Kabissa Connections will address trust concerns by providing a platform revealing the connections that organizations have with networks, international organizations, supporters and service providers. We will do this for organizations working in Africa while collaborating with others on open source tools, standards and approaches that can be replicated in other regions.
The Problem: Disparate, Disconnected Profiles Hurt Organizations
On Kabissa, it is currently possible for registered users to add and update their own organization profile containing vital organization contact data, mission statement and description. Profiles then appear on the Kabissa map and in database searches. Profiles are also directly reachable via their URL eg http://enoughisenough.kabissa.org or through links throughout the site and google searches. Profiles currently can be extended by adding more people to them (who can also be empowered to edit the profiles) as well as adding groups, each with a discussion email list and a range of content types including blogs, news, wikis and polls.
These functions are very useful; however, because they are disconnected from other business needs that organizations have (such as fundraising, publicity, networking, collaboration, etc), the profiles are not actively updated on a regular basis. Meanwhile, while searching for fundraising, publicity, networking, collaboration, etc, organizations are creating accounts and profiles at Software as a Service (SaaS) sites across the web. Well-meaning international organizations, donors and networks also create online directories with lists of organizations.
These accounts and directories, including the Kabissa directory, do not benefit the organizations as much as one would expect, because it becomes a challenge to maintain so many accounts (especially for those organizations at the grassroots with limited access to the Internet), and online directories quickly fall out of date. Meanwhile, the SaaS service providers, networks and international organizations trying to serve these organizations don't know how trustworthy and legitimate the organizations are and have to start at the beginning to verify organizations every time they come to sign up for an account or to get support. And as time passes, since the relationship remains bilateral, it doesn't matter how deep and effective the collaboration might be; it does little to strengthen the organization's reputation online.
Meanwhile there is the problem of trust. When it comes to activities like fundraising or volunteer placement, trust is incredibly important. In the United States, this trust can be achieved online on a bilateral basis by verifying nonprofit status by requesting 501(c)3 determination letters, for example, and financial transactions are made possible by credit cards (for collecting donations) and verification payments to bank accounts (for dispersing donations to beneficiary organizations).
In most African countries, on the other hand, verifying legitimacy and collecting/dispersing payments online are far more cumbersome and in some places well nigh impossible. Meanwhile there has been an increase in efforts by African organizations, even the many tiny organizations at the grassroots level that Kabissa works with, to reach out online to take advantage of the same types of SaaS sites, networks and international organizations that United States organizations are benefitting from already. Some sites, like Facebook, Twitter and nonprofit networking/blogging platforms like Kabissa and WiserEarth, are being usefully adopted. Other sites, however, despite best intentions, set the organizations up for failure, including giving platforms and even sites like Google Apps, PayPal and WordPress, which often block users from African countries.
The Solution: Build Reputation & Trust By Revealing Relationships
Kabissa Connections will address trust concerns by providing a platform revealing the relationships (what we call Connections) that organizations have with networks, international organizations, supporters and service providers. We will do this for organizations working in Africa while collaborating with a range of partners on open source tools, standards and approaches that can be replicated in other regions and for other purposes.
Programmers will be able to build websites that query our database via API calls to find out if an organization is an active Kabissa member and to discover which other Service Providers the organization is connected to and in good standing with. Possible functionality they could build into their own services includes streamlining a signup process for an organization, adding widgets or badges related to their service to their Kabissa Organization Profile, or enabling organizations to display their contact details, logo and mission statement from Kabissa on their website.
Besides the API, people without programming knowledge will be able to log into Kabissa and create/manage a network or other service that organizations can opt to connect with. This functionality targets those service providers that already manage networks or coalitions in Africa, are running conferences, fund African organizations, or offer some other service around which they want to connect organizations. For these service providers, a back-end dashboard will be provided to invite people to connect, see and manage active connections, and download CSV spreadsheets of organization data. Tools will be provided to invite organizations by email, Facebook Connect, Twitter, etc, as well as while browsing the Kabissa directory.
Organizations themselves are provided with a dashboard for managing their organization profile data and connections.
Front-end dashboards will also be provided on the Kabissa website to enable people to browse the organizations through a range of different user-friendly channels, filtering by country, thematic area, network or other criteria, and always with attractive and easy-to-understand maps and visualisations. RSS Feeds will be provided displaying the new and recently updated organizations.
Service providers will be able to contact connected organizations via email newsletters, and gather organizations around Kabissa Groups with blogs, news and email discussion lists. The Kabissa Gong Gong monthly newsletter will "cross pollinate" information and learning across the networks.
The full Kabissa directory will be provided annually in a printed and bound book, showcasing the networks and organizations in an attractive, user-friendly layout. Networks will be able to download their directories for printing and distributing to their network members.
The Alternatives: Why Not Facebook?
