seeking to deploy tools that enable community participation; and citizens seeking to contribute to the community.

Continue reading

July 2, 2009

Creating a compendium of Competitions for Change

Amy Sample WardThe June #4Change chat topic focused on Challenges/Competitions for Social Change. Early on in that online chat, the request emerged for a compendium or other list of “all” the Challenges and Competitions focused on social benefit. Such an overview would let those interested in participating or facilitating a competition review the full landscape of options, characteristics of each, and so on.

So, to answer that call, the #4Change crew has started building the compendium and now it’s your turn to chip in! Here’s the link to see what we have so far.

Please contribute to the Competitions for Change Compendium!  Simply click here to add to the resource!