Archives du mot-clé echoinggreen

Altruistic Capital, semifinalist of Echoing Green 2009

Albeit disappointed, I enjoyed the results of the 1st selection phase of the 2009 Echoing Green fellowship program. Of course, it had some positive consequences on my venture. But the most positive side of this is that Thierry Klein brought my attention to the fact that his own (French : Cocorico ! as we say here)  initiative, namely the Altruistic Capital, is selected as a semifinalist. I wish he will be at the next Echoing Green selection week-end in New York this spring and, hopefully, the Altruistic Capital project will be boosted by a 60.000 USD grant.

The Altruistic Capital concept is a nice and innovative way for tightening the public good to the performance of for-profit corporations, by letting nonprofit organizations receive a share of these profits. They indeed become shareholders of the forprofit, as the name « Altruistic Capital » suggests.

Next questions for me are :

  • how can I let some open source businesses become more familiar (and hopefully fond of) such initiatives (this is also an open question for the economy of communion which shares so much in spirit with some aspects of free software)
  • when, how and to which nonprofit(s) will I donate a part of the capital of my nonprofit ? this question is a bit difficult for me to handle given that my customers are nonprofits and I may prefer not to create interferences between business itself and the altruism of my capital… or maybe I should let this happen ?

I definitely have to spend some time with Thierry, face to face. Maybe next time he comes to Paris if our schedules can be synchronized.

Good luck, Altruistic Capital and Thierry, for the next phase of the EG selection process !

Echoing Green fellowship program : we did not make it :-(

Disappointment… Our application to the Echoing Green fellowship program is no more in the race : it « did not advance in the application process » and was rated as « noncompetitive » (see their full email at the end of this post). There were 950 applicants this year. 300 projects are selected as semifinalists. Too bad we are not among these.

Given the high number of applicants, EG doesn’t tell us why our application is rated as « noncompetitive ». But if I had to bet on their rationale, and given the other semifinalists, I’d say that the 2 main weaknesses of our application were :

  • it may seem to focus too much on France : wecena services can be offered to nonprofits worldwide but the business model fully relies on French legal specificities and on French corporate donors => maybe it can’t be seen as a « global » solution at this stage of development ? maybe I’ll first have to prove wecena services can benefit to non-French nonprofits, too.
  • above all, it is not a « direct » solution : it does not directly aim at eradicating poverty or fighting diseases or providing resources to suffering people ; it rather gives social entrepreneurs and nonprofits access to IT skills and services which in turn can leverage their capacity to innovate ; and EG said they would favor direct solutions over indirect ones.
  • maybe there is a 3rd reason, too : the wecena business model is fairly sophisticated and, even with your help, I may be suffering from the curse of knowledge ; in other words, it’s hard to communicate this model without diving into obscure details

This failure of course has negative consequences : I won’t have a week-end in New York paid by EG :) nor won’t we get 60,000 USD from them for the wecena project. Fortunately, it also has some positive consequences :

  • We won’t have to draft longer essays and translate the French materials into English for further evaluation, which frees some valuable time in order to put more effort on selling the wecena concept to French IT firms ; convincing them takes so much time ! Ive been working with 3 of them for now 1 year on this project and contracts yet have to get signed…
  • You helped me to write down the why and the how of the wecena program ; I could translate that into French and provide it as additional marketing materials to the nonprofits and IT firms I work with, which may turn to be a very valuable asset for getting the first IT firm to donate skills and time to our nonprofits ; when I published these materials in French, it also allowed us to officially become a partner of the MUNCI, a French union of IT consultants.
  • It gave me the opportunity to work closely with the folks at the Antropia social incubator of the ESSEC business school (the number 2 business school in France, I’d say) and this convinced me to apply to their own fellowship program : they will give me their decision in March but it may be a bit easier that the EG selection because the wecena program already received a small award from them.
  • The list of the 300 Echoing Green semifinalists contains some quite interesting projects in the high tech field (frogtek for instance) and I may propose them to benefit from wecena services once the money pump is started with the French nonprofits I already have contracted with. I might even get in touch with EG and propose wecena services as part of their grants to future fellows in needs of free IT skills and services, why not ?

Anyway, thanks a lot to all of you, dear friends or colleagues who contributed to the wecena application to the EG fellowship program either online or offline. Special thanks to IA_ who was an early and steady commenter, who was brought to us from Texas by the magics of the Internet. :)

If you want to give a further hand to the wecena project, you can still have a look at what’s here if you speak French (and fill the mini-survey I published there, including the part where you can spam your geeky friends), or just comment this post in English if you can’t.

Here is the EG email announcing the bad result :

On behalf of the entire Echoing Green team, thank you for your recently submitted application for a 2009 Echoing Green Fellowship. We received nearly 950 applications this year, and as always, we were inspired and encouraged by the ideas, commitment and enthusiasm for public service captured in those applications. We applaud the good work you are undertaking through your program.

We regret to inform you, however, that your application did not advance in the application process. All applications were evaluated for competitiveness. It was determined that your application was not competitive and is no longer under consideration for an Echoing Green Fellowship. All decisions are final and cannot be changed.