Leading online social networking platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn are important and can't be ignored, and African organizations serious about using the Internet to showcase their work and find partners and supporters must also be present on Facebook. It is also true that Facebook provide great tools for networking and sharing content, make an effort to be reachable across Africa also via mobile phones, and are increasingly the place where people are spending their time when they go online (especially in Africa).
However, these services are geared primarily to serving shareholders, not nonprofit organizations in Africa seeking to improve the lives of people in their communities. As such, the features being made available are driven by different priorities, such as increasing the number of users, getting them to spend more time on the site, and getting them to click on ads. The numbers themselves can be powerful for some types of campaigns, but we do not think they actually translate into increased trust or reputation for most organizations.
Facebook also has a demonstrated tendency to change privacy policies and settings on an ad hoc basis that can unwittingly encourage people to put themselves and others, especially human rights activists, in danger. This is why I feel remorse every time I use Facebook. The cartoon below from joyoftech.com is of course an exaggeration but not far from the truth.
Having an independent platform devoted to revealing the connections between organizations that is focussed on helping them to achieve their own organizational mission is a better approach. In Africa, Kabissa is the natural home for this given our long track record as a technology partner for African NGOs and our strategy to remain a self-sustaining volunteer-run network (see below).
Below is a list of concrete examples of how stakeholders will be able to use Kabissa Connections (KC) to reveal their connections and build their own reputation as well as those of the organizations they are working with.
- Organizations working in Africa seek to use the Internet to showcase themselves and their work and to connect with potential collaborators and supporters. Small organizations struggle to create websites that they can maintain properly.
People representing African organizations can log into Kabissa and add profiles to the organization directory. They can return anytime to update the information and manage people listed on their profile and who is allowed to edit it. Once organization profiles are approved, they can take advantage of Kabissa benefits such as the ability to run their own Kabissa Groups with email discussion lists, blogs and wikis. They can also view a listing of KC connections available and connect their organizations with them. All connections will be revealed directly on their profile pages through icons that click through to the Connection listings. Organization profiles have RSS feeds that can be used to display content on websites, Facebook or subscribed to using news readers.
- Foundations supporting organizations in Africa, African networks and projects/coalitions involving many organizations often are looking for ways to quickly and easily bring together participating organizations but don't have the resources or technical capability to do it on their own. Even if they do, they will then always run into the difficulty of keeping the information up to date. Since this one relationship is disconnected from the other relationships the listed organizations have, the listing doesn't help build the reputation of the organizations very much.
Through KC, Kabissa members will be able to log in and add Connections to their organization profile pages. Through a private dashboard, they will then be able to invite organizations to connect and manage the Connections. They will be able to download the latest spreadsheets (CSV) and printer-ready PDF directories of connected organizations. They will be able to send email updates to connected organizations and create groups with discussions, blogs and wikis. Each Connection has an online directory listing of connected organizations, and each connected organization displays the connection through a badge.
- Organizations with their own internet presence want to display listings of connected organizations on their own website using their own design and layout.
Thanks to the KC API their web programmers will be able to pull information directly from Kabissa and display it on their website.
- A number of service providers seeking to serve organizations in the Kabissa network offer their own APIs and are actively encouraging others to use them to add their service to their websites.
Kabissa's programmers will collaborate with them to provide specialized connections directly on Kabissa that benefit Kabissa organizations. For example, WiserEarth.org features could be displayed on the Kabissa profile page, or a Global Giving donation form.
Kabissa has a track record as a trusted partner working with the African civil society organizations in our network, and so we will most likely begin with offering KC to them. However, we also are interested in talking with foundations and service providers during the first round of development.
- Foundations working with partners in Africa: Hivos, Ford Foundation, Aid for Africa, TrustAfrica, Open Society Institute, ...
- African Networks: Kenya AIDS NGO Consortium, African Democracy Forum, ...
- Projects/coalitions involving multiple organizations: MapKibera.org, Enough is Enough Nigeria, ...
- Nabuur is an online volunteering platform where organizations can add projects or "villages" that online volunteers can join and work on. KC will The "village" information will be displayed on Nabuur along with Kabissa organization profile data and a link back to Kabissa, as well as on the Kabissa organization profile with a link back to the Nabuur "village". A dashboard could be provided listing all members with Nabuur villages seeking volunteers.
- WiserEarth is a networking platform for environmental and human rights groups worldwide. Every organization on Kabissa could be given the opportunity to be showcased on WiserEarth and connected to WiserEarth via a badge on their Kabissa profile. A dashboard could be provided listing all members with WiserEarth profiles.
- Global Giving, Betterplace.org and Idealist.org (among others) are powerful social media fundraising, recruitment and volunteering platforms that each provide specialized services that would be very useful to Kabissa members. Every organization on Kabissa that also works with these other platforms could display their affiliation as well as specialized "donate now" or "volunteer now" buttons directly on their profile.
- Kabissa Connections, with accurate and up to date contact information including mobile phone numbers, could be a powerful complement to Ushahidi sites set up to crowd source crisis information.
