GuideStar International's Blog

July 23, 2012

Technology, Data, and Indian Nonprofits: Enabling Philanthropy

By Keisha Taylor, communications manager at  TechSoup Global & for its GuideStar International program. This was first posted on the Techsoup.org blog

 Technology product donations, training, and nonprofit data are all part of TechSoup Global’s offering to civil society in India. Our BigTech program is run by our local partner, the NASSCOM Foundation in India. And the GuideStar India program was launched by our partner, Civil Society Information Systems (CSIS) India, through our GuideStar International program.

Nonprofits throughout India are now benefiting by getting high visibility and access to information and technology for their work.

 According to the Indian Central Statistical Office, there are 3.3 million NGOs in India. While the estimated number of operational NGOs is about one-third of that, there is little transparency on their activity.

GuideStar India is increasing the visibility of the nonprofit sector to multiple stakeholders by providing reliable information on more than 2,500 NGOs. It is also encouraging nonprofits to become better at reporting on their activities. GuideStar India is connecting the nonprofits on their site with those who need their help or want to lend support.

For example, the Surf Excel India’s Back to School Campaign reached out to needy children who go to learning centers and schools run by NGOs. Their Facebook campaign page engaged more than 800,000 fans during the campaign and sensitized them to the needs of poor children.

Their posts on Facebook also highlighted how fans could easily make a difference. The campaign gave exposure to 168 NGOs and raised 125,000 rupees in addition to in-kind donations.

GuideStar India put the Surf Excel team in touch with Child Survival India to provide essential teaching and reading materials to schoolchildren. The materials were donated by another school run by one of their Facebook fans.

Nonprofits in India are realizing that putting up their data voluntarily on GuideStar India can bring them resources and capacity-building opportunities. And donors and institutions looking for nonprofits find it convenient and efficient to access nonprofit information and connections through GuideStar India.

According to Fatima Lawrence, president of Lakkasandra Ashwini Mahila Sangha, a nonprofit featured on GuideStar India, “Opportunity knocks at your door only once, but GuideStar India knocks at your door again and again until you grab the opportunity!”

GuideStar India is also helping NGOs take advantage of the BigTech program and NASSCOM Foundation’s supportive technology activities.

Usha Pillai, chairperson of the IDEA Foundation, said, “Soon after being a part of GuideStar India, we got to attend an IT workshop conducted by NASSCOM Foundation. Our presence on the GuideStar India and a social networking site has helped us to get an industry donor looking for a small NGO. It is a phenomenal long-term value from GuideStar India to a small NGO like ours within a few months.”

Technology donations have also transformed nonprofit operations. The Hunger Project India helps those affected by hunger and victimized by social suppression in six Indian states. To help sustain their activities, they rely on accurate data monitoring and reporting.

However, data processing and collaboration were difficult because they used non-licensed and outdated software. Absence of effective antivirus applications slowed their computers, and there was limited uniformity and standardization in their infrastructure.

The Hunger Project India registered for and received a BigTech donation of Microsoft Windows 7 Professional Upgrade, Office Professional Plus 2010, and QuickHeal antivirus software.

Today, they use Microsoft Access for their data evaluation and database management. Microsoft Excel helps in preparation of their financial reports and accounting. Moreover, Quick Heal antivirus eliminated the viruses and resulted in a faster and more efficient functioning of the organization.

Bharani Sundarajan, program officer at The Hunger Project, said, “Participating in the BigTech program has had a positive outcome as it helped us maintain uniform and streamlined operations, along with being a time and energy saver. We are thrilled to be associated with it.”

Through its partners in India, TechSoup Global’s support to Indian NGOs is helping them to use and benefit from technology. Data on Indian nonprofits is also proving invaluable for visibility, transparency, and effectiveness of the sector.

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May 30, 2012

Transforming your charity by bringing your data to life

Filed under: CSO reporting — guidestarinternational @ 09:30
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TechSoup Global in association with the Guardian are hosting an exciting seminar titled “Transforming your charity by bringing your data to life” on Wednesday 13 June 2012 (8.45am-12.30pm). It will focus on the use of Data and Technology in the charity sector. The seminar will discuss the power of data and how it can be used to progress the objectives of charities and NGOs.

