Archive for April, 2012

 

celebrating 10 lessons learned over 10 years – do what makes sense

Posted by Marc Maxson on April 11th, 2012

Ten years ago, Co-Founders Mari Kuraishi and Dennis Whittle launched GlobalGiving. In honor of these past ten years and in the spirit of one of our guiding core values, ‘Listen. Act. Learn. Repeat,’ we have launched a monthly blog series asking current and former staff to speak candidly about what they have learned at GlobalGiving. Mari wrote our inaugural blog post in February, and this month Innovation Consultant Marc Maxson shares his one life-long lesson…

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I’ve been part of GlobalGiving for nearly 4 years. Last month I kept asking myself, “what is the one thing that GlobalGiving taught me that I will keep doing forever?”

Lesson: Do what makes sense.

This is easier said than done. Too often, doing “what makes sense” is not feasible for larger companies, organizations, and research labs because they are bound by a preexisting set of rules. But everything we’ve done has had a different flavor than everybody else because it has evolved out of what has made the most sense to us, rather than copying whatever others were doing.

When Dennis and Mari started GlobalGiving, they didn’t build it upon an established paradigm. They didn’t require that it function according to some preconceived worldview. They didn’t even require that it remain a fixed version of their own original vision – but rather it was free to evolve into what our clients needed most. They hired enthusiastic, thoughtful, curious people and told them to “do what makes sense.”

Being the only scientist they’ve ever hired, I think they took a risk on me. They gave me the freedom to do things in new ways because they made more sense than the old ways, so long as we had a clear reason for everything we did. (You’ll never find someone saying “…because that’s the way we’ve always done it…” at GlobalGiving)

Innovation = Listening

Marc Maxson, GlobalGiving Innovation Consultant (Nairobi, Kenya)

‘Fostering innovation’ is always talked about as if it is some kind of widget that falls off a well-oiled assembly line; but inside GlobalGiving, I see it as the product of long conversations and lots of listening to each other. Anyone, even the newest intern, can contribute an idea and be heard. If GlobalGiving was supposed to be a platform to let the world’s local community leaders pitch  their own ideas and get an audience with billions of potential donors, we had to start by listening to each other, right?

Well, here are some innovation milestones I’m proud to have been part of in the last three years:

  • Real capacity building : since 2008, we’ve held over 100 workshops in 20 of the poorest countries to prepare community organizations for social media fundraising. Thousands of people attended (because we teach stuff that “makes sense” for them to learn, of course).
  • Our open challenges work: Both as a means of testing what organizations have learned, and as a test of whether an organization truly means a lot to at least 50 people (“social vetting”).
  • Learning how to do community feedback on a massive scale: 36,000 stories collected in 2011 across Kenya and Uganda. Best of all, thousands of young people in these countries were directly involved in listening to each other and collecting these stories.
  • Organization background checks (due diligence): GlobalGiving is synonymous with the highest standard in fraud protection. Last month, we screened over 400 new organizations, entirely without printing a piece of paper.
  • Quick, error-free disbursements: We get all donations out the door, to more places, faster than any aid organization. And our partners can now see what’s coming in real-time.
  • Delivering excellence while reaching sustainability: Most of the public good done by the world’s nonprofits rely on subsidies from government and even larger funding agencies. GlobalGiving aspires to do it all sustainably, so that a lean funding year doesn’t wipe us out of existence.

Suffice it to say, I have the coolest job. They let me live in Nairobi, where I run a storytelling project that – when fully conceived – could transform the way that organizations listen and learn from what’s happening around them. Imagine if every day, instead of checking Facebook for the latest fad, every community leader could log into a site that gave them a report on yesterday’s community concerns. They could receive continuous evaluations about the root causes of complex social problems. They could tab over and read stories that relate to their projects. They could send a text message back to these storytellers to ask a follow-up question, or ping everyone in the village with an announcement about next week’s HIV clinic. By lunch, they could be planning next month’s community “baraza” (fundraiser) that would collect money directly by phone and show the total amount raised on their project page (as a form of community endorsement). And over time, what got done would align with what the community needed.

Together these four things: direct feedback (from communities to NGOs), instant SMS replies (from NGOs to the community), mobile money as a fundraising tool, and a global reputation system for NGOs – would transform the way that aid flows. I’m excited to get the ball rolling but we all need to chip in, because the “standard ways” of doing things aren’t good enough. They no longer make sense. We must take risks in pursuit of better, cheaper, and more democratic ways to serve the world’s people.

