Giving for Charity and Philanthropy, and the role Technology can play in it

Giving, or philanthropy, is nothing new. It has been going on for ages. People, institutions and governments have been donating money and resources to their families and their communities since thousands of years. But today, as we move into the 21st century, we are more connected with each other than ever before in the history of mankind. Through technology solutions like the internet, mobile phones and other connected devices, the whole world is more united than it ever was.

The topic of this article is to discuss and debate the role technology will play in giving and philanthropy in the coming decades. There have already been some examples of how technology can help connect people from different parts of the world and promote giving in unique ways that wasn’t possible even 20 years ago. Kiva, DonorsChoose and Kickstarter are just a few of the examples who have come up in developed countries like the US and the UK and connected donors from these countries to small entrepreneurs in countries like Mexico, India, China and from Africa.

One difference which we can credit technology for is moving giving from a local to a global landscape. Traditionally, giving and philanthropy has been limited to your local communities. But now it is possible for you to be earning a handsome income living in New York while supporting three projects in Brazil, India and Kenya, all at the same time. See this amazing visualization of what happens when 620,000 lenders fund 615,000 entrepreneurs, students and other microfinance borrowers around the world.

See the below video to see how Kiva works

Apart from dedicated giving networks and organizations like Kiva, the advent of social networking and smart phones have helped in spreading information and news about various giving opportunities around the world. They have been effective in spreading these news like wildfire where traditional media would not have been effective, and have also managed to raise large amounts of money by getting small contributions from individuals like you and me.

In the developing world, where smart phones and internet are still not readily available, it has not stopped people from devising new and innovative ways to develop technological solutions using just sms and phone calls. SMS has been used to gather people together and spreading news about an event to a large number of people. SMS based solutions, like a farmer turning ON and OFF his tubewell, just by sending an SMS rather than walking 5km in his field, are also making a big value addition in the lives of people.

How crowd-funding works?

How crowd-funding works?

Even with all that, I would say that we have just seen the tip of the iceberg in using technology to facilitate giving. There are a lot of imaginative ideas being developed as I write this article. For example, PlayMob, a tech company launched its GiverBoard platform designed for charities and game developers, linking them to design giving opportunities within the game itself. And it is not asking gamers to give donations, but has linked charity with buying products within the game itself that supports a good cause.

Going into the 21st century, it would be interesting to see new innovative and disruptive attempts to create networks and platforms for doing good, and not just by providing a technology solution to fundraising. If we are able to inculcate giving and doing good into our daily activities rather than creating separate fundraising platforms, it would connect a lot more people, generate a lot more money and resources, and make businesses and people feel good about the business and transactions they are doing.

I am waiting to hear news about such disruptive solutions popping up in different parts of the world in the coming decades. I am waiting for not just the Giving world to change for the better, but also for the time when our daily activities leave us feeling good and grateful for our contribution.

Is the Innovation ladder leaning against the right wall?

Innovation is defined as the creation of better or more effective products, technologies or ideas that makes life easier for its customers and solves a problem in the process. Innovation is the buzz word these days in business circles and the use of technology in designing innovative solutions across different sectors has never been more pronounced before.

If you see innovation discussions happening these days, most people will list the iPhone and the iPad, Facebook, the Sony Walkman and other technology related stuff on the top of their list. While such innovations have captured the media attention and earned a lot of money and market share for the respective companies behind them, there is another kind of innovation happening in the world. This new kind of innovation is happening in developing countries, even in villages, but it is not being covered by media, not being distributed across markets and countries, and not being talked about as much as iPad and other similar products.

While the first kind of innovation is mostly happening for business reasons and are focussing on making life more comfortable for its users (and not necessarily solving any critical problems), the second kind of innovation is happening mostly sporadically but for solving serious problems like hunger and poverty. In the first scenario, life would have continued for people as usual even if the innovation hasn’t happened (albeit in a less efficient way) while in the second scenario, there would have been serious issues of disease, health and death (and they have been) in the absence of the said innovation.

An example of the second kind of innovation is a simple Tippy Tap, which is a low cost, low tech, low water usage device to promote hand washing with soap. While most of the world talk about solving problems like accessing emails on the go, do we realize that 3.5 million children under the age of 5 die each year of diarrheal and respiratory infections, with 1000 deaths in India daily. Do not think I have put an extra zero, there are indeed thousand deaths daily. Now that is a real problem, purely avoidable just by washing hands with soap, and Tippy Tap intends to solve this problem. Now you decide what is a bigger, or better, or more needed innovation. (See how to build a Tippy Tap)

Are we solving the right problems?

Are we solving the right problems?

While we can always term the iPad, Facebook and other such technological innovations as innovations, they don’t solve any big or critical problems. You can call them innovations as a new approach to markets but not for problem solving. They focus on the opportunity and the market size, but NOT on any real problem. If we look more, most of the time real problem solvers are not from the business sector but they could be local people, academicians, social workers or just plain anybody. While the only innovation highlighted by the media has been done by businessmen. Now I don’t think anybody believes only businessmen can innovate!

I am in no way trying to discredit technological innovations, as the Sony Walkman revolutionized the music industry by allowing people to carry music on the go. But nobody complaint about the need of a portable music player, and it did not solve any problem. Similarly, Amazon did not solve any problem. People had been shopping offline for ages, and nobody complained. Yet Amazon changed the way shopping is done forever, and there are 100s of Amazon clones coming up everyday. Users never asked for a social network before Facebook, neither did they ask for online video sharing or a service to tweet what they were doing every second. But all these are hugely successful products now.

