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Netsquared Innovation Awards

Posted by: Jessi Hempel on May 17, 2007

The San Francisco nonprofit TechSoup has started the Netsquared Innovation Awards. On May 30, $100,000 will be split among the three projects that best use technology in pursuit of social change. Recently, online voters narrowed the pool of 152 submissions to 21 finalists. Now, they’ll advance to the NetSquared Conference held at Cisco where they’ll go head-to-head in an “American Idol” type competition, presenting their projects to the crowd VC-style.

I haven’t heard of most of these projects and that’s a great thing. We see the same names popping up in the space, and it’s nice to discover the next wave of new ideas in this area. Krista Van Lewen, who is doing some communications work for them, has divided the finalists into categories. Take a look through and tell - which ones should I write about?

Social Networking:
- 100 Innovators - the world's most important story has started to unfold (assisted podcasting and other online tools to tell the stories of social innovators as they unfold)
- – a Global Neighbor Network (Global peer-to-peer problem solving)
- Addressing Africa's Problems Through Social Networking Sites
- (recycling via the Web/global gift economy)
- – connecting consumers, trade buyers with organic/artisanal food growers
- Farmer 2 Farmer Learning: Web collaboration to share global farming best practice
- (marries social networking and 900+ African organizations to collaborate, share best practices to use Web 2.0 for social change)
- (Global online destination for young people who want to be involved in social good issues)
- Social Web Tools for Developing Countries (helps non-profits benefit from social Web tools if they don't' have necessary skills or know English)

- – tracks political fundraising and voting records

Social Justice/Humanitarian:
- An Anti-Genocide Community: Building the Political Will to end Genocide (online tools for the anti-genocide community to pool the collective knowledge of this movement for change)
- Global Women's Leadership Network (online collaboration., on-the-ground training)
- HELP International Telemedicine Humanitarian Emergency Mobile Medical Clinic Network (Hardware + people to provide medical help both online and on the ground)
- Stop Family Violence (online community to empower local programs, coordinate activism and increase solutions to family violence in U.S.)
- Maps 2.0 – Geospatial Tools for Nonprofits and Humanitarian Relief (first online resource for nonprofit/humanitarian orgs to share information using geographical information systems (GIS) and digital mapping)
- WiserEarth;: (platform and tools for NGOs, social entrepreneurs, activists, scientists, and citizens to connect, collaborate, share resources and build alliances)
- Youth Assets – Connecting the World's Most Vulnerable Youth (Web-based knowledge management tool to enable youth and their supporters to share critical information about and for HIV/AIDS orphans in Southern Africa)

Software/Open Source Advocates
- Aspiration Social Source Commons (database of all software available to non-profits)
- Big Brothers Big Sisters Agency Information Management (info clearinghouse for disparate BBBS orgs)
- Toolbox (fully configured set of online tools for content management, event registration, CRM)
- Open Source, Open Standards Video (to YouTube and Google Video as PBS is to broadcast networks – to create the next Firefox for video)

Reader Comments

james moed

May 18, 2007 3:39 AM

You've got your work cut out for you - this is quite a list to wade through. The questions I'm posing as I browse are:

- Does this address a community's genuinely unmet need? Or is this org just using technology to highlight a social issue they've decided is important?
- Is the solution genuinely new, or a standard reapplication of an existing formula?
- Maybe most importantly, does it have multiplier potential? That is - will this innovation drive its users to take social change into their own hands? Or is this org trying to position itself as a (well meaning) middleman?

Based on those criteris - I'd like to hear more about someone like MapLight - Are they using tech to aggregate data that hasn't been centralized before? Are they the future Bloomberg of campaign finance reporting?

evonne heyning

May 18, 2007 5:37 PM

James, you make a good point on multiplier potential -- how participants become actively engaged through the work is the essential innovation edge in this awards cycle. I'm attending as a blogger and bridgebuilder because at least five of these groups can strengthen their message by working together and combining efforts while five others could easily magnify and take their work to the next level by opening up to greater participation from their community. There is great leadership here that can take social networking to a new level if these orgs can hear and learn from each other in open space.

There are many amazing groups represented who have displayed web 2.0 leadership in leveraging their networks for social change (in full disclosure, I've worked closely with four orgs on the list and have helped fundraise for a half-dozen of the 21 groups featured). There are a few I'm eager to dig in deeper on, such as FreeCycle and Nabuur's P2P giving models.

The exciting potential here is for integration of new tools, the mashup factor with a high multiplier for you results-oriented readers. There are little pockets of people who have envisioned open giving tools, unique philanthropic communities, service and aid oriented networks and more since the early dawn of internet dialogue -- we now have a very real opportunity here to chart that course together in live space, shared digitally through any number of media.

What models are most effective? How do you activate a community that remains active long term? What compels people to connect and stay connected to a cause through these networks? I'm eager to hear what motivates these networks to grow and take on new lives of their own.

LL Donovan

May 19, 2007 1:49 PM

In developing countries gender, social status, and poverty stand in the way of women establishing their stake as leaders in the larger community. For these reasons, the training and online social networks focus of the Global Women's Leadership Network should be one of the projects I think you should blog about.

Loretta L. Donovan
Strategic collaboration for business results

Co-owner, AI Consulting

Curious about using Web2.0 tools in your facilitation? Drop in to

Jessi Hempel

May 21, 2007 10:39 AM

Hey Evonne - Thanks for the comment. I'm interested in your thoughts on what compels people to stay connected beyond initial flirtation with some of these tools? How do you make the leap between creating a tool (or toolset) and creating a real, thriving ongoing community? Would love to hear your thoughts as someone who has worked with a number of these groups...

Kyra Kaszynski

May 29, 2007 12:11 AM

You may want to consider writing about YouthAssets. In addition to meeting the criteria put forth by James above, YouthAssets seems to be the only organization selected that is still in its incubation stage. This could make an exciting angle to your blog - an opportunity to tell a story about a ‘start-up’ not-for-profit.

Many readers may know the challenges of starting a business, but what do they know of starting a not-for-profit? Where are the similarities and where are differences? Following YouthAssets at its infancy also provides an opportunity for follow up to the Netsquared conference six months, a year, or two years down the road with a ‘where are they (and the technology) now’ post.

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What comes next? The Bloomberg Businessweek Innovation and Design blog chronicles new tools for creativity and collaboration, innovation case studies in both the corporate and social sectors, and the new ideas that have the power to change the way things have always been done.

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