September 10, 2009

10 new ways to take social actions

The Extraordinaries
Nathan Freitas, Jacob Colker and Ben Rigby of the Extraordinaries at NetSquared 2009.

JD LasicaThe Bay Area-based Extraordinaires are among the social causes highlighted in the current issue of Time magazine in an article titled New Ways to Make a Difference.

Time identified three new trends in doing good:

Put your time to work

1The Extraordinaries: The organization is helping to pioneer “micro-volunteering.” As co-founder Jacob Colker told us last week at Net Tuesday, only 26 percent of Americans volunteer — at all — in a given year. That’s partly because we lead super-busy lives. gives us a way to contribute bits and pieces of our spare time to do something worthy, from helping to add tags to museum archives to snapping water going to waste in San Diego. Got an iPhone? Look for an app called The Extraordinaries., due to launch this fall, “encourages you to dream big — end poverty! cure cancer! — and then helps come up with small, specific ways you can help achieve progress in those areas.” promotes random acts of kindness. First, print a card at the Kindred site, then “do something nice for a stranger, like sharing an umbrella or helping carry luggage, and hand that person the card. The recipient can go online and note where the act of kindness took place and then pass the card along. It’s like Pay It Forward, with mapping features,” Time writes., a new aggregation site of volunteer opportunities that we wrote about three months ago, draws listings not only from traditional volunteer sites but also from Craigslist and Meetup. It also lets you share those opportunities with friends on social networks.

Put your money to work

5eBay’s is one of our favorite sites. Buy a fair-trade scarf or the work of an African artisan on the site, which vets every product to ensure that it’s eco-friendly and was produced in a worker-friendly environment. Continue reading

August 21, 2009

Harnessing the crowd for social good

Crowdsourcing event

From left, Jon Bischke of eduFire, Leila Chirayath Janah of SamaSource, Jacob Colker of The Extraordinaries and Robert Chatwani, Head of Global Citizenship, eBay.

JD LasicaLast night was another one of those eye-popping events where large numbers of people turn out for an event to discuss how new technologies can be used to advance social change. In this case, about 120 people turned out for Crowdsourcing for social good, sponsored by SocialEarth, and Hub Bay Area and hosted by Chronicle Books and organized by Sundeep Ahuja.

The gathering triggered a dozen ideas for future blog posts on Socialbrite, and since I don’t have time today to research all of the sites and initiatives mentioned, I’ll pass along some of the best nuggets:

• I met Leila Janah of Samasource (“computer-based work for women, youth and refugees living in poverty)” at last fall’s Craigslist Nonprofit Bootcamp when her nonprofit was just getting launched. Here’s our earlier interview: Samasource enables socially responsible outsourcing. The goal, she said last night, is to offer “dignified computer-based work to the most marginalized communities in world.” At the moment, Samasource has brought in $210,000 in payments from project leaders to 517 people in six countries, many of whom had been making than $125 a year. (Become a fan of Samasource on Facebook. The event raised $380 for the nonprofit.)

Jon Bischke, founder of eduFire, talked about his start-up — an open education platform that is pioneering live video education. On the year-old site, more than 5,000 people have signed up to become instructors and 30,000 people take lessons in a wide array of subjects. Based in San Francisco, eduFire has three full-time employees and several part-timers. (Become a fan on Facebook.) See an earlier video interview of Jon produced by

• Fun factoid from Bischke: “It took 100 million hours to build Wikipedia, and that’s the same amount of time that Americans spend watching TV in a typical week.”

• I invited Jacob Colker, co-founder of The Extraordinaries, to join me in speaking at Net Tuesday on Sept. 8, and Jacob once again dazzled the audience with accounts of how crowdsourcing can be used for positive social change in your spare time. “The Extraordinaries are here to make it ridiculously easy for you to do social good,” he said. You can translate documents, or identify figures in a painting, or help with science and medical problems, among many other options. (Become a fan on Facebook.) Continue reading

August 17, 2009

Crowdsourcing for social good

JD LasicaAn ad hoc group of Bay Area folks who explore how new technology is driving social change, organized by Sundeep Ahuja, is holding its fifth event on Thursday. (I wrote about awareness2action’s first event almost exactly one year ago.)

Here are the details:

Event: Crowdsourcing for Social Good

Hosts: SocialEarth, Hub Bay Area and Chronicle Books

Topic: Wikipedia leverages millions of people to build a living encyclopedia. NASA Clickworkers uses hundreds of thousands of people to map craters on Mars. What else can the “crowd” do for social good — and for you?

• Leila Chirayath Janah, Founder, SamaSource
• Jacob Colker, Founder, The Extraordinaries
• Jon Bischke, Founder, eduFire
• Robert Chatwani, Head of Global Citizenship, eBay (Moderator)

When: Thursday, Aug. 20, 7-9:30 pm

Where: Chronicle Books, 680 Second St., 4th Floor, San Francisco

Admission: $10 donation suggested at the door

Bonus: Each attendee will receive a free copy of “Change the World for Ten Bucks”


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August 3, 2009

All about Geeks for Good

All about the Summer of Social Good from JD Lasica on Vimeo.

