Harnessing the Ubiquitous Mobile for Change

Web of Change presenters share best practices on mobile and app strategy

MANSONS LANDING, B.C. - Mobile phones will soon outnumber people on the planet, but there is still much experimentation to learn how best to use mobile technology to campaign and organize, according to three Web of Change presenters.

Be Bold Media founder Sabrina Hersi Issa, technology and management strategist Sam Dorman and Alliance for Climate Education (ACE) engagement director Kara Muraki presented The Revolution will be Mobile, sharing their in-the-field experiences designing mobile strategies for major nonprofits across the globe.

According to Sabrina, mobile technology is an important vehicle for change because of its ability to reach millions of people living in developing countries where Internet and computers aren’t widely available. Phones are also a more personal communication model, with messages perceived to be coming from a trusted source.

While there is much opportunity to reach people on their phones, Sabrina stresses the need for nonprofits to understand the culture of the communities they are trying to reach, noting how they use their mobile phones and when they don’t, as security and privacy threats are real concerns.

Sabrina, who was named a Woman to Watch as part of Washingtonian Magazine’s Most Powerful Women issue, recently created a successful mobile campaign that provided a vital lifeline for Somalis during the 2011 famine. It allowed the Somalis diaspora community to give money and messages to their family and friends, incorporating systems to ensure privacy and connection.

“It’s pretty powerful what you’re able to do if you understand the context of the communities you’re trying to reach,” she says.

Sam Dorman presented on how organizations can build successful apps, stressing the need for nonprofits to shift their desire from building an app that lets people follow everything a nonprofit does.

“You don’t build a good product that way. You need to ask ‘how can we fill a real need that people have in their day-to-day lives?’” Sam told the approximately 30 participants attending the breakout session.

Sam points to successful apps filling the latter role, from The Nike+ Running app, which tracks a runner’s distance, pace, time, calories burned while offering motivation, to the new GI Bill calculator, a tool that helps Iraq and Afghanistan veterans understand their eligibility for education. Process is critical to developing apps, Sam stressed, encouraging nonprofits to zero in on audience, seek initial feedback and then prototype and test to frontload failure.

“The sad truth is our sector just hasn’t gotten the process right yet. We tend to blow our entire budget . . . building stuff that never gets off the ground enough to get its chance.”

Kara shared how ACE is using text messaging to encourage elementary children to get involved in sustainability.

After ACE presents during a school assembly, children are asked to text one thing they will do for the environment. The approach allows ACE to build its network and check back on students, encouraging them to get involved in new ways, from joining their school’s sustainability club, to forwarding ACE’s message to a friend, to attending an ACE leadership training program.

Kara says text messaging is much more effective at reaching their target audience compared to e-mail, with 99 per cent of all text messages opened. Children feel comfortable replying to text messages, making the medium efficient for polling and candid responses.

Web of Change took place Sept 5-9 at Hollyhock on Cortes Island. The 12th annual conference convened 115 digital leaders for four-days of collaboration, connection and learning to support people on the front lines of social change.

If you have a story about collaboration or new campaign success stemming from Web of Change, contact the newsroom at 604.367.6146, or e-mail camille(at)axiomnews.ca.