I’ve been wondering lately why more tech companies aren’t beating down the doors of international media development organizations. Not that they aren’t partnering and supporting projects in developing countries. I’m just surprised that it isn’t happening with more gusto and force.
The organization where I work certainly partners with tech companies whenever possible. As it should. In fact, we’re doing some pretty fascinating things with mobile and hacker communities
But the industry frequency just seems off, seems to fall short of where it should be.
Think about it. What do tech companies want? Profits. To grow and expand. Users. Innovation. Market advantage.
What do international media development organizations have? Systems for reaching emerging markets. Relationships with users who underutilize tech. A deep understanding of needs, constraints, what users respond to.
In my line of work, for instance, I deal directly and indirectly with end users in almost every emerging market context. People who:
- Speak a variety of languages, including Spanish, French, Portuguese, Russian, Bahasa, Hindi, and a whole slew of dialects and tribal languages.
- Have used mobile phones, social media, Google, etc., but in either unsophisticated ways or not anywhere near their potential.
- Are in Latin America, the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asian, Eastern Europe, you name it.
- Live in big cities, where tech resources are concentrated.
- Live in areas where tech resources are scarce, but clearly headed.
- Have limited access to reliable, affordable energy sources.
- Often live in low-bandwidth areas.
- Among those in rural areas, often can’t read or write, and often have never even turned on a computer before but very likely will in the next decade.
- Simply aren’t being reached by technology because it has not been designed for local contexts, are only available in a few major languages, or are priced too high for their means.
This is not to suggest that tech companies don’t have a firm grasp on the potential in these markets. Companies like Google, Microsoft, Nokia, and increasingly Facebook, are global and taking emerging markets very seriously.
What I’m saying is that they should also take international media development organizations seriously, too. Right now, there are partnerships. Google’s working with us, for instance. AT&T, too. And an assortment of others. But not at the level that they could be, and probably should be, considering the potential.
I do think for some international media development organizations there are some built-in hitches. Those that focus largely on journalism are often hesitant to get too close to corporate and public supporters for fear of tampering with the promotion of objective journalism practices.
But then I think about the people we are dealing with every day. The gatekeepers and broadcasters of information in these countries to vast audiences. People who use information technology in their very professions. People who very often under utilize information technology because their media can’t afford the latest technology, or their educational institutions train on outdated equipment or minimal opportunity for practice. People who face the kinds of constraints that are fertile ground for innovation – necessity is the mother of invention, after all.
Sure, great ideas do sometimes come out of thin air, from minds that are simply great. But more often, great ideas come out of need, as someone notices a gap, an unmet utility, an opportunity to do something that is not yet taken advantage of.
Looking at the bullet points above, one sees that the kinds of people we deal with live in hotbeds for innovation opportunities.
Meanwhile, organizations like ours are creating new mobile news technologies, translating existing technologies into local languages and contexts, and helping countless people in these emerging markets to engage the many wonderful innovations of these big tech companies.
In short, these organizations are doing a lot of the same kind of work, already have systems in place that tech companies can tap into without having to invent their own wheel wheel, and yet, aren’t direct competitors. Even better, there’s an incentive for the international media development organizations, as they face an increasingly tight funding market that is pushing them to spend effectively, measure results and market in ways long thought reserved for the for profit world.
Plus, the tax incentives for donating to nonprofits.
This all adds up to one thing: tech companies and international media development organizations are essentially perfect for each other.
So why aren’t tech companies beating down the doors of international media development organizations? Is the idea still just catching on? Is it a perception that these organizations spend wastefully and don’t achieve real results? Is it that organizations have blown off tech companies enough, or that nonprofit and for profit cultures are just too different, to discourage them? Do the tech companies feel they are better off mostly on their own? Is it something else?
It could be any of these things. Or some combination.
This is not to be critical of tech companies or international media development organizations. More, it is to raise this issue: international media development organizations present real, untapped opportunities for tech companies to innovate, build their brand and create new markets.
By weighting the ask too heavily on the organizations, tech companies are leaving some real opportunities on the table.