Look for more non-profit organizations to tap social networking as a means to spread the word and gather donations rather than relying on direct mail and ads.
One recent effort is Nanhi Kali, a global non-profit that seeks to save young girls in India from life as child laborers or worse, or married off at age ten. The organization was initiated in 1996 by the K C Mahindra Education Trust. Mahindra & Mahindra is a leading industrial company and one of the countries two leading carmakers. The principal way the organization helps is by raising donations. It costs about $65.00 a year too keep a young Indian girl going to school. To date, the organization is supporting about 38,000 girls, keeping them in school.
Up to now, Nanhi Kali has relied on paid advertising to generate awareness and support. But recently it has begun using social media and an online virtual guide to to take the place of some of the paid ads. Sheetal Mehta, Executive Director of the Nanhi Kali organization, says, “We created a virtual girl named Shreya. When you type in http://www.girlsmiles.org, Shreya comes to life on your screen and guides you through the Internet in a simple, human way.” The group has been with communications agency Strawberry Frog on the new strategy. Scott Goodson, founder and chief creative officer of StrawberryFrog, says “Shreya is alive, human — an embodiment of the Nanhi Kali organization. She guides you through the World Wide Web where all sorts of information, content, images, films, communities, people and contacts relevant to Nanhi Kali live — and also places for you to make donations and keep an eye on your student. The future of the Web is about organizing information in a way that is simple and human — like our Girlsmiles.org iSite.”
The first thing I noticed when I googled on www.girlsmiles.org was the floating icon of Shreya that comes on my screen. Pretty cool. I was also able to connect to the site through sites like www.facebook.com where Nanhi Kali has a page, www.digg.com and www.twitter.com.
To bring Shreya to life, StrawberryFrog collaborated with AlbertKen, a branded utility technical firm in Sweden. "It's a totally new way to think of the Net,” said Martin Stadhammar of AlbertKen. "It lets you experience the Nanhi Kali movement through the eyes of different sites."
Mehta says the organization was inspired by how Google organizes information, and doesn't create new spam, and how www.dailycandy.com helps simplify your life. “These made a lot of sense to me, as efficiency is a non negotiable for a Not for Profit Organization.”
How is the group tracking the effectiveness of the social networking strategy? Says Mehta: “We are currently working with StrawberryFrog to develop new social media tools that will be used to evaluate this. But I am very happy to say that the agency’s work has in fact in less than a month, led to thousands of new engaged people in the Nanhi Kali cause across the globe.”
Why is there such high dropout rates in India? Mehta explains: “Only 3 out of 10 girls who enter into Grade 1 in India actually complete Grade 10. Drop out rates are extremely high. Even at Primary School level, almost 40% of girls drop out of school. Research has revealed that the main reason why girls drop out of school is due to the household work that they are made to do in their own homes. In India, due to gender stereotyping, it’s only girls who attend to the domestic chores of washing clothes, cleaning the house, fetching water or looking after a younger sibling.
In the U.S., we consider the terrible dropout rate of students in our cities to be an embarrassment to our culture. I asked Mehta if the Indian government views the problem the same way. “In India too, we are acutely conscious of the appalling statistics on dropouts. The Government of India is working together with NGOs and civil society to address these issues. Nanhi Kali is an example of a leading non-profit helping make a difference in a girl's life by supporting her education.