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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Non-profit as another step into participative democracy

I attended last week a very interesting seminar at the Stanford Center for Social Innovation by the Stanford Social Innovation Review and FSG on Evaluation for Foundations: how Foundations should measure the results of what they do so that they can learn from the process.
I had always been thinking of non-profits and foundations as charity organizations picking up issues where the government would not or could not go: environment, social matters, etc...
What I had not realized is how this process can be used in a very proactive way to get things done and act where politicians seem to be unable to do anything. What foundations do, when it is proven to work, can and should be publicized and shared widely so that their impact goes beyond the point fixes to benefit the population at large.

A striking example of this was how Tom Siebel worked on the Meth issue in Montana with his Meth Project Foundation:
- The government approach was a typical law enforcement one, resulting in the filling up of jails (50% of adult population in Montana jails is related to the meth issue) and no real progress on the ground: despite this effort, meth consumption was on the rise and kids were not really aware of the dangers of using it, some even though it had beneficial effect on memory, the whole thing costing the State about $100M every year.
- Tom approach of the problem was a marketing one: Meth is a product, and consumers are consumers, therefore the best thing is to reach them as you would reach consumers, and give them the relevant information that will allow them to make an educated choice when it comes to buying and consuming. The results of the ad campaigns (TV, radio, press) and after $15M between 2005 and 2006 was a decline in Meth use in the work place by 70 percent, meth related crime has decreased 53%.
Beyond fixing the meth issue in Montana, what Tom did is that he made a very interesing point: he picked an issue, devided a plan to resolve it, worked out the kinks and documented the process and results, and he is now licensing the "platform" to other States so that they can resolve the issue themselves in other places.

This is very close to what Muhammad Yunus is pushing in his book "Creating a Worlds Without Poverty" in the concept: real things come from people who live in the real world, and so the best way up is to have non-profit collaborate with for profit while governments just provide the infrastructure within which all this can happen.

While business with Web20 is starting to include consumers into the value chain (wikipedia, delicious, digg, google maps edits, etc...) there is no questions in my mind that the same can happen with government processes, where citizens can have a lot more impact than they used to: it is all a question of the data you can access, and how you can document what is being done.