NetAid was an anti-poverty initiative, started as a joint venture
between the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Cisco
Systems. Its web site was
www.netaid.org. The initiative no longer exists, though a
legacy of the initiative, www.onlinevolunteering.org,
continues to this day.
NetAid was meant to harness the Internet to raise money and awareness
for the Jubilee 2000 campaign, to raise awareness for the challenges in
developing countries, and to allow people to volunteer online, donating
their skills to help people in the developing world. NetAid's
goal was to make global philanthropy to support developing countries
The NetAid web
site was launched in September 1999, with President Bill Clinton,
Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain and Nelson Mandela, South
Africa's former President, logging on. NetAid was globally
launched with concerts on October 9, 1999 at Wembley Stadium in London,
Giants Stadium in New Jersey and the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
Unlike events like BandAid, ''We Are The World'' and Farm Aid, where
wealthy entertainers performed and made pleas for the more fortunate to
donate money for those with far less, but after the event, the public's
commitment to the cause evaporates quickly, NetAid was meant to be far
different. NetAid's organizers wanted to create lasting action and
In an October 7, 1999 New York Times article, Djibril
Diallo, then UNDP public affairs director, said ''We want to
use the computer to help change how the world looks at poverty and
motivate people to help.'' He said UNDP began examining ways of
combining music, high technology and altruism more than a year before
the NetAid concerts. The article notes that the NetAid web site was
meant to be "a clearing house of information on the state of world
poverty and the agency's programs as well as a means of raising money."
The article quotes Mark Malloch
Brown, then head of UNDP, who said ''The difference between
this and earlier concerts is that we created a vehicle for people to
come back, not just on the night of the concert with the one check they
write. But instead, here's a site they're going to come back to time
after time.'' The article also noted that the web site "will permit
groups and people with particular needs to register them in a Netaid
database. It will also allow people who are willing to donate particular
skills or materials to register them in the database."
Speaking backstage at Giant Stadium during the concert to a reporter
from Wired.com, Robert Piper, described as manager of the NetAid site
for UNDP, said: "Our focus is not really just raising money. We're
looking for long-term engagement and commitment. If people could donate
one day every month it would have quite an impact." After the concerts,
in a Washington Post story, "NetAid Catches Few On the Web," Piper said
he was "more than satisfied" with the response, saying the main purpose
was to pick up volunteers, not money. "We've been [complaining] for
years about the need for people in the developed world to participate
[in aid programs], but they never had the tools to participate," said
Piper. "With the Internet, people can now get emotionally and
A link to the NetAid site featured prominently on the
UNDP web site home page for many months (screen
Performers at Wembley Stadium included: Eurythmics, The Corrs,
Catatonia, Bush, Bryan Adams, George Michael, David Bowie, Stereophonics
and Robbie Williams.
Performers at Giants Stadium included: Sheryl Crow, Jimmy Page, Busta
Rhymes, Counting Crows, Bono, Puff Daddy, The Black Crowes, Wyclef Jean,
Jewel, Mary J. Blige, Cheb Mami, Sting, Slash, Lil' Kim, Lil' Cease, and
Performers in Geneva included: Bryan Ferry, Texas, Des'ree and Ladysmith
The Wembley show was at capacity; the U.S. show suffered from very poor
By the end of the concerts, it was reported that the NetAid website had
received over 2.4 million hits and raised $830,000 from 80 countries.
an October 1999 article in the Washington Post
, just before the
concerts, it was noted that Harry Belafonte, the actor and musician who
helped organize the event, and another supporter, actor Danny Glover were
quitting the initiative, unhappy at how the event was organized and money
raised would be distributed.
NetAid after the concerts
Following the concerts, NetAid was spun out of Cisco as an independent
nonprofit, based in New York City. The staff at NetAid tried various
approaches to raising awareness of extreme poverty and raising money for
anti-poverty projects undertaken by other organizations, through a variety
of different campaigns. As of August 2000, the Netaid.org Foundation
listed as its board of directors: Mark Malloch Brown of UNDP, Don Listwin
of Cisco Systems, Carol Bellamy of UNICEF, Quincy Jones and David
In 2000, NetAid launched an online volunteering matching service on its
web site, in partnership with the United
(UNV) programme, part of UNDP. This was in
keeping with the goal of NetAid to create lasting action.
