Creating the perfect store: first international meeting of social change markets

Imagine this future: you want to donate a small amount of money to an organization that is making a real difference in a poor community, which might be anywhere in the world. Through a simple use of the internet, you can find a range of social investment options matching your criteria, clearly explained, rigorously checked, and offering a broad spectrum of risk.

You are also offered a range of ways to invest – a one-off or regular donation, a no-interest loan, even the chance to buy shares. Imagine, in other words an online social change market. How to make this imagined future a reality was the focus of a meeting in Oxford, UK in early July that brought together the representatives of eight social change markets.

In fact, many of the elements of this future scenario are already in place. Through GlobalGiving, Help Argentina, Give India, GreaterGood South Africa and the Social Stock Exchange in Brazil you can choose to donate to a large NGO or to a small rural village health committee which would otherwise never have access to this kind of support.

Through ModestNeeds, you can support an individual family with a specific critical short-term need and through DonorsChoose you can help a teacher create a stimulating learning experience for school children. Every seller on eBay has the option of donating part of the proceeds from sales to any of 8,000 non-profits registered on eBay Giving Works.

The missing elements came significantly closer to being realized at the Oxford meeting when the representatives of the eight social change markets mentioned above came together to discuss common visions, operations and challenges. The initiative for the meeting came from Keystone, which is committed to the development of a quality-driven global social investment market. The sponsor was the California-based Omidyar Network, the philanthropic arm of eBay founder Pierre Omidyar. Omidyar’s interest in this space follows naturally upon the success of eBay’s ‘perfect store’.

It became clear at the meeting that we are not just talking about a small number of emerging fundraising portals. Online giving markets represent an important use of technology that connects those with resources directly to those engaged in transformation. People will be able to respond directly to proposals from those affected by natural disasters within hours. At the same time, it could help ensure a steady flow of resources to organizations working on longer-term problems, making them less dependent on the whims of intermediary development agencies. As this new form of direct connection advances, the existing intermediaries will have to adapt or die.

So what were the challenges and the actions taken?

Trust was a word that came up repeatedly, and the markets agreed to put their heads together collectively and in bilateral experiments to devise ways in which they can assure quality through cost-effective due diligence processes, common accountability practices and reporting frameworks, including drawing on the first person ‘reputation systems’ that underpin online markets such as eBay.

Interoperability was another. Again participants formed partnerships to share ideas on technology infrastructure, payment processing systems, feedback mechanisms, and collective deals with banks to reduce transaction fees and enable really small donations.

Specific teams were set up to address priority tasks, including the launch of a global association of social change market players. The plan is to launch the association in early 2007 in Buenos Aires with up to 20 markets and as many ‘market enablers’ from all over the world.

The meeting was marked by great generosity and a real sense of being on the threshold of a major transformation of philanthropy and development. Collaboration rather than competition will be the driving principle of these markets for the collective good of humanity.

David Bonbright is CEO of Keystone. Email
André Proctor is Senior Adviser to Keystone. Email

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