Monday, October 30, 2006

Gates Project 13: What is e-advocacy?

Throughout my work on this project I have been wondering how to define e-advocacy. Wikipedia, my grail of all human knowledge, defines it as:
the use of communication technologies such as e-mail, web sites, and podcasts to enable faster communications by citizen movements and deliver a message to a large audience. These Internet technologies are used for cause-related fundraising, lobbying, volunteering, community building, and organizing.
However, the exact meaning of e-advocacy seems to be in flux. On Wikipeda, although the URL for the definition is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E-advocacy, the page itself prefers the term "internet activism" and is edited frequently. In addition, none of the area experts I have spoken to really like the term e-advocacy, saying that it is too vague.

I agree. One distinction that "e-advocacy" fails to make is separating day-to-day technology use by NGO's from tactical use of technology for a specific goal (using Skype to communicate between offices vs. organizing a rally via SMS). I at first decided that the difference was internal vs. external (as Wikipedia also implies), that e-advocacy is about communicating with supporters or political leaders outside the organization.

Today I posed my question to Stephanie Hankey. Formerly of the Open Society Institute, where she helped establish and develop the Information Communication Technologies for Civil Society project, Stephanie is currently the Executive Director of Tactical Tech, an organization she co-founded which helps NGO's in developing and transitional countries use technology in their advocacy. The organization has a wide range of expertise that ranges from Eastern Europe, to Africa, to South East Asia.

I posed this question to Stephanie: what terminology do you use to differentiate between day-to-day technology use by NGO's and the more active and campaign-based use that we traditionally think of as e-advocacy?

First off, Stephanie shot down my intern/external differentiator (which I was so proud of), pointing out the case of Global Witness, an international organization that exposes and breaks the links between natural resource exploitation, human rights abuses, conflict and corruption. Global Witness uses software developed by police in the UK to track criminal gangs and terrorists to tracks patterns of corruption. This tracking is not external, but it still seems like e-advocacy because it uses technology to actively address a social concern and forms the basis information for later external advocacy.

At last we decided that what separates e-advocacy from day-to-day use was that e-advocacy uses technology as part of a project with a specific public policy end-goal. This definition stresses that the use of the tool is more important than the tool itself and also that e-advocacy does not exist independently, but rather as part of a larger project. In addition, it clarifies that not all technology use by NGO's is e-advocacy. Stephanie and I decided that e-advocacy must be strategic (project -based and goal-oriented, as stated above), whereas day-to-day use of technology is baseline. I wonder if other e-advocacy practioners will find this terminology applicable to their experiences.

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

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Gates Project 12: Fahamu at the Forefront

--------------- Firoze Manji receiving the Microsoft Education Award at the Tech Awards Gala in 2005

Last week I interviewed Firoze Manji, the Director of Fahamu, an NGO with offices in the UK and South Africa that uses information and communications technologies to promote social justice in Africa.

Fahamu is really at the forefront of e-advocacy, not only in an African context but in a global context. Again and again throughout our conversation I was impressed by the dynamism and innovation of Fahamu's activities, to wit:

1. a pioneering SMS campaign: An international SMS campaign to collection signatures for a petition pushing for the ratification of the Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa. People from across the African continent could sign the petition by SMS and then received an SMS alert from Fahamu when the protocol was ratified by a country.

2. followed by others: Fahamu followed with another SMS campaign in support of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty, which has had even more participants than their first campaign. Fahamu is also looking into ways for rural women's associations to use SMS in their activism.

3. and applications to election monitoring: Fahamu will also be taking part in the election monitoring in Kenya for the December 2007 presidential elections. Not surprisingly, they plan to use IT in their efforts, including allowing election monitors to report their findings by SMS and creating an SMS short code that allows Kenyans who witness elections abuse to report what they see via their cell phones.

As you've noticed, a lot of Fahamu's recent work focuses on SMS and cell phones. This is because of the large number of Africans who own cell phones. With growth in cell phone subscriber leaping from 80 to 100 million in 2006 alone, Africa is the world's fastest-growing cell phone market. Using cell phones for e-advocacy also makes a lot of sense in view of the fact that only 14.5 million people on the continent are internet users.

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

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Gates Project 11: Two SMS Ideas for NGO's

Here are some ideas for helping NGO's use SMS in their campaigns. I developed them with Ken Banks of Kiwanja.net, who is currently a Collaborative Fellow at the Digital Vision Progam as Stanford University.

