NetSquared Mobile Challenge

Longtime readers of Tactical Philanthropy know that I’ve always been a fan of the NetSquared conference. From N2Y1, where I heard about some site called Facebook for the first time and was taught how to launch a blog. To N2Y2, a nonprofit “investment fair,” where the seemingly uncontroversial comment “some nonprofits just suck” by a venture philanthropists lead to a heated public debate between participants with the board members of NetSquared sponsor TechSoup Global taking opposite sides. To N2Y3, where philanthropy “mashups” won cash and Peter Deitz’ Social Actions took home a prize.

This year’s NetSquared is all about mobile technology.

The NetSquared Global Conference, held in San Jose California, is a two-day meeting that brings together the minds of unlikely allies from different professional fields including: leaders in philanthropy, corporate philanthropy, engineering, media and world-class innovators driving the development, distribution and use of social technologies for progressive change.

All conference attendees have an opportunity to share their perspective and insights from the field with competing Projects, and vote to fund N2Y4 Mobile Challenge winning Projects competing for $50k in cash-prizes and in-kind resources.

N2Y4’s Mobile Challenge calls for your world-changing ideas of how mobile applications can help citizens, groups and others create a better world for everybody.

Last year, I made the mistake of thinking the conference had morphed into more of a “technology conference” rather than having a focus on social impact. But I was wrong and I’m glad I went. To me and others who aren’t on the bleeding edge of mobile technology, I can see the same question about this year’s event. So I turned to technology and social impact guru Ethan Zuckerman.

I met Ethan in Dubai during the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council. Ethan was on the Future of the Internet Council. During a conversation I asked him how he thought web based technology could be harnessed to improve transparency in philanthropy. Ethan laughed and said:

Look, a billion people in the developed world are going to get internet enabled cell phones in the next 10 years and they are going to tell you exactly what they think of you! Whether you are transparent or not, people are going to be talking about you and whether your work makes a difference.

Oh. That just about sums it up, huh?

So in prepping for this post, I shot Ethan an email and asked for additional commentary on the intersection of philanthropy and mobile technology. Here’s what he had to say:

Many of us started working in a field where our job was to raise money to help the voiceless, or to speak for those whose voices are never heard. That may have been a noble idea at some point in the past – at this point, it sounds somewhat embarrassing, almost as a form of neocolonialism.

I’ve given a talk several times centered on the idea that the digital revolution will force us out of a model where we – the well-meaning philanthropoids – speak on behalf of the disadvantaged to one where we point to instances where they’re speaking on their own behalf …ultimately, advocacy organizations are going to have to learn not to speak, but to point.

The rise of mobile tech is going to force these issues. A nation like Ghana has gotten very used to the idea that they can speak back to power – politicians take to talk radio and engage directly with callers using their mobile phones. Columnists like Andrew Mwenda in Uganda use the internet to gain support overseas, and intellectual backing for positions questioning the value of traditional aid programs, and become fierce interlocutors of aid agencies and those that support them – his evisceration of Bono at TED Arusha continues to warm my heart.

Basically, we’ve moved from a world where a very few people have control over media to one where virtually everyone has a chance to speak up. There’s a long, long road from speaking to being heard, but we’re moving into a world where it’s very risky to speak on behalf someone and far wiser to focus on making people who are speaking heard widely…

You better go register for NetSquared. I know I am.


  1. Sean, meeting you at N2Y3 continues to be a highlight of that event.

    Thank you for sharing Ethan’s words here: “There’s a long, long road from speaking to being heard.” I was just talking with Social Action’s Joe Solomon today about the long, long road from being heard to seeing another’s behavior shift in response to what they’re hearing anew.

    So much more to be done along that road, and NetSquared is an important resource for those walking along it, technology in hand.

    Christine Egger
    Social Actions

  2. News: NetSqaured Mobile Challenge | Tactical Philanthropy

  3. Thanks so much Christine! I’ll see you at N2Y4!

  4. rob allen says:

    The Netsquared website is also hosting the mobile applications for human rights (University of Berkley) Mobile Challenge. Submissions ended today and community voting begins on Monday 23rd of March.

    There are over 40 projects there and the top 10 will go through to the final. There are some great projects submitted and it would be good to see some of the projects and tools working together.

    There’s $30,000 for 3 winning Projects to be awarded at the international conference, “The Soul of the New Machine: Human Rights, Technology, and New Media,” at UC Berkeley, May 4 and 5, 2009.

  5. Oops. Forgot to include the link: read down to @EthanZ‘s comments.

  6. Delicious: NetSqaured Mobile Challenge | Tactical Philanthropy

  7. RT @Mobile4Change: Delicious: NetSqaured Mobile Challenge | Tactical Philanthropy

  8. Hey Sean-

    I’m SO excited to finally meet you in person this year at N2Y4! I’m really jazzed to be part of the mix.

    I think you nailed it on the head here: I might not be an iPhone developer but that doesn’t mean I can’t contribute, learn, share insights, and even collaborate on mobile technologies with a social benefit bent. Technology that is literally in the hands of our communities is so powerful; I think N2Y4 will be a blast!

    Thanks for sharing your call here 🙂