Speakers include: Dave Coplin, Director of Search, Bing, Karl Wilding of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) and Nathaniel Manning, Director of Business Development and Strategy at Ushahidi

You can find the agenda here: Agenda: Transforming your charity by bringing your data to life

In essence, participants will be able to explore what relevant data they can share to benefit their organisation and the charitable sector. They will also hear from individuals who have successfully accessed and deployed technology and big datasets in their organisation. A more detailed agenda can be found here.

The event will be held at the Guardian’s London headquarters located at Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU in association with TechSoup Global

TechSoup Global is an international non-profit, founded in 1987 on the belief that both technology & data are powerful enablers for social change, driving the creation of innovative solutions and informed decision making.

 

This is an invitation only event.

 

The findings of the seminar will then feature as a one-page article in the newspaper and online on the Guardian Voluntary Sector Network.

 

January 6, 2012

International Transparency Initiative makes world giving open, shareable, standardized, transparent

By Keisha Taylor

This was originally posted on the TechSoup Global blog

The open data revolution has come to aid’ writes open data advocate Owen Barder (known for his work on development policy), and yet while the US is the world’s largest bilateral donor, Publish What You Fund’s Aid Transparency Index states that five of six US aid agencies are not very transparent. Why does this matter? Because the quality as well as the quantity of international aid is critical to the fate of the developing world (and the developed world’s as well!) and there are significant questions about whether aid is accomplishing its purposes. For example, aid may even be creating dependency rather than development in Africa, according to Dambiso Moyo’s book Dead Aid.

Thus, it is good news that the USA has now agreed to join the International Transparency Initiative (IATI) since that now means 80% of global development finance will be open, shareable, standardized, and transparent. This also complements the US foreign assistance dashboard, which is now available (but still in development).  US government agencies, partner country governments, CSOs and citizens can use it to research and track US foreign assistance investment.

IATI is the result of a conversation started among governments and bi-lateral/multilateral donors at the Paris High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, which resulted in the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness in 2005. The Accra Agenda for Action was subsequently formulated to help implement the Declaration, and IATI was established in 2008 to provide support for the Agenda. But an IATI standard for publishing aid was only agreed upon in February 2011. Then, towards the end of last year, the Busan Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation provided an updated framework that the world’s donors, developing country governments, CSOs, and other aid stakeholders have agreed upon.

Now that America has joined IATI, it could possibly encourage Brazil, Russia, India and China (the “BRIC countries”) and other non-governmental US donors, donor countries, and aid recipient countries to do the same. Indeed BRIC countries, while not IATI signatories, have contributed to the Busan Partnership document.

As the world’s largest bilateral donor ($30 billion annually!), US participation in the movement towards open data, which includes open aid data, may be a gamechanger but only if they really start publishing much more data. On the other hand, open data is in no way an end in itself. If it is not used — and reused — it loses impact.

In my next post, I’ll explain why.

December 29, 2011

New Portal to Promote US Giving to Indian NGOs

Consul General Peter Haas and others listening to GuideStar India CEO, Pushpa Aman Singh speaking at the Roundtable

This was first posted on the GuideStar India blog

GuideStar India and the U.S. Department of State held a “Philanthropy in India Roundtable” on December 21 in Mumbai. Over 40 leaders from the Indian philanthropy sector discussed the creation of a new online portal that will assist private donors seeking to support Indian NGOs.

GuideStar India is an existing portal of fully searchable information on over 1400 registered NGOs in India, and will serve as the platform for the new portal which is designed to connect private U.S. donors with Indian NGOs and organizations. The group agreed that such a portal should also help address two critical needs:
(1) empowering and educating donors by introducing more information and transparency into the sector; and (2) strengthening capacity-building amongst Indian NGOs.

