Archive for Beth Kanter

Birthday Wishes for Beth Kanter – and Cambodian Schoolkids

Pretty cool way to kick off a frigid Monday morning – by wishing happy birthday to my virtual friend Beth Kanter, whose energy and constant insight is one of the true fuel cells of the socially wired. This morning, 53 bloggers are writing posts about Beth, whose stories and analysis helped formed a good deal of the thinking that went into my book, CauseWired. Today is Beth’s 53rd birthday.  Her wish was to send 53 students to school in Cambodia, where she adopted her own two children.  I’ve donated.  I hope you will too – or share your own story of how Beth has influenced you.

Stacy Monk of EpicChange, who organized this virtual birthday shindig, probably said it best:

I can only imagine how many changemakers Beth supports, challenges and connects every day.  Aside from her own work in Cambodia, her thought leadership and support has surely influenced thousands of changemakers and nonprofits who are more impactful because of the work she’s done to teach us how to effectively use social media and technology to create social change.

Only one question: where’s the cake?


The CauseWired Roundup

Beth’s Top Ten

How cool is it to be named to Beth Kanter’s “Top 10 Nonprofit Technology (NPTech) and Social Media for Social Change Blogs” – well, very! Especially for the company:

Amy Sample Ward’s Version of NPTech
Have Fun Do Good
Katya Andresen: Nonprofit Marketing Blog
Laura’s Notebook
Qui Diaz – Evange.list
Social Actions
Social Citizens Blog

Coming Around Again

I’m sitting here giving CauseWired its last look before it goes off to production next week, and rereading Chapter One’s account of the online reaction to the destruction of Hurricane Katrina while watching the current evacuation of New Orleans and other Gulf communities in the path of Gustav, the massive hurricane currently battering Cuba. The memories aren’t good ones.

To me, the flow of information online in the months (and sadly, years) after Katrina was a milestone in online social activism, a time when real people organized to hold their government accountable, raise money, and try to rebuild damaged lives. Like the CauseWired movement itself, New Orleans is still a work in progress – even as the camera trucks head back to the Gulf.

What will the online response be this time, if this storm ravages the gulf communities? Three years ago, media analyst Mark Glaser put the online response to Katrina in perfect context:

As the water finally starts to recede in New Orleans, the watershed for online journalism has been laid bare. Hurricane Katrina brought forth a mature, multi-layered online response that built on the sense of community after 9/11, the amateur video of the Southeast Asian tsunami disaster and July 7 London bombings, and the on-the-scene blogging of the Iraq War.

Yes, the 2005 Katrina response online was indeed “multi-layered.” But it wasn’t instant, indeed it evolved and grew over the weeks after the flood claimed 1,800 lives and government stood still. Since then, the network is both bigger and faster – millions on Facebook, millions of blogs, the instant call and response of Twitter, and the dozens of online social enterprise platforms primed to create new causes.

Look at Beth Kanter’s most recent experiment in online activism and fundraising to get a sense of speed and tactics. Beth raised $2,657 to cover the costs of college tuition for Leng Sopharath, an orphan in Cambodia in just 90 minutes, and then went on to raise nearly $4,000. As usual, Beth shares the sausage-making along with the sausage, and she makes a bunch of good points – none more important than this one:

This is something you probably can’t duplicate if you’re just starting out because I’ve spent five years using social media to build and nurture a network and banking social capital. It’s the network, stupid!

Yeah, Beth is totally connected to the nonprofit tech world and many of her fundraising supporters want to see campaigns like this succeed. But transpose Beth’s community standing to an event the size of Katrina, and multiply her by thousands of well-connected leaders and you get the idea (there are not one, but two examples of Beth’s canny use of technology in CauseWired).

Back to 2005 – there were limits to online organizing, to helping out in the crisis, to building a real cause online that made a difference. Here’s a bit from the book about the role of mainstream media – which is so clearly an important partner in this new world of online social activism:

…the blogging of Hurricane Katrina also clearly showed the limits of online support for disaster relief. Millions of dollars was directed to the American Red Cross, which many Americans later came to believe did not perform particularly well in the storm’s aftermath. The lack of electricity in the devastated areas kept many amateur journalists from covering the storm or its immediate aftermath. Meanwhile, some of the mainstream media – derided as an article of faith by bloggers – performed heroically, particularly the local press., the large-scale website of the Times-Picayune newspaper, became the online ground zero for reports from the city and was cited for its blogging when the paper won two Pulitzer Prizes (one for public service) for its coverage of Katrina. And most of us followed the horrific story on cable television, as that old-time dinosaur of 24-hour news CNN particularly distinguished itself.

