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The Business of Giving

Exploring philanthropy, non-profits and socially motivated business, from the Gates Foundation to your donation. A fresh look at the economy of good intentions.

October 13, 2009 at 8:08 AM

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Crowdsourcing philanthropy -- do the masses know best?

Posted by Kristi Heim

Philanthropic efforts, when combined with the possibilities of the Internet, are producing interesting hybrids, and crowdsourcing ideas for development is one of them.

The Peace Corps is testing such an approach with Africa Rural Connect (ARC), an online community where creativity and global collaboration are the goals, and the best ideas can win $20,000 in funding. See the current top 10 ideas here. Oct. 15 is the deadline for submitting projects for the current contest.


Molly Mattessich, pictured at right during her Peace Corps service in Mali, with her host, Niama Keita. She now manages an online site to take global ideas and apply them to problems she saw firsthand as a volunteer.

Anyone can submit an idea, endorse existing ideas and suggest improvements to them.

Hosted by the National Peace Corps Association, the site connects over 200,000 current and returned Peace Corps volunteers, African Diaspora, non-profit leaders, technology buffs and anyone else who has a solution for Africa's development challenges.

It uses a software called Wegora, designed to encourage a global exchange of ideas.

"We are excited about the caliber of ideas that have been posted on the site so far and we're really seeing the Wegora technology help foster a whole new way of thinking online about these types of issues," says Molly Mattessich, manager of Africa Rural Connect and a former Peace Corps volunteer in Mali. "The volume of posts from people and groups around the world has steadily increased and we hope to see that trend continue in the coming months."

Talking Book Devices.jpg

The University of Washington again led the nation in the number of Peace Corps volunteers last year, with 104. Washington state has had more Peace Corps volunteers (8,087) than any other state except California and New York. A blending of humanitarian idealism with innovative technology seems to characterize perfectly this region's strengths.

Another such experiment with funding charity based on the wisdom of the crowd is Paul Buchheit's Collaborative Charity project.

Buchheit, the lead developer of Google's Gmail and founder of FriendFeed, introduced his project by declaring "I'm going to donate a bunch of money, but I want random people on the Internet to decide where it goes."

So far he has received 18,968 votes on 419 ideas from 3,274 people. Among the most popular ideas was the Talking Book project (with brightly colored Talking Books pictured above) by Seattle-based non-profit Literacy Bridge.

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