Technology has made volunteering or giving a monetary donation to our favorite non-profit organization as convenient as possible. As technology continues to advance at an increasingly speedy rate, we can expect to see more opportunities for non-profits to reach donors and the people they help.
For example, mobile devices will help non-profits engage with supporters and more effectively communicate with volunteers and staff members. Big data and analytics are being used to learn which channels are the most effective in reaching donors or how to plan fundraising events.
The Cloud provides cheaper alternatives to services that were normally too pricey for non-profits. Software will be able to enhance the user experience. And social media networks provide access to donors, supporters, volunteers, and patrons.
Non-profits aren’t just using technology to help their causes, though. They’re also innovating the tech sector themselves. Take the following ten non-profits, in no particular order, as an example of charitable organizations who are making a difference in the tech sector.
One of the challenges that have educators have long-faced is differentiating classroom instructions for students with various skills and abilities. That’s where Zoran Popović, a University of Washington computer science professor, comes in to save the day.
Following five years of developing computer learning games that can adapt to the skills of players, he founded the Seattle-based non-profit Enlearn. With funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Enlearn offers students interactive and adaptive content that shares real-time data with their teachers to show what’s working and what’s not. This data can be used by school districts so they can invest in the proper curriculum and technology.
Developing computer algorithms for learning games isn’t what makes Enlearn unique from other learning platforms. Enlearn’s technology can be used for individual students, small groups, the entire classroom, and even the teacher by making continuous recommendations that motivate students and improve engagement.
Did you know that by 2020 there will be 1.4 million computer specialist job openings? However, there’s a huge gender gap in the technology and engineering fields. Girls Who Code aims to close that gap by teaching coding skills to girls.
The idea for Girl Who Code first started when Reshma Saujani was campaigning for Congress in 2010. In an interview with Forbes, Saujani stated, “We were touring schools in a poorer New York City district. As I looked around, I began to notice a stark difference between boys and girls and their access to technology. I knew I had to do something to level that playing field.”
In 2012 Saujani started The Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program. It’s a seven-week education program that was developed by leading educators, engineers, and entrepreneurs that pairs instruction in robotics, web design, and mobile development with real-world exposure to the tech industry and mentors. Since 2012, Girls Who Code has taught almost 4,000 girls in 29 states.
While serving in the Peace Corps in Costa Rica, Chase Adams was approached by a woman on a bus asking for donations for her son’s healthcare while passing through the town of Watsi. This inspired Adams to start the non-profit Watsi in 2012.
San Francisco-based Watsi is the first global crowdfunding site for medical treatments to connect more than one billion people in the world who can’t afford medical treatment with donors over the web through a monthly donation. 100% of the funds go directly to the medical treatment of the patient, which can be anything from a broken limb to a complicated surgery. Donors are also updated on the outcome of the patient each month.
Since being founded, Watsi has become the first non-profit backed by Paul Graham’s Y Combinator and has founded healthcare for around 4,500 patients.
It may be hard to believe, but there are still a large number of people in the United States who don’t have access to broadband internet at home. In Kansas City, for example, according to Connecting For Good’s website, “70% of Kansas City Public Schools students do not have the Internet in their homes”.
Michael Liimatta, president of Connecting For Good, described the Kansas-City non-profit to Computer World as a collection of “socially-minded geeks who provide IT support to non-profits with wireless installs and computer refurbishing labs, as well as computer training labs.” Additionally, Connecting For Good has created a curriculum to help people develop digital life skills, provide free Wi-Fi networks for low-income families, and sell inexpensive PC’s that are internet ready.
The group has partnered with over 50 groups and non-profits like Google Fiber and the Kansas City-based Kauffman Foundation.
As mentioned earlier with Girls Who Code, computer science is one of the fastest growing fields. Brothers Hadi and Ali Partovi, who previously served as early investors and advisors for Facebook and Dropbox, noticed this trend and launched Code.org in 2013 with a powerful video stressing the importance of teaching computer science in the classroom.
In just two years, Code.org has:
- Helped Prepare 9,000 new teachers
- Partnered with more than 70 US school districts to add computer science to the curriculum
- Helped change education policies in 16 states.
- Become available in 30 different languages
While Code.org wants to make computer science a part of the curriculum in every classroom, it also teaches people how to code through the its game-based Hour of Code, where players can create their own ‘Flappy’ game, or by attending a local class. Even though Code.org is intended for children, it could be used by anyone of any age to learn coding.
Ushahidi (Swahili for “testimony” or “witness”) was founded in 2008 following the aftermath of Kenya’s chaotic 2007 presidential election – which resulted in approximately 800-1,500 people killed. Originally, Ushahidi was a website that collected first hand reports of violence via email and text messages. This crowdsourced information was then placed onto Google Maps. Lead by bloggers and software engineers Erik Hersman, Juliana Rotich, Ory Okolloh, and David Kobia, Ushahidi has since developed its own free and open-source software that maps international crisis – such as the Haiti earthquake in 2010 and the Japanese tsunami in 2011.
With the information that is collected and mapped with the ‘Ushahidi Platform,’ emergency responses can be organized during a real-time crisis, as well as giving a voice to the people during times of social injustice. The software is now available in 31 different languages in more than 159 countries.
The Ushahidi team is also behind innovative and life-changing products like BRCK (a rugged, self-powered device that delivers WiFi), Ping (a check-in for emergencies), and Crowdmap (a collaborative map-making tool).
Following a decade in the United Nations, Toshi Nakamura and Ewa Wojkowska founded Kopernik in 2010 as a way to connect simple, yet life-changing technologies, like water filters and solar-powered lights, to communities in the most rural parts of the world. Named after the Renaissance mathematician and astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, Kopernik has a unique approach for a non-profit. Donors fund the upfront costs of introducing this technology and then helping people launch their own microbusiness in these communities, mainly in Indonesia. The money raised from these product sales are then reinvested in more technology.
Following a decade in the United Nations, Toshi Nakamura and Ewa Wojkowska founded Kopernik in 2010 as a way to connect simple, yet life-changing technologies, like water filters and solar-powered lights, to communities in the most rural parts of the world.
Kopernik’s Wonder Women program, for example, provides Indonesian women with simple solar lanterns, water filters, and clean cookstoves on consignment. These eco-friendly products are then sold in their communities as a way to improve their economic opportunity and enhance the health and safety of the community member and her family. Since 2011, the program has worked with over 300 women who have not only sold almost 10,000 clean energy technologies, but also reduced C02 emissions by more than 5,000 tonnes.
Founded in 2008 by Lelia Janah, Samasource (the prefix “Sama” is a Sanskrit word, meaning “equal”) is looking to end worldwide poverty by providing internet-based employment to individuals living in poverty. As part of the Sama Group, Samasource uses a unique internet-based model called “microwork” that breaks down large-scale digital projects from clients, which includes Fortune 500 companies like Google, into smaller tasks for workers to complete. Workers are trained in basic computing skills, such as data entry, and are guaranteed a fair wage from employers.
With offices located in San Francisco and Nairobi, Kenya, Samasource also provides customized solutions for its clients, which has help made the non-profit a major success. Since 2008, Samasource employees have earned $4.35 million and have directly impacted more than 26,000 people from across the world. The program also employs 600 workers across India, Kenya, Uganda, Haiti, and Ghana.
The organization is also in charge of the Sama School, a program designed to give low-income community college students digital skills, and Samahope, a crowdfunding platform that funds doctors who provide life-changing medical treatments for women and children in low-income areas.
San Francisco-based Caravan Studios is a division of TechSoup (a non-profit that connects tech products and services for other non-profits) that builds mobile apps for the greater good. These apps are used by the community to “organize, access, and apply resources to their most pressing problems.” One of the first apps developed by Caravan Studios was Range. Range is a mobile app that locates locations where free summer meals are served for children who rely on free or reduced lunches during the school year.
Another app that Caravan Studios has released is SafeNight. This is a mobile app that allows donors to fund hotel rooms for victims of domestic violence when shelters are full. When a donor downloads the app, they can select a preferred domestic violence shelter, and will receive a notification when someone needs a hotel room for the night. The app can be downloaded on the App Store, Google Play, or the Windows Store.
Stellar is an open-source, non-profit organization similar to Bitcoin that was unveiled in 2014. It moves money easily and directly between friends, family, companies, and financial institutions. In fact, thanks to the use of a consensus mechanism, Stellar’s network is always kept in sync, which means that transactions occur almost instantaneously. Unlike Bitcoin, however, Stellar is able to support arbitrary currencies. This means that you can transfer everything from dollars, Euros, and, yes, even bitcoins – which can be converted automatically into each other.
Based on the open-source Ripple Project, Stellar’s development is led by Professor David Mazières and e-Donkey creator and Ripple co-founder Jed McCaleb. Stellar also has high-profile board members like Patrick Collison (CEO of Stripe) and Keith Rabbis (a former senior executive at PayPal) who joined by some advisors like Naval Ravikant (founder of AngelList) and Matt Mullenweg (founder of WordPress.com).
If Stellar’s digital currency infrastructure takes off, it could provide individuals with a convenient and easily accessible deposit account, as well as decrease costs for banks and increase revenue for businesses.
Whether it’s by creating mobile apps, developing open source software, harnessing the power of crowdsourcing, or teaching people how to code, non-profits are becoming just as influential as some of the most exciting tech startups.
If there’s a non-profit you believe is making a difference in the tech sector, please feel free to share in the comments.
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