Please note that we review each application twice and evaluate the proposal against the selection criteria of the Echoing Green fellowship program. Designating your application as noncompetitive is specific to our application process and selection criteria and is not intended to reflect the strength of your idea or the need for the proposed program in your community. Unfortunately, based on the volume of applications we receive, we cannot provide you with individual comments on your application. However, you can find a list of the most common reasons an application is deemed noncompetitive at While we cannot provide you with specific feedback on your application, we hope that you find this information helpful as you prepare future proposals.

We wish you success in finding other sources of support for your work. While Echoing Green may not be the right fit for your efforts, we encourage you to pursue your dream of helping people and communities locally, nationally and internationally. Best of luck!


Heather McGrew

Vice President, Fellow & Alumni Programs

Applying to the Echoing Green fellowship program

[This post is the draft of my application to the Echoing Green (EG) fellowship program. You can help me earn 60.000 US dollars for the take-off of wecena by commenting this post with suggestions about how to best make my case to Echoing Green (EG). You can follow the latest posts for that application and its preparatory work using the echoinggreen tag on my blog.]

[Edit: The application deadline was met and this application was submitted. But you can still post your comments, suggestions and supports messages in order to better make the case of IT pro bono work for nonprofits.]

OK. In order to prepare my application, we have been discussing my preparatory work (your comments on these other posts are still much welcome and needed). Here is the draft of the application itself. This post is the content that will eventually be submitted end of November 2008 to EG (the preparatory work is for you, me and other readers). It is still a draft and it requires much of your attention both on my English spelling/grammar/style and on the content itself (the wecena concept, the logic and clarity of my answers, …). Answers to EG are limited in length… but your comments are not limited howsoever !

What is your new, innovative idea to create lasting social change? Be clear, specific, and jargon-free in your answer

[Edit: Compare the initial answer below with related comments from Sig and Amir] [Edit:minor English fixes included]

Non-profit social innovators of all sectors (health, education, poverty, …) have huge social ambitions but limited resources and capacity. Information Technology (IT) helps as an option to leverage the efficiency and reach of their programs. But IT skills and services are costly and too often out of budget reach for these innovators.

IT service firms are rich in consulting skills but have not been given a strong enough incentive to donate them pro bono (free) in any large scale.

Fortunately, corporate social responsibility is rising on the corporate agenda and recent French labor and tax laws allow local IT service firms to offer services free to innovators *at no cost* for donors. In order to bridge the digital divide between nonprofits and corporations, all it requires is a proper mix of administrative process automation, management methods and tools, a donation channel and a culture of giving.

Wecena services are an innovative pro bono IT model that allows French nonprofits to benefit from more than 1 full-time equivalent of IT professional skills each. 100% of the cost for the donor is supported by the French tax payers. Massive donations without cost can boost non-profit innovations.

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What drew you to this issue? When and how did you come up with your idea?

[Compare the initial answer below with alternative from Sig (based on comments from Amir and Yann)] [Edit:minor English fixes included]

I have been volunteering in nonprofits since 8. At 18, I was volunteering as a video team leader in immigrant communities and local youth organizations. Technology (then video) was used as a way to let poorer immigrant youth and richer local youth meet and connect. I then decided that both my volunteer engagements and my career would aim at bridging social gaps with the help of technology.

I have been employed in the IT industry for 10 years as an entrepreneur, manager and researcher. I have witnessed how deep the digital gap between the social and corporate worlds is. IT hardware and software can now be obtained free through used hardware donation and free software. But skilled time remains a very scarce and limiting resource for any innovative nonprofits.

I have been trying for 10 years to find sustainable ways to drive my career towards fueling social innovation with technology. As a former entrepreneur, I have been monitoring market opportunities in this field. The French legal environment and the emergence of corporate social responsability as a shared concern among major corporations now offer a perfect opportunity for proposing wecena services.

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As specifically as possible, demonstrate the need for your organization. Use statistics and references

[Compare the initial answer below with related comments from Sig] [Edit:minor English fixes included]

The dependence of nonprofits on technology to manage information, communicate with donors, staff and volunteers, and handle various other tasks continues to grow. Beyond organizational support, IT is a must for scaling social innovation and driving progressive uses of new technology.

In France, 1 year of a full time IT engineer or consultant is sold at about 80 kEUR including a cost of about 60 kEUR in salary and associated taxes. Most innovative nonprofits are limited in size and may not employ more than 6 full-time equivalents (FTE), with a corresponding budget of less than 200 kEUR. Buying a couple of FTE IT engineers would cost more than half of the annual budget of the organization which is not acceptable.

At the same time, employees of French IT services firms earn their salary even when they are « on the bench » waiting for their next customer engagement because of a employee-protective labor law. Around 5% of these employees are « on the bench » at any given time. This represents thousands of inactive FTE each year who aren’t given the chance to contribute to the public good.

What a waste of brain power !

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What is the root cause of this problem? How does your idea tackle this root cause?

[Compare the initial answer below with related comments from Sig] [Edit:minor English fixes included]

« On the bench » brain power is considered a non-avoidable waste in the IT service industry. There has been no channel for « recycling » this waste so far. The short duration of these « on-the-bench » periods represents an obstacle for any commercial customer (including nonprofits): left alone, new consultants would spend much time learning their new mission context and would already have to move away because of a new commercial customer engagement. Individual productivity is too low in such a context. And knowledge can’t easily be transferred from consultant to consultant in such short time frames without the help of costly knowledge management (KM) methods and tools.

