On the same day that the Global Journal announced us as their pick for “#1 Tech NGO in the world”, my laptop died. As my coworkers celebrated our newly-bestowed honor, I relished the irony of my technological failure and felt what has come to define my time working in the non-profit world: humility.
It is difficult to feel self-important when the work we do pales in comparison to the work done by the organizations we support. It’s humbling to work with the women of KOFAVIV in Haiti as they support victims of sexual violence with access to medical services and legal assistance. Then there’s the ingenuity of the folks at ChatSalud, who work with Peace Corps volunteers to empower Nicaraguans to advocate for sexual and reproductive health rights. How about when Al-Jazeera’s New Media Team used FrontlineSMS to collect the thoughts and opinions of the Ugandan people in response to the Kony 2012 viral video? The list goes on and on.
So humbled were we that we asked the Global Journal for a copy of their methodology; curious to see what collection of premises could put us in the top spot. Also, we noticed that mention of numerous organizations, whose work we greatly admire, was absent. The Polaris Project is breaking new ground by enlisting technology in making the fight against human trafficking a data driven effort. We watch Global Witness unwind a chilling aspect of the technology sector as they work to track the origins and human cost of the minerals that make up mobile phones and other electronics. The team at DoSomething.org has found a way to tap into the lives of teenagers when they need them most, by listening to them and giving them voice.
Reading through the methodology, we noticed that the Global Journal grapples with some of the same data collection challenges we face. In order to rank the NGOs the Global Journal needed information and metrics not publicly available, necessitating an application process. Unfortunately this requirement excludes those who lack the time, awareness, and/or inclination to apply and likely explains the absence of the organizations mentioned above.
We experience a similar tension in our effort to answer the question of our impact. At the moment, we rely on respondents to an annual survey to help us determine our effect, which we believe to be significant. Despite our overtures, only some of the organizations are able to take the time out of their busy schedules to respond to our surveys and enable us to better calibrate impact. We endeavor to elevate our users’ work just as the Global Journal strives to highlight ours. That few can stop to notice is reflective of the fact that there is so much work yet to be done.
Functioning laptops or not, it feels wonderful to be recognized and it would be disingenuous to suggest otherwise. Our greatest strengths are our adherence to our mission - to lower barriers to using mobile for social change - and our user-first values, because FrontlineSMS isn’t about us; it’s about what’s possible. Therefore we cast the spotlight on our users and the community of organizations whose work continues to redefine ‘possible’ every day. From our perch atop the shoulders of giants, we say thank you.