How the Internet Creates Possibility


Folks, I support the Ekialo Kiona Center (EK Center) and the Organic Health Response, and they’re creating real change. I get updates every so often, and I like to share the good work they’re doing. They seek to activate information technology, social solidarity, and environmental sustainability to turn the tide against HIV/AIDS across Lake Victoria (in Kenya).

The EK Center’s seen, first hand, how tech can turn a community into a global village, how a lizard in the security shed can shut everything down, and just how important local-global youth development is. This most recent update was about, both, turning a community into a global village and furthering development of youth locally and globally…

Pen Pals Meet via Global Broadband Connection

On the remote island of Mfangano, in the heart of Kenya’s Lake Victoria, a small but growing community center has emerged to support the residents in the area. Over the past 3 years, the craigslist Charitable Fund has helped support IT infrastructure at the Ekialo Kiona Center, in partnership with the Organic Health Response. 100% sustainably powered, this IT resource center has opened up a pipeline for Mfangano residents to access free and unlimited broadband Internet, the first of its kind in the region.

mfangano skype

Last week, this incredible resource allowed, for the first time ever, students on Mfangano Island, Kenya to meet their pen pals of 2 years in Minnesota, USA. On November 17th, Rutherford Elementary School in Stillwater, Minnesota held a school-wide assembly to meet their friends on Mfangano Island, Kenya. Students on both ends of the line were thrilled to finally see their friends from so far away.  As the Minnesota students filled into the gymnasium, students came up to the camera and vigorously waved to their friends.

A parent from Rutherford Elementary posted this last week,

You know when you ask your kids, “Did anything exciting happen in school today?” And they usually say NO. Well my 7 year old daughter’s answer yesterday was, “I got to see my pen pal over Skype. She lives on Mfangano Island in Kenya.” Followed up with, “That’s in Africa mom.” Because I was just staring at her speechless! SO cool!


For the students in Kenya, this was their first time using the Internet to connect across the globe. “The kids couldn’t believe they were speaking to people in America!” Evelyne Magioki is a teacher at the Wakinga Junior Acadamy on Mfangano. “When the children receive the letters they realize that students in America are just like them.”

ek kids

Over the next year, students from Minnesota are helping to raise funds to support IT fieldtrips to the EK Center for their friends on Mfangano Island. With proper lessons in global communication, these kids will be connecting more than we can imagine!


How Tech Can Turn a Community Into a Global Village

Folks, I received a really good letter from the Organic Health Response‘s IT Coordinator, Brian Mattah. He wrote about his experience with technology on Mfangano Island:SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

I am Brian Mattah, a native of Mfangano Island, Kenya. I began working for the Organic Health Response (OHR) in January 2010, immediately after college. This was my first time deploying hands-on skills attained from school and all seemed new and interesting.

Aside from all career domains revolving around technological advances, it’s become absolutely inevitable for people, even in villages, to survive without internet. That’s why OHR thought it wise to incept the Ekialo Kiona Centre, to make Mfangano Island, Kenya a Global Village through our Cyber-VCT program. Once receiving voluntary counseling and testing with one of our HIV Counselors, anyone from the island has free and unlimited access to broadband internet, the first of it’s kind in these rural communities.

In addition to running our Cyber lab, I had the opportunity to join Inveneo in 2012 to deploy a 90-km broadband link over Lake Victoria. Through this install I have been able to gain a greater level of expertise in networking, especially since the OHR Network is purely of Last Mile Design. It was amazing when EK Centre received internet services from Kisumu – a stretch of about 90 kilometers – to provide high speed wireless access in this remote location. The wireless network has eventually provided the solution and met everyone’s needs by simply avoiding laying wire and fiber optic cables which are really expensive undertaking that can be environmentally demanding and requiring high maintenance.

