presents in DC


Google_logoToday I came to DC on an invite from to attend a conference they were organising for NGO’s in the area. It was a great day, if anything just to see all the people I’ve been working with in the sector since I started ADP almost a year ago – NetHope, Ashoka, Red Cross. A lot of the people I met I’d only spoken to over email or the phone, and I briefly stopped at the Ashoka offices in DC yesterday morning to see how the site we designed was going. They have a great office in Rosslyn, and everyone there was so friendly and young, was very nice to visit!

So I have to say, I didn’t know much about before yesterday, but it is impressive! The Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin originally came up with the idea of donating 1% of Google’s profits to the organisation when they wrote their initial IPO proposal to shareholders. That’s a lot of money, and makes it the largest corporate donor right now (which is all the more impressive when you consider the whole Google story and how young they are)! Actually, donor isn’t the right word, they specifically said is not just an organisation for handing out money, they provide strategic grants and make strategic investments into organisations and companies to address the following five areas:

  • Develop Renewable Energy Cheaper Than Coal (RE<C) will work to develop electricity from renewable energy sources that is cheaper than electricity produced from coal with a goal of producing one gigawatt of renewable energy capacity – enough to power a city the size of San Francisco – in years, not decades. As part of this effort, is making strategic investments and grants, advancing key public policies, and using Google products to unlock critical information.
  • Accelerate the Commercialization of Plug-In Vehicles (RechargeIT) is working to accelerate the mass commercialization of electric vehicles and vehicle-to-grid technology by seeding innovation, demonstrating technology, informing the debate, and stimulating market demand. Google’s vision is that one day soon a large portion of the world’s vehicles will plug in to an electric grid fueled by renewable energy.
  • Predict and Prevent seeks to address emerging threats such as infectious disease and climate risk. It supports two inter-related pathways from prediction to prevention. The first is vulnerability mapping and identification of “hot spots.” The second, creating systems to better detect threats to provide early warning and enable a rapid response.’s initial focus will be on emerging infectious diseases, which are on the rise worldwide because of climate change, urbanization, and rising international travel and trade.
  • Inform and Empower to Improve Public Services uses information to empower citizens and communities, providers, and policymakers to improve the delivery of essential public services such as education, health, water, and sanitation. In many countries in the developing world, these services are failing, especially for the poorest members of society. We will work with public, private, and civil society partners to address each side of the problem. This initiative will begin with a focus on education, health, and water and sanitation services in East Africa and India.
  • Fuel the Growth of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises will work to increase the flow of risk capital to small- and medium-sized businesses in the developing world. While SMEs in rich countries represent half of GDP, they are largely absent from the formal economies of developing countries. We want to show that SMEs can be profitable investments. We will do this by focusing on lowering transaction costs, deepening capital markets to increase liquidity, and catalyzing capital for investment.

The conference basically presented an overview of the organisation to the NGO sector so they could better understand what they were trying to do and how Google can help. One of the main things they showed was some of their products and technology and how they were making it freely available to registered NGOs. A few of these include:

  • Google Adsense – If you’re a registered NGO you can apply to use Google Adsense for free to get your message out and drive traffic to your site.
  • Google Checkout – At least until 2009 (after this its not sure what will happen) all registered NGOs can accept payments from Google Checkout for free, without any transaction charge (typically 3%). Having looked into this myself for some of the NGO sites I’ve built, this is great news, as people donate expecting all their money to go to the NGO, not minus 3%!
  • Google Earth Outreach – Google provides a service for helping non-profits use Google Earth/Maps to provide case studies and display other important data. I know that a lot of NGOs want to use Google Maps to display data during emergencies, but they also did a presentation about how they made a whole case study on the genocide in Dafur that people could zoom around and open stories about what was going on there to raise public awareness.
  • YouTube Channel – Registered NGOs can apply to have a free, premium branded YouTube channel to get their message out on the Internet using video.

So after everyone was overwhelmed with all this new and exciting information (especially around Google Apps which I took a particular interest in and will write more on late) the NGOs were given a chance to aire their biggest challenges using internet technology in their organisations today. Nearlly all of these are issues I’ve had to deal with in deploying new portals and Intranets in these very global and large organisations:

  • How to target an audience that is not technology savy – As with any organisation, but especially with the nature of people who come to work in the NGO sector, may users are not technology savy. New technology overwhelms them sometimes and you can’t just put up a new site and expect everyone to understand and use it, you really have to train and drive change through the organisation. This is made even more difficult due to the diversity and location of most of the users – in the field. How do you drive change in an organisation where not everyone speaks English and are out in remote regions still waiting for an upgrade to Microsoft Office 2003, let alone the latest and greatest Internet application!
  • Infrastructure Issues – Probably the biggest problem NGOs have is Internet connectivity issues and policy barriers in developing countries. While we take the Internet for granted in our developed countries, usually expecting broadband as standard, some African offices have regular power outages, are restricted to very expensive but extremely slow 28kps dial up connections, if that! A lot of NGOs use VSAT to provide faster connectivity for its offices, but that is an expensive solution. Probably this issue is the biggest technical issue we come across when developing all our sites, especially when using Sharepoint 2007, which is very heavy to download with all the CSS/JavaScript the UI requires!
  • How can NGOs better collaborate and share information around the world – This is the question I address everyday during my work. NGOs have become information silos, with offices around the world not sharing work and information efficiently with the rest of the organisation. Need a document? Try and find out who made it, then email them to get a copy and hopefully receive it a couple of days later. This is where online collaboration solutions and document management systems like Sharepoint 2007 can really help!
  • How can we tap into mesh computing and distributed One-Laptop-Per-Child-like access to accelerate development and community interaction? This was an idea put out there that sounds very interesting but I wasn’t sure exactly where they were going with this. Would be interested to know though…
So overall, a very interesting conference and definitely a good networking opportunity! The challenges above are definitely ones I come across everyday and it is great to know that is out there providing funds and expertise to also help address them.