The social entrepreneurship crew generally likes to poo poo traditional development.
And why not? It is an easy target given the widely held belief that aid doesn’t work and evidence showing the wholesale ineffectiveness of many development projects. We are increasingly convinced that aid donors – institutional and individual – have dumped incalculable sums down the drain.
Its poor track record seems to suggest that traditional development is hopeless. There must be a better way (enter: social enterprise, right?).
But what if you could bring market mechanisms to bear in the world of development? What if we had a sort of eBay for development projects – a means for connecting the world of projects and donors to each other, while also creating greater transparency with regard to project participants, progress, and success?
OpenAction.org is attempting to be exactly that. Though they would perhaps never speak of themselves as an eBay for development, their technology lets NGOs and development agencies large and small put their projects on the map – quite literally.
Using a Google Maps mashup, OpenAction’s “Action Map” visualizes the location of projects that end-users add to the site. If you, as an interested browser, identify a project you like, you can quickly pull up more information about the project itself as well as the organization behind it.
When a project is created on OpenAction.org, flickr and Vimeo feeds related to the project can be easily brought in, project updates can be created, and all of that data can be pushed out via RSS to anyone whose cares enough to subscribe. (Side note: It would be great to see them add a place for third-party comments/validation, to increase transparency and allow project beneficiaries to share their stories)
There is, of course, a DONATE button, as well, and it is hoped that the map will become a decent source of funding for development projects.
The best part? It’s all free. (“Premium” features and custom options will be offered at a fee, with the extra options and prices TBD).
Of course, all of these great features and functions don’t guarantee that OpenAction will be a hit with everyone. Markets and transparency create and nurture competition and accountability, two things that many NGOs (and, for that matter, for-profit companies) have traditionally shied away from. In addition, some may fear that, in fostering competition, a market-creation tool like OpenAction.org could overly fragment the allocation of scarce aid dollars.
Markets also bring enormous opportunities for collaboration, however. Imagine beginning a project in a remote village in Namibia and being able to identify development efforts that have taken or are taking place in that same area?What if you could, before initiating a new development project, identify similar projects taking place around the world, contact the project managers, and gather best practices?
The positive, productive possibilities here are endless…but only if lots of organizations and projects get on board.
So, what are you waiting for? Sign up already!