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October 06 2011


How Mobile Phones Could Bring Public Services to People in Developing Countries

In Santiago, Chile, more than 60 percent of the poorest citizens don't have access to the Internet. In the rest of the country, that number increases to 80 percent, and in rural areas, an Internet connection is almost nonexistent. But there are more than 20 million mobile phones in the nation, according to the latest survey by the Undersecretary of Telecommunications. (That's actually around 1.15 cell phones per capita in a nation of 17,094,270 people.) And in rural areas, cell phones are king.


As Knight News Challenge winners FrontlineSMS, Ushahidi and NextDrop have shown, mobile communications are crucial for citizens living in rural areas, where being able to reach other people and access relevant news and public services information make a huge improvement in people's lives. Plus, cell phones are tools that most already have.


What if, apart from efforts to widen connectivity in isolated areas and government programs to provide computers for schools in rural areas (which has been a very good, but slow, undertaking, and not an attractive business for telecom companies), governments of underdeveloped countries create and provide easy ways to access public information and services on mobile phones with an application or open-source web app that could be downloaded from government websites (in Chile it's Gob.cl)? Or cellular service providers could pre-install an app or direct access to a web app on every smartphone or other devices?

This could mean a great deal for people, particularly in rural and impoverished areas where the biggest news is not what's happening in Congress or the presidential palace, but what is happening to you and your community (something Facebook understood very well in its latest change that challenges the notion of what is newsworthy -- but that's a topic for a separate post).

People could do things like schedule a doctor's appointment or receive notice that a doctor won't be available; find out about grants to improve water conditions in their sector; receive direct information about training programs for growing organic food and the market prices for products they might sell; find out how their kids are doing in a school they attend in the city or if the rural bus system will go this week to the nearest town or not. These are just a few very straightforward examples of useful public services information that could be available on people's phones. Such availability of information could save time and money for those who lack both things.

I know it because I saw it as a boy growing up in a small town -- and as the son of a farmer who still hasn't gotten around to the idea of using a computer, despite having the chance to use one. But because my father owns a mobile phone, he's become an expert user of SMS and applications that allow him to check weather conditions.


At the same time, telecom companies could support this initiative by providing mobile Internet connection packages and a free SMS service for rural areas by which citizens could specify their information searches or requests (a kind of help desk). Why would they do it for free? Because with each free transaction, there might be another one that has nothing to do with the government or public services information, which may produce additional income. It might also improve the companies' public image.

Another way of getting support from these companies consists of giving them a
tax reduction for providing the service and automatic updates of information. Thus, rural citizens living in small towns and cities would be able to access the data they need (pension reforms, hospital appointments, housing benefits, food grants, etc).


To do what we're talking about, we need clean and intuitive interfaces with super-simple steps and strong government websites or apps that learn from the end users' needs, systematizing:

  • Databases containing questions and answers made by ministries and government staff.
  • Services citizens can access in order to ask for all kinds of information: subsidies, hours of service, etc.
  • Simple and complex procedures, so that answers can be delivered accurately and in the shortest amount of time.

This reduces the margin of error, maximizes human resources -- decreasing the man-hours needed for searching for requested information -- allows specific departments to detect questions which are more usual, and meets the needs of users and citizens.

However, in order to make citizens understand the information, it has to be written in a simple way, with no illegible technical or legal terms. For such a purpose, there are citizen language manuals that standardize response criteria issued by the state. (A good example of this in Spanish is the Mexican Lenguaje Ciudadano government guide.)

This is a small civic proposal to start a wider conversation and brainstorming and discover projects and ideas that may already be addressing this issue. Please feel free to post your tips and thoughts in the comments section.

Image of Santiago, Chile by Flickr user Cleanie.

May 26 2011


American Marketing Association Nonprofit Marketing Conference

OnPointPlease join us for the 2011 Nonprofit Marketing Conference in DC, July 11-13.
The line-up is amazing, the presenters an incredible mix of nonprofit marketing experts.

Here are a few of the tech-related highlights:

    Social Media Success for Nonprofits

    More than three-quarters of surveyed nonprofits in 2010 said that social media works best for “enhancing relationships with existing audiences.” But, are there more benefits coming with evolving use? Should nonprofits be using one networking site or more? Are there any strategies to managing the time it takes to grow social networks? And, how will services like Facebook and Twitter be changing in the future?

    Register for this three-hour, pre-conference workshop with renowned social media expert, Blue State Digital, the company that has crafted and implemented powerful social media campaigns for dozens of issue organizations and cultural institutions. We'll talk about some tactics that have worked well for BSD clients (like Obama for America, the NAACP, the Jewish Federations, Share Our Strength, US Soccer, and the It Gets Better Project) and others. We'll discuss where the biggest bang for the buck is for nonprofits, and where the risks are. We'll have a special conversation about prioritizing staff time in an era of limited resources. And, we'll reserve time to discuss your own programs and challenges.

