NPC 3/22/13 Featured Presentation: Marnie Webb, CEO of Caravan Studios

Below is an edited transcript of the 3/22/13 NonProfit Commons in Second Life meeting, featuring Marnie Webb, CEO of Caravan Studios, a recently launched division of TechSoup Global, focusing on developing and marketing social-benefit projects and software solutions to NGO’s around the world.


Bio: Marnie Webb 

An experienced and passionate leader with a 20 plus year track record of using new technologies to help communities achieve their goals. Currently CEO of Caravan Studios, a division of TechSoup Global. Webb has also played a pivotal role in shaping how the nonprofit sector uses social media and other new technologies as a way to more effectively meet their individual missions and empower advocates to work on their behalf of their collective goals.


Named one of the Top 10 Silicon Valley Influencers by San Jose Mercury News, Webb is a sought after writer and speaker on innovation, community, and the social web. She may be best known for launching NetSquared, an ambitious and evolving global experiment that empowers developers and organizers at the local level to build and share innovative solutions to social challenges. Now six years old, NetSquared has an active community of more than 24,000 individuals around the globe and hosts regional meetups in 23 countries. Webb also writes the blog, Caravan Studios, and is the initiator of the NPTech tagging experiment. In 2008, she won NTEN “Person of the Year” award and was included in to the Nonprofit Times’ list of the 50 most influential leaders in the U.S. nonprofit sector.


          Glitteractica Cookie: and my awesome boss!

          Rhiannon Chatnoir: Let’s welcome Marnie , and start whenever your ready!

          Beth Ghostraven: This chat is shared at

          bulaklak Resident: hehehehe



MarnieWebb Resident: Hi. and thank you.


So, I’d like to talk with you to today about Caravan Studios a new division of TechSoup Global. (you’re all going to get a birdseye view of the homophones i mistype regularly)


John Cleese has a wonderful video on creativity. i really recommend that you spend 40 minutes watching it. it’s very worth it.


But there’s one bit that I particularly love. he talks about the idea that creativity happens when we have been resting our mind against a problem. so john cleese talks about creativity happening because we’ve been resting our mind against a problem and, at techsoup, we’ve been resting our collective minds against the problem of nonprofits and technology for 25 years. And that has lead us a lot of interesting places.


I don’t just want to share what we’re doing at Caravan. i want to step back a little a share some of the thinking that got us there


So, there’s a political writer from the 60s, td weldon, who said, and i’m paraphrasing, “there are issues and there are problems.” Issues are big systemic things that can’t be fixed, a lot of things like hunger, like poverty. Then there are problems, things within those issues that can be fixed and those are things that move or change the issue. They may be things like more shelters for people who are in dangerous situations. When we think about tech in social benefit, we’ve been thinking about it in that way. So, we believe that technology can be used to illuminate issues


There’s a group called apalachian voices that does just that, with a site called i love mountains: Put in your address and it shows the mountaintop that’s been removed by your power consumption. As in the actual mountaintop that’s affected by your power companies purchase of power


Tech can also be used to identify problems. See Click Fix: is a good example of that. it can let you find the things in your community that can be fixed and tech can be used to allow for action on the problems. Ushahidi is another great example, there after the disaster in japan they produced a site that helped people locate things like clean drinking water.


So we’ve been bumping against this way of thinking about technology via and our smart board members.


This quote is from caterina fake, one of the founders of I love it because she talks about the all work we did to make the web big. To make it easy to publish and share and all that publishing and all those tools that helped make the web big forced us to get good at search and adding metadata for tags. And now we’ve got to get good at making the web smaller.


This (NonProfit Commons in Second Life community) is a place to gather with likeminded individuals and we know that the people here care about some of the same things we do. More human-scaled. If i had to stumble my way through all of Second Life to find these individuals, i would be lost. But i can come here, to a place in second life.


Local is one way of making the web smaller and it’s a way we see a lot. And there are other ways…the increasing modularization of technology, the ubiquity of the tools. All of that helps us to make the web smaller and we can even carry it around with us.


And that leads us here. We need to stop thinking about the web. We need to think about what people need in specific spots; to illuminate issues, to idenity problems, to take action on problems and we need to build those things.


When i say we in these slides, i mean those of us helping build the capacity of the sector. We’ve adopted platforms, like this one and now we have to build things on those platforms


So, here we are. We’ve gotten big in various ways and we see that we have an opportunity to build more specific, more precise tools but we want to do it in a way that makes sense, with this idea of issues and problems that i talked about early.