Mahatama Gandhi said that “I will give you a talisman. Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man [woman] whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him [her]. Will he [she] gain anything by it? Will it restore him [her] to a control over his [her] own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to swaraj [freedom] for the hungry and spiritually starving millions? Then you will find your doubts and your self melt away.” If we follow his simple words in our day to day actions, we will see real innovation.

The question I am asking here is that either all the commercial innovation happening is not innovation at all, and if they are, is the innovation ladder is leading against the wrong wall as of now? As most of the problem solvers or real innovators are not from the business world, we  need to provide them with skills straining, investment and venture capital help, advice about R&D and intellectual property rights, and the right guidance to be able to scale their innovative solutions so that they make a dent to a ‘real‘ problem.

What our life has become these days?

I came across this pic and could not stop wondering how true it is. It totally describes what our life has become these days. With the advent of internet and social networking, everything has moved to the screen of our laptop. We work on our laptop, we talk with friends on the laptop, we take a break by listening to music or watching movies, again on our laptop and many of us (atleast me) sleep with our laptop ON downloading some movie or software.

The Daily Routine

The Daily Routine

Isn’t it amazing how technology has influenced us? How facebook has become the first thing to do in the morning rather than brushing our teeth? And all this technology is only 10 years old. Ever wondered how we used to live our lives before that 🙂

Atoms to Bits

The story of the last decade and a half is how the smallest unit in our lives has changed from atoms to bits. Atoms as in molecules has given way to bits as in bytes. For somebody who has grown up reading in textbooks that atom is the smallest unit, seeing this massive change is something nobody could have imagined back then.

And “back then” is only 10-15 years ago, not decades or centuries as the term is normally used for. My first computer had a 4GB hard disk in the year 2000, now my mobile has double that space. That 4GB hard disk cost my father a whopping 6000 bucks, but my latest 1TB hard disk cost me only 4500 bucks!! The cost per GB has fallen from Rs 1500 per GB to Rs 4.5 per GB. This massive change reflects everything that has happen in the computing world in only a decade.

It is said that change is the only constant. But this time the speed of change is what is amazing. And for the first time, the smallest unit has changed from atoms to bits. Things have moved to the digital world from the real world only for the first time in history.

The 19th century saw inventions such as batteries, steam engine, photography, typewriter, telegraph, telephone and many more industrial revolution inventions. The 20th century saw inventions like the airplane, radio, television, etc… The two world wars involved research in advanced weapons like missiles, submarines, torpedoes, and nuclear weapons. It is important to note that the smallest unit of all these technologies was still the atom.

But the 2nd half of the 20th century introduced the semiconductor to the world. The pace was slow to begin with, and the price huge to build a computer. But the speed of research and inventions in semiconductors began to astonish everybody and is now known as Moore’s law, i.e., the number of transistors that can be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit has doubled approximately every 18 months.

Around the 1960s and 1970s, software made an appearance and it brought with it bits and bytes, new units of the computer world. Microsoft and Apple soon started their personal computing war which resulted in bringing computers and laptops to every home and every desk in the world. With the shift from hardware to software, the smallest unit changed from atom to a bit. All the research was now happening in software, and how streams of 0’s and 1’s can be arranged to make software to transform our lives.

I can distinctly remember how I used to carry floppy disks which used to carry 1.44 MB of data in one disk. We used to carry music, images, programs, and sometimes hacked data all in that space. And each floppy used to go bad in a few weeks time. Being quite obsessed with computers from the beginning, I used to carry my hard disk with me to transfer data rather than managing tons of floppy drives. Flash drives soon made an appearance with thumb / pen drives and they changed the data transfer scene totally. On the same technology came the iPod which changed how music was heard and carried by one and all.

The purpose of floppy disks, CD/DVDs and flash memory disks was only to transfer this new form of data from one computer to another. But Internet changed all that soon. As far as I remember, my first impression of internet was of some network which we connect to using a phone line and a modem, and through which we can send emails and search information using so-called search engines. That was the year 2000 and dial-up connections used to rule.

Bandwidth is the speed of data transfer between any two networks. The advancement and progress that has happened in transfer speeds over the last decade is unlike humans have ever seen before. Internet allowed for peer to peer file transfer in a way that is spurred a whole new industry of piracy. People no longer required to buy their favorite music or movies, they can just copy it from their friends (and strangers too), all sitting in their homes and at no extra cost.

The last decade is rightly called the digital decade. Things like iPods and iPhones changed the way we listened to music and talked to friends. Internet changed from dial-up connections to always on broadband connections and was accessible even on phones and other mobile devices. An all new mobile telecommunications industry grew like wildfire and handed little devices called mobile phones in the hand of almost every person on the planet. And that device has a phone, a music player, a camera built-in and the ability to access the internet.

This information revolution has only just started, and what is amazing is its pace. We have seen advancement in the last decade that has previously taken centuries to materialize. There are no signs of a slowdown in this revolution, and we can’t imagine what is possible or what is not possible in the years and decades to come. Looks like mankind of this generation is going to witness change as has never happened before. The time when we will die will be so different from the time we were born that nothing could be recognizable. The way we live, the way we work, the way we communicate, the way we do business, and the way we have fun will have changed so much that it will seem that we have lived 400-500 years…