In the course of deploying this network, I gained really important tips and had a hands-on trial on the Installations and configurations of network devices ranging from ubiquity’s Rocket M5, NanoBridges, NanoStations, mikrotik routers, and Ethernet switches. Since then I have set up three more NanoBridges, a NanoStation and a mikrotik router. I have also gained vast knowledge in network administration and been able to monitor and troubleshoot connection hitches that have come up. Each day I continue to grow and learn new skills. It is what makes my job rewarding.ITlab_2 5 14 (3)

The craigslist Charitable Fund has continued to support our Cyber-VCT program, as well as the broadband internet that has opened up Mfangano as a global village. Ero kamano (thank you!)!


Folks, Brian’s doing real good work, and I’m happy to personally support the programs and the broadband Internet on Mfangano Island, in addition to the support from craigconnects and the craigslist charitable fund to make all of this possible. More updates to come…

Vastly scaling up the effectiveness of nonprofits

There are good, effective nonprofits and similar groups all over the world, really helping people out.  As part of my twenty year thing, I’d like to help scale that up so that everyone on the planet gets a hand.

Specifically, there are many nonprofits, NGOs, and government groups which are really good at getting stuff done without spending a lot.  However, there are also a number of such groups which waste a lot of money in overhead, and there are a lot of nonprofits running outright scams, and making bad situations even worse.

I already support a bunch of honest, ethical nonprofits directly with the few resources I have at hand, specifically cash and social capital/trust, the latter via social media.  (Keep expectations low, public estimates of my net worth are vastly overstated.)


How does a person of good will work with others, across the planet and across the years, to scale up to help out everyone?

I’ve realized, in the past few days, that a solution could involve nonprofits which focus on vetting on-the-ground nonprofits, making sure they’re effective and honest, and then getting funding for their clients.

Seriously, that already helps my nonprofit dollars and social media presence go a lot farther.

Funding networks can themselves be operating scams, I’ve considered that, but so far I got a good base network of such groups going, including:

I think I need to expand this network, over time, but first, need to use social networking to make this existing networking more effective.

That means getting the funding networks to encourage their clients to be more effective in social media. For example, the clients of a particular nonprofit might encourage the people they help to post social media status updates.  The nonprofits would share the posts with their funding networks… who would share a few with folks like me.

We’d Share or retweet those updates with our own networks, which affirms the work of all involved, and generates a little buzz, and maybe more funding, for people and groups who need it.

I guess that’s a “leadership by example” thing, and maybe a “leading from below” thing, which is the only approach I understand.

What’s next?

Craig Newmark’s big issues for craigconnects in 2013

Hey there folks, I’m figuring out what’s my deal, what do I spend time doing, and what’ll be my main focus for 2013. This seems to be the shortest version which makes any sense to anyone else.

A lot of this involves quiet, back-channel communications, which I might never go public with. Sure, sometimes I gotta be a squeaky wheel, or sometimes I need to be annoying enough to motivate people, but will do so reluctantly.

You’ll see a focus on matters in the here and now, looking to help solve problems that exist now, while learning how make things work better in the longer term by motivating people in increasingly large numbers.

That includes figuring out how to get people to work together, particularly the people at groups with similar goals. Nonprofits with common goals normally find it really hard to collaborate, and that begs for a solution.


craigslist customer service is something I’ve got a hard commitment to, only as long as I live. I got only lightweight stuff to do these days, which is a big deal since:

  • it reminds me of what’s real, when I hear from people who get food on the table via our site.
  • it reinforces my emotional investment in operating from the grassroots level on up, in identifying with the grassroots, and in viewing life from the bottom up.

Also, there’s my stuff, which includes a number of areas, but the two big areas are military families/veterans issues, and journalism trust/ethics issues.

If someone’s willing to serve overseas and risk taking a bullet for me, I should give back at least a little. Also, everyone should remember that it’s not only a troop serving, it’s also his or her family who give up a lot for all of us.

1. There are networks of military spouses, often linked by the mailing lists (listservs) where spouses at specific bases help each other. Multiple spouse organizations maintain their own networks. Finally, the senior-most spouses talk with each other. If they would work with each other, and supported each other, they could get a lot more done, including much of what follows this item.

