Rootwork Blog: Technology, Social Change and Nonprofits
As the local track chair for the frontend track, I’m posting this to encourage any last-minute session proposals bouncing around in your head to get typed out and proposed today.
(And yes, nonprofit and nonprofit developer friends, there’s an NGO track too.)
The Community TechKnowledge Foundation announced today a grant of $10,000 for a nonprofit that submits a description of their mission — in the form of a poem. Along with the grant, the poetry will be turned into a song by Bill Dillon; there are also secondary prizes for $5,000, $1,000, and guitars autographed by members of Los Lonely Boys. The deadline is March 28.
Google has initiated a project it calls Chrome for a Cause, in which every person who uses its Chrome browser will generate a small donation for each tab that they open.
It’s great that Google is directing money to nonprofits, and letting people decide where those donations go. But it’s frustrating how Chrome for a Cause rooted in a scarcity model — in which organizations must compete rather than collaborate.
Earlier this year, FacebookFacebook is a social network encouraging real identity — each user has a single account under their full, real name. Facebook began among US college students but has quickly expanded to people of all ages around the world. announced they were dropping support for new custom tabs that used Facebook Markup Language, although you could still specify a particular application tab as your landing page, including custom-page-creating applications. Indeed, a custom landing tab was recommended as a Facebook best practice for nonprofits.
Now, however, it appears all visitors to a nonprofit’s Facebook Page will be directed to the Wall. What’s more, with tabs being de-emphasized by their move to smaller links under your profile, it’s less obvious how new visitors can find out more about your organization.
Sexism is bigger than any one person; it’s a system in which our entire society is enmeshed. Too often, such systematic discrimination as treated as discrete, individual acts, disconnected from the larger reality. What too many men miss is the reality that the system under which they face such inhumane expectations is the same one that limits the potential of women. This exists in the technology and nonprofit tech communities no less than the rest of society — and has to be faced in a systematic way, not simply by counting the number of women on a tech panel.
Online activism didn’t come out of nowhere. The methods and tactics of online activists — be they individuals or international nonprofits with hundreds of staff — are drawn on social change movements and community organizing strategies that have been tried, experimented with, failed, tweaked, and tried again, long before the Internet existed.
Last week, Special Envoy to Sudan Gen. Scott Gration sat down with representatives from Save Darfur and the student network STAND for an unprecedented live Q&A, webcast directly from the White House website. The webcast was notable not just for its interactivity — members of both STAND and Save Darfur were encouraged to submit questions, which were then asked directly of Gration on air — but for its accountability.
To Causes, leaving MySpace to focus on its core community on Facebook made good business sense, but certainly those organizations left in the lurch on MySpace feel otherwise. Simply put, you can’t rely on third-party, often for-profit services to support your organization’s interests. While it’s important to let go of your message, you still need to have control over your relationships — and in many online social networks, you don’t. What would it look like if nonprofits and social change movements — which these third party applications often use to market themselves as effective and “good” — started demanding some openness?
The subtitle of this workshop could be, “Social change has always relied on social networks — they just weren’t called Facebook.” I’m going to be talking concretely about the strategy of using online tools for social change. This won’t be an ain’t-it-cool presentation of shiny technology, nor will it be a technical exploration of complicated software. It will be an interactive how-to on making social change work more effective by using online social technology.