GuideStar International's Blog

November 21, 2011

Projects we are watching: OpenDataPhilly

Filed under: Access to information,Access to Public Information — guidestarinternational @ 09:38
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by Keisha Taylor

This was originally posted on the TechSoup Global Blog

Nonprofit organisations and the public are at the heart of a new Open Government Data initiative in Philadelphia!. OpenDataPhilly, a catalogue of online data, applications and APIs is now freely available to the public. Azavea, a geospatial analysis (GIS) software development company, Technically Philly, WHYY Newsworks, NPower Pennsylvania, the William Penn Foundation and the City of Philadelphia’s Open Access Philly task force are partnering on this initiative. Collaboration between government, technology companies, nonprofits, the public and inspired techies is prioritised and this is to be commended. Those involved in the project have been building a community of practice around the topic of ‘open data and government transparency’ but also advocating for the release of more and quite varied datasets.

In September the Open Data Race was launched, enabling non-profits to nominate data sets that they believe if released by the City of Philadelphia would further their missions. The general public can vote for their favourite datasets (and the non-profits that nominated them) until 27th October. The Open Data Race partners will work with the City of Philadelphia to release the winning data sets. At the end of the contest, cash prizes will be awarded to the winners. They are also organising hack-a-thons, to encourage civic hackers to build applications with the newly released data. It is a very innovative way of promoting dialogue between nonprofits, government, the public and the technology community to make open data real and useful for all.

This interesting open government data initiative illustrates very well how nonprofits can be encouraged to engage with open government data. According to Robert Cheetham, CEO and President of Azavea. “Several major cities have released open data catalogs over the past few years. But these municipalities all have limited resources and struggle with prioritizing which data sets will be most useful. The Open Data Race is an experiment aimed at both building a community and constituency around open data and open government as well as helping the City to prioritize the inevitably limited resources it can apply to releasing data sets while also delivering social value.” This project is definitely one to watch!

More info can be found here: OpenDataPhilly Invites the Public to Vote for Data to be Released for Non-Profits

July 26, 2011

TechSoup Launches Mirco-volunteering Initiative, Donate Your Brain

Filed under: civil society — guidestarinternational @ 09:57
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This post was authored by Becky Band Jain, a TechSoup guest blogger and volunteer.

TechSoup is launching a new micro-volunteering initiative called Donate Your Brain. It allows anyone, anywhere, to help nonprofits and other community organizations with quick answers and suggestions for their Internet, software, and other tech needs.

TechSoup’s Donate Your Brain is a way for nonprofits, NGOs, libraries, government agencies and other social mission-based organizations to ask tech-related questions and get quick answers. Questions posted in our forums, LinkedIn group, or on Twitter will get a rapid response from volunteers. This new initiative is ideal for those of you who would like to get involved with providing tech assistance on the social networks where you are already active.

Here’s how you can get involved:

  • Search and save the hashtag #TechSoupDYB, and respond either via tweet or following a link to the forum post.
  • View questions & share answers in the TechSoup Global LinkedIn group.
  • Use GoogleAlerts or a similar service to let you know about any new forum posts, blogs or tweets that have been tagged with #TechSoupDYB.

See here for further instructions, or to jump in to the discussion. You choose which questions you want to answer, whenever you want to answer them!

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
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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.

March 28, 2011

11NTC: Reflections on NTEN’s 2011 NTC

Filed under: ICT for Development — guidestarinternational @ 14:07
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By Keisha Taylor, Communications Manager, GuideStar International. This post was originally posted on the TechSoup blog.

With over 2000 attendees NTEN’s NTC conference was abuzz with lots of exhibitions displaying technology on offer as well as workshops and side events (which even included free massages provided by PICnet!). It provided a great opportunity for the American nonprofit sector to engage with the technology sector, as well as each other, to improve the use of technology for social benefit.

TechSoup Global had an exhibition at the Science Fair and many nonprofits in attendance expressed thanks for donations they received from our donor partners through TechSoup, while others asked for more information on what they needed to do to receive them.

However, there were also practical workshops. For instance, the We are Media Workshop that I attended provided very practical and useful tips on how to create videos, while the Popcorn and WebMadeMovies: Taking Your Videos Beyond YouTube (11NTCwebvideo) also shed light on innovative uses of video in the sector. Workshops like Technology in Times of Disaster provided some information on the technology being used to respond to relief efforts — notably by the American Red Cross and Don’t Worry be h-API examined the various application programming interfaces (APIs) being used in the nonprofit and for profit sectors.

Other interesting workshops included: What Is Cloud Computing and Is It Right for My Nonprofit Organization? (11NTCCLOUD), Mobile Invasion: Which Mobile Strategies are Really Working Today (11NTCMobileInvasion), Data Don’t Have to Be Boring: Make Your Case with Compelling Facts (11NTCData), and A Storyteller’s Toolkit – 5,000 Years in the Making (11NTCstory). Google also took the opportunity to launch their Google for Nonprofits at the event.

The sessions are too many to mention in one blog post, but some of the notes and presentations have been made available online (click here for a link to all the sessions and keep checking the NTEN website as more presentations are uploaded). The network was also overwhelmed and Internet became virtually nonexistent so there was limited opportunity to tweet or to follow more information using the #2011NTC hashtag during the session.

