Posts Tagged ‘New York Times’

Nonprofit Technology Failures: How They Can Spur Innovation, If Shared

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

Yesterday the New York Times Technology beat ran an article about a FailFaire event hosted by the World Bank. What’s FailFaire, you ask?

FailFaire was initially organized by, an organization interested in advancing the field of mobile technology for social change and development. But now anyone can host their own FailFaire event to share technology failures.

MobileActive founder Katrin Verclas sees these events more like a party than a briefing. “Getting people to talk about [failure] honestly is not so easy,” she muses. “So I thought, why not try to start conversations about failure through an evening event with drinks and finger foods in a relaxed, informal atmosphere.”

At the event featured in the NYT article several funders competed for a worst failure prize. One participant shared:

how female weavers in a remote Amazonian region of Guyana had against all odds built themselves a thriving global online business selling intricately woven hammocks for $1,000 apiece…[but then] their husbands pulled the plug, worried that their wives’ sudden increase in income was a threat to the traditional male domination in their society.


The World Bank representative explained the failure as a case of, “taking technology embedded with our values and our culture and embedding it in the developing world, which has very different values and cultures.”

Other failures shared at the event included a Global Capacity Building Initiative that had too many players, each wanting different things and “an Egyptian government program to roll out telecenters across the country to increase access to the Internet” that boasted 23 centers, but only 4 of which actually worked.

The failures shared can be summed up by one participant’s insightful comment:

“We dump hardware down and hope magic will happen.”

Participant Aleem Walji was surprised when he left Google to join the World Bank that “mistakes were rarely discussed, so different from the for-profit world, where failures are used to spur innovation.”

Mr. Walji pointed out that “the private sector talks about failure freely and candidly,” while the nonprofit world “has to worry about donors who don’t want to be associated with failure and beneficiaries who may not benefit from admissions of failure.”

"I have not failed, I just found 10,000 ways that won't work."--Thomas Edison

But through sharing failures funders are able to better understand the cultural ecosystems in which they are trying to operate. Not only can other funders learn from these mistakes and avoid them, but for many failure is one of the necessary steps toward true innovation.


Read the New York Times article “Nonprofits Review Technology Failures” online.


Social Media Reading

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

Social Media is a topic rife with themes, tangents and conversations. Here’s a few recent blog posts and articles that caught my attention:

“Arts Groups Use Twitter to Compete for Grant” by Kate Taylor, New York Times Art Beat. A sort of cautionary tale of the pitfalls of social media driven competition funding.

“Philanthropy 2.0: Raise Awareness, Raise $” by Natasha Isajlovic-Terry, Philanthropy Front and Center. A breakdown of some of the new social media fundraising platforms.

“Where Social Media Doesn’t Matter” by Dan Elitzer, Full Contact Philanthropy. As Nonprofits become more savvy at using social media to bring money in, will they use their marketing skills on the delivery side?

“Why We Love Social Media” by Rosetta Thurman, Stanford Social Innovation Review. Exploring the emotional effects of social media and how organizations can use social media to build real trust with potential donors and volunteers.


Report Says Charities Would Be Lacking in a Big Disaster

Friday, September 19th, 2008

The major charities that respond to disasters would be unable to address fully the need for food, shelter and other services after a catastrophic event like Hurricane Katrina or a major earthquake, a report by the Government Accountability Office says.

“In a worst-case, large-scale disaster, the projected need for mass care services would far exceed the capabilities of these voluntary organizations without government or other assistance,” said the G.A.O., which does research and analysis for Congress.

The report is being released on the heels of news that the American Red Cross, the only relief organization with a legally mandated responsibility to help the government provide care in an emergency, is seeking $150 million in federal aid to cover the costs of assisting the victims of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike.

That is the largest amount the organization has ever sought from the government, and it underscores the report’s findings that the Red Cross and three other large charities — the Salvation Army, the Southern Baptist Convention and Catholic Charities — would lack the financial and other resources needed to address a Katrina-like event.

The report, commissioned by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, found that all four charities had taken steps to address problems arising after Katrina.

For instance, the Red Cross, which came in for extensive criticism after that storm, has reorganized its chapters and worked to develop partnerships with local groups. Further, the report said, the Red Cross, the Salvation Army and the Southern Baptist Convention have worked together to develop a system to manage supplies, and local Salvation Army units have upgraded their communications systems.

But the G.A.O. determined that in a major catastrophe, they would face shortages in shelter capacity and personnel, feeding capabilities and financial resources. The Red Cross, for instance, estimated that it currently could provide shelter for only a third of the estimated 150,000 people who would need it after a terrorist nuclear attack on Washington, D.C.

“The G.A.O. is pointing out the need for continual improvements,” said Maj. George Hood, a spokesman for the Salvation Army. “Some of them, without question, will take time, effort and funding.”

Among the report’s recommendations is that the Federal Emergency Management Agency develop an agreement with the Red Cross detailing that charity’s responsibilities in a major disaster.

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