Dear Kabissa members, supporters and friends,
I am struck by the relevance to today’s networked world of Frantz Fanon’s warning: A community will evolve only when a people control their own communication. The fact is that we are increasingly ceding control over our means of communicating with each other to privately run social networks, especially Facebook and Twitter. These are great platforms and I continue to recommend that organizations take advantage of them as part of their overall social media strategy. However, as evidenced perhaps most starkly by the Arab Spring, it is becoming apparent that networks like Kabissa that are run by and for civil society need to be strengthened to create a sustainable and functional "communications commons" that is independent from those commercial platforms.
With that guiding thought, read on for an update on Kabissa’s strategic evolution from social business to volunteer-run civil society network, the upcoming launch of our updated community website with improvements we think you will like, and a request for your input on a somewhat revolutionary idea to help Kabissa members spread their organization data more widely by joining the "Open Data movement".
As always, thank you for your support, partnership and encouragement.
Kabissa Founder and Executive Director
P.S. On a personal note: I am shifting this summer from Berlin, Germany to Bainbridge Island, near Seattle in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. I am sad to be leaving friends and family in Berlin as well as this time zone shared by many African friends and colleagues, but looking forward to reconnecting with friends, family, and Kabissa members in the Pacific Northwest and PST time zone.
Our story so far
Historically, Kabissa operated as a nonprofit business. Between our founding in 1999 and 2007, Executive Directors managed staff, interns and volunteers to carry out the organization’s programs and services. The Board of Directors played a support role in setting policies and priorities, maintaining the nonprofit's overall direction, defining the mission of the organization, approving strategies and budgets presented by the staff, and ensuring that plans and programs are implemented. Our target beneficiaries were civil society organizations in Africa. Potential donors and friends of Kabissa in the United States were nurtured to help with Kabissa’s sustainability but were considered separately from our target beneficiaries in Africa.
In 2008, Kabissa closed its Washington DC office and became a volunteer-run network organization with no staff. Our mission remains the same, to help African civil society organizations put ICT to work for the benefit of their communities, but the way we do it is now different:
- The Kabissa Board is taking a more active interest in Kabissa operations and for the first time, we are forming Board committees to oversee critical areas such as membership, governance and fundraising on an ongoing basis. To start, Neema Mgana, our board member from Tanzania, is setting up a new Kabissa Representatives Program to help connect Kabissa to Civil Society Organizations at the grassroots.
- People and organizations are being invited to join, participate, and contribute to Kabissa no matter where they are in the world. This means there is no longer a distinction between beneficiaries in Africa and contributors in the United States, but beneficiaries and contributors come from both places. Indeed the people and organizations we once “served” now can build activities contributing to Kabissa into their own work. They can help Kabissa (and everyone in our network) while helping themselves.
- Volunteer teams are forming to contribute to four top-level work areas that we have identified and documented in great detail in a new Kabissa Operating Procedures document. The aim is to enable a new volunteer to join and quickly see where they fit in, and then immediately start working. We are successful in recruiting volunteers through word of mouth and a volunteering form directly on the Kabissa website, and are confident that the new operating procedures will enable us to get all the work done to keep Kabissa moving forward.
We are actively recruiting volunteers! We received 80 (!) applications in April, many of them from Africa. The immediate task now is to identify and bring on board suitable team leaders who will take charge of filling their teams, which are:
- Network Team
Supporting and growing the people and organizations in the Kabissa network. Responsible for coordinating volunteers and representatives, managing members, and moderating groups.
- Content Team
Responsible for managing, editing and spreading the content being shared on Kabissa by our members. Tasks include: promoting content to the frontpage and sitewide blog, editing newsletters/special mailings, member content, and spreading Kabissa content via social networks outreach (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and beyond).
- Platform Team
Responsible for all things tech at Kabissa - from maintaining our server to developing our open source platform. Tasks include: Drupal site maintenance, web projects management, web design, and domain registration management.
- Organization Team
Responsible for keeping Kabissa humming as an organization. Tasks include: marketing, fundraising, and governance.
