Online giving reached unprecedented levels following the September 11 terrorist attacks, with $57 million raised in the first week alone. Internet companies responded to the tragedy with impressive speed and effectiveness. Most notably, Yahoo!, AOL Time Warner, Cisco, Microsoft, eBay and Amazon joined forces to form the American Liberty Partnership at http://www.libertyunites.org to raise funds for the various charities working for American victims and their families.
So has business-NGO collaboration via the Internet now reached its zenith?
Some in the private sector clearly believe that it has. Meg Garlinghouse, Yahoo! Community Affairs Manager, for example, feels that with September 11 ‘the Internet really came of age as a way for organizations to connect with the global community’.
With an online community of 218 million users, Yahoo! is certainly well positioned to play a lead role in demonstrating the positive social impact the Internet can have. Equally certainly, September 11 proved that huge resources can be mobilized using Internet technology. But is it really the case that we have now witnessed the full potential of business-NGO cooperation in the Internet age?
Libertyunites.org may be a shining example of some of what the Internet can do, but it is surely possible to envisage more. On the one hand, businesses have tremendous power, resources and influence, combined with the ability to identify and respond to opportunities. NGOs for their part are often in touch with grassroots needs and insights. Potentially at least, they have both the trust of communities and the social analysis that can lead to lasting change. Together, Internet businesses and NGOs could undoubtedly achieve far more than either party can do alone.
This is certainly the view of Priscilla Jere, Director of OneWorld Africa. She believes that the Internet can be used as a tool for achieving deep-rooted, long-term change and not simply as a fundraising channel, however impressive:
‘Attracting international donors is one of the key reasons NGOs here want to be online. Equally, though, OneWorld Africa and our partners are interested in developing relationships with business to create joint ventures focusing on the use of ICTs to address the fundamental health and education needs of citizens. We also need to use the Internet as a tool for global social change and to educate businesses and consumers in developed countries about the challenges faced by NGOs in the developing world.’
While post September 11 online giving is a heart-warming example of what the Internet can facilitate in the face of tragedy, decision-makers across private, public and voluntary sectors in both developed and developing countries should keep their eye on the main chance: the Internet age should be one where transformative knowledge partnerships respect no sector or geographical boundary. A little done, a lot more to do.
1 By 20 November Libertyunites.org had collected approx $110,267 million.
Ann Longley is OneWorld.Net Corporate Relations Manager. She can be reached at Ann.Longley@oneworld.net
OneWorld is a unique civil society network dedicated to harnessing the democratic potential of the Internet for human rights and sustainable development.