NGO Pulse: A Tool for Civil Society

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Wednesday, 25 March, 2009 - 12:45

The NGO Pulse portal is a tool to help communicate and share information about what is happening in the civil society sector in South Africa.

A key finding of the 2007 ‘State of ICTs in the South African NGO Sector’ study was that the information and communication technology (ICT) investment of NGOs has been geared primarily towards the administrative running of organisations, rather than to achieving their goals and objectives. As a result, the great potential of ICTs to strengthen and support programmes remained largely untapped by the majority of NGOs. However, with the increased uptake of web 2.0 and greater interest in ICT tools, the past two years has seen many more South African NGOs making innovative use of ICTs in their work.

It was with this awareness that we embarked on the SANGONeT NGO engagements in Durban and Cape Town from 9-13 March. Our aim was to introduce the new NGO Pulse portal to civil society organisations and also to share some practical uses of ICTs for development. The responses encouraging: 40 participants in Durban and almost 50 in Cape Town. Working in Johannesburg often means that we rarely are able to meet organisations outside the province; a criticism that was expressed by participants at both events: “NGOs are active all over the country; it is not only organisations in Johannesburg who are interested in your work!”

For SANGONeT staff, meeting people with whom we had only email correspondence was rewarding: Writing in his blog, SANGONeT’s information coordinator Butjwana Seokoma said: “For me the highlight was when I met the likes of Pauline Solomons from the Community Development Resource Association, Tasneem Gamieldien from the South African National NGO Coalition in that province, Ernesto Vialva from the Southern African Media and Gender Institute, etc. I have been communicating with these individuals since joining SANGONeT.” Seokoma joined SANGONeT in 2006!

The SANGONeT slogan “Linking civil society through ICTs” represents the foundation of the NGO Pulse portal. In addition to providing and disseminating information about what is happening in the civil society sector, the portal is also an important space where NGOs can find ways to collaborate, support and learn from each other and find solutions to common problems.

Participants were taken on a ‘tour’ of the NGO Pulse portal, including the newly launched Community group – a discussion space for civil society to debate, get input, post questions and also to share their experiences. The NGO Community group creates the space for organisations and individuals to talk to each other. Using a discussion board format, the group includes:

1. What works: What does change look like? Share your best impact stories with us. This section of the portal lets you share what you are doing right and how you are doing it. Send us pictures, stories or anecdotes from the field. We do not want traditional case studies, we want stories of change.
2. Questions and Answers – do you have a question about the NGO sector – management, finance or are just working in the sector and want to find out more? Go to our Q & A section and post your query. We’ll answer what we can, but also hope that the community at large will be able to help
3. The Exchange: Have something to offer? Need something? … if you are interested in contributing your skills, services and / or time to the NGO sector post it here. Are you looking for assistance / volunteers, consultants or even full time staff? Post it here too! Have something to donate? Let us know here!

SANGONeT receives daily queries relating to human resources, fundraising – sources and opportunities, NGO management, report writing etc. Until the launch of the portal we would respond to individual requests – often linking people with ‘experts’ who have been able to assist them. The NGO Community group recognises that there are many common concerns and opportunities within the sector and provides space for ‘conversations’ to take place – from which others can benefit.

Why NGO Pulse?

A question we were asked repeatedly at both the Durban and Cape Town events was: “So why should I use NGO Pulse?” Writing about the Durban event in her blog SANGONeT programme assistant, Nicolle Beeby said: “As most of the organisations who attended already have their own organisation websites, the question on everyone’s minds was how the NGO Pulse portal could help them, without replacing their existing websites. The answer is easy! The NGO Pulse portal can help maximise their exposure.”

Quick facts about NGO Pulse:

  • 1000 - 1200 unique visitors a day;
  • 23 415 visitors to NGO Pulse in February 2009 – the highest number since the portal’s inception;
  • 496 registered NGO Pulse users as at end February 2009;
  • 20 614 subscribers receive the weekly NGO Pulse newsletter.

Introducing new ICT tools to individuals and organisations working primarily in offline spaces is not easy. Recognising what can be described as ‘resistance’ to the uptake of web 2.0 and social networking tools, our approach has been to encourage users to understand the benefit of these tools to their work and local contexts. So rather than introducing new tools in isolation or emphasising tools that have little relevance or for practical reasons cannot be adopted, we have found that it is useful to start from the point of what organisations express as a need.

The NGO Pulse portal - as a tool - helps communicate and share information about what organisations are working on and issues affecting the civil society sector in South Africa.

It is your tool. We invite you to use it!

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