As someone that works for a U.S.-based technology nonprofit, but isn’t American and is based outside of the U.S. my first attendance at NTC provided some additional, unique and valuable lessons about how technology is being used by many in the U.S. nonprofit sector. It also shed light on the need for nonprofits throughout the world to use technology to interact with the vast,  diverse and very mature American nonprofit sector (which includes both the large and the very small nonprofits) as well as those beyond American shores. Doing so will enable all civil society organizations to continue learning and consequently improve their service to the public.

I went back to London with renewed ideas for my work but also some practical tips, which I hope will help me be able to implement them.

March 10, 2011

Transparency for a Rainy Day

Filed under: Access to information,CSO reporting,Philanthropy,Transparency — guidestarinternational @ 09:41
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by Benny Shlesinger, Product Manager at NPTech GuideStar Israel. Read the post in Hebrew on the NPTech blog.

In Israel demands have been made for the establishment of an investigative committee to examine the funding sources of five non-profit organizations affiliated with the Israeli political left wing, amongst them are: B’TselemAdalah, and Yesh Din. Without entering into a political debate about this story, there was one interesting part of this story that caught my attention. All of the organizations’ initial reaction was to say “We are transparent”.

The response of the organizations point to the value of transparency in the eyes of the public, and also reflects the many public debates, talk shows and articles that circulate within NPO networks. I believe that while the response of the organizations is “We are transparent”, the sub text is a bit different. These organisations have actually said “We have nothing to hide. We pride ourselves in our conduct. If our activities were offensive:

a. it is because we were not ready to reveal everything; or

b. anyone could have found information about the organisation both before and after the accusations

The organizations not only make those two statements but also say that they can prove it.

However, it is important for nonprofits to remember that such an answer cannot be given without the proper preparations. When accused not every NPO can suddenly claim – “We are transparent” since they should be exhibiting transparent behavior before hand and over time. Transparency supports the organization’s day to day work with donors, volunteers and anyone that is interested in the organization. However, when the NPO is in the middle of a public debate – there is no substitute for transparent conduct over time.

So how should NPOs prepare for the day they may become the focus of public debate?

1. Publicise reports on the organization’s website. The most inspiring example I saw of this (and for full disclosure,  I have more than just sympathy for public transparency in this case, but also for the football club behind it) is the Hapoel Tel Aviv Education and Social Project. Visit the organization’s transparency page and see for yourself. To reveal information such as salaries and protocols requires courage.
2. The GuideStar Israel website (what else?): one example of the many great transparent profiles on GuideStar Israel is that by Ofanim – for the promotion of children and young people in Israel.

There are several advantages in using GuideStar to show transparency of the organization:

a. Reliability: information presented on GuideStar Israel was obtained directly from the government and is signed by the National Registrar of Non-Profit Associations. It is not published by the NPO, but an objective “third party”. Once the NPO also publishes its information to supplement the government information, and takes full responsibility there is little room for doubt.
b. The government information is already there, even before the NPO has registered, and the information is also updated automatically.
c. Standard structure: the reader receives all the information in a standard format, which makes it easy to read and compare with different organizations.

The conclusion I arrived at following the response of these organizations is that NPOs need to better prepare in advance for the time when they will have to be accountable to the public, the regulator,  the donor or to anyone else. It is therefore desirable for an NPO to have such information available on their website and of course ensure transparency by having a well written and complete GuideStar Israel profile.

February 11, 2011

Introducing the TechSoup Global Contributors’ Summit

Filed under: ICT for Development — guidestarinternational @ 17:00
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This post originally appeared on TechSoup’s NetSquared Blog and was authored by Amy Sample Ward.

TechSoup Global Contributors' Summit LogoFor 23 years, TechSoup Global has been working to build networks — networks of organizations that need technology support, networks of corporations that are willing to donate their products, networks of funders interested in building the capacity of civil society, and networks of technical volunteers.

In the last six years, we have built two formal networks — one of more than 24,000 on-the-ground technology activists via our NetSquared initiative; and the other of capacity-building organizations, capable of delivering technology solutions to other NGOs in 35 countries around the world. At TechSoup Global, we see that we have reached a critical point: a place where our reach, our programs, our partners, and our contributors can come together to develop and deliver solutions to the entire sector, worldwide, or, at the local level, to one innovative organization at a time.

The TechSoup Global Contributors’ Summit, taking place next week, will be the place where opportunity and action meet. Representatives of our networks and other affinity groups (funders, corporate donors, social media experts, capacity-building organizations, and other social change technologists) will convene at Microsoft’s Silicon Valley campus to participate in two days of programming focused on provoking discussion about how these networks, and the capabilities that power them, can be effectively leveraged to create greater impact. We will especially focus on welding together product donations, data services, and human capacity to help build truly resilient civil society, both in the wake of a disaster like Haiti’s and in the developing (as well as the developed) countries of the world.

Over the next week, participants will begin introducing themselves and the ideas they want to explore through posts on the blog. You can follow these posts as well as any notes and other posts that emerge from the sessions next week by following the TSG2011 tag.

Stay tuned for introductions and highlights from the Summit!

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