    Lead presenter Rich Mintz will be joined by other members of BSD's communications team to talk about social media programs they worked on, why they made the decisions they did, and what results they achieved.  

    This is a hands-on session. Bring your laptop or mobile device!
    Presenter: Rich Mintz
    , Vice President, Strategy, Blue State Digital

  • All a Twitter July 12
    A recent study shows that 78% of nonprofit organizations find Twitter to be the most effective social media tool for reaching new supporters. This interactive session will focus on the future of social media and Twitter as they are being played out in the nonprofit sector and will include:  

    ·         Twitter best practices for nonprofits

    ·         Successful nonprofit campaigns on Twitter

    ·         Fundraising/membership on Twitter

    ·         Tools and tricks to use with Twitter

    ·         How Twitter benefits your integrated marcom strategy

    Bring your laptop or mobile device for hands-on practice!
    : David Neff,Senior Digital Strategist, Ridgewood: Ingenious Communication Strategy, co-author, The Future of Nonprofits: Innovate and Thrive in the Digital Age

  • Nonprofit Customer Acquisition and Retention: Traditional vs Digital Methods for Maximizing ROI

    July 12
    In order for nonprofits to survive and thrive, they need to continually acquire/recruit new donors, members, supporters, clients, and volunteers. Once they're in the door, however, attrition rates can soar without a sound stewardship and engagement program to retain them and grow revenue.

    Presenters: Allyson Kapin, Founder at Women Who Tech, Partner, Rad Campaign; Eric Rardin, Director of Nonprofit Services, Care2

 Get the earlybird discount of $100 if you register before June 11! There are group discounts, too, for nonprofits sending three or more employees. Click the image to find out more! JUST BE THERE!

May 24 2011


Follow, Follow, Tweet Tweet (realities of microblogging)

Microblogs like Twitter are a great vehicle to help organize political demonstrations in countries run by corrupt governments (and an effective way to spread misinformation), but how can nonprofit organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), libraries, government programs, and other mission-based organizations really use microblogs to promote their work, increase attendance at an event, get donations or mobilize or support volunteers?

I've updated my resource on Microblogs and Nonprofits yet again, this time adding much more information about live microblog/live tweet events. This is a primer based in reality - you won't find a panting endorsement about how you will raise millions of dollars via Twitter or Facebook or any other technology-tool. Rather, this resource is, I hope, a no-nonsense, anti-fluff, anti-hype, practical list to help nonprofits, NGOs and other community-focused initiatives explore microblogging and use it effectively with volunteers, event attendees and others they are trying to reach and engage.

Being able to work online is now an essential and much-sought-after skill in the work place, no matter what your job at a nonprofit, NGO, government agency, etc. This isn't the domain of just your marketing department anymore: program staff, those that work with volunteers, and anyone that works with the public or with clients at a mission-based organization has a role in using online tools on behalf of mission-based organizations. This updated resource is just one of many pages on my site meant to help those at mission-based organizations who want to enhance their online skills quickly.

Remember: content is still king. Be thoughtful and be strategic about whatever communication tool you use, even the flavor of the month.

October 15 2010


Last chance to VOTE for Tole-rants connect for the 2010 FACT Social Justice Challenge

Today is the final day of community voting for the 2010 FACT Social Justice Challenge. We need your support so please come VOTE. Let us start by saying a huge thank you to all the people who have already voted for the 60 seconds of Hope campaign, your support has been fantastic. 

VOTING requires a couple of minutes of your time. We wish it was easier, so here are some short directions to help make it as quick as possible:

1. Follow our link - Click VOTE and be redirected to another window where you will need to quickly register.

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October 13 2010


Karen Armstrong Tole-rants about compassion. Vote for Tole-rants Connect for the 2010 FACT social justice challenge

Voting is still open for the 2010 FACT Social Justice Challenge and Tole-rants Connect needs your help. Please spare a few moments and VOTE for 60 seconds of Hope.

The Tole-rants movement has garnered tremendous support in its inaugural year from partners such as The Council of Europe, The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, Search for Common Ground, Odyssey Networks, Youth Leader Magazine, and many other inspirational organizations.

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June 17 2010


Seeking Professional Pro Bono Communications and New Technology Consultant at ESCR-Net

The International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR-Net) is currently looking to partner with a consultant in the area of new technologies and advancing communications for the Network. ESCR-Net is the largest network of groups and individuals from around the world working to secure economic and social justice through human rights. Please help us circulate to anyone who may be interested in taking on some pro bono work in this area.  You can view the announcement and full job description on the ESCR-Net website here: http://www.escr-net.org/about/about_show.htm?doc_id=1256687

June 15 2010


Using Internal Media at NetSquared

The June Net2 Think Tank focuses on social media use internally at organizations: Online tools are transforming the way we communicate with team members down the hall or across an ocean, but which tools are available and how can we use them to enhance our work? At NetSquared, we use a lot of social media tools in our work with the community, publicly, as well as just with our team, privately.

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