The web site allowed non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and
UN-affiliated projects serving the developing world to recruit and involve
online volunteers in various projects (virtual volunteering
took over management of the online volunteering portion of the NetAid site
entirely in 2001 and, in 2004, the online volunteering portion of the site
was relaunched entirely under UNV at its own URL, www.onlinevolunteering.org
This online volunteering service continues to this day.
In 2000, Charity Village published an in-depth analysis by Graham Francis
under the title, "Why
did NetAid fail to raise more money from the visitors to its Web site?
In response to these and other criticisms regarding its finances, NetAid
published a web page in November 2001 citing its record of donations to
anti-poverty initiatives to date, such as granting "$1.4 million to 16
poverty alleviation projects in Kosovo and Africa — well over the $1m that
had been raised from the public to that point... the remaining $10.6
million was dedicated to creating an innovative institution that will
generate new support for reducing global poverty over the long term. Since
January 2000, NetAid has used approximately $2 million to catalyze new
support and partnerships for fighting global poverty." See "NetAid's
Commitment to Accountability"
on the NetAid web site, November 2001,
archived from web.archive.org
In February 2001, Time
and NetAid announced a pioneering
initiative aimed at collecting donations through Palm VII handheld
computers, allowing volunteers to collect credit card data from friends
and input the information into the NetAid web site via these
newly-wireless devices. The experiment "pushes the envelope for Web-based
charities, according to analysts, who said the bid to turn handhelds into
virtual wallets faces some significant hurdles--for example, guaranteeing
the privacy and security of contributors." See the CNET News article, "Taking
donations from the Palm in your hand"
, by Gwendolyn Mariano,
February 2001, for more info.
NetAid also explored the use of video games for social change, co-founding
the Games for Change movement in 2004. NetAid's work with games was
initially offline, beginning with the "NetAid World Class" board game,
which piloted in California, Massachusetts and New York in 2003. In 2004,
NetAid co-produced a game with Cisco called "Peter Packet," which
addressed how the Internet can help fight poverty, focusing on issues of
basic education, clean drinking water and HIV-AIDS.
By 2006, NetAid had narrowed its focus to raising awareness among high
school students in the USA regarding poverty in developing countries.
The different campaigns of NetAid are chronicled through archived
versions of its web site
, www.netaid.org, available at the Wayback
In 2007, NetAid became a part of Mercy
, a nonprofit international humanitarian aid organization.
MercyCorps later discontinued the initiative and no longer promotes the
brand. The spun-of online volunteering initiative, www.onlinevolunteering.org
managed by the UN Volunteers program, continues to this day.
For researchers and journalists
The best way to research the different programs of NetAid over the years
is to look up:
- www.netaid.org at www.archive.org
and look at the different services offered by NetAid each year.
- www.undp.org at www.archive.org,
look up versions of the web site in 1999 and through 2006, and look
for UNDP articles about NetAid on the various web sites
- the word NetAid on newspaper archives and major TV network
news archives (articles will begin as early as 1999)
- the word NetAid on Bing.
As of 2017, you will get a good list of archived newspaper and
newsletter articles from 1999 and beyond. It works much better than
Google in this regard.
Note that many media archives are behind paywalls. Your local public
library can help you access these for free if you visit the library
I also have an archive of articles from various publications before the
concerts, as well as articles that criticized NetAid. Contact me at
firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like access to such. Please give
me your complete name, the name of your university or media organization,
your geographic location, and the reason you want access.
Also see lessons
. This is a list of key learnings
from the UN's Online Volunteering service from February 2001 to February
2005, including support materials for those using the service to host
Why do I care?
In 2000, UNV created a new position, the Online Volunteering Specialist,
and contacted me
to apply for the job. I
did so, and began in the position in February 2001, based at the UNV
offices in Bonn, Germany. I both directed UNV's online volunteering
responsibilities through NetAid and the online materials and online
activities of the United
Nations Technology Service (UNITeS). I substantially
revamped the online volunteering portion of the NetAid web site,
making it much more focused on helping organizations involve
volunteers and to reduce the number of people signing up for
assignments without understanding that virtual volunteering is a real
commitment (and thereby reducing the number of volunteer drop outs).