The French tax laws allow wecena pro bono services to generate significant tax savings which would be converted back into money donations for supported nonprofits. With this money, would be hired to offer appropriate KM methods and tools that let consultants become productive fast enough and which encourage consultants to become volunteers once their pro bono mission has ended.

Innovative nonprofits would us to hire skilled pro bono donors and to provide additional productivity support.

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Note: I should replace this paragraph with a summary from the result of our conversation here (it was written before this discussion). What do you think?

Help Echoing Green visualize what your organization will do. Describe the specific programs that your organization will engage in to deliver your long-term outcomes

[Edit:minor English fixes included]

Consider a nonprofit (NP) which requires better or new information technology for its new program. The NP staff leading the project would contract with for providing complementary IT staff for free. allows the NP to promote its program while emphasizing both its skills requirments and its expected social impact. identifies and meets French IT service firms which offers proper skills and services and « sells » the NP program needs to the IT firm.

On-the-bench consultants apply on for the program of the NP on a voluntary basis. The best of them starts the mission at the NP premises. After a couple of weeks, she stops and moves on to a new commercial engagement. Another on-the-bench consultant takes on the tasks left by her colleague. The NP staff uses as a knowledge continuity management platform. At the end of the month, generates tax receipts to the donating firm on the behalf of the NP. Based on the calculated tax cut, the firm donates money to the NP which in turn pays for the services provided. A portion of these consultants turn into volunteers in their free time with the blessing of their employer.

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Note: more details available here.

Describe your long-term desired outcomes. How will you measure your progress toward these outcomes?

[Edit:minor English fixes included]

I envisage a world where pro bono IT services are considered a critical enabler for major social innovations from education to environment via poverty reduction. An army of computing experts and corporations join the fight for changing the world. Wecena services are considered the secret weapon of high-impact social innovations. IT firms compete in donating more and better skills to prominent social entrepreneurs. Specialized for-profit social ventures emerge and compete with

By the end of 2010 we expect to deliver 10 full-time equivalents (FTE) of pro bono IT consulting and engineering to less than 10 ambitious non-profit projects and to increase this volume with a rate of at least 4 FTE per year. We will build non-profit loyalty : the expected median duration of our relationships with each NP will be of at least 6 months for non-profits having accepted first donations more than 1 year before. At least 10% of the employees involved pro bono will turn into volunteers in their free time. Anecdotal evidence will show that wecena services increase non-profit programs reach or efficiency by a factor of at least 3.

And we will be financially profitable before 2010.

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Note: see this post for a more detailed conversation.

Innovation is important to Echoing Green. Explain how your idea is truly innovative. Identify other organizations that are addressing this issue and how your approach is different and has the potential to be more effective

[Compare the initial answer below with related comments from Sig] offers the first and only IT assistance solution for big social innovations (requiring more than 1 person-year) that costs nothing for both nonprofits and for corporate donors without relying on volunteering or direct governmental subsidies. Other organizations provide IT assistance to nonprofits :

  • Compumentor/TechSoup offers donated software and hardware but no IT pro bono service
  • The Taproot foundation offers pro bono service (IT included) but their grants are worth no more than 35.000USD compared with a minimum 64,000USD per wecena grant.
  • Taproot as well as direct pro bono donors (e.g. Accenture France) operate at a significant cost for donating firms by dedicating individual consultants for the whole project whereas wecena teams of « on the bench » consultants allow any IT firm to try out pro bono services at no cost. The risk of low productivity for these teams is mitigated by management methods and tools from the open source community, by the rate of consultants turned into volunteer contributors and by the higher volume of potential donations.
  • Volunteer-match web platforms start addressing the need for IT pro bono service but with the same limits as above.

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Note: see this post for more details

Building a new organization is challenging. How are you entrepreneurial? Describe your skills and experiences that demonstrate you can lead a start-up organization

[minor edits]

In 1996, I co-created a French nonprofit. I raised funds from the French government for its « Internet in the hood » program. I led this program which provided technological assistance to more than 10 nonprofits in local immigrant communities in France.

In 1998, I co-created and led a small Internet consultancy, experienced its downfall and managed its closing without bankruptcy. I had earned customers including governmental agencies and the Fondation de France (the biggest umbrella organization for French foundations).

In 2000, I joined a Fortune Global 200 firm (Saint-Gobain) as head of its corporate web technology group. In 5 years, I turned this 5 persons team of engineers into a more than 20-consultants-big skills center offering engineering and consulting services.

In 2005, I became team-leader of the French Motorola Labs team researching Web x.0 technologies for Motorola phones and set-top-boxes.

When ready to launch my venture, in 2007, I negotiated a compensation package with my management line so that I could safely leave my position even though I am the only source of revenue for my family of 6. I funded Wecena SARL in July 2008.

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Why are you uniquely qualified to lead your specific organization? Describe your experience working with this issue and population

[minor edits]

My project requires the following skillset : managing innovative IT projects, being an entrepreneur, serving the non-profit field.

