iVolntr.org - Concept Video

As part of applying for Google's Project 10^100 competition we were allowed to include a link to a short 30second video about our ideas. So here's the video for iVolntr.org... please watch it, rate it, share it, leave your comments and spread the word!!

If it doesn't play in your browser, here's the link http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=7vR3O9_DbjU

I know the ideas spin past pretty quickly in the vid, so here it is in slide form in case you want to go through it more slowly!

Enjoy! Hope you like it!!

iVolntr.org - An Illustrative Example

iVolntr.org is essentially a web2.0 concept for a social volunteering site that works by connecting existing networks, such as Facebook, with collaborative technologies that enable people to help others via the web. It will not only increase the exposure of physical volunteering opportunities through feeds in major social networks but will also allow people to volunteer from the comfort of home, using web-based document and media editing tools. Nothing this comprehensive has been done before (see the comparison grid in my previous post), and if we get it up and running, iVolntr will revolutionise the way volunteering is perceived and done, particularly amongst 16-35's or what I call the 'Facebook Generation'.

Here's an illustration:
A youth charity supporting excluded inner-city teenagers with career development, puts up a request for help with reviewing job applications and CV's. You've got the iVolntr application on Facebook and are interested in youth projects. Their request pops up in your 'Live Feed'. You have a little spare time so you click the link, which opens their profile and documents in your browser allowing you to edit them or leave helpful suggestions. When you have to go, you save and quit, and the document is free for others to keep working on it, until it can be marked complete. Their thank-you note shows on your Facebook profile, so your friends can see what you've been working on and your volunteering portfolio automatically updates for future reference.

Virtual volunteering thus covers anything that can be done for individuals or organisations using digital editing technologies. Other examples include:

  • Career and educational help;
  • Business plans;
  • Ideation (idea generation and validation);
  • Funding and housing applications;
  • Marketing strategies, and plans;
  • Graphics and video;
  • Financial or other spreadsheets;
  • Virtual meetings;
  • Experience-sharing;
  • Answering questions and providing advice;

These are just some examples out of a huge list of possibilities.

Connecting with existing social networks and using a crowdsourced volunteering model, addresses the major barriers to volunteering including findability, immediacy, physicality, localisation, commitment, and kudos; in combination helping more of us to make a collective difference on a global scale.

5 Light Alternatives For Anyone Who Doesn't Want To Waste Money On A New Computer

I'm writing this post on an older laptop. It's not ancient by any means, and has Windows XP and so on, but it's not as fast as the newer bits of kit floating around. Unfortunately many of the standard programs are designed for these hugely fast computers with massive memories, and it just becomes a pain to use older ones.

Anyway it got me thinking that some of you might have the same problem (assuming you're using PCs and not Macs) and might benefit from knowing that instead of going out and buying a new computer, you can simply replace most of your core programs with some light and fast loading ones without losing any value.

Here's my list of the 5 programs you should consider replacing

  1. Internet - Internet Explorer with Chrome or Opera or Firefox.
    Yes I know I said Chrome didn't have support for toolbars and wasn't much faster when browsing with a normal computer, but with older ones it rocks. If it doesn't do it for you try Opera or Firefox which are more compatible with all websites.
  2. Music - Windows Media Player with Winamp.
    Winamp will do everything you want with music, and quite a bit of video too, and it'll do it fast and conveniently.
  3. Video - Windows Media Player, Real Player, DVD player etc... replace all in one go with the VLC player.
    The VLC player is light and fast and will play pretty much any video content with no need to download codecs and so on, like you need to for all the standard heavyweights.
  4. Images - Windows Picture Viewer, Paint etc with IrfanView.
    IrfanView is a very light image viewer that will also you to do all the basic editing you'll ever need.
  5. PDF - Adobe Acrobat with Foxit Reader.
    Adobe is the worst culprit of all standard programs. It is huge, bloated, slow and most of what it does is frankly useless to 99% of users. If you don't replace any of the others, get rid of this and replace it with the Foxit reader instead. You won't believe the difference!