Yet, I think’s role in the Katrina story transcends the old “we report, you read” formula for big news coverage – and it was central to how Katrina played out online, among the blogging community and a world of donors who wanted to help but felt powerless. After Katrina hit, reporters in the field updated the The Times-Picayune’s blog on a continuous basis. Traffic exploded from about 800,000 page views on a normal day to more than 30 million a day in the aftermath of the disaster. As evacuees scattered north and west of the region, they eventually were able to get their local news from the ongoing blogging at Accepting the Pulitzer, editor Jim Amoss paid tribute to the blog’s contributors, “who were integral to everything we published, and made us an around-the-clock vital link to readers scattered across the nation.”

I’d love your thoughts on this. How will we do it differently this time?

UPDATE: Andy Carvin launched the Gustav Information Center today on Ning, word being spread rapidly on Twitter – they’ll be using the tag #gustav if you want to follow. Home Depot already using the tag to update on stories in the Hurricane’s path.

UPDATE II: Al Tompkins of The Poynter Institute has set up a Ning site of resources for journalists. To me, one of the great things about the response to Katrina three years ago (a rare silver lining in that tragic debacle) was the new cooperation between professional journalists and the growing social web.

UPDATE III: Gustav comes ashore. Best single resource is old-school: But great stuff on Twitter, and on-the-ground reports from GustavReporter. Beth’s got a bunch of links for virtual volunteering opportunities.

UPDATE IV: Via Marnie Webb, the Gustav Tracker app for txting “safe” or “need help” messages to the network.

UPDATE V: Not as bad as feared, thankfully. Great Q&A with Andy Carvin on the Poynter site.

By Millennials, For Millennials

Beth Kanter is compiling a list of 20-something bloggers writing about a sector that is supposedly dominated by 20-something bloggers. It’s one of those great posts that 1. makes you think and 2. is teeming with links that get you started on an hours-long journey through some great resources, surfing new ideas the whole way. Here’s the intro – I’m just getting started on the fantastic collection of links, blogs and projects:

Even though I’m more like twenty-something times 2.5, I attended the “Twenty-Something Meet Up” at the BlogHer Conference. Why did I go? I keep hearing from nonprofits that one of the reasons they want to incorporate a social networking or media strategy is to reach a younger audience. So, having this opportunity listen was very valuable.

Zandria did a fabulous job of facilitating the session. There were probably about 40 or 50 women in the room – not all were twenty somethings.

I wanted to listen to what was on their minds in general, although I was particularly keen on hearing any discussions or snippets about social change, nonprofits, and activism. Julia Smith, who blogs at the idealist and was in the room asked “Where are the twenty something/millennial bloggers writing about social change, activism, and nonprofits?”

I thought to myself, now that’s a list I’d like to see.

A Giving Challenge Story: Leadership Matters

In December, 2007 the foundation created by America Online founder Steve Case and his wife Jean launched an online program aimed at inspiring everyday people to adopt wired causes, and to motivate nonprofit organizations to begin to take advantage of the burgeoning social Internet. Through the first-ever America’s Giving Challenge and Causes Giving Challenge, the Case Foundation staked $750,000 in a series of fundraising contests that ran from mid-December through the following January. The foundation’s leading partners were Facebook and its Causes application created by Project Agape, and Parade, the glossy Sunday newspaper supplement with its massive circulation of 32 million people weekly.

The rules were pretty simple. More than 2,500 organizations were represented by causes created during the Challenge. The Causes Giving Challenge awarded $50,000 to the cause with the most unique donors, $25,000 to the second and third place causes, and $10,000 to the next ten causes. Throughout the Challenge, Causes on Facebook awarded daily winners $1,000 for having the most unique donations in a single day. Any Facebook user could participate by using the Causes application to promote their cause through direct user-to-user messages, and feature it on their profile. In the end, a total of 32,886 donations accounted for $571,686 in donations supporting 747 different organizations – an average gift of $17.38. The Parade portion, which brought in contributions via the magazine’s website, accounted for another $1.2 million from 48,711 donors – for an average donation of about $24, slightly higher. These online fundraisers used widgets – bits of code users could pass around and put on their blogs to urge donations and involvemenet – and relied on charity donation sites Network for Good and GlobalGiving to process gifts. [An important disclosure is necessary: the Case Foundation is a client of Changing Our World, Inc., the consulting firm where I work, and the company has been involved in some of the online causes work of the foundation, although none of the information in this book comes from that relationship.]

