New Technology Donors

As internet and mobile-based interventions gain in popularity, what’s best practice for donors supporting technology interventions?

Moderator: Stephen King, Investment Partner and Global Government Transparency lead at the Omidyar Network, which supports technologies that give millions of people access to credible information about government actions and influence in the USA and other countries.

Marjan Besuijen, Programme Manager ICT and Media at Hivos, which funds across several thematic areas, including ICT and media, where it promotes the strategic use of ICT and gives a voice to critical and alternative views from society.

Martin Tisne, Program Manager for the Transparency and Accountability Initiative, a donor collaborative that aims to expand the impact, scale and coordination of funding and activity in the transparency and accountability field.

Fran Perrin, Founder and Director of the Indigo Trust; an organisation that funds technology-driven projects to bring about social change, largely in African countries. The Trust focuses mainly on innovation, transparency and citizen empowerment.

Overview

As mobile penetration and internet access are gaining considerable traction in the developing world, how should the often quite traditional world of philanthropy engage with organisations looking to use new technologies for social change? From good governance to maternal health to rural development, ICT can be used for a wide range of purposes, but deciding which kinds of interventions to support can be difficult. If philanthropy is not to be left behind, however, trusts, foundations and other donors must embrace these new technologies. The purpose of this panel was to enlighten the delegates on lessons learnt and mistakes made.

Lessons from the field

  • Finding successful funding models is crucial to making organisations and initiatives sustainable in the long term. While some programmes are rightly grant-dependent, many other ICT programmes can be sustained through the adoption of appropriate business models.
  • Citizens should be viewed as active players rather than passive users in ICT projects.
  • Any online project is only successful if it encourages offline behaviour change. Technology cannot work in a vacuum; it must form part of a wider programme of change.
  • The vast majority of citizens in developing countries use mobiles and the internet for the same purposes as everywhere else, i.e. fun and entertainment. Organisations and individuals should bear this in mind when developing new projects.
  • Being transparent funders, actually makes life easier in the long term. While many donors would fear a surfeit of applications from organisations, being upfront and honest about who you fund and how much you fund actually helps reduce the burden.

Opportunities & Challenges

  • Technology is rarely – if ever – the panacea. Rather, technology is a tool that can assist and compliment the work of organisations. It is unlikely to ever provide all the answers.
  • Many, if not most, charitable organisations don’t know how to use technology effectively to drive forward the kinds of change they’d like to see. Helping organisations to see how they can use technology is a very important task. Bringing together technologists and practitioners can be a very fruitful exercise for all involved.
  • This is still a small and nascent field with a great deal to learn. Many organisations need help investing in human capital. This is a very useful way that funders can assist in this field.
  • The great potential of technology is that it allows projects to be taken to scale much more easily than before. A lot can be achieved for a little investment.
  • Technology can also provide very useful feedback loops for donors. Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter can be used to track projects and interventions live. While these tools cannot replace due diligence, they do provide a useful – and interesting – way of monitoring the successes and challenges of a given project.

If you’d like to learn more, all the speaker videos from this panel are available to view here.

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