You could also look at lighter operating systems instead of Windows for example Ubuntu, or try replacing Microsoft Office with Open Office, but these have greater variances from what you're familiar with. It would take more out of you in terms of learning new interfaces and there'll be a fair number of surprises both good and bad in terms of their comparative capabilities.

Hope this helps!

Green May Be Trendy, But Very Little Is Actually Changing

Guest Post: This was written in response to Poverty Is Being Lost In a Sea of Green, by Joel Kimber - a friend of mine and Marine Biologist, working on how marine animals may or may not interact (positively and/or negatively) with offshore renewable energy developments.


Unfortunately, despite the green issue being "trendy", very little is actually being done about it. Very little at all. Politicians constantly talk about it - but predominantly to win votes - funding and positive action is actually very hard to come by (and this is coming from an environmental scientist desperate to make a difference). Companies such as BP pride themselves on their green credentials - but again - it's mostly bravado. They're still some of the most environmentally destructive corporations on the planet. Just riding the green wave, as you suggest, to attract more customers and therefore more profit. It's almost more frustrating that this issue is so widely accepted and high profile and yet nothing is being done.

I agree though - it is sickening that poverty still hasn't been addressed. I'm guessing it gets buried by governments, corporations and the media (point in case - the BBC refusing to show the information and messages about poverty during coverage of Live 8 - reducing it to merely a music gig that generated massive profits for the artists) mainly owing to the simple fact that the developed world maintains its power and wealth by using and abusing the undeveloped world - similarly for wealthier sectors of individual countries and poorer sectors. It's criminal. Pure and simple.

What can we do about it!?

The way the world is currently run - there probably isn't much that can be done about it other than on a micro scale. I hate to say it - but a revolution is probably required (don't call me a hippy!). Otherwise the rich and powerful will just maintain systems that make them even more rich and powerful. 'Dispatches' last night was a prime example. The 6 energy companies in Britain are pushing prices ridiculously high through clever (legal) price fixing. Despite recent increases in oil prices, these companies own every sequence in the energy chain and will therefore ALWAYS profit even if one sequence suffers, forcing millions of customers into energy debt (doubtless many older people will die) for no acceptable reason, while their shareholders make record profits - billions and billions. And the government justs let them do it. No morals. Again. Absolutely criminal.

But this (social networking used to discuss such topics) is a great step in the right direction.


After about 3 months of working on the Urban Survival Project concept, I realised that to really improve opportunities for excluded young people, there needs to be a social and technical infrastructure in place. This involves

  1. First, creating a flexible available and interconnected pool of literate urban volunteers
  2. Second, enabling them to connect with and help young people and any one else who needs it, by making it easy to share time and knowledge immediately and online

When I started to design this concept, I realised that these two needs extend to all forms of volunteering and social projects, so I began to work on something bigger than the original USP concept. “A social network that mobilises the Facebook generation." I called it iVolntr.org.

The main issue is that in today's culture the volunteer has to do much work even before they start doing something helpful. So I figured if we could create something that works with all the major social networks, and allows people to volunteer from home with lots of people being able to do little bits of bigger tasks, we'd remove the pressures of commitment and also the hurdle of traveling to places that are difficult to get to.

No one seems to be doing anything like this right now. There are lots of sites that enable people to form helpful communities, but none of them address the core issues that stop us from volunteering. Here's a quick snapshot of where the iVolntr concept therefore uniquely fits in the current landscape.

iVolntr.org Within The Current Volunteering Landscape

TripAdvisor Is Giving Away $1m And They Want You To Choose Who

In case you didn't already know, TripAdvisor is giving away $1m dollars to one of 5 causes based on your votes. The deadline is 9th November.

