Blog Post

Mobile Movement: An experiment in handheld philanthropy

For starters, welcome to the Always With You blog. Except that we have decided to change our name to Mobile, rather, welcome to the Mobile Movement blog. We changed the name because we realized we are creating a movement on two fronts:

1) We are going to change the way people support grassroots youth projects with direct telecommunications, and;

2) We are energizing our generation with a new culture of philanthropy: one that is accessible, cool, fun and full of passion.

The passion starts here: so read on.

Our project is a partnership between Interactive Filmmaking, UN HABITAT, Microsoft Research India and the Environmental Youth Alliance. As a partnership, sometimes things take a little longer than expected, so while we are not yet off schedule, we were delayed in the first few months, waiting for a matching grant to be contracted. UN HABITAT has contracted the Environmental Youth Alliance (EYA) to run a Youth Environmental Entrepreneurship Program, which Mobile Movement will work with. Originally the contract was going to be in four countries in Africa, but now the program has been scaled down to Kenya. So the youth entrepreneurs we will be working with will be all based in Kenya, but that works for us, especially because it makes sense for us to support grassroots projects there, given the recent violence many young people faced earlier this year after the elections.

EYA will select 10 youth groups from low-income communities to start a socially and environmentally responsible small business, and will support them with vocational training, ongoing business advice, and start-up funds. The small businesses have a large range, from environmental projects like waste management, sanitation, composting, getting water, which is transported manually and expensive, to small individual businesses (like selling chapatis, meat, charcoal). EYA has decided to support youth groups who want to start businesses, so it will involve more people and have more chances at success. From the selected 10 groups, we will choose 5 to focus on, and will film their stories and create an interactive website where the audience can engage with the youth groups through the web and mobile phones. We will encourage the audience to give micro-loans, professional advice and in-kind support to the burgeoning businesses, and the progress of the business and the relationships will be recorded on the website and become part of the narrative...

Here is a calendar, which will give you a rundown of our plan:

Phase 1: Summer 2008
Selecting Youth Groups
There was an open call for youth groups, supported by The City of Nairobi and UN HABITAT. 120 youth groups applied, and 10 will be chosen in the next couple of weeks. The groups have been ranked, for factors like business viability, environmental and social benefit to the community, and group diversity. We have hired a coordinator on the ground in Nairobi, who has been interviewing the youth groups. The final 10 youth groups who are selected for the Youth Environmental Entrepreneurship Program will receive vocational training, start-up funds and on the ground support through UN HABITAT.

Phase 2: Fall 2008
Test User Site
Our goal is to see if a web/mobile-based blog can help support 2 of the youth groups with micro-loans, in-kind contributions and professional advice. For this test site, we will choose 2 youth groups from the group of 10 youth groups in Nairobi, and build a simple website to test our concept of Mobile Philanthropy. On this site, we will invite 20 test users, who are colleagues from a cross-section of fields, from new media to international development, to support these 2 youth groups over a 3 month period. All the test users will have to donate some funds, but they can decide when and how much.

During this prototyping period, we will look at how the youth groups and the test users interact. How often will they contact each other? By web or by phone? How long will it take for test users to donate? What other kinds of support will they provide? How useful will the professional advice be to the youth groups on the ground? How often do people want to be contacted by SMS (in real time, in a weekly digest, etc)? Does the reporting become a burden for the youth group? What kind of cultural misunderstandings may arise? Can we create intimacy and teamwork between people who have never met each other?

Phase 3: Fall and Winter 2008
Media Production
We are sending our team of filmmakers and digital storytellers to Kenya in the fall to meet the youth groups and begin documenting their work. We will shoot video and stills, and also do media workshops with the youth groups so they can continue to tell their own stories.

Phase 4: Spring 2009
Bringing it all together
We will use the results of our Test User Site to design a website that will use storytelling to share the multimedia stories of 5 of the youth groups in Kenya. We will design a compelling website that will feature these youth groups, and encourage ongoing support of these groups through personalized web and mobile interactions.

Phase 5: April 2009
Launch of website
Once the website is launched, the site will need to be moderated, maintained and promoted. We can encourage young people in North America, and all over the world, to use the site. This project is a prototype for both UN HABITAT and for us. They would like to grow the Youth Entrepreneurship Program globally, and we will also be interested in scaling the project, if it works! Other international development and human rights organizations may be interested in the results of the site as well...

When we launch the project, we will need a lot of support promoting the work, and perhaps further support in managing the site. For now, any connections with groups and organizations are welcome...and if anyone wants to be considered as a Test User for our site, please contact me at:

What are you most excited about accomplishing so far as a HASTAC/MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Competition winner?

I've been going back and forth between Kenya and Canada, and when I get back to Canada I see our generation are looking for something more. We don't only need stability, we also need meaning. The idea of citizen to citizen philanthropy is great.

This project gives people a way to get involved and keep in touch. It's true grassroots communication, and it's an easy way to do it. We might be able to drive a whole new sector, because it's hard for institutions to interact with grassroots young people, especially in places like Kenya. But with lower transaction costs and this new mobile phone banking, there is no more cash under the mattress. Young Kenyans can actually manage small businesses because of new technology that is accessible. And with Mobile Movement, you can build a history with a small business owner or youth group, build a relationship over time. And beyond individual giving, we are creating a trust-building system of micro-finance that could really change the way corporations and agencies like the World Bank and the UN help people in communities and monitor the progress of their smaller programs. It's going to be more possible to fund small groups and monitor them in a way that can really leverage a new style of funding, and could open up a lot of possibilities.

-Karun Koernig, Manager, International Projects, EYA

I'm most excited about how the project is capturing people's imaginations and interest. Talking about it at dinner parties etc. doesn't make people's eyes glaze over but sparks an interest, a leaning in if you will, that is stimulating thought, discussion, and a ready desire to participate. Particularly the notion of grantor/grantee engaging with one another directly and not having everything mediated through a third party.

-Jess Fraser, filmmaker and activist

We are just getting started, but I think the excitement for me is also in using the technology in a really innovative way. As an interaction designer, I am always thinking about how to create intimacy and meaning with technology. It's hard to do. Really hard. So can we move people through technology? Can we inspire young people in Kenya and the US and make connections between people who have never met? Can we promote global citizenry one-to-one? And can we share those stories so others want to join the movement? I think we can, I think we must. I just found out I have a friend detained in China for protesting about Tibet, and instantly I have engaged my online community to act. We have people all over the world, and now we can reach them in an instant. We are learning to make more connections, and to use them in service of a greater vision.

-Leba Haber Rubinoff, artist



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