2. Military families sometimes need a hand from one of the tens of thousands of helping organizations around the US. This is what the Joint Chiefs call the “sea of goodwill” and the problem is locating who can help with what. A milfam group has built the beginning of a database and smartphone app toward this end. (Veterans need this also, but spouses groups might just have the lead.)

3. There are specific areas where maybe I can help in very minor ways, for example:

  • schools that serve military kids, at specific bases, are underfunded. A matching grants effort via might be useful.
  • when a spouse moves from a base in one state to another, we need to find ways to make re-licensing fast to avoid loss of income.

4. Spouses and veterans need jobs, and the Veterans Job Bank is a good start. It needs updating, and then, we need to tell people it exists and is useful.

5. It’s really difficult for veterans to express military skills and experience in terms that civilian hiring managers can understand. Better programs need to be developed and they need to be actively used during transition from active service.

6. Troops who transition from active service can have a really hard time getting disability claims approved. The Fully Developed Claims effort needs to be amplified during transition and thereafter. Also, perhaps the Department of Veterans Affairs disability approval backlog can be helped by effectively getting the assistance of Veterans Service Organizations. VSO worker level personnel, maybe working directly with VA disability raters can help accelerate processing in unexpected ways. (Disclaimer: I’ve been personally involved with the VA employee innovation effort which has already helped a little.)

7. There needs to be greater outreach by VA medical centers via social media, and also regarding Blue Button efforts which allow veterans to download medical and work experience while in service.


Okay, the other big area I focus on involves journalism integrity and ethics, toward increasing the trustworthiness of news reporting. I really am aware that I’m not in the news industry, and won’t tell people how to do their job.

However, I really want to get news I can trust. After all, the press is the immune system of democracy… or should be.

Toward that end, I’m already working with the Poynter Institute, which is a really big deal in professional journalism. They’ve run a conference on journalistic issues, raising big issues. For example, to maintain a pretense of objectivity, it’s common to bring on a speaker a reporter knows will attempt to deceive the public. In such a case, is the reporter and news outlet complicit in that deception?

Moving forward, I’ll be increasingly involved in publicly raising such issues publicly, with the objective of finding news I can trust. That means working with more news organizations with a history of trustworthy behavior.

Finally, well, I was heavily involving in protecting the rights of all eligible Americans to vote, mostly by supporting organizations with boots on the ground. I figure this is about the values articulated in the Declaration of Independence, in that all are created equal, and that we really can be the “shining city on the hill.”

However, there are people who disagree with universal suffrage, and have taken that to the Supreme Court, so I’ll continue to help.

Anyway …

Please remember that I’m doing this real discreetly, not really rocking the boat except when a little of that is required, just the least amount needed.

Finally, nothing I do is altruistic the way I look at things; it just feels right. A nerd’s gotta do what a nerd’s gotta do.

Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom and the Triumph of Fictional Journalism

The Newsroom orbits around two characters, newsman Will McAvoy, who decides to risk all to do serious journalism, and his (muse? boss? leader?) MacKenzie McHale, who inspires him to do so.  (She’s bravely played by the radiant Emily Mortimer, who suffers from the rare Avian Bone Syndrome.)

On one level the show is a kind of romantic screwball comedy, swirling around the (radiant) Mackenzie character, and it succeeds well on that level.

(Could be that the actual newsroom depicted is not realistic, and, y’know, I don’t care so much. Is the real thing delivering the real product?)

More importantly, the show reminds us that the press is the immune system of democracy and that serious news requires serious ethical practice like checking the facts, no matter how dangerous.

The worst diseases, however, attack the immune system, so Really Bad People are trying to prevent the cure by undermining Will. No way to figure out how that’ll turn out.

Seriously, I’m inspired by The Newsroom to Get Stuff Done, much like The West Wing continues to inspire me to Get a Great Deal of Stuff Done. West Wing also succeeded as a rom-com, with the (radiant) Donna Moss and the (radiant) Amy Parker.