  • Conservation International
  • Doctors Without Borders
  • National Geographic Society
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • Save the Children
Following on from my recent post Poverty Is Being Lost In A Sea Of Green about brands positioning themselves to be Green, here too, interestingly 3 out of the 5 are environmental, with one addressing third world health, and only one that is focused on alleviating poverty. Personally, while I try and do my bit for the environment because it's a future we must protect, I'll always lean towards focusing on my time on making things better for people as a priority. The pain of poverty and hunger and sickness affects voiceless millions whose need is more immediate. See more about my efforts to do something about this with iVolntr @ http://www.ivolntr.org/.

It's fascinating also to see that although so much branding and media is all about aligning with eco-cool, when faced with a stark choice between immediate human pain and environmental issues, most of us will go with empathy. Doctors Without Borders and Save The Children are way ahead. I think they are both fantastic, but I've gone with Save The Children, partly because I've always supported them, and partly because someone took the time to connect with me personally by email. Thanks Wendy!

Anyway here's a little widget to support Save The Children. Please vote too.

Positives In Life Amidst The Credit Crunch

Here's a presentation with some great observations on life after the credit crunch, collated by Ines Seidel.

Life After the Crunch
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: social life)

It's got the usual fears, but what I really like is that she has drawn out some positive personal things like the fact that kids are learning to accept no for an answer, and people are discovering family as they look for more free things to do together.

How is the credit crunch affecting you? Any hidden rays of positivity she's missed? Write in and let me know, and maybe we can create our own presentation on silver linings :)

Poverty Is Being Lost In A Sea Of Green

(I wrote this post for this year's Blog Action Day as a guest post for the Literacy and Poverty project, which is a social initiative and soon to be registered non-profit in New York focused on improving adult education and alleviating poverty. Check out their blog and website.)


Nothing about poverty is cool. It is tough, brutal, painful and cyclical. But it doesn't affect most of the people who can afford the technologies to be reading this, so for many of us it's always been easy to ignore. A hidden evil lurking in 'third world' countries. The saddest development is that even the little attention poverty had when it was simply the most pervasive of the global problems that didn't affect us directly, is being washed away in the tide of interest surrounding the Green movement.

Green has gone from cheap and homemade to cool and chic. From 'tree-huggers' to corporate speak. It is becoming iconic, and a status symbol that brands are associating themselves with. It affects the world we all live in, and therefore directly impacts our own personal interests - and so we take it seriously. Better still, it also costs most of us nothing more turning a few lights off and maybe going easy on the heating... which basically saves us money and again furthers our own interests while making us feel good about ourselves. More and more I see it turning into a McCarthyism thing. Show a disdain for eco-friendliness and you're an instant pariah. Can't argue with that of course. We need sustainability. Maybe we'll even save the planet before it's too late.

My question though is - Why isn't poverty like this? Why is it perfectly acceptable to show no interest in poverty at all? Global poverty is basically left out of sight, and kept out of mind. The pictures have become just that. Glossy prints of someone else's pain. An artist's rendition of reality instead of calls to action. As for local poverty, I regularly hear people righteously blaming the victims for their own situation... these 'people' should stop being so lazy, go and get a job, stop with the pregnancies, get off the streets, and on and on.

The problem is that unlike Green, the only way we can really impact institutional poverty is by redistributing a bit of our money either through donations for global causes, or through paying higher taxes for local ones. And giving away 'hard-earned' money is a concept a little too close to the bone. Nothing cheap and cheerful about it. So we look at poverty in ways that help justify our lack of action. We make like its not there and give it a wide berth. Ignorance is bliss.

But ignorance we can tackle. And making a difference starts with awareness, so I'm going to use a 'rich' country like the UK as a case in point and share 5 facts about poverty that you probably didn't know, but really, really should...

  1. Poverty has two definitions: Absolute and Relative.
    Absolute poverty also known as 'extreme poverty', is defined as living on less than $1.25 per day. The world bank estimates that 1.4 billion people currently live under these conditions. Relative poverty is used when talking about developed countries and currently stands at about $30 a day for a single adult.

