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Open Source Giving: Does It Change the Web?

By Tom Watson on March 17, 20092 Comments

Next week, I’ll be hosting a panel discussion at the Skoll World Forum at Oxford University that takes its title from one of my favorite John Lennon songs: Power to the People. The discussion will center around online social activism and peer-to-peer philanthropy via networks, and it features a great line-up of social entrepreneurs who aim to change (and hopefully expand) both charitable and for-profit social ventures. If you’re going to Skoll, I really hope you’ll join us.

But if you’re not, the discussion has already started – and your ideas are most welcome.

Thanks to Social Edge, the Skoll Foundation’s online community for social entrepreneurs, we’ve been busily talking about “open source giving” over the past two weeks. I set up the discussion to focus on this question: “So how does this movement, this explosion in wired social ventures, change the web?”

I asked that question specifically because of a contest organized by Social Actions, itself a social venture/startup and the clearinghouse for tens of thousands of opportunities to give, organize, volunteer and get involved in wired causes. Social Actions’s Change the Web contest challenges developers and entrepreneurs to use its database of more than 70,000 actions across more than 40 ‘CauseWired’ platforms in interesting and innovative ways – to build widgets, to distribute the data to key audiences, to parse searches in ways that encourage open source giving.

But an important part of the Change the Web effort is the dialogue around just how the web is changing, and how socially-wired it will be in the future. So this conversation aims to advance that conversation.

Next week’s panel should be great: Premal Shah of Kiva, Mari Kuraishi of GlobalGiving, and Mads Kjaer of MyC4. And we’ve done much our panel planning in public – on the Social Edge forum, and centered around the theme of changing the web. Meantime, a few quotes from the forum (but head over and put up your own thoughts):

Peter Deitz: “Let’s take this opportunity to pose the tough questions to Kiva, Global Giving, and MYC4. Are they collaborating with other platforms, and could the be collaborating more? Are they sharing as much donor / project / web analytics data as possible with an eye toward accountability and helping the Movement grow? What is their strategy when it comes to open APIs, and permitting transactions to happen anywhere and everywhere?”

Tori Tuncan: “What I have noticed is that the community is key. It is not enough to have a unique way for people to give and help others online. These donors (lenders) want to connect….It appears, then, that even though the internet gives us the ability to contribute collectively to causes with people we would have never known otherwise, human nature still dictates a certain need to connect on a deeper level than just clicking the same “donate” (or “lend”) button.”

Daniel Bassill: “I think that we’re on the verge of making huge shifts in how social benefit organizations are funded, thus, how well they do their work. So far what I’ve seen is a variety of hubs that list lots of causes and try to draw traffic through those portals to those causes. was one of the first, and is one of the biggest, to my knowledge. I’m one of more than 700,000 non profits listed, and the number of people who have found me and donated because I’m on this site is probably less than a dozen, if that many. Thus, the first question is “how do these portals draw meaningful dollars and volunteers or other needed resources to a larger number of their members, or to all of them?” So far, it seems that the rich, brand name, or high profile, orgs just get richer because of how these portals draw more attention to them.”

Jo Davidson: “I see the golden age as a broad term for changes taking place in humanity, brought on by the information age. Just like the software developed necessary to collaboratively link social media, mobile technology, and peer-to peer networks, the golden age is a transformative shift in access to information….To the question, how can the web transformation (socially wired for the future) advance social entrepreneurship – the answer no doubt lies with connecting communities. And since people love to watch their digital footprint and be part of networks that connect them, a golden age for causes is only a matter of time.”

Joe Solomon: “What do web portals look like that let anyone fund and support social entrepeneurs in our own backyard. For example, What if, for $25, you could help fund the next electric car? ( ) How will and MyC4 contribute and collaborate in this conversation rather than compete. Is there a place to bridge online collabortion sites like Amazee?”

Mari Kuraishi: “[The] question “how does it feel and what are the opportunities associated with being part of a movement that’s rewiring the web for social change, and how can that transformation advance social entrepreneurship in general?” I’m not sure I have a ready answer for, but maybe it’s a great question to ask during the panel at the Forum. On the one hand there are days when my nose is so flat up against the grindstone my response would be, “what movement?” and other days I can actually feel the ground shifting. But I guess that’s part of the bipolarity of being an entrepreneur …”

Jeff Mowatt: “While we’ve been hung up on widgets we’re just beginning to realise that getting information technology to those who can’t afford it is the enabler. To the extent that Obama includes rural broadband deployment in the stimulus plan and Bill Gates awakens to the fact the poor people DO need computers.”

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