Developing Development

E-commerce technology has made it much easier for armchair philanthropists to feel (and do) good through "click here and donate" sites. For example, more than a quarter of the $200 million in aid money raised within a week of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States came from online donations made through organizations ...

E-commerce technology has made it much easier for armchair philanthropists to feel (and do) good through "click here and donate" sites. For example, more than a quarter of the $200 million in aid money raised within a week of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States came from online donations made through organizations including Amazon.com and the American Red Cross. Despite this promising result, online donations still compose a small portion of all development money raised. Oxfam America, which collects over $27 million annually, raises only $250,000 through direct online donations.

E-commerce technology has made it much easier for armchair philanthropists to feel (and do) good through "click here and donate" sites. For example, more than a quarter of the $200 million in aid money raised within a week of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States came from online donations made through organizations including Amazon.com and the American Red Cross. Despite this promising result, online donations still compose a small portion of all development money raised. Oxfam America, which collects over $27 million annually, raises only $250,000 through direct online donations.

NetAid, a collaboration between the U.N. Development Programme and Cisco Systems, has used its Web site to collect donations for at least 10 of its international projects and makes deft use of the Web’s networking potential. The site has succeeded in connecting more than 6,800 volunteers to projects since June 2000. These volunteers have written proposals for U.N. grant money and provided engineering expertise — all from their own homes. Texas-based activist Laurie Moy says her work with NetAid has helped push People with Disabilities-Uganda "onto the international scene" through its new Web site and newsletter. Neither initiative could have been launched without NetAid, she says, because only the Web could connect 150 volunteers from 41 countries.

The development community may soon take advantage of another tool used in business-to-business e-commerce — Extensible Markup Language (XML). Essentially a system for encoding information so it can be shared efficiently with others, XML can be adapted to meet the needs of particular industries. A new incarnation of XML "specifically tailored for development oriented information" is being tested and refined by the Bellanet Alliance, a non-governmental organization that helps development organizations use information and communications technologies to collaborate more effectively. Its International Development Markup Language Initiative predicts many benefits: For instance, it should be much easier for organizations to learn from the successes and failures of others and to know who else is working on the same problems.

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