As the head of a corporate IT department then as the leader of an IT research team, I demonstrated my IT skills : I led the creation of a global electronic identity system for more than 200,000 corporate users worldwide and created technology which generated academic publications and patents. I managed the growth of an IT service team until it was 20 IT consultants big. I supervised 100 intranet projects and have been the champion of free software and open source in corporate environment.

I succesfully faced entrepreneurial challenges by taking organizational initiatives, raising required funds and selling innovative services to customers. I raised and managed an 8 millions EUR budget in a corporate environment for a project I led.

I have served non-profits as a volunteer (Boyscouts, Ingénieurs Sans Frontières, Red Cross), as a board member and volunteer (my tech assistance program for 10 immigrant youth communities), during 1 year as a public servant (urban policies agency) and occasionally as a consultant (Fondation de France).

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How much money have you fundraised to date? Who is your largest funder and what is the size of their grant? Provide an estimate of your total budget for each of the next two fiscal years

[Compare the initial answer below with related comments from Sig]

I funded Wecena SARL in July 2008 with 3,000 EUR only. I am the only (and therefore largest) funder of this company.

1st fiscal year (ends in September 2009): estimated revenue of 120 kEUR

2nd fiscal year (October 2009 to September 2010): projected revenue of 286 kEUR

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Why you may (not) disagree with my wecena solution

[This post is the 6th part of my preparatory work before applying to the Echoing Green (EG) fellowship program. You can help me earn 60.000 US dollars for the take-off of wecena by commenting this post with suggestions about how to best make my case to Echoing Green (EG). You can follow the latest posts for that work using the echoinggreen tag on my blog.]

EG suggests that I find some professionals in my field who are likely to disagree with some part of my idea, meet them, list their objection to my idea and try to formulate my response.

I did it. You may relate to some of these objections. Hopefully, you will end agreeing with my responses or suggesting even better responses as a comment to this post !

  • An IT firm consultant : « Your wecena concept is a source of unfair competition for us !«  : he was fearing that non-profits with a budget would rely on (« free ») wecena services rather than buying IT services from companies such as his. I agree that wecena services might compete with some IT consultancies. But this competition would be limited : « classic » consulting and wecena consulting differ in their form. Classic consulting offer dedicated consultants whereas wecena consulting offer a path to building a community of volunteers while providing basic services from a big number of individual interventions. Another difference is that there will probably be a difference between non-profit projects relying on classic consulting and those supported with the wecena model: the wecena model favours innovative projects which would probably not be in the reach of non-profit budgets and would require classic consulting otherwise. Furthermore, even if they were to be some competition, it would not be unfair : the French law allows some non-profits acting for the public good to benefit from an access to low cost resources based on tax savings offered to donors. It would rather be unfair to forbid such donations on the basis that non-profits should have bought these resources at market price or should have lived without these.
  • A former executive manager of a major IT firm in France, now head of a non-profit: « My non-profit would not accept Wecena services because they are based on the short and variable ‘on the bench’ periods of consultants rather than on full-time consultants donated by IT firms for several months each year.«  As a head of a non-profit which is organized as a governmental agency, he manages staff « the usual way » (permanent and paid staff) and refuses to rely on volunteering. Therefore, a model which induces high staff turnover rate among the pro bono consultants only has drawbacks for him (lower productivity, higher management and training costs) and no advantages (recruiting a high number of volunteers which keep on contributing on their free time). Furthermore, as a former head of a major IT firm, he can give a call to any other president or CEO in his former industry and can get free and easy access to dedicated consultants from such firms. Smaller firms can’t afford dedicating permanent staff to pro bono work. And they aren’t many IT firms with pockets deep enough and on-the-bench periods long enough to fund such long-duration pro bono dedicated offerings. Ideally I agree with him on the fact that dedicated pro bono staff delivers superior quality for classic IT projects. But I bet that wecena services deliver superior quantity of pro bono donations and even superior quality for some non-profit IT projects with a focus on building strong communities of volunteer contributors (think free software here).
  • The financial manager of an international NGO with a focus on eradicating extreme poverty :  » We do have needs for wecena services and would be more than happy to work with you. But we feel like your for-profit business margin is too high for us to accept your support. «  He was referring to the fact that, as a for-profit organization, we aim at making money on the services we would deliver to his organization even though it would be at no cost for him because we also take in charge the effort of obtaining such 100% of this budget from the IT firms donating pro bono work. I clearly see his objection as an objection with some ethical reasoning behind it : even though it is at no cost for them (we provide both the budget and the invoice), do we « deserve » that amount of money? Could they engage in what they may perceive as a « waste of money » ? Or an undue profit from a greedy corporation ? This sort of questions may resonate strongly in an organization dedicated at eradicating extreme poverty. The question for me was then :  » How can you make profit when working for a client which aims at eradicating poverty?  » My current answer to him/them was that I encouraged them to negociate the quality or quantity of services we offer them for a given price. If they feel like our price is too high (whatever their reasoning is), I starting engaging them in a negotiation. They accepted it and we have to meet again some time soon so that I can better understand what the deep ground of their objection is and how I can better answer it.
  • The head of an innovative Internet-based non-profit:  » We can’t ask for one of your grant immediately because your business model is based on an innovative exploitation of tax regulations which might expose us to tax risks. We’d prefer other non-profits to start first! «  This objection has some common sense in it I guess : are pro-bono-on-the-bench-consultants tax-risk-proof? My answer is a definite yes because it is the answer given to me by several experts in the field of the French tax law : my accountant who is also head of a firm offering legal tax advices, a close relative who is a university professor in tax law, the financial managers of the several IT firms I am recruiting as donors, and, last but not least, the lawyer in charge of legal training of donors and non-profits at Admical, the French organization for the promotion of industrial and commercial philanthropy which is also at the root of the French tax law on corporate donations. As a marketing argument, I may have to buy a formal white paper from a tax law firm some day…

That’s it. Do you have other objections ? What do you think of my responses to the objections above ?

How others have tried to solve the issue wecena services are to solve?

[This post is the 5th part of my preparatory work before applying to the Echoing Green (EG) fellowship program. You can help me earn 60.000 US dollars for the take-off of wecena by commenting this post with suggestions about how to best make my case to Echoing Green (EG). You can follow the latest posts for that work using the echoinggreen tag on my blog.]

Echoing Green suggests the following steps before applying to their fellowship program :

Find at least three other organizations that work in your field, work with the community you will serve or work in the same way that you hope to. You can find these organizations by talking to experts, reading articles, and searching the Internet. […]

Wecena services are pro bono information technology services offered to non-profits by IT services firms with additional consulting and support from us. Wecena services aim at filling the digital divide between innovative non-profits and modern corporations, with a focus on big IT projects (more than 1 man.year of staffing needs) and on non-profits with some presence in France. Who’s trying to address similar issues and how do we differ from each other ?

  • NTEN: an international nonprofit organization based in the United States, NTEN is the trade association for nonprofit technology assistance providers. We share similar values and goals. But NTEN does not provide non-profits with access to pro bono IT services. And it has no strong presence in France.
  • CompuMentor provides technology assistance internationally to other non-profit organizations. Its TechSoup website provides non-profits with access to donated IT products (software and hardware) but not to pro bono service.
  • Some IT corporations directly offer non-profits pro bono IT services. For instance, Accenture France donates about 10 full-time equivalents of IT engineering or consulting work to non-profits organizations. The TechSoup website lists at least 2 smaller US firms offering some pro bono services. Several others private pro bono IT initiatives probably exist elsewhere but may not be publicly advertised. Wecena services and Accenture France pro bono missions are similar in nature (IT engineering, integration, training or consulting). They differ in some of their characteristics. Accenture France dedicates consultants for individual missions that may last up to 6 months. Individual interventions for wecena services offered by other IT firms may be much less shorter because they are based on the « on-the-bench » periods of time consultants go through when they are not yet assigned to a new commercial project. As a result of this constraint, wecena services introduce a huge rate of staff turnover in the pro bono team. This cause of lower individual productivity is partially compensated by the use of specific management methods and tools, by the additional support and consulting we directly offer to non-profits and by the rate at which individual consultants are turned into volunteers when their pro bono intervention ends. Note also that all IT firms can’t afford offering pro bono work the Accenture way: smaller firms can’t afford dedicating 6 months of a consultant to a non-profit ; and firms offering engineering services rather than consulting services have much shorter « on the bench » periods of times (the cost of pro bono work for them in therefore higher). Wecena services are costless to IT firms because they are funded by « on the bench » costs and tax savings. Long-duration pro bono missions cost much more to donors. Wecena services allow IT firms to give a try at pro bono services and invite them to go further into corporate philanthropy at their own pace. It lowers the barrier to entry for would-be philanthropist firms.
  • Other IT firms in France (for instance Steria and its corporate foundation) offer grants to innovative non-profits with strong IT needs. However they don’t offer pro bono consulting but rather encourage employees to volunteer on their free time (optionnally with a yearly couple of work days donated by the firm as a complement).
  • The Taproot foundation is an American foundation. It aims at engaging the America’s business professionals in pro bono service. It offers 4 practices : marketing, HR, strategy and… an Information Technology practice. This IT practice offers 3 possible pro bono projects : a donor database, a simple website or an advanced website. Each of these projects have an estimated value between 30.000 $ and 35.000 $ which may include some software licensing cost. It does not offer pro bono grants out of a limited number of US cities. Wecena services have a primary focus on French non-profits. Wecena services are limited to IT projects (no other practice). The lowest value wecena services can offer per non-profit is twice bigger (50 000 EUR) and even aim at delivering a value of 100 kEUR to 150 kEUR per non-profit in IT staffing (software licenses not included). The Taproot foundation model of pro bono services probably does not have a specific focus on the « on the bench » periods of time for IT consultants whereas the wecena model does have such a focus which allows lower cost for IT donors and therefore, potentially, a higher volume of donation and a high number of donors.
  • Betobe, Coobalt, Passerelles & Compétences are French organizations which offer matching systems between volunteers and non-profit organisations to foster collaborations online or offline, with or without a focus on IT needs. None of them target IT firms and pro bono service.
  • Mobee and Koeo are French web platforms matching non-profit needs with pro bono donors. None of them have a particular focus on IT needs. None of them specifically focuses on marketing IT pro bono service as an ideal pro bono solution for IT firms. They don’t offer additional IT consulting services to non-profits. Similarly to the previous category of organizations (Passerelles & Compétences-like), they usually grant support for short missions (a couple of weeks long) rather than focusing on « big » projects whereas wecena services are designed for IT projects with a big staffing need (at least one man.year). Other similar platforms are emerging with a focus on complementary or redundant niche non-profit markets (environment, culture, poverty, education, …) rather than a focus on industry-specific (or skills specific) pro bono solutions.

Note to commenters: for this post, don’t spend too much time on my English spelling/grammar/style because this post may not be included in my EG application. I’d rather like to know what you think of the clarity of how wecena services relate or differ from each of these other actors and models.

What’s the logic of our wecena idea?

[This post is the 4th part of my preparatory work before applying to the Echoing Green (EG) fellowship program. You can help me earn 60.000 US dollars for the take-off of wecena by commenting this post with suggestions about how to best make my case to Echoing Green (EG).]

EG suggests I analyse and explain how our work will move from the problem to the stated goal. Here are 3 questions they ask and my attempt at answering them. Please enhance and/or challenge my answers by posting comments.

Their 1st question, about the root cause :

Does your intervention match up well with the specific problem or is it addressing some other issue ?

My answer :

We are responding to the non-profits inability to market IT pro bono services donations as a significant source of value for the IT services industry. We do this by selling French IT services firm a skills donation solution that allows them to rise their corporate social responsibility profile at no cost. This is made possible thanks to unique and under-exploited opportunities offered by the French law and thanks to an efficient online donation management tool. We compensate the non-profits lack of IT project management skills by offering them our training and consulting assistance.

Their 2nd question, about our intervention :

Is your intervention detailed enough to explain the exact way clients will benefit from your programs ?

My answer :

The wecena opportunity is advertised via a website and blog conversations. French top social innovators with strong potential IT needs are identified and contacted. Their projects are selected on the basis of their leadership capacity to manage donated skills with our assistance. A direct B2B sales effort then let’s us recruit medium-sized donor firms from the French IT services industry on their behalf : we « sell » these donors the rising importance of corporate social responsibility for their banking and industrial customers and for recruiting and retaining the best talents ; and we emphasize the fact that they can compensate 100% of the cost induced by these donations both with the fact that their « on-the-bench » consultants keep receiving their salary anyway (because of the French labor law) and with the significant tax savings offered to corporate donors by the French tax law. Non-profit recipients accept that consultants leave their project team as soon as they are assigned to a new commercial mission by their employer. This induces a high rate of project staff turnover. Combining online knowledge management tools, « open source development » and « agile development » methodologies, our training and consulting services allows the project leadership team to cope with this turnover rate. Our online donation management tool allows skills needs to be published and updated by non-profit leaders. Consultants from the donor firms volunteer for the projects that best match their motivation and experience. Our tool also automates the emission of monthly tax receipts which let donors compensate their effort with tax savings. We thus limit the administrative overhead for both the non-profit and the philanthropist.

3rd EG question :

Will your intervention logically produce the specific outcomes you desire ?

The French labor law and tax law enable sustainable and win-win relationships between innovative non-profit organizations and IT services firms. Our assistance allows non-profit teams to cope with the high rate of project consultants turnover induced by the wecena donation mechanism. As a consequence, a constant flow of skilled and motivated consultants feed the non-profit project team on their work time. As a follow-up to their individual donated intervention, a portion of them keeps on intervening as volunteers on their free time. Professional IT support communities can be built. Innovative and ambitious IT projects can be led at low cost. This allows non-profits of all fields to extend the reach of their social programs, accelerate them and produce impactful social change with modern tools.

Note : I am not sure I am satisfied by this piece of my preparatory work. I feel like this is not fluid enough and I may loose the reader by providing too much (or too blurry?) detail. I don’t know… What do you think ?

What will the wecena community look like when we’ve solved the problem?

[This post is the 3rd part of my draft application process to the Echoing Green (EG) fellowship program. You can help me earn 60.000 US dollars for the take-off of wecena by commenting this post with suggestions about how to best make my case to Echoing Green.]

Once the problem of giving innovative non-profit access to professional IT skills and services at no cost is solved, what will the wecena community look like ? This is the question EG suggests I answer before submitting my application to their fellowship program (see page 8 of their applicant coaching guide). Coach me by commenting my answering attempts below.

EG suggests I start by answering this 1st sub-question :

If your work succeeds, what will the headline in the newspaper say ?

Let’s try such a headline for 01 Informatique or ZDNet :

 » Pro bono IT services a critical enabler for major social innovations from education to environment via poverty reduction.  »

Or this one for the French non-profit press (Reporters d’Espoirs anyone ?) :

 » An army of computing experts and corporations join the fight for free access to education in villages of the South. French non-profits at the front.  »


 » Information technology for social good no more a dream. Low budgets no more an excuse from non-profit boards.  »

For the global press, possibly headlines such as :

 » Who’s the best in IT? Exxon Mobil or Greenpeace? Wecena the secret IT weapon for environmental innovations.  »

 » U.S. Congress to pass a France-inspired law in favour of pro bono service donations.  »

And ultimately (just for kidding ?) :

 » Price of IT pro bono services on the rise at Wall Street. IT shops on the race for CSR awards.  »

2nd sub-question from EG:

If your work succeeds initially and then your organization ceases operations what will the impact on society be ?