1. Create an SMS Buying Co-op: The cheapest way to send mass SMS messages is through and SMS aggregator, a company that acts as a middle man between the SMS sender, the SMS receiver, and the operator (phone company). It is cheaper to send large numbers of SMS messages through an aggregator because the aggregator lowers the price of each SMS the more messages you send (operators charge the same price per SMS no matter how many you send). Most small NGO's who want to send SMS as a way to communicate to supporters either do not need so many messages for the cost to go down significantly, or cannot afford them in high quantities. However, if many NGO's bought their messages together they could reap the benefit of buying in bulk. Instead of 5 organizations each buying 10,000 messages at a price of R7/SMS, those 5 organizations could collectively purchase 50,000 messages for R5/SMS. The elegant part of this idea is that is does not necessitate external funding because it works in cooperation with the SMS aggregator's business model. All that is necessary is an aggregator willing to sell to an NGO cooperative at a bulk rate, which makes good business sense as it would help attract NGO's to that particular operator.

2. A Socially Responsible Virtual Operator: On Ken's blog I saw a post about MVNO 's (mobile virtual network operators). Unlike most telecomm operators that own their own infrastructure, MVNO's rent the infrastructure from the traditional operator. For this reason, it is cheaper to start up than a traditional phone company. As MVNO's can set their own rates regardless of the the operator they are renting from, this might be a good way to set up a socially responsible telecom company that would charge lower rates to NGO's.

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

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Gates Project 10: Cheap is Beautiful

Today I spoke with Ory Okolloh, a smart and dynamic Kenyan who, along with her mysterious accomplice M, has created the great parliamentary watchdog site Mzalendo ("patriot" in Swahili). Mzalendo allows Kenyans to check on what bills are before Parliament and read about the background of their MP's. By providing information on the activities of the Kenyan Parliament, Mzalendo shines a light where the government prefers it weren't. Said Ory at the Digital Citizens Indaba in September, "In Kenya, you hide information without knowing why you’re hiding it. With technology, you can break that open.”

Other than the site's mission and its content, one of the most beautiful things about Mzalendo is its budget- about $20 a month for web hosting. This low cost is in part due to M's technical expertise, which allowed the site to be created and maintained on a volunteer basis. While highly-skilled and committed volunteers might not be an option for every NGO, the internet is nevertheless an important cost-saving medium for the non-profit sector. The internet makes incredibly powerful communication incredibly cheap and it has been my experience with Demologue.com and the Free Alaa campaign that you can realize projects with a worldwide reach almost for free.

My worry is that providing large funding in the e-advocacy sector could in fact kill the beauty of the internet's cheapness. Injecting funds into small organizations might create large and unwieldy dependent projects rather than efficient and flexible independent ones. Taking large grants that encourage re-structring may in fact create unsustainable structures, as grant-funded changes (like increases in full-time staff) cannot be sustained without further grants. In these cases, one-off grants that fund short-term projects, such as election monitoring, or investing in IT infrastructure may be a better use of grant money since they increase the capability of global south NGO's without also increasing their long-term dependence on grants.

It will be one of my goals in this project to recommend one-off funding that grants "venture capital" to e-advocates with the express understanding that this is start-up money on the path to independence. The venture capital model also casts global south partners in the powerful role of social entrepreneur, reducing the unequal power dynamics that can arise between granters and grantees. Cheap -because it allows sustainability and financial independence - is beautiful.

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

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Thursday, October 19, 2006

Gates Project 9: Access, Adoption, and Appropriation in South Africa

This is a diagram that I found in a couple of reports by Mark Surman that I really like:

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Appropriation
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------<--------------------------------------->

------------------------------------------------------Adoption
---------------------------------------<------------------------------------->

------------Access
<-------------------------------->

example: owning a cell phone --------------example: using phone for intended uses -----------example: adapting the tool to personal needs, such
--------------------------------------------------------ssuch as making a call or sending an SMS
------------as using the SMS function to organize a rally
---------------------------------------------------------to a friend

This diagram shows a contiuum of ICT use that begins with having access to a tool (computer, phone) or service (internet, cell network), then continues on to adoption, which connotes regular use of a tool according to its intended purposes, and finishes with appropriation, the stage in which a tool is so thoroughly mastered that the individual /organization can effectively adapt the tool to their own purposes.

In my experience, there are no ready-made e-advocacy tools. By this I mean that every tool must be personalized to be effective. If you want supporters to sign an online petition supporting domestic abuse legislation in Zimbabwe, you cannot go to www.zimprotectpetition.org. You have to go to ThePetitionSite.com and create your own petition with your own specifications. At this point - correct me if I'm wrong - all e-advocacy seems to occur in the appropriation phase of ICT use.