Setting up the teams is a rather painstaking, experimental process but we are excited about the opportunity to leverage our own global network to build up our capacity to maintain and grow Kabissa as a network, a platform, and as an organization.
If you are interested in joining one of these teams or contributing even on a short-term basis and have not yet contacted us, please complete the form at http://kabissa.org/about/volunteering - thanks!
In case you missed it: in March, we announced the results of a very illuminating survey we did in collaboration with WiserEarth West Africa.
“This survey illustrates the hunger among African civil society activists to utilize emerging Information and Communications Technologies to help advance the missions of their organizations,” said Camilla Burg, WiserEarth Communications & Outreach Director.
“The next step is to supply the resources needed to make a truly wired future a reality. The availability of online communication and collaboration tools and the ability to use them properly profoundly impacts the way that civil society functions,” added Tobias Eigen, Kabissa Executive Director. “This survey helps us understand how far we have come in that respect, guiding our priorities as we nurture and support our membership and evolve the functionality of our online community platform.”
Read the full announcement and download the survey results and source data: Unleashing the potential of social networks and the Internet in West Africa: A study into collaboration and communication among civil society organizations
Kabissa 3.0: The next revision of our online platform
The survey we did with WiserEarth encouraged us to continue to develop and improve the Kabissa online platform, which plays an important role in providing a civil society owned space that complements the larger for-profit social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
In brief, the improvements to the Kabissa online platform will include:
- an attractive, efficient new design,
- improved Kabissa frontpage and outreach materials that showcase Kabissa members and content better, and make it easier to join and use Kabissa,
- improved integration of website features so that it will be easier to browse members and organizations, and see how members are connected to organizations, groups and their own content,
- more useful and attractive organization profile pages, including the addition of news feeds and social networking buttons and widgets (e.g. Facebook, Twitter and GlobalGiving),
- separated blogs and groups, so that blog posts are added directly to organization profile pages, while groups will from now on be dedicated to email discussion/networking and document collaboration,
- a new user configurable dashboard that provides members with immediate access to Kabissa content that is relevant to them personally,
- improved website performance (speed) so web pages load faster, and
- a “Kabissa distribution” of our website code on github to make it easier for us to do security updates and involve partners, volunteers and contractors who want to download the code and add their improvements to it.
We are actively working on the upgrade and will launch “Kabissa 3.0” as soon as possible - please complete the volunteering form if you are interested in helping out with coding, copy writing and testing. Thanks!
We learned about the benefits of the emerging Open Data movement at the Open Data for Development Camp conference which took place in May 2011. Kabissa was invited to brainstorm the idea of Kabissa offering our organization data via Open Data, and we were very warmly received by conference participants who are looking actively for reliable organization data. (To learn more about the outcomes of the conference, read the blog post by Tobias Eigen: Open Data is data that can be freely used, reused and redistributed by anyone.)
We created a page at http://www.kabissa.org/open to start an open discussion with the Kabissa community about an idea we have to leverage Open Data to spread Kabissa organization data beyond our own website.
Currently our data is not available as Open Data. In order to access and use the data in the Kabissa organization directory, you need to visit the Kabissa website and either browse the map or do a database search - unless of course you happen to already have the direct URL to an organization profile page or come across it via an Internet search.
Open Data presents an opportunity for Kabissa organizations to be found in many more places. Some examples might include:
- maps or visualizations produced on other websites like AidData.org,
- local civil society platforms like Nani Online in Kenya providing services to local organizations, and
- print directories of organizations working in local communities, with specific networks, or on specific topics.
To be clear, we are not talking here about personal details of individuals or any email addresses - we are talking about the key organizational details that members are already making available via their profile pages on Kabissa and that we all want to share as widely as possible. On Kabissa, this information is managed by the organizations themselves.
What do you think? Read the full proposal at http://kabissa.org/open and add your vote to the poll at the bottom. Your feedback will help inform the board of directors, who will decide at our next board meeting whether or not to go Open Data. Thanks!