The new portal will aggregate NGO certifications provided by independent third parties and present the information in a format easily searchable and accessible by potential donors. Neither GuideStar nor the U.S. Government will rate or certify NGOs. The portal will empower donors and allow them to make better informed decisions. Indian NGOs, intermediaries, facilitators, foundations and other organizations and individuals involved in philanthropy in India will benefit through enhanced visibility.

The roundtable participants provided input on the design of the portal to GuideStar representatives. The diverse group of leaders gathered at the roundtable reflected the shared desire of the private sector, civil society and the U.S. State Department to explore new and creative ways to support Indian NGOs.

July 26, 2011

Apps4Russia Calls for Open Data and Transparency Based Application Ideas

Filed under: Access to information,CSO reporting,Transparency — guidestarinternational @ 10:06
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This was originally posted on the NetSquared blog

Apps4Russia is a contest that’s been initiated by Ivan Begtin, founder of OpenGovData.ru and a member of the Open Knowledge Foundation‘s (OKF) Working Group on Open Government Data.

The contest welcomes web and application developers to create projects based on the foundation of using open government data for public benefit and nurturing more transparency in government.

It is great to see an increased engagement with data in countries around the world.  Again, we in the NGO sector need to be thinking seriously about how our data is included in these sets so that they are a part of the apps and a part of the useage and decision-making around them.

Marnie Webb, Co-CEO of TechSoup Global, Apps4Russia is looking for a few good ideas

Projects may be submitted in a variety of forms including desktop, mobile or web based application. Please note your project should not be associated with any political party or movement.

The contest offers prizes to the top three projects including a first place prize of 100 thousand rubles. Apps4Russia is already underway (having kicked off on June 30st 2011) and will run until October 1st 2011. The winning ideas selected will be announced on October 15th 2011.

Apps4Russia is a great example of what countries can achieve by calling for action through the use of open data to address local issues, encourage change and unleash solutions to common problems.

Learn more about Apps4Russia in Russian or English
Have an idea to submit? You can submit an application here

July 4, 2011

A Review of the Guardian ACTIVATE Summit (London)

by Dinesh Venkateswaran, Manager – Global Data Acquisitions, TechSoup Global

Guardian’s ACTIVATE is an annual conference that aims to bring together leaders in Media, Government and Technology to activatedly discuss approaches to addressing nagging challenges of the current times (including the grand ones of poverty, dictatorship and natural disaster). This time on 22nd June at King’s Place in London, ACTIVATE’s assemblage of personalities included senior bureaucrats, executives in multilaterals and high-impact entrepreneurs in the social media space, mostly from the western world and Africa, besides others. Being a novice in the Third Sector, my interest in this conference was mainly about the opportunity it gave me to hear leaders in the sector discuss the challenges faced at the grassroots level; the most fundamental problems that people in less favourable environments face and how we could help solve them. However, the surprise was: regardless of the stated topics of panel discussions, the most prominent and recurring theme debated at the conference emerged to be: value of data in ‘saving the world’.

As towering a proposition as that may sound, the data theme seemed the most natural direction that each of the eight or so panel discussions could take; the most fundamental of considerations that united the eminent panellists’ individual professional pursuits. Ironically, it kept me interested in the discussions, and, I believe, helped broaden my perspective of how we could potentially employ data towards triggering social change, great and small. Broadly, the topics discussed included democracy, value of mobile technologies, distribution of power and wealth, transparency in data and governance, profiting from social change projects and access to data and tools. Below are some quotes from the conference:

