Mobile 4 Advocacy: NYC's Shining Examples

Blog | Posted by Jeff Perlstein | December 14, 2012 | Comments (0)
Jeff Perlstein is Director of Strategic Engagment at ZeroDivide, an organization working to transform underserved communities through the strategic use of technology in ways that increase economic opportunity, civic engagement and healthy outcomes. North Star Fund, and representatives from two of our grantees, teamed up with ZeroDivide this month for a panel discussion on effective mobile initiatives in grassroots community organizing.

Marisa Jahn's face lights up with pride when describing her organization's collaboration with Domestic Workers United on their recent phone hotline project - New Day New Standard. The project has seen dramatic success where other more resourced ones have repeatedly failed: using technology tools to engage and educate low-income community members, many with limited English proficiency, in an active conversation about their rights and concerns in the workplace.

The Department of Labor has even taken note, inviting her to the White House to discuss what's worked.

Jahn, the director of REV, was one of 14 practitioners who shared learnings from community-driven technology projects as part of ZeroDivide's recent Mobile Salon in New York City. The Salons - a series of small group discussions between funders, nonprofits and technologists - are funded through the generous support of the Vodafone Americas Foundation to increase the quality and quantity of mobile projects for social impact.


This post originally appeared on the ZeroDivide blog.
It's difficult to overstate the opportunities for such impact - 87% of the world's population are now mobile phone users. Domestically, Pew and others have documented the rise in mobile use across all demographics, especially among African-Americans and Latinos. 

But while nonprofits and social enterprises throughout the Global South have generated dramatic results - expanding health care access, sparking grassroots economic development, and much more - our report found that the social sector in the United States has been noticeably lagging in mobile innovation.

In New York we were fortunate to work with the North Star Fund to identify and bring together a number of powerful exceptions to this finding: a set of mobile initiatives driven by historically underserved communities that are generating powerful advocacy and civic engagement outcomes. From the Brownsville Partnership and VOCAL-NY, and Sandy Story Line to the Red Hook Initiative: each of these projects has found a way to develop strategies appropriate to the culture of the stakeholders and the host organization's capacity and theory of change.

To lift up additional learnings that might strengthen the social sector's work on mobile, we explored the questions: "What are the main barriers to greater impact for your organization, and to more organizations using mobile?" Besides the need for greater funding, consistent themes were the challenges of technology familiarity by stakeholders and staff, and the difficulty in finding technologists attuned to community needs and nonprofit culture.

Foundation participants cited the need for better resources to help make the case for investment to their trustees and colleagues: case studies demonstrating measurable impact, analysis of various grantmaking approaches, and best practices for evaluating proposals in this emerging realm.

So, What's Next?

One key "need" identified through the Salon was the need for ongoing forums - both online and in person - to popularize examples of community-driven mobile projects and share learnings and resources.  The Open Technology Institute offered to ramp up their online resource listings and team up with others in the room to discuss face-to-face opportunities to build the conversation.

At ZeroDivide, we'll be building on the Salon's momentum by (a) engaging the funder community through: (a) follow-up #fundertech gatherings, (b) exploring partnerships with practitioners to generate more consistent and visible forums for these conversations to continue and expand, and (c) generating regular blog posts on the key threads raised in the discussion.

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