  2. Poverty in the UK is defined as any income that is 60% or less than the average household income. 13 million people in the UK live on less than this.
    Doesn't sound too bad? This threshold works out at about £450 a month after tax and rent for a single adult, and worse still, just about £1200 for a family with two children. £300 per month per person, to cover all their other bills, travel, food, and living. That's one big night out plus a pretty cheap suit, if you want it in context. A full fifth of the UK population survives on less than this. Think about it.

  3. Over half a Million people in the UK are homeless
    100,000 families in the UK are classified as homeless. That's families. Not just individuals. That the Government knows of. Because they only count those who've applied to be classified that way and then succeeded in being recognised as 'officially' vulnerable. Crisis estimates another 400,000 hidden homeless. People don't end up homeless by choice and they don't stay that way because they are lazy. The causes are brutal, and the effects are devastating. Resulting clinical depression and mental health impacts are a major reason why many never make it back. Over 70% of homeless people suffer mental health issues but are 40 times less likely than the rest of us to be registered with a GP. You don't get far without an address.

  4. Children are not exempt. 3.9 million children in the UK are affected.
    Half of these children are in workless households, which means the UK has a higher proportion of children living in unemployed families than any other EU country. It doesn't get much better for young adults. 1.2 million young people of working age are not in employment, education or training (NEET). In London alone, that's 25% of 16-18 year olds with nowhere to go.

  5. Ethnicity only makes things worse. In the UK overall, 40% of people from ethnic minorities still live in poverty.
    This is twice the rate for White people. Some migrants like Indians and Black Caribbeans, most of whom originally came from middle class, English speaking backgrounds, have closed the gap with about 25% living in poverty, but for the others it is much much worse. 55% of Bangladeshis, 45% of Pakistanis and 30% of Black Africans are in 'low-income households'.

Anyway, I know this has been a long post, but I didn't just want it to be another pontification on the state of the world today. So thanks for reading. I hope the facts make you think, and even if they've opened your eyes just enough to share this post and pass it on to your friends, we can both say we've made a small difference...

Will Social Enterprise Survive The Credit Crunch?

I was just watching an interview with Muhammad Yunus, who founded the Grameen Bank, and it got me thinking. Amidst all this fear about our economies going bust with our commercial and investment banks, what's going to happen to Social Enterprise?

As Yunus says, food prices have doubled, oil prices have gone up, and the financial crisis is affecting people's purchasing power everywhere. But not all financial institutions are suffering. Microfinance institutions for example, have stronger portfolios because their loans are much more transparent. There may be no collateral and no guarantees, but it's based on trust and still has a much better quality of return. They are reaping the rewards of robustness and relevance, underpinned by ethically focusing on people's needs rather than making careless short-term profits.

Social businesses, in the same way, are about working with people and not exploiting them. They are collaborative more often than not, and held together by people who aren't simply working for a wage. This makes their offerings more relevant to their audience, their financial decisions less risky, and their audience more likely to support them in times of difficulty.

Many also rely on philanthropic funding, government grants or SROI based loans, and won't be quite as badly affected by the credit crunch because the financial instruments they depend on are not quite as compromised. It will be tighter of course, but how is that going to be much different from the normal state of affairs for most social enterprises? At the more commercial end too, they are also more likely to be given leeway around defaulted payments due to the nature of their work.

Finally, if this really turns into crippling economic crisis, I believe it will only help drive social innovation faster. It will embed the recognition that we have to be able to help each other, and create not just environmentally sustainable businesses, but also financially sustainable ones.

We can only do this collaboratively, so I believe the future is bright for social enterprise and social innovation. Watch out for new disruptions to commercial models that rival Grameen Bank, and keep your fingers crossed for a future with less money-mindedness and more taking care of each other!

Startup And Change The World!

