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Reflecting on the NetHope Global Summit

Last week NetHope held it’s annual Global Summit in Dublin, Ireland.

November 22, 2011

Last week NetHope held it’s annual Global Summit in Dublin, Ireland. This Summit marked the 10 year anniversary for NetHope. It’s been 7 years since I joined NetHope and in the last few days I have reflected on how far we have come in that time.

For those that don’t know NetHope, we are a new generation nonprofit that cultivates collaboration between the world’s largest international development agencies. Our focus is on information and communication technology and the role that it plays in helping the humanitarian community do what they do.

If I do a quick compare and contrast between the 2004 version of NetHope and today we can dimensionalize our growth in some fairly straightforward ways.

In 2004, we had 10 member organizations including World Vision, Save the Children and CARE. Today we have 34 member organizations including the Red Cross, Ashoka, Habitat for Humanity and Grameen Foundation.

In 2004, most of our financial support came from our members and Cisco. Today, we have a diverse group of financial and technical supporters including Microsoft, Accenture, Intel, HP, Dell, Blackbaud, USAID, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Rockefeller Foundation.

In 2004 we mostly worked on Connectivity programs and were just getting started in collaborations around large scale emergencies. Today we still work in those areas but we also have programs in Field Capacity Building, Innovation for Development and Shared Services.

Last weeks meeting in Dublin was really quite remarkable. Over 225 people were in attendance including NetHope members, corporate and technical partners and NetHope program staff like me. There was the usual “parade of Powerpoints” but the true collaboration happened during the free time and during the breakouts. I once heard someone say that a NetHope meeting is like “the bar scene in Star Wars” where a bunch of like minded people are exchanging information and laughing at jokes that most would not understand.

There is something for everyone at these meetings. My highlights may not be what others would call out but that’s in part because of the richness and diversity of the programs we work on.

  • We had two unscheduled breakouts on South Sudan where 15 or so member agencies that are working there got together along with our UN partners, USAID and Inveneo to discuss how we can work together in one of the most austere places our members have to work. These two breakouts have catalyzed our group and I can definitely say that we will be doing big things together in South Sudan next year.
  • I enjoyed hearing about other NetHope programs as diverse as the Open Humanitarian Initiative (an information sharing vehicle for the humanitarian community) to serious gaming programs in the Middle East (to help teenagers practice conflict resolution in constructive ways). And my colleagues Lynann and Colene led some amazing sessions around a program called WomenTechConnect which is designed to support women that work in our member’s IT departments and increase the pool of women coming into the IT workforce in the developing world.
  • A few outside speakers were in my “top 10” as well. Tom Arnold, the CEO at Concern (a NetHope member and our host organization) talked about how Concern got started. Dr. Maura O'Neil is the Director of Innovation at USAID and she gave some amazing statistics which support the case that the international development community is making a difference in some parts of the world and in some fields of work. A lot more to do to be sure but it’s nice to see some progress in some areas as well. Akhtar Badshah from Microsoft was awesome as he reflected on the increasingly transformative role that Tech is playing in development, and noted the opportunity for bottom-of-the-pyramid innovation. And Jana Eggers from Blackbaud talked about trends in fundraising that were very eye opening. And finally, kudos to Kevin MacRitchie from Cisco. We value every Cisco contributor since Day 1 .. but his active engagment this past year and plans for the future are a model for public/private collaboration in a very real and tangible way.

For me, the primary benefit of these face to face meetings are the 1:1 and 1:few dialogs that take place throughout the week. Out of neccesity we have to work in virtual teams throughout the year. But there is no doubt that collaboration is enhanced by personal relationships that are fcreated and developed at these type of events.

I continue to be inspired by the great people I work with at our member agencies, at our tech partners and on the NetHope core team. In the end, tough problems get solved by sharp people that share a common passion. That is NetHope.

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