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Business, Philanthropy & Technology: Building Communities Around Causes

Recently I sat down with Josh Dirks, the founder of Social Creature Media and the sponsor of Jolkona’s Meet-up, to discuss the relationships between business, social media, and what motivates start-up companies like his to get involved with philanthropy. As leader of an organization dedicated to harnessing the power of social media and putting it to good use, Josh has many intriguing thoughts on the roles community and transparency can play in encouraging young people to give back. We live in a new era of accountability, with the ever-present 24-hour news cycle and most individuals in the world have at least some access to powerful tools of mass communication. There are of course many challenges in the era of information overload, but also great opportunities to use technology to bridge human needs.

Ready access to information has given tremendous power to individuals, and social media branding experts like Josh clearly understand that today’s youth know how to vote with their dollars. In the for-profit sector, this means that brands and businesses must become social and “owned” by their public: listening to, monitoring and engaging customers allows businesses to build a community of patrons that identifies with products or services. And much like the good old days when conventional wisdom spread through word of mouth, in the social media era, much of the most useful information out there is distributed by individuals who want to share their experiences, reviews, and opinions with those important to them.

Of course people still respond to effective traditional marketing, but speaking from my own experience I can say I pick my restaurants on Yelp, check out shows my friends proclaim themselves to be fans of, and follow the Twitter feeds of people who can point me to great reading material. Social media has evolved to a point where I have a pre-qualified community of my own and I listen to them much more than just about anything mass media can produce. Social media also allows me to define my community by what matters most to me and not solely by geography—friends a world away can share their thoughts just as easily as those down the street.

So where does philanthropy come into all of this? As technology and social media have allowed us to extend our communities and networks, they have also brought higher expectations of transparency and accountability. Today writing a check to a well-known charity is not enough for many individual and corporate donors who want to know how, and how efficiently, their hard earned money is being put to use. Stories about the mishandling of funds by non-profits have circulated widely in recent years, providing an easy excuse for not making charitable contributions. The bar has been raised for social enterprises as well as for-profit institutions.

In talking about what motivated each of us to start giving back, Josh, me, and Jolkona’s founder Adnan Mahmud all have very similar stories: we can each point to a personal experience where we were able to make a small and direct contribution to another individual that clearly made an immediate and meaningful positive impact. Josh became involved with an ongoing community project in Peru, I made small contributions to individual waste-pickers in India, and the story of the founding of Jolkona goes back to Adnan’s encounter in his native Bangladesh with a grieving father would not afford proper burial for his son. These were each our “aha” moments that put us on our own paths to micro-giving. We are also similarly drawn to Jolkona and its mission for the same reason: Jolkona empowers both donors and those in need. By providing one-to-one feedback, a transparent donation process, and access to carefully evaluated micro-donation projects, Jolkona removes key obstacles to giving back and allows donors to feel personally connected to the causes they support. Jolkona also goes beyond the individual donor experience to create a community of philanthropists based on shared values and social media connections.

As Jolkona’s Director of Corporate Partnerships, I am tremendously excited about the potential for connecting businesses with Jolkona’s growing base of young philanthropists. Businesses have a unique opportunity to engage customers and employees in their commitment to giving back, building the ripple effect of positive change. We look forward to partnering with more organizations like Social Creature Media that share our vision for the value of technology in creating opportunity, solving problems and connecting individuals with what is important to them. If you our your business wants to learn more about becoming engaged in philanthropy, please find a cause that resonates and donate, and don’t hesitate to get in touch with us at Jolkona.

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