And now we’re at Caravan Studios. We want to make the things so technology, so the connections of the internet are more precise and more actionable for the social benefit sector and help to make sure it actually gets to NGOs. We want to take the energy that goes to this sector. 


We’ve starting with something called the public good app house (there’s no url yet or i’d share it). We want to take the best of the code that comes out of places like hackathons, like corporate volunteering, like university projects and we want to work with the people who volunteered their time to develop it to get it done and then get it out to the communities and the organizations that can best use it.  


We’ve got a lot to figure out to make this happen, so we’re starting small about what they wish still worked. We are reaching out to hackathon organizers and talking to them. What came out of their event, but couldn’t get done or stopped working because some piece of the world changes, like twitter changed their api. Or a phone upgraded and there was no one to take care of the thing that got built. We want to take care of it. We’re also looking for specific communities that we can work with to build things that will help them.


Safe Night: is an example of that


Safe Night is a mobile service that allows domestic violence organizations to crowdsource funds to cover hotel room stays when no shelter space is available. We’re building it courtesy of grants from Microsoft, Vodafone Americas foundation and Blue Shield of California foundation. And in concert with domestic violence service organizations in the state of California picking and choosing apps. We know we can do this at a small scale, but we want to understand what we need to do to do it at a larger scale.


          Sarvana Haalan: awesome!!

          Lowri Mills: Wow!

          01 Hifeng: interesting project, wow



MarnieWebb Resident: How do we need communities of engineers involved helping us vet the technical quality of the products? How do we get change agents to tell us what works for them? How do we do it in a way that allows other people to bring their ideas to the sector without ever talking to us?


There’s a lot to think about with regard to sustainability and rather than mud wrestle a thousand excel spreadsheets, we’d rather figure it out by producing things, sharing them and getting feedback, (we’re excited about safenight and would love to hear more of what you think)


Can you go the end of the deck, the slide with my tweet on it?


If you look at this deck on SlideShare:, you’ll see that we’ve got some of the things we have to think about with regard to sustainability on it and if you think of others we’d love to hear them.


So here’s the thing about this and the other documents we’re sharing. This right here: that we’re learning at a great rate of velocity is what i love about my job. Every conversation, every meeting results in use getting new things to add into the hopper and it’s wonderful. It lets us refine and get more precise. But the “to do next” list is growing and growing. But here’s what it means for all the documents that we are producing; the grant proposals, and excel spreadsheets, and slide decks. It means by the time we hit share we’re probably already wrong.


One of the big reasons I wanted to share with this community, with all of you here, is being i think you can help inform us. Tell us the places that resonate and the places that don’t. Tell us where we can find more things and even more. I hope we can do some of this work together.


Thanks for giving me some time on your agenda. Super happy to answer questions here, but you can also reach out to us in all the usual ways: @caravanstudios,, @webb, thanks.



          Namaara MacMoragh: thank you Marie for being here today 🙂

          Robo Mirabella: brava!!!

          Frans Charming applauds

          Zotarah Shepherd claps

          Glitteractica Cookie: applause

          bulaklak Resident: that was great!

          Buffy Beale: hearty applause!!

          CarynTopia Silvercloud: thanks, I applaud ways in which to work together

          jlmorin Resident: yay

          Beth Ghostraven: Yes, thank you so much for sharing this, Marnie!

          jlmorin Resident: applause



          Lowri Mills: Is there a place where shelters can share their space available in different communities?


MarnieWebb Resident: Lowri, domestic violence shelters don’t share space like that. Their locations are typically kept extremely secure.


          Lowri Mills: Yes, I have worked as an advocate for years. You can use their criteria for you website or the police stations they could call,


MarnieWebb Resident: Lowri, we’re looking a that for the second phase


          Serene Jewell: Sounds like a great project.

          Lowri Mills: Excellent project



          Buffy Beale: Question: Why did you pick the name Caravan, just curious


MarnieWebb Resident: Buffy, i love the idea of people coming together of traveling of spending time in a place and a caravan, for me, a caravan represents that. Plus, i like the way it sounds. Good, simple answer.