Here's a fantastic resource for startups put together by Dev Appanah, a social entrepreneur and friend of mine, along with some of his colleagues at www.ysei.org. It is basically a rough guide to starting your own social enterprise. It has some great stuff around making the most of your ideas, along with financial and organisational planning help, particularly related to raising the funds you need and managing your key stakeholders. If there was ever anything you should read around starting up a social enterprise, this is it.

Addressing The Real Issues With Volunteering

I've just read that the volunteering charity V is going to start referring to volunteering as 'favours', because apparently their research shows that two-thirds of young people find the word 'volunteering' a turn-off. Haven't they ever heard the phrase 'calling a rose by any another name...'. In this case if young people think its a pig, calling it a tiger isn't going to change anything.

Let's look at the two issues they point to... the reasons why young people don't volunteer.

  1. They see it as signing up to the unknown - If you look carefully, there are two issues here. The signing up - in other words a commitment issue, and the unknown - in other words lack of clarity around what they are going to be doing
  2. A third said volunteering was geeky - I'm guessing 'V' haven't taken into account the effect of the Orange Rockcorps campaign on shifting the perception of volunteering amongst young people.
Asking young people if they have volunteered, most said no, but 80% said they'd done someone a favour. So V have decided that renaming volunteering as favours would get more young people excited. Personally I think that's a poor approach. 'Favours' inherently suggest obligation. Does V realise that it might effectively be building a culture of young people who associate donating time and effort with actual return and reward?

In any event, renaming something does not in any way address the underlying issues, and therefore quite frankly should not be expected to do anything to improve the numbers of young people getting involved.

I've said this before, and I'll say it again. I believe there are 4 reasons why young people (16 - 35) don't volunteer. The barriers come down to perception, but usually underpinned by reality.
  1. Effort required to find opportunities to help - I challenge you to find somewhere to volunteer for an hour this evening
  2. Physicality and localisation - having to be there in person and doing something physical
  3. Commitment - having to sign up to something regular and ongoing. The issue here is backing out rather than signing up. We have busy and social lives. A lot of people would rather not get involved at all, than face the embarrassment of telling someone after who needs help that they can't continue any more because they've got some other social activity that overlaps.
  4. Kudos - personal kudos is a huge factor in young people's lives and right now there are no avenues to highlight anyone's volunteering efforts to their friends and networks. Even giving someone a ticket to a concert in return for volunteering as Orange Rockcorps are doing, is reward without kudos. Encouragement for one-off volunteering rather than a culture of a volunteering.

This project, through iVolntr.org, is explicitly aimed at removing these barriers by tapping into existing social networks and enabling real-time crowdsourced virtual-volunteering. By addressing the issues rather than playing with semantics, we can start to build a real culture of volunteering, enabling people to help each other and make a difference to millions.

As mentioned before, I'm going to be applying for Google's Project 10 to the 100th, so do help by spreading the word, subscribing to the blog at http://www.urbansurvivalproject.org/ and passing the link on to your friends and colleagues.

New Self-Assessment Framework for Social Enterprise

(Excerpt from Third Sector Online, by Gemma McKenna, 2 October 2008 )

The social enterprise 'Investing in Governance' has devised a way for charities to assess and improve their governance procedures.

The 24-page document includes 69 best practice guidelines under 11 headings, which cover topics from recruitment to the induction and appraisal of trustees. Organisations that complete the document are scored so they can identify areas for improvement.

The document was drawn up by Stefan Kuchar, chief executive of Wandsworth Voluntary Sector Development Agency, as part of an MBA research study. He worked with five charities to develop the plan, which starts with a list of "10 things that hack me off about charity boards". It was posted online this week and is available to download for £29.50. Apparently charities can also buy in an expert panel to help with the evaluation for £3,250.

Project 10 to the 100th - May Those Who Help The Most Win!

I mentioned this project in my post Finally, a window... some hope! If you are planning to set up a global scale social enterprise, this could be just the thing for you. I'm hoping it'll help the Urban Survival Project get off the ground. Here's a little more detail... Project 10 to the 100th

Google is looking for ideas that can help as many people as possible, in any way, and are committing $10m to launch them. You can submit your ideas and help vote on ideas from others. The deadline is Oct 20th and voting starts in January.