Today I spoke to David Barnard, Executive Director of SANGONet, a South African NGO support network with a focus on promoting ICT use. According to David, while South Africans are still struggling with the internet access problem, most South African NGO's are in the adoption phase. They have a computer with internet access and e-mail but they have not moved on to the appropriation phase of really taking control of internet tools and localizing them the needs of their own organizations. South Africa has the highest number of internet users of any in sub-Saharan Africa, and in the countries northern neighbors - Botswana, Namibia, Malawi - more NGO's are in an earlier phase, still struggling to gain access to the internet. In encouraging NGO's to adopt ICT's David's strategy is "baby steps": a tireless process of talking to individual NGO's in the region through events like SANGONet's yearly ICT's for Civil Society conferences, trainings, and Thetha, SANGONet's ICT discussion forum.


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

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Gates Project 8: Zimbabwe's Kubatana.net

Today I spoke with Bev Clark, Director of the Zimbabwean NGO Kubatana.net. Kubatana is rare in that it is an African NGO which is extremely active in the field of e-advocacy. Kubatana sends out a regular e-newsletter and e-mail alerts, facilitates workshops to train human rights defenders in the secure use of email and the Internet, hosts webpages for dozens of Zimbabwean NGO's in its Directory, and provides electronic versions of legislation being considered by the Zimbabwean Parliament. Yet, Bev is adamant that the internet is not the be-all and end-all of advocacy. In fact, she says that the internet can make NGO's "lazy" as it allows then to assume that sending out an e-mail or SMS message can replace work in the field.

Operating as an NGO in Zimbabwe is uniquely difficult because of the political and economics situation there. According to the international human rights organization Freedom House:
Zimbabwe's descent into the ranks of the world's most repressive states continued unabated in 2005, the result of a significant decline in both political rights and civil liberties for Zimbabweans. The government of long-time president Robert Mugabe persisted in cracking down on independent media, civil society, and political opponents.... The country's economic crisis worsened, with rampant inflation, massive unemployment, near expulsion from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and potentially severe shortages of basic foodstuffs.
Apart from the harassment that regime critics face, the effectiveness of NGO's is also negatively affected by the hyperinflation, which reached an astounding rate of 1,204.6% in August 2006. Hyperinflation not only affects people's ability to buy food and pay rent but also affects their ability to access information. Both internet cafes and newspapers are now prohibitively expensive as wages have not kept pace with rising prices, this in a country already facing 80% unemployment.

As such, the barriers to e-advocacy adoption in Zimbabwe are especially high. Internet access is extremely expensive because of inflation and those that can afford to go to an internet cafe usually check e-mail rather than taking the time to browse the web. NGO's whose e-advocacy initiatives that are seem as overly threatening may be targeted for harassment by the government.

However, there are also more easily controllable human factors that limit e-advocacy adoption. In many Zimbabwean NGO's, only the director has access to the internet. IT resources within NGO's are often not accessible to staff within the Information Department, which comprises e-advocacy activities. When he is out of the office he locks the door, preventing other staff from getting online. In addition, most NGO's do not see the value of e-advocacy, and thus do not devote scarce man-hours and and financial resources to pursuing it.

In order to increase use of e-advocacy in Zimbabwe, Bev suggested giving grants to NGO's with proven track records in the field of e-advocacy so they could train other NGO's in e-advocacy techniques. However, training alone does not ensure adoption. This is due to brain-drain and a lack of knowledge-sharing. Bev expressed frustration that simple ICT training is not enough because people who are trained often leave the country due to seek employment abroad, taking their training with them. Bev also liked Zack's idea of an tech R&D support system for NGOs.

It is a great challenge of this project to develop solutions that will be useful to a broad range of NGO's around the world. Can the same service help NGO's in Indonesia and Zimbabwe? I hope so.

Note: I am interested in speaking to other NGO's in the global south that are e-advocacy practioners. If your organization would like to participate in this research, please contact me at MaryCJoyce@gmail.com.
categories: internet activism_, gates project_, the "developing world"_

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Gates Project 7: Why Do Organizations Choose e-Advocacy?

I am interested in having the input of non-profit organizations who use or would like to use e-advocacy techniques in promoting their cause. The goal is to identify the most powerful factors that enable and impede NGO's from adopting e-advocacy techniques and then decide which of these factors can be positively influenced by a foreign donor. So here's my question:

What factors lead NGOs to adopt e-advocacy tactics?

Which of the various enabling and impeding factors (cost of internet access, percentage of supporters that use the internet, limits on freedom of internet expression in your country, the presence of software developers that can create e-advocacy applications for NGO's, awareness of what technlogies are out there, etc) are most important in influencing whether or not your organization uses e-advocacy strategies?

I am interested in responses from all NGO's that use or would like to use e-advocacy techniques in promoting their cause. Of course, I am most interested in organization that operate in the global south.

Disclaimer: This blogging project is in no way affiliated with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It is the personal project of Mary Joyce. Mary is not an employee of and does not speak for the Gates Foundation. Mary is soley responsible for theis blog's content.