          Buffy Beale: and the Nonprofit Commons are now under Caravan Studios so that’s a great fit

          Glitteractica Cookie: yes, super happy that caravan is running NPC

          Rhiannon Chatnoir: yes



          Oronoque Westland: Is the idea that NGO’s bring suggestions to Caravan studios for Caravan to run with, or do the NGO’s reach out to Caravan for funding to so their own development?


MarnieWebb Resident: Oronoque, we want NGOs to tell us what’s hard in their job and what stops them and then we can work with them to come up with solutions. We’d bring those to volunteers to help get them done. We’re looking at things like hackerhelper:, to organize the information. But that’s a part we want to get better at. We don’t want to get in the way of orgs who can own their own tech. We want to help make things that a lot of orgs could use. Thanks, all for the feedback. i hope you’ll keep it coming as we continue this work.



          Serene Jewell: When it comes to things like hackathons and app development, I think it is important to build in tools for follow up and sustainability of the projects. Glad to see you are thinking about those things.


MarnieWebb Resident: Serene, we are but we’ve got to get better at how it happens. What i’d love is to be able to do community adoption projects so that we go into a place and help them use the tools in the way that make the impact they are looking for a lot for us to learn there



          Ozma Malibu: how do you want us to bring you the ideas? cos I know we each are thinking about our individual problems having to do with the issues we are committed to.


MarnieWebb Resident: Ozma, you can email them to us, tweet them at us or use the hackerhelper wiki:



          Rhiannon Chatnoir: so beyond being involved with the hacker helper wiki, what are other good ways for those here at NonProfit Commons to plug in to this


MarnieWebb Resident: to describe the issue? I’d ask you all that question actually. How would you like to be involved? How are you already involved? So, one of the things you all could do (just an example) is share the info on the hackerhelper wiki with local hackathons.



          Glitteractica Cookie: just a show of hands, say AYE if you are a person that goes to hackathons. Can you all shout out if you go to hackathons?

          Sarvana Haalan: I do in Baltimore, MD

          Lyre Calliope: Aye!

          Rhiannon Chatnoir has

          Ozma Malibu: just once (to a hackathon)

          Glitteractica Cookie: that’s four of you so far

          Sarvana Haalan: Woot

          Serene Jewell: yes, have done

          Sarvana Haalan: awesome



          Lowri Mills: This is a global application?


MarnieWebb Resident: Lowri, you mean safenight?


          Lowri Mills: yes, I work with people around the world


MarnieWebb Resident: lowri, the pilot will be in CA and then we’ll work on brining it to other states. I think we need to look at the way the issue manifests in certain countries, to be sure that it’s appropriate there.


          Lowri Mills: I was thinking also countries, This would work well in many countries and is needed. I have found most countries work well cross culturally.


MarnieWebb Resident: (I just mean, if there isn’t a safe way fo getting to hotels or there aren’t laws that help with that safenight could hurt). We’d very much like to take it to other places. We just want to be able to well-describe what it does. Anyone can also follow up with me at


          Glitteractica Cookie: Just started following you on twitter, Lowri, so we can stay in touch


MarnieWebb Resident: Lowri, maybe we can follow up with a phone call?


          Lowri Mills: Great! I must go, but great job! I will send you my info

          Glitteractica Cookie: I got her contact info, will set it up

          Glitteractica Cookie: I got it from your SL profile



          Rhiannon Chatnoir: any last thoughts for Marnie? great, let’s thank Marnie then for coming to introduce Caravan to us

          CarynTopia Silvercloud: look forward to continuing conversation

          Buffy Beale: just to say thanks for coming and how much I appreciate that the Nonprofit Commons is still going strong thanks to the support from Techsoup

          Glitteractica Cookie: we’ve been in world since 2006

          Gentle Heron: Thanks Marnie

          Serene Jewell: Thanks for doing this, it could be very powerful.

          Zotarah Shepherd: Thank you Marnie!

          Ozma Malibu: This was great – inspiring and thoughtful – thanks for sharing

          Buffy Beale: and… a fine example of how we connect just happened again today

          Rhiannon Chatnoir: yes

          Buffy Beale: a meeting with Lowri resulted, who knows where it could lead 🙂


MarnieWebb Resident: thank you all for giving me the time today.


If you took pictures during the event, please share them on our Facebook group: or G+ Community:, that would be great. Otherwise, tag them #NPSL


And tag your avatars in any photos posted!

Written by: Rhiannon Chatnoir