Non-Governmental Imagination

Interplast, Creative Commons and “A Story of Healing”
April 18, 2007, 3:05 am
Filed under: Imagination, Interplast, Media

For months and months I have been working on getting “A Story of Healing” re-released under a Creative Commons license (by-nc-nd). Today it’s official, and the film can be viewed on the Interplast website and blog.

I’ve wanted to do this in part because I thought the Oscar winning hook would give Interplast and CC some publicity, but mainly because I wanted to convince other nonprofit organizations to examine the licenses they give their media. We’re certainly not the first organization to use CC licenses, but if we can give the idea a little more credibility, then we’ll have done a good thing.

The film used to have legitimate commercial value. It ran on PBS stations across the country and we sold copies through Amazon. But the PBS stations lost interest and our Amazon orders dwindled to a trickle.

Then we gave it away to folks at open houses, salon events, etc. Steve Rhodes, a guy I met at a geek party a while back and only re-met last week, suggested I slap a CC license on it and host in online somewhere for free. I thought it was a great idea. After all, we were giving it away for free in person, we couldn’t we do the same online? I pushed the idea through with the hope that a few people who would have otherwise never heard of us might become interested in Interplast and spread the word. Or donate. Or both, preferably.

When I met with one of the Creative Commons guys, I asked if he thought that this was a big deal. After all, we chose the most restrictive license on a film that had lost all commercial value. It’s not exactly The Godfather. He said he thought that because it was an Oscar winner, it was a big deal, and maybe in a few years such a story would be un-newsworthy. Maybe in some small way this event will contribute to making CC licenses more commonplace. Or maybe it’s just two nonprofit organizations collaborating through mutual self-interest with the only real payoff being a couple of links from a few blogs within our respective echo chambers.

Either way, CC and Interplast could both use some more publicity, and hopefully this will allow our work and missions to reach a wider audience. In a few weeks I’ll analyze the results, and see if we got any bump in donations or page views.

If any of you work at or with NGOs who are interested in the ins and outs of convincing the powers that be that CC licenses do not open the floodgates of hell, drop me a line.

I’m show-and-tell-ing the film at the CC salon at Shine in SF tonight (Wed 4/18) from 7-9pm. If you want to see the film on the big screen and/or lob softball questions at me, come on by.

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How Do People Decide Which NGOs To Engage?
November 15, 2006, 11:23 am
Filed under: Interplast, Web 2.0

Interplast is lucky enough to have Ken Becker as a part of our community. He’s a volunteer, and since he’s not a doctor or a translator, he’s never been to any of our sites (we only work in developing countries, and we don’t take non-essential personnel to minimize our impact). But he’ll go to the mat for us. When we moved, he was huffing and lifting boxes with the rest of the staff (I got to drive the forklift!!!). He drives to the airport at 4am to drop off surgical teams bound for Peru. He spearheads our no-nos project, getting other volunteers to create over 7,000 no-nos which we would have otherwise purchased. He talks to organizations, girl scouts, church groups, lunch clubs, etc. He’s been courted by the Masons for membership and two old women for marriage.

To put it simply, he’s a raging badass, and his devotion knows no bounds. He heard about us through a story the SF Chronicle did on us a while back. But how do we find more people like Ken? More importantly, how do people find orgs that really speak to them?

Traditional advertising? There is a chicken/egg conundrum with huge charities like the Red Cross or United Way. Does their advertising keep the millions coming in the door, or do their millions allow them to advertise? They have the name recognition, but they are also viewed as inefficient and bureaucratic.

Care2? It’s a great way for people interested in a particular cause to get in touch with relevant advocacy groups (or vice versa), but let’s say you want to do more than sign a petition. Maybe you want to volunteer, maybe you want to donate, or maybe you’re just curious what the difference is between two similar groups. I use Care2, but all I do is sign petitions. Fine, but I have no connection with those groups that organize the drives. I’m nobody’s Ken.

Idealist? They have a new site redesign and aimed at expanding beyond their well-known role as one of the major nonprofit job posting sites. They are tying in social networking tools and trying to further facilitate relationships between users. We’ll see if it works. I’m planning a review of their changes once I’ve actually had time to screw around with them.

Sidebar widgets? Beth has talked a lot about these recently. I think they’re neat and fun, but I don’t think they build lasting, meaningful relationships.

Online Social Networks? There’s plenty of stories out there of people using YouTube or MySpace to get lots of people to perform a paticular action, as evidenced by the recent immigration protests.  But do those protesters turn into long-term supporters?

Brangelina? Not even gonna go there.

It’s nice to have contacts on Flickr, friends on MySpace, a fat email list and a hot celebrity spokesperson. But what we really need is a clone army of Ken Beckers. And Ken needs us, otherwise he wouldn’t give what he gives.

The nonprofit blogosphere is always twittering with what the organiztion can do to attract more people, but what I’m curious about is finding out how people find the orgs. How do they differentiate between similar groups and how they decide what to give of themselves. Any ideas?

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Problems With Photos From Developing Countries
November 7, 2006, 12:31 am
Filed under: Interplast

I promised to never blog from work since Interplast donors aren’t paying me to keep this blog, but I’m really stumped here.

