Wednesday, April 22, 2009

GST and Nonprofits

explanation & more context
(click for other views)

I was all hot to make World Plone Day (on Earth Day no less) when I received one of those "client in crisis" calls. Actually, this was someone else's client, hoping to switch horses. Some well meaning volunteer had set up this "Unix system" on a server (she likely meant Linux)... database unresponsive... immediate needs.

So why are NGOs either expected to fail, or, even if they're really tight, actually have their act together, are still not expected to ever receive ample funding, are supposed to go begging, like in Oliver Twist?

This is what The Hunger Project ran up against, a deeply ingrained spin. Humanity is supposed to fail right? Just a chosen few get to survive, by self-indulging in cruelty to others? What's the science here? Economics?

Come to think of it, why is Uncle Sam in the same boat, even with the full faith and credit of we the people to back him up? We call it all "public sector". Do we take pride in this sector, our just use it selfishly for purely private (in the sense of selfish) ends?

Many talented youth would flock to "glocal" (global-local) jobs, many with NGOs, if liberated to do so. Does organized religion fear a brain drain, is that the bottleneck? "Helping those in need" is how many religions engage in branding after all. Too much competition?

Do they fear secular services sharing the same turf?

Given the level of suffering in the world, this could only be considered a hypocritical response, and therefore superficial. Religions with staying power can't afford to be superficial.

A lot of the work that needs doing involves addressing those externalized costs not claimed by the for-profit bookkeepers. Their whole job is to externalize cleanup, garbage collection, to the point of malign neglect in some cases. Non-profit bookkeeping, on the other hand, channels wattage to worthy causes. Plug in to the sun, and make it happen.

Take our Coffee Shops Network for example: we encourage heroic world game players to show and tell about their adventures. Work for the nonprofits you've dreamed about serving, then come back and tell us about it, share with your friends. Talk about your frustrations, your victories, what you've discovered, about yourself, about the world. Receive credit, advance.

Humanity would clearly be better off if we could figure out how to pay ourselves to tackle the really hard jobs that need doing. Just as clearly, the military is a pattern we might learn from, even if we're holding some different cards. There's overlap. Logistics and self-discipline, commitment to ideals, a willingness to put out... these values get expressed, albeit variously, in both NATO and Greenpeace.

I've tended to band with the general systems camp within Economics, the Kenneth Boulding types. We have a different way of doing the analysis, such that providing stellar services through non-profits does not seem like an oxymoron or a contradiction in terms.

Upgrading with GST doesn't mean for-profits won't or can't continue turning a profit. They tackle different jobs, play by different rules.

Will OS Bridge help us think through some of these issues? These are puzzles of longstanding. As former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill discussed in his book, it's not really about the money. He was starting to sound a lot like Bono by the end of his tenure.

Anyway, I missed World Plone Day, made it to Admirers of Javascript, where I am right now. Maybe I see why Cambridge is into it. Functional programming just seems smarter right (looking at a new library)? Actually, there's a lot of ferment here. The native XML type is really brilliant (use dot notation at a js prompt to build a DOM, right before your eyes).

Technical stuff I'm reading: Hello World! Computer Programming for Kids and other Beginners (just mailed to me, my name in the acknowledgments); Code Complete by Steve McConnell, because recommended in the Django workshop at Pycon. Speaking of Django, I've open sourced Charting the Future, a background study I wrote for a clinical research group on a possible application of said technology. HTML 5 is looking interesting (slated for 2022, just in prototype these days).

I picked up Moon Kitty's ashes today. Tara and Brenna made a place in the family altar upon returning from Fine Grind. My thanks to Brenna's family for kindnesses shown us in these difficult times.