As Jean Case, the foundation’s chief executive, observed: ““Thousands of people embraced new technologies, built new online communities, and proved that simple daily actions and small donations can inspire others and tap into their energy and passion to make a difference.” I’d argue that the manner in which the causes were supported on Facebook and through blog-based widgets and other tools on the Parade side of the ledger may count for more in the end than the money that was raised – because getting those contributions involved creating and activating a social network, a group of people who in the process probably learned a bit more about the causes they were supporting – and a group that may well be more open to real activism in the future than names on an email list. Further, I’d suggest that the online social activism portion of the program best-served one of the key goals of the Case commitment – priming the pump of activism with leadership.

And raising that money online took real leadership indeed.

Let’s take one of the top eight finishers in the challenge as an example. Route Out of Poverty for Cambodian Children, a grassroots project of the Sharing Foundation, garnered 1,650 donations totaling $41,673 – and won a $50,000 grant from the Case Foundation for finishing in the top four among international causes. I know a little more about the foundation’s work in Cambodia, and the Route Out of Poverty program, which teaches Khmer to 100 children of illiterate farmers, and English to over 500 students seeking to move beyond subsistence farming. I know that thousands of Cambodian children grow up illiterate, with very few educational options. I also know that the Sharing Foundation’s Khmer literacy school helps farm children learn their native alphabet and numbers well enough to attend elementary school. I know that its English Language Program offers village students from eight to 18 the opportunity to learn Cambodia’s language of commerce, allowing them to obtain jobs in tourism and word processing. But I don’t know this because of a website, or a Facebook profile, or a cool blog widget, or a well-publicized giving challenge.

I know all of this because of Beth Kanter.

GlobalGiving tracked 1,650 donations to Route Out of Poverty for Cambodian Children – and one of them was mine. And I made the list because of Beth, a Boston-based consultant who is one of the Web’s most ardent champions of online social activism. In addition to her blogging, coaching work and consulting, Beth is passionate about the southeast Asian nation of Cambodia. A few years ago, sheadopted two Khmer children, and is quite passionate about helping them to know about their homeland and celebrate their culture. Beth writes about Khmer culture and technology at Cambodia4kids blog and maintains a web site with the same name that provides information for U.S. teachers and parents. Her Typing To Learn Khmer blog is where she practices her very basic Khmer language skills using Khmer Unicode. She has covered the Cambodian Blogosphere as an author for Global Voices Online, a project of the Berkman Center for Internet and Law at Harvard University.

In addition to her many accomplishments, Beth is something of a noodge – which in the kinder version of the Yiddish translation means “someone who pushes you, sometimes to the point of annoyance.” When I asked Beth for some information related to this book, she very kindly held her hand out, digital palm up. A member of the board of the Sharing Foundation, she was passionately committed to ensuring that its Cambodian cause made the top four finishers in the Case Foundation contest – and an inquiring journalist who is an only an online acquaintance simply didn’t qualify for a free pass. Every time I asked a question, Beth would shoot back some version of: “the deadline’s coming, did you make your gift yet?”

Beth bugged a lot of people, posted to her blog, and urged others to post the widget – a small graphic showing Cambodian children with the current giving levels of the campaign. I finally made a small gift, and posted the widget to my own blog. Other people asked me about and I told them what I knew. And some them went on to make donations. Now we’re all savvy about the small foundation changing the lives of poor Cambodian children. Beth’s leadership brought in needed funds, but it also created real awareness and a network of potential supporters for the future.

And there was a small reward, in addition to Beth’s hearty thanks. In March, two months after the Case challenges ended, Dr. Nancy Hendrie, the president of the Sharing Foundation, sent Beth a video that she posted to her blog and sent around the donors. Only ten seconds long, it nonetheless connected a frenzied online giving contest with real-world recipients. It shows dozens of small children sitting on the porch of the Roteang Orphanage. Prompted by an adult voice off camera, the smiling children shout a few words as loud as their voices would allow them – Thankyou! American! Challenge! Yaaaay!

Cause-Related News: Going Outside the Mainstream Media

In a previous life, I was an editor and reporter for a Pulitzer Prize-winning weekly newspaper in the Bronx. In retrospect, a decade in community journalism at a newspaper where the best stories literally walked in off the street and demanded the editor’s ear was appropriate experience for the following years spent reporting stories online and then urging people to take up causes. Community journalism was activist journalism; we adhered to strict standards of reporting but we also demonstrated a definitive point of view – a purpose beyond selling newspapers. And that experience showed just how clearly compelling stories with real human beings could bring about change – whether fighting city hall over zoning or exposing corruption. As reporters, we didn’t call ourselves social activists but we were clearly part of a a culture of social activism, a key factor in the formula for protest and change. In short, the stories we wrote helped to drive the causes we wrote about.