  • “Connection technologies could and should disrupt and redistribute power… If you are a control freak you are in the wrong century”: Alec Ross, Senior Adviser to US Secretary of State, speaking on Open Governance
  • “(In Africa) the race is on to find what mobiles can do in areas as disparate as public health, governance and education”: Rakesh Rajani, Tweweza, talking about the potential dramatic impact of the mobile phone in Africa in the next five years
  • “Vision is just as important as technology”: Ricken Patel of Awaaz.org talking about how focus on technology many times eclipses the social goal.
  • “It’s not about technology, it’s finally about who uses it and how”: Ken Banks of Kiwanja and the tendency of social media people to get preoccupied with technology.
  • “15% of UK population hasn’t experienced the Internet even once”: Martha Lane Fox, UK Government’s Digital champion, on ‘access to all’ being critical to achieving equality in society.
  • “I freak out hearing people talk about using mobiles for ICT for development in Africa… we in Africa are not different from the rest of the world… we like to buy mobile phones to have fun, talk to friends, listen to music, tweet and connect on Facebook”: Ory Okolloh, Google’s Head of Policy and Government Relations, Africa.
  • “Leadership must be strategic… should enable power in members and facilitate a global impact of highly local activity”: Jeremy Heimans, Purpose, Australia, while he argued that micro payments are a better funding model than plain charity, for social change projects.

Storify has published a summary of tweets from the conference, if you are interested in knowing more of what people said. On the core themes of the conference, many examples of successful social entrepreneurship were presented, including the KickStarter for crowd funding, Jolitics for online activism, Palindrome Advisors to accelerate professional managerial involvement in philanthropy, Beatbullying for empowerment of children, Twaweza’s information brokering for social change in Tanzania, and the MyFarm project that enables about 10k internet denizens collectively run a farm. There was a short and informative film, too, titled Up in Smoke, on sustainable and innovative farming, which I enjoyed very much. The role of technology in these initiatives varied largely, but there was one thing common to them – the huge role of people in powering the initiatives.

Personally, though, the summit helped me realise that we should not only extract and visualise insights from raw data but must also develop the skills needed to tell the stories that need to be told through data. That simply was the lingering message that remains.

May 26, 2011

The World Bank on Democratizing Development: Thoughts on Building a Resilient of Civil Society

Filed under: Access to information,CSO reporting — guidestarinternational @ 10:00
Tags: , ,

By Caroline Neligan. This was originally posted on the TechSoup Global blog.

Last month Robert Zoellick, President of the World Bank, gave a major speech announcing a ‘new social contract for development‘. The uprisings in the Middle East provided the ideal backdrop for this speech, in which he argued that the poverty, marginalisation, disenfranchisement and absence of justice experienced by many in these countries, has led to the public protests that are causing momentous shifts in power in these societies.

Zoellick argued that the lessons of Tunisia and the Middle East can be applied far beyond this region and should influence the shape of multilateralism in the future. His vision of ‘modern multilateralism’ requires “democratizing development economics so that all can play a part in designing, executing, and continually improving development solutions.”

This argument brings Zoellick to the importance of civil society organisations (CSOs) to his modern multilateralism paradigm. He stated, “our message to our clients, whatever their political system, is that you cannot have successful development without good governance and without the participation of your citizens…A robust civil society can check on budgets, seek and publish information, challenge stifling bureaucracies, protect private property, and monitor service delivery. Civil society can insist on respect for the rights of citizens. And civil society can assume responsibilities, too.”

Zoellick is right to make these arguments and to push his and other global institutions firmly into the 21st century where technology and social networks are enabling citizens to connect and organise in ways that were unthinkable only a decade ago. We must certainly encourage this kind of debate.

However, is any of this really new? Or does the current spotlight on citizen uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East simply force the leaders of our most powerful institutions to acknowledge these events and pay lip service to the activists?

The World Bank has for decades been pushed to take better account of the impact its policies have on the most marginalised and, at least rhetorically, the Bank has been vocal in its recognition of the role that CSOs play, both in terms of service delivery as well as providing a counterweight to government. John Garrison, a civil society specialist at the Bank, argues in his blog that the Bank can point to some progress in this area over the last decade or so. But, he asks, can Zoellick’s speech be considered a milestone for the way the Bank thinks about and works with civil society, reflecting the same shift with respect to the private sector in the 1950s?