The categories are

  1. Community
  2. Opportunity
  3. Energy
  4. Environment
  5. Health
  6. Education
  7. Shelter
  8. Everything else

The criteria are

  1. Reach
  2. Depth
  3. Attainability
  4. Efficiency
  5. Longevity

I'm going to submit the Urban Survival Project's online volunteering platform iVolntr.org as an idea. So watch this space, and please vote for it!!

You can help now too. Just tell me what category you think USP / iVolntr should fit in and why?!

5 Tips To Help You Start A Blog For Your Social Enterprise

Blogging should be a key strategy for any social start-up or even an established one, primarily because of the collaborative nature of social activity plus the need to build profile and audience ahead of trying to raise funding.

After almost a year of posting I've learned a lot about the value of blogging and how to keep it going, both from a writer and reader perspective. Here's some strategic tips in case you're thinking about starting one either for yourself or your enterprise... social or otherwise!

  1. Think about your blog strategy:
    Figure out what you want to achieve from the blog, then figure out the audience you need. Find the common ground between the two in terms of topics, and start writing about them.

  2. Stay focused on your topics:
    Once you've figured out your strategy, stay focused on it. If you want subscribers you need to stay specific to the audience you want to build. People don't usually subscribe to generic blogs or those that try to cover too many categories because they don't want to be bombarded by stuff they aren't interested in. We're information overloaded as it is, so it may be good for driving search traffic, but terrible for building regular readership.

  3. Don't go crazy with your Tags:
    Select and reduce the number of Tags you use so that they clearly reflect what your blog is about. They should become like a navigation menu rather than a random list of words. See my categories on the right for example. Tag clouds are fun too, but people who aren't into blogs (and thats most of them) don't know what they mean. They also don't attract as much traffic as you'd expect.

  4. Don't confuse your professional blog for a personal one:
    If you've created an info-blog, don't use it as a dumping ground for your opinions on random things, however passionate you are about those. Your subscribers are a trapped audience but they really don't appreciate you abusing their time by switching into 'speakers corner' mode every so often. With the US elections I'm seeing a lot of this... social enterprise bloggers, retail bloggers, innovation bloggers etc etc all chucking in posts about their opinions on US politics. It usually makes me tempted to unsubscribe.

  5. Maintain a sensible level of readability:
    No one has time to read lengthy discourses on anything. They need enough detail to gain value, but short enough to pick it up quickly. Short bullet points make all the difference. With this post for example, I've written enough to provide an explanation if you wanted it, but also split out summary titles as bullet points in case you didn't have time to read all this text.

Finally, a window... some hope!

As I'm sure all you long term subscribers will have noticed, I've been blogging less and less about the Urban Survival Project over the past few months. It's not that I suddenly lost interest and moved on to other things, but more to do with the fact that ...

  1. When I looked at it closely, I couldn't see a way of reducing costs down to the small scale £10-30k funding available for social enterprises. For a good example, see my post on my experience with UnLtd
  2. I similarly couldn't make a compelling case for financial return on investment for VCs that might provide the quick ROI to convince them to invest in the scale needed £100-£300k. It was easy enough to see scope for ROI, but the social imperative is a major psychological hurdle for most investors and you have to be really compelling to overcome that.
  3. I never did meet any philanthropists regardless of scale.

So I've been taking a different route, building connections and working on related youth and social projects until there was some sensible glimmer of hope that made it worth pushing effort into developing the USP idea further.

Fortunately it looks like that might just have happened. I came across Google's Project 10 to the 100th the other day, which is a project to fund large social enterprises and looks like it might be just the thing. Check it out - http://www.project10tothe100.com/. I'll write more on it later but the strapline is "May Those Who Help The Most Win" - sounds perfect!!

Be ready for much more USP this month :)


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