Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Digital Organizations Are Gonna Change the World

The internet has already changed the way we learn, work, shop, and socialize. In the future it will also have a greater and greater impact on how social change occurs, not only as a medium for activism but also a means of creating new types of social enterprises. These changes will occur not only in the wealthy nations of North America, Europe, and East Asia but globally. In fact, it is in the developing world that the internet can have the greatest impact on social movements, enabling campaigns and organizations that were previously impossible due to lack of resources.

Because the internet is a low-cost network for global communication it enables “digital organizations.” In place of the overhead costs of a centralized office, organization members are located around the world and keep in constant contact through low-cost communication devices like internet telephony (VoIP), instant messaging, and e-mail. In place of a front lobby, people interact with the organization over a website which includes information about the organization’s mission and activities. In place of mass-mailings, free e-mail is used. In place of expensive fundraisers for a core of wealthy donors, hundreds of supporters give solicited micro-donations through the organization’s website. In place of ten full-time paid staff members, the global network allows thirty part-time volunteers to take on leadership responsibility and donate their services for free, with a core team of two or three full-time staff coordinating their efforts.

This model has already been tried in the United States, where the progressive grassroots organization MoveOn uses the internet to raise money and keep costs down while relying on a skeleton staff and a network of thousands of part-time volunteers coordinated over the internet. However, I am convinced that the real opportunity for digital organizations is in the developing world, where the increasing availability of online tools lowers the cost of organization and campaign creation and makes civic participation possible for people with very few personal resources and without access to venture capital or philanthropic grants.

categories: internet activism_, the "developing world"_, digital organizations_

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