GUEST BLOG POST: Amy Wolff is a 2010 Master’s candidate and is involved with several projects including Opportunity International, Imagine This! TV, and the zyOzy Foundation.You can find her on Twitter: @amycarolwolff
There’s been a lot of talk recently of the need for redefining what we know as philanthropy. I’ve read several articles suggesting this, had numerous conversations around this theme. In fact, just yesterday, I had a impromptu twitter chat with several #socent folks about the need to rejuvenate an over-saturated market. But in the midst of the conversations, think tanks, and conferences, we’ve yet to identify a leader- an organization or individual that has a fresh, authentic voice that will lead us in this next generation of giving.
The Citizen Effect: The Power of The Individual
Dan Morrison, CEO and founder of Citizen Effect (formerly known as 1Well) believes his organization is answering this call. But the response doesn’t come in the form of the loud trumpets of multi-million dollar grants. Rather, the strong, constant song of the power of the citizen, the individual. Hence the new website, the new name and a new energy behind what has the potential to be a game changer for the philanthropic industry. “We are targeting individuals here within their communities, allowing them the opportunity to make an impact and change a community,” Morrison said.
Mother Teresa once said, “If you cannot feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” It is this spirit that drives Citizen Effect. The organization works through an interactive website that connects individuals or “Citizen Philanthropists” (CPs) with projects within communities around the world. The CP first chooses a project based on country and cause interests. Then, Citizen Effect provides numerous creative ideas for the CP to consider. Examples include cocktail parties, car washes, and cook offs, among others. Then, the CP is guided in how to leverage their existing network to raise money for the project. Finally, with consistent reporting, the CP is able to see their impact on the project, the community, and the individual lives they’ve affected.
Global Community Impact
The organization’s first community partner is in India. The Self Employed Women’s Association, or SEWA, is an organization of poor, self-employed women workers. These are women who earn a living through their own labor or small businesses. They do not obtain regular salaried employment with welfare benefits like workers in the organized sector. Constituting 93% of the labour force, these are workers of the unorganized sector. According to the website, of the female labor force in India, more than 94% are in the unorganized sector. Citizen Effect partners with SEWA in strategy projects and matches the projects with CPs that are willing to commit to raising the funds.
With the launch of a newly designed website comes the launch of several new projects. The organization is established in Peru, piloting a program with Children of Vietnam, an organization that works to provide education, nutrition, housing and medical care for the impoverished children of Vietnam. They are also expanding into Zambia, and will be working with an organization called FORGE and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In addition, Citizen Effect is in the talks with some very large community development organizations looking to use their platform.
Ready to Follow
When I was talking with Morrison last week, I found myself left with a real sense of excitement and encouragement. It can get exhausting being in this community development space, hearing of all the road blocks that come with securing large amounts of donations and grants. Perhaps, the power truly is in the people of this country. If you consider it from a logical marketing perspective, it’s safe to assume that the average middle-class individual is always going to be a part of the United States economy. That is a consistent demographic to empower. It involves all age groups, several areas of interest, and a platform that continually gives you a sense of connection with the work that you’re investing in.
As Morrison mentioned, “When we hear about 1.4 billion people living on less than two dollars a day, we get overwhelmed. But though I can’t do anything about 1.4 billion, I can do something about 500 people. And when you get 100 people doing something about 500 people, you get the picture of our vision.”
Citizen Effect is planning on some high energy initiatives that will engage youth and families in social activity. This coming holiday season, the organization will launch a drive that will encourage families to fund projects together rather than resorting to the traditional gift-giving practices. This reminded me of the call issued by an organization which calls us to a season of compassion, rather than consumption. If we pay attention to this theme, I believe it can radically change the way we approach the holidays. Stay tuned for more.
As I found in my freshman computer class, at times the most practical and applicable tools are the ones I was most reluctant to discover and learn. But once I was empowered with the education and understanding, with terms that applied to my daily life, I had the ability to do some pretty dynamic programming and database work. Citizen Effect is committed to redefining philanthropy with fresh energy, a sustainable constituency, and a solid infrastructure. And my response comes with a sigh of relief and an earnest hope… it’s about time.
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