Enabling Communities: What are we learning???
Enabling Communities: What are we learning???

I recently attended the Mesh 2007 Conference in Toronto with many notable keynotes and guests. One of the more interesting presentations I attended was ‘The Web and Philanthropy’. It was a conversation led by Rob Hyndman with Tom Williams and Austin Hill, two people who are doing a lot to facilitate philanthropy online.

Tom Williams is the founder of GiveMeaning, an online application that allows people to search for and support an almost endless number of worthwhile causes world wide. One of the (many) things that sets GiveMeaning apart is that they do not take a cut from the donations given through the site, so 100% of your contribution will be used for your specified cause. They have set up an environment (really a community) that highlights causes around the world and facilitates contributing to those causes.

Austin Hill is one of the founders of ZeroKnowledge, now RadialPoint, a company that focuses on privacy issues online. He has recently been working on a number of projects to make a worldwide difference online. A few of his projects include; Akoha, for gift giving (this is not public yet, so all information about it is speculation); Gifter, for charitable donations (to some extent); Zerofootprint, a project to help reduce our environmental footprint. These are only a few of his projects, but it goes without saying that he has an in depth understanding of the web and the communities built on it.

One of the main topics that was discusses was the ability to enable and empower a community of people to make a difference. Obviously, from the links above, both of these men have dedicated a large amount of time and energy into understanding and working with communities, with the vision of making a difference on a global scale. The success of these projects is a testament to their ability to understand the many dynamics of web based communities and the mobilizing power of their approach. So how do they see their communities and what do they do to create this effect?

In many communities, the creators and moderators feel that they own the community. It is theirs and the people who join are participating in an environment which they control. This is not the case with the community that Tom has created at GiveMeaning. He does not consider himself the owner of the community, but an acting participant who is working to enable a group of like minded people. He is mainly trying to build an environment that facilitates the communities ability to act while centralizing the members views and values. He is setting up a way for people to realize a return on their generosity through a social network and differentiate them by their conscientious choices. He is trying to create a way for people to generate credibility in the community and then empower them through the founding technology.

This is a new approach to community building and I feel that the application of this approach is very valuable. In a world where we are surrounded by so much negative content and influences, I feel that their positive and empowering perspective fosters the underlying values of most people and gives them an outlet that is not only constructive but influential to the rest population.

Will Stevens (swill)

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