Being in late 30s, I had my fair share of times when I thought that we ought to do some side work of charitable nature to justify our living. I even tried getting involved in few and tried to get people interested in it. The two stories emerged.
Most of the NGOs want technology people to help them get proficient with technology or help them procure technology at cheaper prices. It does not seem that they are short of people to do manual work, while they are acutely short of folks to do the technology work. Many less privileged NGOs needs technology platforms more than others to help spread word about their work.
Another aspect is the discomfort of technology workers to rise up to actual issues. Most of them do not understand real sociological issues or do not have patience to understand these. They want instant gratification when out of their comfort zone of technology, a quick fix of feel good factor of having done something for technology.
The result of this disconnect is the plethora of giving weeks which are reduced to giving money during bonus distribution times to well heeled and well known NGOs. PR teams and HR teams also favor only well known names in NGO circles to channel the employee attentions and their money. Many other NGOs that are not doing the real work among the neglected folks or aren’t in the media promoted areas receive nothing. Repeat of such things finally leads to boredom on part of donors since they actually get deprived of proper feel good factor because no one involved in the process did any real leg work or it is really tough to see impact being made by their donations. Its all going into one big kitty from where NGOs are distributing the money as per their wishes.
One solution could be for the technology workers to spend their time in open source movement. They can actually see the impact of their work since they know the implications of what they did. This will help them with feel good. It will help technology workers to lean new skills that their jobs are not allowing them to learn thus quenching their thirst for innovative work. Corporations will get benefited with more mature workers who knows multiple technologies. Overall, technology field will benefit with stronger tools and good sharing practice. These free tools can indirectly help the NGOs looking for technology solutions. Many not so well off students will get benefit of better tools which has been vetted by the discerning mature developers. Right now, a lot of contributors to open source are either corporations who wants to contribute the code for interoperability or the college students thinking of learning by working on OSS. All of the parties involved here, corporations, employees, OSS and NGOs will really get better ROI if the charitable spirit is directed towards better tools and that would be perhaps my next mission.