The world is being increasingly connected with the digital space in ways that would have been unimaginable for man/woman some years ago breaking the barriers of time and space. Countries, continents and people are no more miles and hours away, rather within reach in seconds.  The digital space at the wake of globalization is facilitating trade, transfer of ideas, resources and services.
The role of information technology in bringing about and accelerating development is being increasingly recognized.  Whether one is in the private sector, in government and in non profit, the digital space is playing an immense role in development.
During my one year fellowship program with Atlas Corps in the USA and having served at Global Kids, I have had the opportunity of learning and understanding the role of the digital space both in designing and delivering of youth focused programs as well as its treatment as an integral component of an organizational development process. I was especially impressed by the role of social media in promoting social causes, fund raising, lobbying and networking and at the same time reflecting on how little  in our part of the world we  utilize such platforms. We still associate face book as being a territory of the youth, and the very few of us who engage with it mostly use it to connect with acquaintances, send messages and not much more.  Only a handful of non- profits organizations in Ethiopia have face book pages. I remember how my organization, Global Kids used face book page in an online contest to win an award by a leading financial institution, JP Morgan that was giving away money for social causes in certain categories.  The online vote on face book page not only won us the contest, but helped rally supporters and promoted the work of the organization.  It was fun  and an enlightening experience for me to  go out on the streets  of Brooklyn with flyers and I- pads, give out a brief explanation to people and try and convince them to vote for us right there.  On the other hand, I have learnt how a simple status update keeps constituents updated about programs running, events upcoming making a two way communication possible.  The organization that facilitated my recruitment placement, and provided ongoing professional development program, Atlas Corps for example searches for fellows to be by using face book as one of the social media platforms to engage with.  Say that the organization has 200 friends on its face book and requests its friends who in turn have a minimum of 100 friends each on their personal pages to share the search for volunteers, within few hours, 20,000 people are reached with the information.  I find this powerful.  I recently put out a search for volunteers for a cause on my personal face book page and was successful in obtaining a response from few people.  I have observed how some activists use  face book pages to initiate discussions on trendy topics,  ask for inputs from constituents before  participating in international meetings  by strategically tagging and looping members into conversations.
I have watched video clips uploaded on you tube by nonprofit organizations working on poverty, HIV/AIDS, climate change, violence against women etc to raise awareness of viewers and mobilize support. Pause here and watch the Girl effect videos on You Tube, at  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QnD0Z4WJ5LA    or any other video uploaded by the girl effect and  tell me what you think.  Powerful politicians and policy makers who decide to commit their millions affecting the lives of people in every corner of the world are no more unreachable.  Sending emails is no more the only option of reaching these important personalities,  twitter and other sites make it possible to send out messages, information and share stories on the web. In fact, I have heard stories how lobbyists in the USA used these social media sites to hold politicians accountable.  Because these sites are public sites, they cannot dismiss questions put forward where as if it were an email, it would have been easier to ignore requests for it is a one on one communication.
Meetings, workshops and trainings are happening through webinars and other programs eliminating travel and time costs. UN agencies and other organizations organize E-forums that are taking place on selected topics and call for participants to contribute, which later on will be used for policy inputs, I believe.
While much more can be said about the positive attributes of the digital platforms there are many who are critical of our increasing dependence on this space. My intent here is to share few insights with simplified example and personal experiences on how this space has transformed the resource mobilization (both financial and human resources), advocacy, capacity building and promotional practices of the nonprofit circle.  It is also my intention to share some of my apprehension on the digital disconnection of our Ethiopian non profits, and share a thought or two on how to move towards digital connection.  While acknowledging the fact that we still have a long way to go on developing the information technology infrastructure to enable us reap the positive impacts, it shouldn’t discourage us from engaging with it.
Many Ethiopian non profits are not searchable on the web for the simple fact that they do not have information about their organizations uploaded. Let alone engaging on social media sites, most do not have websites, and if they do, it is rarely updated with current information.  For this reason, most of their good work has not been promoted and thus have not gained visibility.  Not only would this have attracted resources, but most importantly, it would have enabled us to build our constituency base, increased our support pool, and membership.  These days, google account offers free sites to create websites at  www.getafricaonline.com and more. A good friend of mine tipped me saying one need not be tech savvy to set up websites; I experimented with it and found that it can easily be done.  Another site I have been experimenting with is tumblr. Another good friend of mine whom I met in New York recently set up a tumblr account at http://ethiopia-bustraining.tumblr.com, sharing pictures and telling stories on basic business skills training she had been supporting individually and later on got her friends and acquaintances together on a fund raiser dinner party for her birthday to rally more support for causes of Ethiopian women and girls.  She told me that people were inspired to give by the stories and pictures shared and said it turned out to be a successful fundraiser dinner party, and was able to surpass her goal.
I believe the first step to moving from disconnection to connection on the digital space starts from recognition of the increasing role of information technology as an actor that accelerates development. Secondly, information technology development must be recognized as an integral part of the organizational development process that needs to be planed for and resources committed for this purpose.  In This 21ST century of information society where knowledge is exchanged as commodity, we need to update ourselves on recent developments on information technology and start engaging with it.

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