This remains to be seen. But if the World Bank is serious, then it needs to understand that supporting civil society requires more than consulting CSOs on policy issues and providing project support. Investing in the necessary infrastructure to build sustainable, resilient sectors will be the real test of its sincerity. This means promoting the establishment of supportive legal and regulatory frameworks that promote organisation and independence; encouraging and enabling transparency and accountability; and recognising the needs for access to appropriate technologies that enable CSOs to do their work most effectively and efficiently, as well as to connect with peers and create communities of practice that reinforce and disseminate their work. The World Bank can’t be expected to do it all, but providing funding mechanisms that enable this would be an important indication of intent and would establish itself as a pioneer in modern multilateralism.

If they choose to take this approach, they already have plenty to support as CSOs at national and international levels are acutely aware of the infrastructure deficit and are taking actions to address it.

Arguably the biggest barrier to the effective and consistent support of CSOs is the information vacuum that exists with respect to the status of these organisations: not only is it incredibly challenging to get a good picture of who’s doing what, where and how, but the inconsistency of regulation and the lack of transparency provided by regulators (and funders) means that ascertaining the legal status of an organisation and, therefore, its eligibility to receive support or funding is a real impediment.

Through TechSoup Global’s GuideStar International programme, we promote CSO transparency and reporting and, vitally, provide a venue for all organisations, regardless of their size or means, to describe their work to the public. In addition, our NGOsource initiative, undertaken in partnership with the U.S Council on Foundations, is creating a centralised repository that will offer the U.S. grantmaker community a streamlined solution to the often expensive, complicated, and duplicative task of equivalency determination (the process by which U.S. grantmakers evaluate whether a potential foreign grantee is the equivalent of a U.S. public charity).

With our global reach and experience in promoting CSO transparency and delivering eligibility verification services through our product donations programme* and NGOsource, we consider ourselves well placed to further develop these services, which we believe will help to address civil society’s Achilles heel; the paucity of information and transparency. These activities will enable more efficient and confident philanthropy, as well as broaden the number of CSOs known to funders, policy makers and regulators. And this can provide a real foundation upon which Zoellick’s vision of ‘modern multilateralism’ can be built.

* TechSoup Global operates what we believe to be the largest technology product philanthropy programme in the world, with a catalogue of more than 450 products generously donated by a growing roster of 44 technology corporations, including industry leaders such as Microsoft, Adobe, Cisco, Intuit, and Symantec. Globally, we work with partners in over 35 countries to provide a socially responsible supply chain for technology products and support, which connects and builds the capacity of CSOs and the disadvantaged communities that rely on them. To date, these partners have made more than USD$2 billion in product donations available to civil society.

April 11, 2011

Enter to Win the European Open Data Challenge

This was first posted on the NetSquared blog

Are you interested in using open data for good in Europe? The Open Data Challenge is designed to encourage interesting ways of reusing public data for the benefit of European citizens.  The competition encourages anyone from programmers to non-technical idea-makers to help create a useful app using public data.

Do you have a great idea? Here’s how you can get involved:

  • Ideas – Anyone can suggest an idea for projects which reuse public information to do something interesting or useful.
  • Apps – Teams of developers can submit working applications which reuse public information.
  • Visualisations – Designers, artists and others can submit interesting or insightful visual representations of public information.
  • Datasets – Public bodies can submit newly opened up datasets, or developers can submit derived datasets which they’ve cleaned up, or linked together

The Open Data Challenge is open between now and June 5. Enter your ideas to win one of several cash prizes!

March 28, 2011

Where, Why and When Should a CSO report?

By Keisha Taylor

CSOs usually report to government regulatory bodies and intergovernmental donors and institutional donors when required. In the majority of countries a lot of information about registered CSOs is held by government departments and in institutional donor databases. Information held by governments and donors is usually difficult to access, though vital to understanding development infrastructure. However, charitable organisations are now reporting a lot more via social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, blurring the lines between reporting and communicating. This however, still tends to be primarily a northern phenomenon. Furthermore, if CSOs believe that reporting via social networking sites may lead to persecution they will be less likely to use them.

