Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Cat out of the bag?

After a hectic but interesting and rewarding summer, October sees me back at Stanford University continuing work on my MacArthur Foundation-funded next generation FrontlineSMS system. The past few months have also seen interest in the work of kiwanja hit new heights. Requests for interviews came from web-based, radio-based and print-based media (see the News page for details). All that's missing is television, although after two recent emails that doesn't look too far off. (I did record a video keynote for the first ShareIdeas Webinar, in case that counts).

One growing trend has been the number of emails hitting my inbox from for-profit organisations. Up until recently most contact came from the non-profit sector, either NGOs enquiring about mobile, or requests to use FrontlineSMS, or bloggers and ICT4D news sites asking questions and interviewing me about my work. Breaking into the more mainstream media - and the for-profit sector - is an exciting new development, and it presents a great new opportunity.

A nice example of how these non-profit and for-profit communities can be brought together is nGOmobile, launched three weeks ago. This competition, aimed squarely at grassroots NGOs, is supported by a total of seven companies of various shapes and sizes, each providing in-kind support in some shape or form - Hewlett Packard, Nokia, Wieden+Kennedy, mBlox, ActiveXperts, Perkins Coie and KnowHowe (the project took just 5 weeks and cost just $10, but that's another story). Harnessing the products, services and support of companies such as these can create powerful allies for organisations such as kiwanja and, in turn, the non-profit community it seeks to serve. Global SMS providers, mobile software development companies, handset manufacturers, government agencies and industry bodies are now regularly in contact, not only to ask but also to offer. This is a refreshing change. And I sense that change is in the air.

Last night I met up with a good friend from SAP here in the Valley. She is also an Advisor to my recently created (but as yet inactive) Foundation. Conversations with Tracy, as with my other two Advisors, often centre around capacity. How I'm going to cope working alone when things really take off. "Not enough people know about kiwanja for it to be an issue, surely?" is my usual answer. I'm still not too concerned right now, but with each passing day - and each new email - I'm slowly beginning to think I should be.

As Tracy put it, the cat may already be out of the bag.

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