So what proof does a scientist like myself need to believe that we are making progress? When people are telling stories about it on a massive scale, without us even asking them about it.

-Marc Maxson

Below: Dennis Whittle at TEDxYSE explaining: “Do what makes sense.”

Landmine Clearance in Cambodia: A Tour of The HALO Trust’s Work

Posted by anadin on April 4th, 2012

Gearing up for the field

This is a guest post by Jacqueline Lee, an InTheField Traveler with GlobalGiving. Jacqueline is currently making her way across Southeast Asia. Jacqueline has lived all around the U.S., Central America, backpacked along Australia’s eastern coast while volunteering for the National Park Service, western Europe, and traveled around the world. You can also follow her via Twitter.

Today, across the world, governments, organizations, and individuals are commemorating International Mine Awareness Day. It is an important opportunity for victims of landmines to speak out, and for all of us to build awareness about the effects of landmines long after conflicts have ended. Here at GlobalGiving, we are proud to work with numerous organizations that are clearing minefields around the world, including The HALO Trust, an organization working to clear landmines in 13 countries around the world.

There are still hundreds of thousands of landmines in Cambodia; not only were they laid by the Khmer Rouge, a brutal regime that ruled Cambodia in the late 1970s, but also the Vietnamese army, in its efforts to contain Khmer Rouge forces, and later, the new Cambodian army. Since 1979, there have been more than 63,000 landmine casualties in the country.

My Visit to The HALO Trust

"Lifesticks"

Recently, my colleague, Alexis Nadin, and I had the chance to receive a real-life tour of a minefield being cleared by The HALO Trust’s field team in Cambodia. We visited a minefield that is part of the infamous K5, a large swath of densely-mined land stretching across 21 northern border districts in Cambodia.

On our way out to the field, Alexis and I were surprised by the number of yellow sticks we passed on the sides of the road. Stanislav Damjanovic, HALO’s Deputy Programme Manager in Cambodia, explained that each stick represents a destroyed landmine. I deemed them “life sticks,” what could have been tombstones are now indicators of lives that have been spared.

Cambodian Deminer

By the time we arrived at the site, HALO’s field team had already found 6 landmines that day. As we walked towards the makeshift field office, the local field officer signaled for us to wait for a blast. We were taken aback by the loud BOOM of a landmine being exploded by HALO’s expert field team in the distance. It was at that moment that Alexis and I looked at one another, thinking about what we had gotten ourselves into.

Alexis and I geared up, having received in-depth security and safety briefings, and then were off to experience a day in the life of a de-miner. We followed HALO’s staff as they navigated the field, weaving between yellow sticks, and being careful not to cross any red sticks, which signaled uncleared land.

Destroying a landmine...

Well-trained deminers, hired from local communities, were carefully scanning grids with specially-designed metal detectors. And as the afternoon sun beat down on us in our Kevlar vests and massive helmets, we began to truly appreciate the dedication and resilience of HALO’s team.

Stanislav asked Alexis and I if we would like to destroy one of the mines – so we had the opportunity of a lifetime to press the button that would prevent a future tragedy.  It was an intense thirty seconds waiting for the explosion… then BOOM, a loud jolt went off that shook even my camera while I was filming. This was a small mine – I could not imagine standing next to it when it accidentally goes off or even when coming across a larger tank mine.

Later in the day, we traveled to one of the many fields that The HALO Trust has not been able to clear due to funding limitations. We stood in the backyard of a small family home and looked out into a minefield. It was here that the true implications of HALO’s work sunk in. Although The HALO Trust has cleared over 17,350 acres and destroyed more than 245,700 landmines, the risk is still high in rural Cambodia.

Standing in the backyard of a family home looking out into a minefield...

Children still play and walk to school on paths that wind through uncleared minefields. Parents and grandparents still take daily risks, farming on land that has never been cleared.

Our day with HALO was incredible. The work they are doing on the ground in Cambodia is crucial to the continued development of the country. Having witnessed for myself the harmful impact of minefields first hand, I would like to invite you to help clear another landmine in Cambodia this Mine Awareness Day. Consider making a donation to HALO Trust’s project in Cambodia.

Check out GlobalGiving’s other mine clearance projects: