Creating Technology for Social Change

From Cambridge to Shenzhen: An update of NGO2.0

[Crossposted at]

Core members of NGO2.0

NGO2.0 technology salon

Core members of NGO2.0, and NGO2.0 technology salon

Starting this past August, NGO2.0 evolved from a project originated in MIT’s New Media Action Lab into a Shenzhen-based Chinese nonprofit organization, the TuOu Center for Nonprofit Tech Development. The path from Cambridge to Shenzhen—China’s most progressive coastal city—was filled with obstacles and challenges. Made up of eleven dedicated volunteers, NGO2.0 started off in 2009 as a social-media literacy-training project designed to help grassroots NGOs in the underdeveloped regions of China to leverage new media to collaborate with each other, recruit volunteers, and explore innovative ways of serving their communities. To date, we have taught 340 NGOs across NGO issue areas how to use social media to make their presence visible to each other and to the rest of China beyond the small towns and villages where they are based.

Simultaneously, NGO2.0 has been building a change platform connecting partners committed to transforming China’s philanthropy and public interest sector. Together, the partners are working to create an enabling environment for change makers from different sectors to emerge, find each other, and form communities both online and offline.

Two of our most successful change platforms are the NGO-Techie Group and the NGO2.0/Oracle China’s Nonprofit Technology Group. Each network has drawn participants from foundations, NGOs, IT companies, universities, nonprofit technology startups, software developers and interaction designers’ communities.

We believe in leveraging local resources to solve local problems. But the networks focus less on solutions per se than a socially constructed approach to change, which means building cross-sector dialogues and giving every participant the opportunity to share problems and propose strategic alternatives. In a culture such as the Chinese where “collaboration” is easier said than done, community building will be a prioritized task for us, which includes establishing a network with provincial support-type NGOs that can reach deep into the hinterlands of the country.

Meanwhile, through a connection via the MIT Center for Civic Media, we got in touch with an Egyptian NGO Helwa Ya Balady that expressed interest in using the crowd-sourced map developed by our chief engineer Yu Wang, a CMS graduate student. This chance encounter allowed NGO2.0 to open up the source codes of our map ( sooner than we expected. We are making plans to visit Vietnam to find opportunities for similar collaboration.