Digital philanthropy comes of age

The recent Social Good Summit mounted by Mashable, 92nd Street Y and the United Nations Foundation with support from Swedish mobile phone giant Ericsson was a chance for the most innovative technologists, influential minds and passionate activists to come together with one shared goal: to unlock the potential of new media and technology to make the world a better place.

Consider, for example, the legacy "Save the Children" campaigns, which connected donors with impoverished children through personal letters. The first wave of digital updates included initiatives like Kiva, which pioneered online crowd-sourced micro-finance.

charity:water's Scott Harrison gave an Ignite-style introduction whereby the recipients, many of them in sub-Saharan Africa, receive wells yielding clean water, while donors receive a first-hand view of the wells their donations are digging -- thanks to an unusually well-conceived back-end as a platform and an inspired use of Google Earth as the telescope.

Howard W. Buffett (Warren's 27-year-old grandson) used his platform at the summit to announce his aunt Doris Buffett's new program to promote university-level "non-profit studies" through her Learning by Giving Foundation. "Innovation has no power without implementation," he warned.

In the tech world, there is constant pressure for ideas that reach maturity to continue to evolve (along with the veiled threat that the failure to do so will be punished). The push to innovate has touched every sector of society, including formerly reticent circles such as diplomacy. One U.S. government representative was Dr. Raj Shah, a former Gates Foundation officer who was appointed the head of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) last year. Shah announced the creation of a new initiative called FWD (for "Famine, War and Drought Relief"), which seeks to attract emergency donations for the massive catastrophe currently unfolding in the Horn of Africa. The new FWD site borrows an SMS-based mobile giving platform (#777444).

The new era of connectivity is creating new forms of transparency, in which the various parties to altruism can now encounter each other online, for a compelling new conversation.

--Anne Nelson, Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs

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