TechSoup Global Contributors’ Summit: 250 Leaders Strategize on Using Tech to Address Global Problems

TechSoup Global Contributors' Summit - Day One (Feb. 15, 2011)

For the past two days I’ve been at the TechSoup Global Contributors’ Summit at the Microsoft Campus in Mountain View, California.  It’s a really interesting gathering of a select couple hundred TechSoup partners, NGOs, tech industry folks and funders talking about how to connect the best technology tools to support the most worthwhile social causes.  For me the gathering was a great opportunity to meet a bunch of smart and inspiring individuals leading projects that use cutting edge tech for the common good.

Unlike a lot of other conferences I’ve attended, the Contributors’ Summit was organized around a series of roundtable, open-ended conversations among people on a variety of topics of relevance to the participants.  The few keynotes were short, punchy and inspiring.  The breaks were long and frequent to allow time for informal chats and networking.  The coffee was strong and on tap all day, the alcohol was free-flowing at night.  In other words, everything was designed around getting people sharing and connected with each other.

As the community manager for the Nonprofit Commons, I had the opportunity to speak several times with people about Second Life as a tool for nonprofits.  While I encountered a lot of initial skepticism from some, many were impressed with what Second Life and other virtual worlds can offer nonprofits in terms of a space for collaboration, community-building, support, education, networking, and event hosting / broadcasting.  In fact, the more I spoke with people about what digital tools are out there, the more convinced I became that virtual worlds really do provide a unique “third space” for people across distances to connect with each other in ways that are powerful, evocative, engaging and even life-changing. 

There was way too much going on at the Summit for me to try and summarize in this brief blog post.  But I wanted to shout-out a few of the awesome people and projects I learned about:

I got to meet Ruxandra Popa of TechSoup Romania and the Odorheiu Secuiesc Community Foundation, who described how her very small staff has been facilitating partnerships between local IT specialists and local NGOs, particularly Cisco and Microsoft.  In fact, they have been so successful with so many volunteers that they had to design a matchmaking platform to coordinate the hundreds of interested people. 

Techsoup Romania also facilitated the submission of about 30 stories for the TechSoup Digital Storytelling Challenge, a huge number considering there were 105 total submissions internationally!  They did this through a combination of marketing and prize incentives for the best submissions.  Really great work.

Tambe Harry of Amis-Cameroun is also doing incredible work to connect local farmers in Cameroun with market data so they can get their goods to market and earn a better livelihood for their families. Their system uses web and mobile technology to push out relevant information to farmers via text message.  Clearly Amis-Cameroun is making an impact because it was one of 45 finalist projects chosen for the “Unreasonable Institute” challenge. If you would like to learn more or to support them, head to this link.

Juan Negrillo is one of the leads at the international Campus Party , an oddly-named but impressive organization that holds geekfests at universities and other large venues around the world to bring together programmers and other technologists to work together to support various nonprofit causes and issues.  He told us about a recent gathering in Sao Paolo, Brazil that gathered 6,800 techies to tackle various social concerns using their skills.  Now they are looking to expand to the US with a top-tier level of supporters including Al Gore, Vince Cerf and Tim Berners-Lee.  Keep an eye out for those folks in the next year or so!

Finally I have to shout-out the awesome Noel Dickover of the State Department, who leads the eDiplomacy Civil Society 2.0 program that links civil society with IT firms around the world.  In Noel’s “spare time” he heads up and CrisisCamps , an offline and online gathering place for people to share technology resources needed in crisis situations.  Such a cool guy and very open to sharing his knowledge and resources with everyone at the conference. 

    These are just a few of the cool people who I got to meet with at the TechSoup Global Contributors’ Summit this week.  You can read a lot more about the conference on the official site, check out the tweet stream on the #tsg2011 tag, read other blog posts about the event on the TechSoup blog (day one and day two) and see some pics from the event on Flickr.

    And for those of you interested in follow ups from the conference, there will be continued brainstorming about knowledge sharing and civil society going on various places online. Follow along by searching for the tag #kngow.

    Written by: rikomatic