- Netsquared Local is a global network of locally organized groups that meet on a monthly basis to work on social change projects. Through Kabissa Connections, local groups could allow participating organizations to include a Netsquared Local badge on their Kabissa Profile and create a directory of participants on Kabissa. At meetups, they could help organizations to build their capacity to use Kabissa and our partner sites to take control over their own Internet presence and develop online strategies for fundraising, collaboration, etc.
- Social Source Commons "is a place to share lists of software tools that you already use, gain knowledge and support, and discover new tools." Using KC+SSC, organizations will be able to share their SSC toolboxes on their Kabissa organization profiles as well as organize around shared software needs for peer learning and exchange.
- Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, bit.ly, flickr.com, youtube.com and other major social media platforms can also be integrated via their API to add value to the Kabissa organization directory.
How Kabissa Connections Fits Into The Existing Kabissa Platform
Kabissa is built using Drupal and CiviCRM open source software, using some custom modules but also core versions and contributed modules of both applications. This means that we can benefit from improvements as they are contributed back to Drupal and CiviCRM by others and contribute our own custom modules back to the community as well.
CiviCRM is one of many options available for managing databases. "Out of the box," it is very powerful for managing contacts on the backend and provides a remarkable range of nonprofit-oriented functionality that can be set up on the frontend as well. However, it does have its drawbacks as a platform, especially when developers need to go beyond what is available out of the box. This means that much of the functionality described in this project will involve coding custom modules -- which we would want to contribute back to the community for use by other organizations seeking to do similar things.
Currently, upgrades to the Kabissa platform are done on an ad hoc basis. We are planning to set up a quarterly release schedule, modeling Kabissa after aggressive open source software project development cycles. To manage this process, we will recruit a partner organization specializing in developing community websites, preferably in Africa. Projects will be proposed, funded, planned and implemented through a public issue tracker already online at http://roadmap.kabissa.org so that volunteers and members can contribute their skills and time. Some projects we will fund through Kabissa, but we also expect our members and partners to help prioritize, fund and implement projects that benefit them. As we have no employees, the bulk of the work will always be done by volunteers, members and partners.
Projects we are already working on that will add value to this project include:
- Upgrade membership database platform (CiviCRM) to enable improved interfaces and new functionality on the backend including personal fundraising pages, paid membership levels and detailed reporting tools (already paid for and being implemented now)
- Add “yahoo groups” type functionality to Kabissa Groups to enable members to participate in discussions via email (already in testing - needs investment to improve)
- Set up semi-automated monthly member newsletter (volunteer web designer is developing new templates now, planned newsletter relaunch pending)
- Set up functionality to enable volunteers to localize Kabissa content and interfaces into French and other languages spoken in Africa besides English (functionality turned on already; needs testing and configuration. Seeking volunteer translators now and looking for partners like the Rosetta Foundation on content translation)
- Set up functionality to enable partners (e.g. national or regional networks) to produce print directories from the Kabissa member directory on a turnkey basis (not yet started, though many members have asked for this functionality)
- Country and Topic dashboards (not yet started, but important to uncover the wealth of capacity and content in the Kabissa network in each country and on crucial issues people care about and look for)
- Set up turnkey domain name registration service for African civil society (not yet started, though can be part of the new CiviCRM setup. Currently provide domain registration for about 100 member organizations, but have not yet started offering new domain setup until we have a semi-automated system in place and volunteers to manage them)
- Produce and sell a book containing an attractive Annual Report and Print Directory, also available as free downloadable PDF (not yet started, though a potentially important part of what we do to raise awareness about the great work being done in Africa and increase profile of the organizations in our network)
Kabissa Background And Organizational Status
Officially, Kabissa is a US-based charitable organization with 501(c)3 status. Founded in 1999 in Oxford, UK, we were formally organized in 2001 in Washington DC. The official headquarters are now on Bainbridge Island near Seattle, Washington, on the west coast of the United States. Our mission is to help African civil society organizations put ICT to work for the benefit of the communities they serve.
Since 2007, we have been shifting from a technology partner providing website hosting and training to a network supporting the tech capacity-building aspirations of African civil society using participatory technology. We are a lightweight organization with no employees, governed by board members from African civil society, and led by Tobias Eigen, Kabissa's founder and a longtime "Internet in Africa" practitioner. Our goal is to maintain Kabissa as a low-cost platform run by volunteers that African organizations can use to connect with others while contributing to its development as part of projects they carry out that are synergetic to Kabissa's own mission.
We have sought to explain Kabissa's background and status in detail on our website, which you are invited to join and explore.
The 1500+ organizations in the Kabissa network are active throughout Africa...
... and are working in a range of crucial issue areas:
Advocacy and Policy, Arts and Culture, Conflict Resolution, Direct Social and Humanitarian Services, Economic Development and Poverty Reduction, Education, Environment, Gender, Governance, Health, Human Rights and Democracy, Media and Journalism, Microfinance, Technology, Training and Capacity Building, Youth