Where a CSO reports depends to some extent on why they report. As tax exempt organisations that are funded by the tax payer, registered CSOs are usually legally obligated to report to government departments. However, they can also voluntarily report information via other channels. When information is in the public domain anyone can access it, but finding reliable up to date information about CSOs remains problematic in many countries. Though large CSOs may tend to be more well known, most CSOs are small, voluntary organisations and many remain unregistered and unknown beyond their immediate support group. With stories like Rwanda: Report Exposes Sham NGOs circulating and increasing doubts about the effectiveness of donations, reporting has taken on renewed importance. However, many organisations do not have the resources to prioritise reporting that is not mandatory. If reporting can on some level be integrated with communications this can prove very worthwhile to a CSO.

According to the One World TrustCivil society organisations (CSOs) are facing increasing pressure to demonstrate their accountability, legitimacy and effectiveness. In response, a growing number are coming together at national, regional and international level, to define common standards and promote good practice through codes of conduct, certification schemes, reporting frameworks, directories and awards. However, CSOs, donors and other potential users are often unaware of their existence or what distinguishes one initiative from another, making it difficult for to make choices around which initiative best suits their needs”. The One World Trust created a database of all the self-regulatory initiatives (309 are listed) in existence worldwide, some government supported, others supported by independent regulatory bodies and some by umbrella organisations.  This helps to illustrate how the growth of the sector is leading CSOs and other institutions to set up bodies which aid self-regulatory reporting. Communications efforts can also weigh heavily in such reporting efforts as even awards and quality standards are used to communicate to the public about how an NGO’s performance.

Different political, social and cultural environments influence not only what CSOs report but when they report. Organisations may remain unregistered to avoid prosecution, so their reporting will be voluntary and sometimes in a risk averse manner. Reporting can prove difficult if governments tend to clamp down on civil society organisations that work against government norms, or are supported by foreign donors. The provision of a secure reporting environment within a wider enabling framework therefore increases the likelihood of CSOs reporting on a voluntary basis. Different countries have different legislation, which influence whether reports by or about CSOs should be made publicly available. Freedom of Information laws are increasing worldwide and some of them require CSO information to be made available on request.

What Should a CSO Report and How Should They Report?

What an organisation chooses to say about their work sometimes differs from what is said in private and/or mundane reports that they are obligated to file. For instance, if fundraising is an important issue, as is the case with most CSOs, this will influence what they report to the respective funder. It may include basic information as well as objectives, financial records and achievements. Reporting also depends on a country’s legal and financial systems. If some information is not mandatory a CSO may be less likely to report it. However, information from a well developed report can be extracted for use in communications materials by CSOs. The more time an NGO invests in thorough reporting the more materials can possibly be made available for communications efforts.

CSOs can report via the Internet, mobile phones, radio as well as by using traditional offline methods. Using multiple channels then allows others to report on their behalf, increasing the perceived validity of the report. The more reports are available to help validate what an organisation communicates about its work, the more confident other stakeholders will be to spread the CSO’s message. That is if they find it interesting of course! A website report can be linked to, tweeted, posted on Facebook, and possibly integrated into other communications outlets, by the CSO as well as other individuals and organisations that are interested in their work. Within this new technological environment CSOs must therefore not only communicate but report. This type of reporting also facilitates two way communications where both reports and feedback from the public and other stakeholders can also be included to aid validation. Indeed the Kiva model shows just how intertwined communications and reporting can be.

A report by the UN Foundation and the Vodaphone Foundation titled Wireless Technology for Social Change: Trends in Mobile Use by NGOs found that “Eight-six percent of NGO employees are using mobile technology in their work. NGO representatives working on projects in Africa or Asia are more likely to be mobile technology users than their colleagues in areas with more ‘wired’ infrastructures. Ninety-nine percent of technology users characterize the impact of mobile technology as positive. Moreover, nearly a quarter describe this technology as “revolutionary” and another 31 percent say it would be difficult to do their jobs without it.” The way we communicate as well as report may indeed change, facilitated not only by social networking sites but by the mobile phone revolution and other new advances in technology.

Look out for the next post which will talk about the where, why and when of reporting!

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