We need photos from all of our international partners for our annual report, and they keep sending me photos with web-optimized (72 dpi) resolutions.  300 dpi is about the lowest you can go to have decent print quality.  Our partners don’t really understand what I’m asking for and why what they’re giving me isn’t working.

The partners come from a wide swath of countries (India, Sri Lanka, Nicaragua, Ghana, etc.) that don’t have much in common with each other.  Most use straight-outta-the-box Windows machines and whatever photo software accompanies their digital cameras.

My hunch is that something they are doing is automatically changing the resolution to make the file size smaller.  Has anyone experienced similar issues dealing with non-techies in the developing world?  I’d love any advice as to how to proceed.

NetSquared Warm Fuzzies
February 17, 2006, 6:55 am
Filed under: Blogs, Imagination, Interplast

Note:  The internet crapped out on me, and although I wrote this at 4AM, I am only now getting around to posting it at 10:30PM.  

Wow.  So I’ve just had quite a night.  It’s 4AM and I can’t sleep.  Tonight I co-presented with Mena Trott at the NetSquared Net Tuesday event.  She’s super nice.  Before we talked I told her how nervous she was and she told me to just be myself and not worry about what people will think.  It worked!  I can’t imagine how it could have gone any better.  At Interplast, my role as Youngest Person Who Therefore Obviously Knows A Lot About Computers has been to stumble across new technologies (without spending too much time on the clock looking for them) and convey to the rest of the staff why we should or shouldn’t use them.  I find myself trying to understand complex things and then explain them simply to people even less tech-savvy than myself.  It’s fun, because it helps me understand them more by having to really break down why a particular technology is useful, and not just “cool?. Tonight, I was one of the least knowledgeable people in the room regarding technology, and I just talked about how Interplast has used the blogs to further our mission.  When I had been practicing, I really struggled with how much to talk about Interplast, our blog, our meandering blogging path, the ways in which we’ve screwed up and the ways in which we’ve done something cool.

In the end, I said screw it; I’m just gonna talk.  I wasn’t looking at my notes very much, and I wasn’t trying to portray Interplast in a particularly positive or negative light.  Just how we are, what it’s like to work at an international humanitarian organization that most people haven’t heard of, and some of the successes and failures of our blogs.

Afterwards, lots of people came up to me and gave me pointers and praise.  Their compliments mean a lot, but their tips mean more.  I spend more time than I would like (and staff time = donor money) trying to learn about new technologies that might help us, and how to implement them.  It took me months to figure out how to have videos on our blogs, and I still don’t know how to do it bug-free and with ease.  Maybe now that some techie types are aware of some of the issues I face every day trying to help Interplast help more kids, tools can be developed that can make my job easier.  Or maybe there can just be findable instruction manuals.  Maybe now people will pay attention to our blog, and instead of cruising by and thinking “that’s nice? they might actually leave a comment or write an email about how we could do x better or how we should email the person’s cousin who runs a hospital in India.  Maybe someone can finally explain to me in simple, non-buzzwordy terms how to use our blog to increase donations and please our donors without appearing crass and/or commercial.  Maybe they can convince me, as people tried to tonight (they were about 95% successful), how to not care about what the blogosphere thinks.

There are all kinds of great tools out there (like the Tech Soup forums) that if I was smarter I would spend more time delving into.  But I’m easily intimidated by uber-geekiness and have plenty of right-now issues to deal with otherwise.  Being in a room face-to-face with the people that make the tools I use every day has given me new hope that small nonprofits like Interplast can compellingly reach large numbers of people without celebrity spokespeople, paid ads or powerful friends.  We’re definitely not “there? yet, and I don’t really know where “there? is, but I after tonight I am more confident that we can get “there?, and we’ll have some help along the way.

Starting a blog about NGOs
January 3, 2006, 1:35 am
Filed under: Blogs, Imagination, Interplast

So I must admit that I have been thinking about blogs and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) for awhile now. I work at Interplast, and after volunteering everywhere from Texas to India, I have gained a different perspective of the nonprofit world from my climate-controlled cubicle at an established NGO. I am using this blog to independently express my ideas and engage in discussions about how society creates positive social and environmental change. Nonprofits are bound by a particular set of rules, both legally and culturally. I think that the groups most successful at achieving lasting social change will be adept at changing the rules under which all groups operate.

There are millions of non-governmental organizations out there, and the vast majority are probably under-staffed, over-worked and under-funded. They need some creativity and imagination (hence my cutesy title) to navigate around the whims of their clients, donors and regulators. Such creative groups and people are out there in every sector, and I hope to point out some of the better examples in the hope that people with an interest in efficient, long-term systematic change can find resources and discussions in one nifty little place. So lemme know what you think about NGOs, and I’ll try to keep lots of yummy content streaming your way.

My blogging policy / disclaimer: Although I am paid employee of Interplast, NGI (Non-Governmental Imagination) is not a product of Interplast. I will not blog while on the clock or while using Interplast equipment/resources, and Interplast will have no editorial control over the content. The views expressed here are not necessarily the views of Interplast, and should not be treated as such.