My answer :

Wecena’s business model is designed for generating enough profits so that competitors gain an incentive at emerging and replicating our model. Our earlier successes, financial transparency and benefits sharing will prove there is a profitable market for IT pro bono services delivery channels. Several organizations are already well positioned to contribute to such a market: sustainable development consultancies, consulting agencies dedicated to non-profits, philanthropy consultancies, non-profit technology assistance programs. In the end, this will give the most innovative non-profits access to a reliable and cost-efficient source of corporate IT pro bono services.

3rd sub-question for setting goals :

How will you measure the volume of your work? And what goals do you have for each in the short and long-terms?

OK. I’m a bit bad on this one. I can think of indicators of success. But I yet have to specify expected levels of success for these indicators. Too high and I am too optimistic as it would probably exceed our capacity to fund and manage growth. Too low and it would not show the passion there is for this project. Here are the reasonable indicators I am thinking of :

  • number of full-time equivalents (FTE) donated annually by IT corporations to wecena customers (non-profits) as of pro bono service deliveries : 4 FTE in the end of 2009, 10 FTE in the end of 2010, total available market of several hundreds of FTE in France only (woo hoo !)

Next sub-question, probably harder :

How will you measure if your work is making a difference? And what goals do you have for each measure?

My best guess at the moment :

  • median duration of relationships with non-profits (customer retention) : the more they keep accepting donations, the more useful they probably think these donations are : goal = after 2 years of operation (starting from our first operation), expected median duration of at least 6 months for non-profits having accepted first donation more than 1 year ago.
  • volunteer recruitment rate : percentage of IT engineers led to volunteering for « their » non-profit after a pro bono realization with us (rate of volunteering after the end of a wecena mission) => let’s say I’d be very happy if 10% of the wecena engineers kept on contributing at least once two weeks after the end of their individual intervention
  • increased understanding and knowledge of social challenges and innovations by IT employees and managers : => 50% more correct answers to online quizzes proposed by non-profit recipients at the start and at the end of any individual interventions
  • increased understanding and knowledge of IT uses and managements by non-profit members : => 50% more correct answers to online yearly quizzes proposed by us + IT donors.
  • profits (supposed to come with sucess in order to prove there is a market) : at least 5% after 2 years from the start of the 1st operation ?

There would be other indicators to monitor but I am not sure how to collect such data and how to process it so that we isolate our specific contribution :

  • evolution of the percentage of IT service companies donating pro bono services (market donors rate)
  • % of IT pro bono services in non-profit budgets (the more, the merrier)
  • evolution in the perception of technology by non-profit social innovators : we can survey this but I am not sure how to best setup such a survey so that it is reliable, comparable and relevant year after year
  • Cost, outreach and impact depth of social programs powered by our IT pro bono services compared to similar programs not relying on our services => this would be the real evidence of success but I don’t think we can acquire and process such data ; ideally, technology wecena gives access to would make multiply the impact and/or reach of a social innovation by a factor of 10 : ten times more people accessing open education programs, ten times more people with disabilities turning to computers as a daily tool, ten times less effort for homeless people to find a job, etc.
  • Qualitatively, I would like to hear from non-profit boards that recognized social innovators set themselves new social goals because of the technologies wecena can give them access to.

Hey, what to do you think ?

What is the underlying cause of the problem wecena is trying to solve ?

[This post is part of my draft application process to the Echoing Green (EG) fellowship program. You can help me earn 60.000 US dollars for the take-off of wecena.]

EG 2nd pre-application question: Root Cause Analysis: What is the underlying cause of the problem you’re trying to solve ? see page 7 of the applicant coaching guide.

1st sub question :

What are the obvious symptoms / apparent effects of the problem ?

My answer :

There are 2 apparent symptoms or effects of our problem:

  1. there is a lack of technology-based social innovations compared to both existing social challenges and to existing non-social innovations
  2. most non-profit organizations under-exploit the capacity technology can bring them when trying to transform society, organizations and markets

2nd sub-question from EG :

Why is it so ?

My answer :

The cost of IT professionals is much too high for non-profit budgets. IT man-days are too expensive on free markets.

3rd sub-question from EG, trying to get deeper to the root cause of our problem

OK. But why ?

My answer :

IT service companies sell expensive services and donate very limited amounts of pro bono services. They usually ask for payment, even when pro bono services would bring them more indirect value at no cost. These donations could indeed be of no cost for donors in France because of an extremely favorable legal framework.

4th EG sub-question on this, getting even deeper to the root cause :

Why is it so ?

My answer :

Non-profit organizations do not offer IT service companies opportunities to donate pro bono services at low (or no) cost and with the promise of a high social impact that will also bring real value back to the donor in the form of reputation, talent retention and better recruitments of fresh engineers.

5th step suggesteed by EG :

Based on this, what’s the root cause of your problem ?