Those were the days before a commercial Internet shortened the distance between information and action. These days, social media networks can break stories and secure support for causes that the mainstream media ignores.

In late September, 2008 Cyclone Ivan hit slashed across the African island of Madagascar with winds of more than 125 miles per hour, bringing heavy rains and massive across the island. Government officials reported that the cyclone left about 190,000 people homeless and caused heavy damage to crops, roads and public buildings. More than 80 people died. The storm hit Madagascar during an unusually heavy rainy season, to the ground was already saturated and flood damage has been sustained from previous storms. The Republic of Madagascar, formerly the Malagasy Republic, comprises the world’s fourth largest island, a poor nation in the Indian Ocean that nonetheless enjoys vital importance as a center of somewhat fragile biodiversity.

Media coverage of the cyclone, a storm roughly the size and strength of Hurricane Katrina, was minimal – a few wire service stories, and postings on sites like In the United States, there was little coverage and no video on the cable news stations. Indeed, I learned about Cyclone Ivan by reading Beth Kanter’s blog. Beth is a self-described “Web Technology Evangelist” and one of the world’s leading experts on the effects of social media on nonprofit organizations. She’s a prolific blogger with a vast network of online correspondents, and I’m always surprised by what turns up in her feed; her curious mind and extraordinary linking powers always bring in some fascinating stories. And it was Beth who told me about the work of blogger Joan Razafimharo and by extension, the social venture known as Foko Madagascar.

Foko Madagascar was formed quickly after the gathering of the exclusive TED conference’s regional expansion into Africa in 2007. The conference’s theme was “Africa the next Chapter” and several social entrepreneurs and bloggers pooled their activism to start the Foko project, to help support Madagascar’s development. That work took several forms: a biodiversity initiative (Madagascar has some of the highest biodiversity in the world and is home to as many 12,000 plant species but struggles with the use of fire as an gricultural tool by poor farmers on the island), a women’s craft skills program aimed at helping poor women to make additional income from embroidery, sewing, and weaving, and a blogging project. In partnership with the Rising Voices initiative, the Foko Blog Club is teaching young people in Madagascar blogging skills. Rising Voices is a project of Global Voices, the “non-profit global citizens’ media project” founded at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, a research think-tank focused on the Internet’s impact on society and it aims to “spread the tools and techniques of citizen media to communities that are under-represented on the conversational web.”

Lova Rakotomalala, Foko’s project manager for health, described the goals of the blogging project on Foko’s blog:

We all know too well how actively participating in the global conversation through digital media can have a major impact in our way of thinking and approach towards development and global awareness. Joining the global conversation is critical on many levels. Firstly, it fosters the exchange of ideas with projects with similar goals such as the former and current rising voices grantees. Many creative ideas have been tested in different settings all over the world; learning from the rest of the world’s experiences can only help our project be more efficient in achieving our goals. Secondly, it allows Malagasy people to illustrate and directly share with the rest of the world their perspectives on issues that they’d know best. Thirdly, joining the global conversation will expand the network of people with similar interests nationally and internationally, connecting them and promoting positive collaborations.

In February, 2008 the effort to connect developing regions like Madagasgar to the wired world came into sharp focus. Joan Razafimharo covered the cyclone on her own blog and sent out calls for help to her network of digital friends. The Foko blog group kept track of YouTube video coverage and posted many links to blogs worldwide. One particular post from author and blogger Chris Mooney on his blog The Intersection stood out:

“When Britney shaves her head, everybody hears about it.When Ana Nicole Smith dies, everybody hears about it.But when Madagascar gets struck by a record six tropical cyclones in one season, killing hundreds and displacing perhaps as many as a hundred thousand, not to mention jeopardizing food supplies for many more, does it garner major and sustained U.S. press coverage?”

Yes, the hundreds of people who read Beth Kanter’s blog daily or subcribe to her RSS feed or follow her on Twitter heard about the Madagasgar disaster. The bloggers at Foko (whose motto is “It takes a village to raise an idea”) had fullfilled – at least in a small way – one of the main goals of the new organization, to join the worldwide dialogue by blogging their way into the flow of news. And links directed aid through the United Nations World Food Programme. It wasn’t necessarily revolutionary, but it did show the power of one blogger telling a compelling story to a larger audience – a blogger with a real point of view not content to sit on the sidelines.