You can compare the
August 2000 version of http://www.netaid.org/ov/ to the August
2 2002 version of http://www.netaid.org/ov/ to see how I changed
the site. I then oversaw the negotiations to move the online
volunteering service entirely to UNV under it's own URL, www.onlinevolunteering.org.
I authored this list of lessons
, based on my experience directing
the service from February 2001 to February 2005.
Last Virtual Volunteering
purchase as a paperback & an ebook
Completely revised and updated, & includes lots
more advice about microvolunteering!
Published January 2014.
- Tech Volunteer
Groups / ICT4D Volunteers
A listing of organizations and groups that promoted and placed tech
volunteers - both defunct initiatives and current ones.
- United Nations ICT4D
Various United Nations offices have launched
initiatives to promote the use of computers, feature phones, smart
phones and various networked devices in development and humanitarian
activities, to promote digital literacy and equitable access to the
"information society," and to bridge the digital divide. This web
page is my effort to track UN Tech4Good / ICT4D programs, from the
oldest through 2016. My goal is to primarily to help researchers, as
well as to remind current UN initiatives that much work regarding
ICT4D has been done by various UN employees, consultants and
volunteers for more than 15 years (and perhaps longer?).
- List of Initiatives
to Related to Bridging the Digital Divide or Building Digital
Literacy in the Developing World or Globally in 2002.
Chief Warns G-8 Leaders of a Widening “Digital Divide” from July
- Short-term Assignments
for Tech Volunteers
There are a variety of ways for mission-based organizations to involve
volunteers to help with short-term projects relating to
computers and the Internet, and short-term assignments are what are
sought after most by potential "tech" volunteers. But there is a
disconnect: most organizations have trouble identifying such
short-term projects. This is a list of short-term projects for "tech"
volunteers -- assignments that might takes days, weeks or just a
couple of months to complete.
- One(-ish) Day "Tech"
Activities for Volunteers
Volunteers are getting together for intense, one-day events, or events
of just a few days, to build web pages, to write code, to edit
Wikipedia pages, and more. These are gatherings of onsite volunteers,
where everyone is in one location, together, to do an online-related
project in one day, or a few days. It's a form of episodic
volunteering, because volunteers don't have to make an ongoing
commitment - they can come to the event, contribute their services,
and then leave and never volunteer again. Because computers are
involved, these events are sometimes called hackathons, even if coding
isn't involved. This page provides advice on how to put together a
one-day event, or just-a-few-days-of activity, for a group of tech
volunteers onsite, working together, for a nonprofit, non-governmental
organization (NGO), community-focused government program, school or
other mission-based organization - or association of such.
- Volunteering Abroad
(especially for Westerners)
An in-depth look at the different kinds of volunteering abroad, with
extensive information on what a person would need to do and study to
become a viable candidate for long-term volunteering gigs where the
volunteer does NOT have to pay his or her own travel and
accommodations, such as the PeaceCorps or UNV.
- Incorporating virtual
volunteering into a corporate employee volunteer program (a
resource for businesses / for-profit companies)
Virtual volunteering - volunteers providing service via a computer,
smart phone, tablet or other networked advice - presents a great
opportunity for companies to expand their employee philanthropic
offerings. Through virtual volunteering, some employees will choose to
help organizations online that they are already helping onsite. Other
employees who are unable to volunteer onsite at a nonprofit or school
will choose to volunteer online because of the convenience.
- Women's Access to Public
Internet Access, a resource I developed through research
& experience to support the development of women-only Internet
centers/technology centers/etc., or women-only hours at such public
Internet access points, in developing and transitional countries.
- Lessons from
Some key learnings from directing the UN's Online Volunteering
service from February 2001 to February 2005, including support
materials for those using the service to host online volunteers.
History of Nonprofits & the Internet
The Internet has been about people and organizations networking with
each other, sharing ideas and comments, and collaborating online. It
has always been interactive and dynamic. And there were many
nonprofit organizations who "got" it early -- earlier than many
for-profit companies. So I've attempted to set the record straight:
I've prepared a web page that talks about the
early history of nonprofits and the Internet. It focuses on 1995
and previous years. It talks a little about what nonprofits were using
the cyberspace for as well at that time and lists the names of key
people and organizations who helped get nonprofit organizations using
the Internet in substantial numbers in 1995 and before. Edits and
additions are welcomed.