My answer :

Non-profit organizations don’t have appropriate skills and knowledge for creating, marketing and managing an offering to IT service companies that would present pro bono service donations as a compelling solution for addressing the need these companies have to prove their « corporate social responsability » at low cost. Moreover, most non-profit organizations lack the IT management skills that would allow them to collect, deliver and exploit such pro bono donations at a sustainable cost.

We’ve got our root cause (I think). But EG wants to asks a last :

Why ?

My answer :

Legal frameworks encouraging and facilitating IT pro bono services are nowhere as favorable to donors as in France. But some of these laws were passed recently (2003, updated in 2008) and are still under-used and unknown by many potential donors and recipients. Moreover donor-to-recipient intermediation costs for the delivery of pro bono services are high. And such deliveries are complex to adapt to the business constraints of both corporate donors and non-profit recipients : IT service companies want their engineers and consultant to commit to profit-making long-term missions and can’t afford to miss commercial opportunities because of commitments toward non-profit projects. Competition is fierce and consultant profiles are too often seen as « replaceable » with one another. And because of low budgets, non-profits rarely attain a critical mass of IT needs that would let them justify launching such innovative partnerships.

So what ? EG suggests we end with deriving …

What are the implications for your work ?

My answer :

Wecena proposes an integrated IT pro bono services donation channel that exploits the French labor and tax laws at their best and for the highest benefit of public good. By only focusing on the non-profit needs for IT services and skills, we accumulate experience and efficiency both in how to market our donation proposal to the IT industry and in how to let non-profits exploit such donations at their best, despite their lack of IT management skills. This focus is also critical to maintaining relatively low intermediation costs.

More precisely, IT donors aren’t asked to commit individual consultants to a given project but to commit to a certain amount of service donation to non-profits. This can generate extremely high staff turnover (individual consultants leave projects as soon as they are assigned to a new commercial mission). But this allows projects to benefit from a continuous flow of skilled professionals to be then turned into online volunteers. As a consequence of this, projects have to be carefully selected on the basis of how resilient they can be to extreme staff turnover. And corresponding project management tools and methods must be offered to non-profit leaders.

Help me earn 60.000 USD for wecena

Wecena services are my new social venture. The US-based Echoing Green non-profit organization helps social entrepreneurs with a 2 years fellowship program and seed grants including 60 000 USD for the take-off of high-social impact projects. You can think of them as a social venture fund. I’d like to apply to this project competition so that the wecena concept succeeds at bringing corporate-grade information technology to the hands of the most innovative non-profits in France and all around the world. The deadline for this year applications is December 1st, 2008.

Readers, I need your help.

You can help by reviewing the next posts on my blog (I will use the « echoinggreen » tag, you can use this links for follow-up posts). I will post pieces of my draft application to the Echoing Green fellowship program. You can help if you are an English speaker (possibly native…) : I need you to correct my English language and style. You can help if you feel concerned with the importance of information technology and the Internet for serving the public with high-impact and broad-reach social innovations : I need you to help me making the case to Echoing Green. You can help if you like my project and would like to contribute one way or another : just tell me you support this whole stuff and share any comment or thought. If you have a couple of hours available for helping, you can even start by reading Echoing Green’s applicant coaching guide.

You can contribute in English (preferred) or in French (ça ira tout aussi bien). In case you are reading this from the website, note that your comments have to be posted on my personal blog (link below).

Let’s start with the 1st pre-application question

Let’s start with Echoing Green (EG) ‘s pre-application tools. EG suggests applicants (me) should use their questions to prepare their application. Let’s try with the 1st question (page 6 of the coaching guide) and throw an answer…

Problem Definition, What specific problems are you focused on and can you realistically solve it?

Their 1st sub-question :

What specific injustice in the world have you seen that compels you to start a new social change organization ?

My answer:

Non-profit social innovators lack access to corporate-grade Information Technology (IT) skills and services. This is a form of digital divide between non-profit and for-profit innovators. Why would information technology be primarily made to buy more stuff or spread more advertisement ? Why isn’t it more importantly made and used for fighting poverty, overcoming disabilities, sharing education or enhancing public health ?

2nd sub-question from EG :

Who, specifically, is hurt or affected by this injustice and how does the injustice manifest itself ?

My answer:

Beneficiaries of all fields of social innovations suffer from the lack of technology-powered social innovations and from the under-exploitation of technology by non-profits. Had non-profit innovators been given resources to better use technology, the reach of their programs would have been extended, their ability to transform organizations, markets and society would have been increased. More beneficiaries would have been helped better and earlier. Unseen social innovations would have been launched and developped.

EG 3rd question for defining the problem:

Is it realistic that a single organization could address this injustice ? if not, define the problem more narrowly ?

No. We only focus on the access by French non-profits to significant amounts of IT skills and services. Accessing software or hardware is out of our scope. We also only focus on IT needs that represent at least one full-time equivalent of services and skills. Smaller needs and projects won’t be supported (at least not immediately). Direct help to foreign non-profits is not in our immediate scope but we are considering partnerships with foreign non-profits in the need of free IT skills and services when it can increase the social efficiency of our effort by supporting higher impact global social innovations.

That’s it. What do you think ?