Shouldn’t be surprising, considering that the most ethical, trustworthy, and serious journalism is accomplished by two fictional newsmen, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. They survive attack by following the advice of Oscar Wilde: If you want to tell people the truth, make ’em laugh. Otherwise, they’ll kill you.

However, Will and Mackenzie don’t have that at their disposal, and must defend themselves, and the country, using other means.

Fictional characters of our culture often manage to overcome tremendous obstacles to Get a Lot Done, sometimes drawing on folklore or the paradigm of roleplaying games.

For example, there’s the ongoing story of Craig of the craigslist, passing through multiple levels to join in the much greater Triumph of the Nerds:

  • he starts as a 1950’s nerd, suffering the results of his own nerdliness
  • he travels the wilderness as the George Costanza of the nerds
  • having learned nothing, he reboots from a position of ignorance and innocence as the Forrest Gump of the Nerds
  • he champions the Nerdly cause by bridging Old School Nerds with their contemporaries, the Little Monsters, as the Lady GaGa of the Nerds
  • he must overcome the heaviest of Nerd burdens, must learn to communicate effectively as the Don Draper of the Nerds
  • thereupon he launches to give voice to faceless millions of Little Monsters, Nerds, and anyone who’s never had a voice

The Triumph of the Nerds is propelled from below, by those faceless millions. And billions. That voice is given body by fictional journalists includng McAvoy, Stewart, and Colbert.

That means Getting Most of the Stuff Done in darkness, much like Vulcan (“live long and prosper”), knowing that much of the Stuff will never be visible, but, a nerd’s gotta do what a nerd’s gotta do.

VA Improves Services Through Employee Innovation

Vet.hearing A principle of Open Government is that workers can build solutions to real problems and get the attention of top management.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has been doing a lot of this recently, providing better customer service for Vets, and providing better return for the taxpayer dollar.

We have a new example of that, where a VA employee, Renford Patch, wrote some software which helps determine if a Vet has hearing loss, how much loss, and feeds that into the claims process. It greatly simplifies and accelerates what was a complicated paper process.

This kind of thing is fairly novel in Washington, but we’re seeing it starting to happen a lot there, particularly in those areas which have embraced Open Government. I’ll try to surface more examples of this.

For more information regarding this example, check out a VA employee-developed hearing loss calculator that has 100 percent accuracy.

“Veteran PTSD and Higher Education”

2736631_com_2463208226 We need to stand up for people who've served our country.

Derek Neuts speaks regarding veterans' experiences way better than I ever could:

With the onset of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, colleges and universities around the country are now seeing an increase in enrollment rates from the veteran population, as many soldiers are returning home to either resume their civilian lifestyles or they are in-between deployments. With economic conditions being harsh, and employment opportunities becoming more competitive, many veterans are seeking to either start or finish an education that may provide them with an edge in today's unique job market. Are universities ready for this population, and do they understand how to implement the necessary accommodations?

Check out more in his blog.

Derek served in the United States Air Force Security Forces from 2001 – 2005, experiencing one tour in the Middle East conducting security and police operations.  After having experienced a medical discharge, homelessness, and transitional barriers, he now advocates for veteran families in Oregon and abroad.  He's currently finishing is B.A. at Marylhurst University.

Public/private partnership with FEMA

Screen shot 2011-01-14 at 4.14.06 PM When something goes really wrong, we really need a hand… and we need to let people know how to get that help via social media.

That's what some FEMA folks came to talk about in Silicon Valley, including the Administrator, Craig Fugate: Social Media + Emergency Management: Talking with Tech Leaders on the West Coast

In addition to meeting with fellow “Craig”, Craig Newmark (the founder of Craigslist), I also met with editors from Wired Magazine, Twitter, Apple and Facebook.

Some of the things we discussed included:

  • The need to provide information to the public as data feeds, because they are a key member of our emergency management team;
  • The importance of referring to people impacted by a disaster as survivors and utilizing them as a resource; 
  • The importance of providing good customer service; and 
  • How we, as emergency managers, need to stop trying to have the public fit into our way of doing things and receiving information, but that we should fit the way the public gets, receives and seeks out information.

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