Posts like Selflessness vs. Selfishness on avc.com talk about how the business world is thinking about taking advantage of Obama’s stimulus package in order to create new business opportunities and specifically how Fred Wilson would like to see businesses solve problems–not just exploit an infusion of cash. If you produce alternative energy, build roads, or provide broadband infrastructure, the next four years could bring some very good tidings.
However, there’s Obama’s administration is not just stimulating industry with cash but also with their value system. Obama’s commitment to Transparency and calls for Community Service will likely spurn a new wave of sites in three areas: Accountability, Volunteer Opportunities, and Facilitation.
Obama’s pledge to transparency, especially regarding how his administration spends the money contained within the stimulus package, invites a problem: how do we hold him to it? There will be a massive amount of data to sort through, digest, and act upon. Obama will do some hand feeding through whitehouse.gov‘s Blog, Weekly Video Address, and Executive Orders Page, but the American people will likely be skeptical that the Administration is only telling us what they want us to know. If we really want to hold him accountable, there will have to be third parties aggregating and organizing government data: bills, budgets…anything that’s public. And once that data is sorted in a way people can understand, there’ll have to be a forum through which the American people can speak out about what they see. TabsOnObama plans to do that, and don’t expect them to be the only ones. It would be a bold statement for whitehouse.gov to link to these 3rd party sites, and I certainly hope they do.
usaservice.org offers a list of volunteer opportunities sortable by geography, date, and tag and focusing on Martin Luther King Day aka National Day of Service. It’s a very nice site and I have already spent a great deal of time surfing it, but there are two problems with it. The first is that it relies on organizations and individuals submitting opportunities to the site. So, anyone who didn’t find the time to build an entry or offer something special for that day was left out. I’ll be looking for a site that crawls for volunteer opportunities, presenting a much larger number. The second problem is it does little to help new organizations or people without organizations get off the ground, which brings us to the third area of opportunity.
Let’s say there’s a problem out there that really concerns me and Obama’s rhetoric has me all psyched up to do something about it. The frequently tedious and complex logistics of building an organization, especially starting a 501(c)3 will likely intimidate me, take too long, and crush my enthusiasm. I’m hoping to see an umbrella organization give nonprofit status to excited organizers and provide a forum to flesh out their ideas, find people to join them, and take action–all on the internet. I’d love to see internet driven service projects to supplement the tried and true traditions of Food Drives, Book Drives, and Neighborhood Clean-Ups. How can people take action and have impact quickly and with few barriers of entry? That’s a problem the internet can address.
It’s going to be an exciting next few months. Anyone working on something or know of an existing, relevant site? Leave links in the comments.
(Thanks to Cory Forsyth for talking to me about this and helping me formulate my thoughts on it.)