JD LasicaDid you know that this is the first Global Geek Week (Aug. 2-8)? It’s a way to promote the use of social media for the social good — which also happens to be identical to the mission of

On Twitter, go to the hashtag #geeks4good to see conversations around the topic. The new GlobalGeekWeek site showcases “an entire week dedicated to all that is Geek & giving back!” One cool feature: a Twittervision interactive map that tracks posts about geeks4good from around the world (new version of Flash required, I think).

I caught up with Shira Lazar, the TV/Web personality/journalist and founder of the Society for Geek Advancement, in LA to talk about Global Geek Week and how it fits into the Summer of Social Good (also at, which runs through Aug. 28. (And here’s Adam Hirsch of Mashable’s post on Global Geek Week.) Shira has been working with Mashable in raising awareness about charitable causes and how social media can be used for the social good.

“We’re encouraging the geek community around the globe to come together for social good,” she says.

oxfamSpecifically, you can donate $20 (or more or less) to four worthy charities: Oxfam America to fight hunger, WWF to protect the environment, the Humane Society to protect animals and Livestrong to fight cancer.

And don’t forget about the weeklong YouTube video competition. Just talk about what you’re doing to support a social cause (or how you’d like to help) by submitting your geek-inspired video to the Global Geek Week YouTube Group by midnight PT Thursday. The winner will get two round-trip tickets to anywhere Virgin America flies, with free wi-fi. The judges — Guy Kawasaki, Shira Lazar, Hank Green of Vlogbrothers, Marina Orlova of TooHotForWords, puzzle champion Wei-Hwa Huang and Lisa Donovan aka LisaNova — will pick and announce the winners at noon Friday.

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June 27, 2009

Incentives for doing good

Jack Herrick

JD LasicaI had a riveting lunch this week with Jack Herrick (above), a serial entrepreneur who sold eHow (How to Do Just About Everything!) three years ago and, shortly before that, founded wikiHow (Building the World’s How-to Manual), where he’s now CEO of that social-good company.

Today’s top wikiHow article: How to Moonwalk Like Michael Jackson.

We talked for a while about the wiki landscape — how eHow (37 million monthly visitors), wikiHow (16 million visitors) and Howstuffworks (11-12 million) dominate this particular turf, well above Howcast (how-to videos), Videojug (Get Good at Life) and similar sites, and how he doesn’t regard blogs like Lifehacker (tips and downloads for getting things done) as competitors. (Here’s an interview with Jack by Wikinews from earlier this year.)

How to incentivize contributors

Our talk drifted to what motivates people to contribute to these sites. Ego and reputation are certainly factors. A few sites pay slave wages — say, 2 bucks per article. Some sites have even begun to award karma or prestige points, as with the Minnesota Daily (a college paper) rewarding readers with points if they post a news story (20 points), share it with their Facebook friends (5 points), invite friends to the application (30 points), submit a letter to the editor (200 points) and so on.

But no one has hit on the right formula yet.

Herrick then began riffing on an fascinating idea: Why not reward contributors so that whenever they post a wiki article, it directly benefits a person on the other side of the globe?

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March 24, 2009

Social mobile: A moral duty to do more?

kiwanjaIs the future of social mobile an empowered few, or an empowered many? Mobile tools in the hands of the masses presents great opportunity for NGO-led social change, but is that the future we’re creating?

In The White Man’s Burden – Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good,” William Easterly’s frustration at large-scale, top-down, bureaucracy-ridden development projects runs to an impressive 384 pages. While Easterly dedicates most of his book to markets, economics and the mechanics of international development itself, he talks little of information and communication technology (ICT). The index carries no reference to ‘computers,’ ‘ICT’ or even plain old ‘technology.’

But there is an entry for ‘cell phones.’

smallbeautifulE. F. Schumacher, a fellow economist and the man widely recognized as the father of the appropriate technology movement, spent a little more time in his books studying technology issues. His seminal 1973 book – Small is Beautiful – The Study of Economics as if People Mattered” – reacted to the imposition of alien development concepts on Third World countries, and he warned early of the dangers and difficulties of advocating the same technological practices in entirely different societies and environments. Although his earlier work focused more on agri-technology and large-scale infrastructure projects (dam building was a favorite ‘intervention’ at the time), his theories could easily have been applied to ICTs – as they were in later years.

Things have come a long way since 1973. For a start, many of us now have mobile phones, the most rapidly adopted technology in history. In what amounts to little more than the blink of an eye, mobiles have given us a glimpse of their potential to help us solve some of the most pressing problems of our time. As the evidence mounts, I have one question: If mobiles truly are as revolutionary and empowering as they appear to be – particularly in the lives of some of the poorest members of society – then do we have a moral duty, in the ICT for Development (ICT4D) community at least, to see that they fulfill that potential?

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