By Ed Happ, NetHope Co-Founder

As we gather for the NetHope Summit in Atlanta, I’d like to adjust back the clocks to October 2001 for just a moment, when we held our first summit in San Jose. Yes, it’s hard to believe, but we just passed our 15th anniversary!

A few weeks ago, Dipak and Radha Basu invited the founding members, sponsors, fellows and guests to celebrate this 15th anniversary. As we did 15 years ago, the group gathered around Dipak and Radha’s table to share a meal and talk about our dreams. I was not able to make it this time, but sent my greetings in a video from Lisbon, where I am on sabbatical. I wish I had been there to raise a glass of Dipak’s wine in a toast to our successful venture in collaboration.

I’d like to reiterate the three things I shared. First, not being there is in itself a positive message. It means that the organization carries on, surviving its founders. I note that among the list of attendees at the dinner in 2001, most have moved on to other places. A few remained with NetHope or rejoined from other organizations, but most went on to other sectors.  

In Jim Collins words, we have become clock builders rather than time-tellers; we have built an organization that makes it possible for others to interpret the times

Second, breaking bread together around a kitchen table is intimate; it’s personal. NetHope has been about relationships from the very beginning. Our fundamental value of trust depends on our friendships.

While the setting of a small dinner is casual, collaboration is anything but casual; it runs deep. We believe in it. It is something we return to again and again.

I can still picture our small group standing in Radha and Dipak’s kitchen 15 years ago. And an amazing thing is that our founding group of seven NGOs will soon be 50.

Third, affirming our founding hypotheses
. From the paper I presented at Cisco in 2001, the founding hypotheses continue to hold true: 

  • We had to be able to solve the “last mile” problems faster, cheaper, better if we did it together. 
  • We would be a much stronger partner to the technology companies, on whom we depend, if we came as a group rather than the one-off, hat-in-hand organizations we had been.
NetHope is a collaboration that works, and it is clear that we are better together. (This is also the title of my active book project, which you can read online. For some entertainment, listen to Jack Johnson’s “Better Together,” with lyrics.)

The potential of our collaboration was something Cisco saw from the start. We owe them a word of special thanks. Things tend not to hatch without some incubation. Cisco was our first incubator. Cisco, Microsoft and other partners been there since the early years helping all our members, and those we serve, through the NetHope relationship.

At an early Summit, I asked John Morgridge, then Cisco’s Chairman, who sat on a number of NGO boards, what frustrated him most about nonprofits.  His answer: “That they don’t work together more, like you are doing at NetHope.”  Working together and collaborating more is something we bring both to our nonprofit sector and our corporate partners. Let’s not forget that.

More importantly, we have become the example on how to collaborate in the nonprofit sector and with corporate partners. We have set the bar high. That’s something to be proud of. We now have a broader educational responsibility. The NetHope method of collaboration is something we can and should share.

In conclusion, I’d like to share something I wrote when reflecting about NetHope a few years ago:

“This is how NetHope was born.  There was an obvious and shared need, a scarcity of resources, and a desire to be part of a larger group that could gain some real momentum.”

We can celebrate this. We make connections for good. As I imagine turning the clocks forward in the spring, I look with even greater expectation to the next 15 years.

Ed Happ is the retired Global CIO of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, based in Geneva, Switzerland, and co-founder and former Chairman of NetHope. 

Filed Under: Global Summits, Highlights