Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Gates Project 18: eRiders + network = supercharged

Ever since I read Wired magazine founder Kevin Kelly's New Rules for the New Economy in August I have been fascinated by the power of networks. To wit:
1. In a network, every node is potentially equidistant from every other node (immediate direct communication is possible)

2. In a network, the more nodes are connected, the more powerful the network is as a whole (more knowledge, money, etc. can be shared)

3. The multitude of relationships and the vast amount of knowledge-sharing possible in a network promotes innovative thinking and practice

However, for some reason unbeknownst to myself I had never applied my fascination with networks to the proposals I was writing for the Gates Foundation. Fortunately, today I spoke with Paul Maassen, who works at the innovative Dutch development foundation Hivos. Paul is the Program Manager for Hivos' ICT, Media, and Knowledge-Sharing program. I went through my funding proposals with Paul and he added network elements at each level, strengthening all three.

However, the section that was most improved was the implementation section, which focuses on funding eRider consultants. My original idea was to expand eRiding to different countries, but I hadn't particularly thought of connecting these programs. Paul pushed me think more ambitiously, not only to fund eRiders on a global scale but to connect them, creating a worldwide network of NGO tech consultants.

This network would have multiple benefits, for instance in disseminating and receiving information. One of the weaknesses of the e-advocacy sector is the lack of awareness of what tools are out there and how to use them. A global network would make spreading this information quite easy. In fact, there would be only one step between the tech conference in Delhi and the grassroots NGO is Ecuador - an e-mail to the Ecuador eRider program.

The second benefit of the network would be receiving information. If someone wanted to create software for the developing world, eRiders would be a great source of information as to what organizations really need.

However, the true strength of a network is not central information dissemination and collection, but decentralized node-to-node communication. Face-to-face convenings would foster a global eRider community that would create personal relationships between eRiders in different countries. So when an eRider in South Africa had a problem, he might e-mail his eRider friend in India. In this way, expertise would travel spontaneously, without the need for central coordination.

A global network of NGO tech experts sharing expertise and speeding e-advocacy implementation and innovation - I like it!

categories: internet activism_, gates project_, the "developing world"_,

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