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

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Friday, October 13, 2006

Gates Project 6: Better Tech R & D for NGO's

Today I had a really great talk with Zack Exley, a stratgist at OMP and president and co-founder of the New Organizing Institute. We talked for a good hour, mostly about what Zack sees as a need for better tech R&D for NGO's. There are only a few kids on the block doing this kind of work, chief among them CivicSpace and Democracy in Action. Both are making great efforts on a small budget (they are non-profits themselves). Nevertheless, Zack proposes that a new force is needed to work directly with NGO's as they begin to make their online presence felt. He is convinced that great innovations in online organizing tools can only be made in cooperation with specific organizations in relation to specific campaigns. He also reminded me of the importance of talking to practioners, not only theorists and to always ask for real-world examples of how a technology is working.

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

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Gates Project 5: Intellectual Nesting Dolls of e-Advocacy

How do the different parts fit together?

The first body section of our report is an e-advocacy global overview. In order to rise above the level of anecdote ("they're doing this in Indonesia, this in Chile...") I need some kind of intellectual framework in which to fit all the disparate parts of e-advocacy. I see these parts as:

-personal hardware (ie cell phone, laptop, shared computer)
-application of hardware (ie SMS, video-sharing, IMing)
-broad advocacy strategy for which application is used (ie CRM, network-centric, hub)
-narrow tactic for which application is used (ie lobbying, mobilizing, fundraising)

My question is, how do these ideas "nest"? Which is the overarching idea of e-advocacy? I suppose advocacy strategy. But the other parts do not nest neatly inside. Tactics can be used for different strategies (SMS campaign through CRM by a large organization or SMS within a network). Hardware has many applications (especially the all-powerful computer). What's the best way to organize these different elements in my mind and on paper?

PS: Sorry for my gross over-sue of parentheses.

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

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Gates Project 4: Looking for Experts on Global South Telecomms Infrastructure

I need to learn more about global south telecomms infrastructure, both to analyse current success factors (what's working, what's not) and to be able to advise as to how telecomms will be evolving in the near term. How fast is internet penetration growing in these regions? What hardware is supporting internet and mobile connections? What what might be some big wins for infrastructure investment? These are the questions I need to ask.

Please alert me to telecomms experts that could explain to me the internet and mobile infrastructures of the global south regions:

Caribbean:
Latin America:
Middle East/North Africa:
South East Asia:
South Asia:
Sub-Saharan Africa: Russell Southwood

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

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Gates Project 3: What Kind of Environment Does e-Advocacy Require?

I was just reading an article about how Chinese internet users reacted to the murder of Sun Zhigang, who was murdered by police in a migrant detention center in 2003. Internet users reacted by forwarding the story of the murder to one another through e-mail, posting it on online bulletin boards, and leaving angry messages on popular websites. Eventually the buzz created by this activity alerted legal scholars who began lobbying the Chinese government to end the system of temporary residence permits that had landed Sun in the detention center in the first place.

So I wonder, is e-advocacy just a matter of penetration, of enough people having internet access so that it is an effective means of spreading information on a mass scale? What are other cultural factors? In China, at least, the government so discourages political activity of any kind, especially on the internet, that I wonder what other cultural factors counter-balanced the unfriendly political climate to convince people to act.

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

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Gates Project 2: Is the future mobile and wireless?

Part of this project is forecasting the future of digital infrastructure in the developing world, because infrastructure will be a limiting factor in any e-advocacy efforts. (ie, if people are connecting and communicating for the purposes of activism, who will they do it?) I've only just begun my research, but it's looking like the future will be mobile and wireless rather than desktop and landline. Do you agree that developing nations will leapfrog the landlined north?

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

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Gates Project 1: Collaborative Research on e-Advocacy

I was recently hired as a consultant by the NGO Res Publica to help them complete a research project for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on the topic of "e-advocacy in the global south". Specifically, the report will look at the possibilities for citizens and civil society organizations to use digital technology (particularly the internet and mobile phones) to assist in activism campaigns in developing nations.

In order to include as many voices as possible in the final report, I will be blogging the research here. Posts will be short, some simply asking a question, some presenting a conclusion and asking for feedback. You can participate by subscribing to the RSS feed and then responding to posts that interest you in the comments section or by sending an e-mail to me at MaryCJoyce@gmail.com.

I am particularly interested in receiving input from e-advocacy practitioners/enthusiasts in the developing world who would otherwise not be included in the information-gathering and consultation process. For this reason I would greatly appreciate it if you the reader would forward/post information about this project to inform people you know who might be interested in contributing to this project.

The goal is to write about the global south in collaboration with people from the global south.

categories: internet activism_

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