This profile was prepared when Daniel Ben-Horin was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2009.
The New Idea
TechSoup provides a platform for individuals and organizations to use technology to address the needs of citizen organizations and, directly and indirectly, the world’s most entrenched social problems. What began in 1987 as an effort to connect tech specialists as mentors to Northern California nonprofit organizations, evolved from CompuMentor into TechSoup and now TechSoup Global, thanks in large part to the growth of the internet and technology industries. As such, the one-to-one mentorship model to support organizations with their technology needs was replaced with an online model using the TechSoup portal and product channel.TechSoup Global moves technology products donated from its corporate partners to organizations around the world. It does so through the website and knowledge portal TechSoup.org. On the TechSoup website, organizations find a range of software donated by leading tech companies Microsoft, Cisco, Symantec, Intuit, SAP/Business Objects, Sage and Adobe along with instructional articles and technology planning resources tailored specifically to the citizen sector. In order to receive donated products, organizations must qualify by demonstrating their status as 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations or public libraries. In addition, each technology partner has distinct criteria for donor recipients outlined on the website. The website is easy to navigate, with tools allowing for search by keyword for more than 500 products from 35 providers. Based on one’s location and needs, they can be matched with a product ready for donation, and sometimes even with potential long-term partners. TechSoup’s web-based order process helps organizations exponentially shorten the standard time it would take to obtain a corporate donation, and also provides access to multiple product philanthropy programs in one place. Organizations are also encouraged to use the technology planning resources in the Learning Center and discussion forums at TechSoup, which boasts thousands of technology experts ready to help choose the right products for their needs and then utilize them effectively. TechSoup blogs, Webinars, and newsletters help donation recipients install and implement their new technologies, and offer a high level of technical assistance on demand.For Daniel, however, this channel for matching supply and demand is only part of the mechanism by which TechSoup Global generates its real value. TechSoup has aggregated communities of interest across the world and across sectors who want to play a role in designing and implementing creative technical solutions for social change. In this way, in addition to providing tangible value to both donor and recipient, each transaction builds trust and incentives for a growing community to deepen its involvement with the TechSoup network. One of the most significant of these communities—technology specialists—was once considered to be politically and socially aloof, concerned with ‘bits and bytes,’ and yet are now increasingly willing and excited change agents responding to technical challenges, promoting social justice, education, and empowerment.TechSoup Global’s future strategy is moving forward on multiple fronts. A recent initiative, NetSquared, was founded in 2005 to help citizen and public organizations catalyze social networks and social change through the community empowering capabilities of the Internet. NetSquared is an online community that mobilizes individuals and organizations, provides web-based tools, sponsors crowd-sourced competitions, and awards financial support to leverage social action projects. Daniel is confident that as NetSquared grows, it will enable organizations to discover new innovations and reinvent the possibilities for collaboration on a global scale.The largest long-term opportunity TechSoup has begun is its NGO Repository, which has the potential be a major channel to move social investment capital and provide a much higher level of data transparency and multi-stakeholder collaboration in the field of international philanthropy.. The system, which will launch in 2010 pending approval from the IRS, is backed by major foundations including the Rockefeller Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, and Hewlett Foundation, among others. The genesis of the project is a desire on the part of U.S. foundations to make international grants with less administrative burden on international NGO grant recipients, as well as on the foundations themselves.TechSoup Global’s current infrastructure in the U.S. and Canada serves as a model for replication in international locations. Over the last three years TechSoup Global has begun working with 18 partners in 23 countries, most recently in Poland and other Central European countries. TechSoup plans to launch regional programs that will teach nonprofits how to apply cutting-edge technology to local problems. Daniel aims to increase the number of countries from 23 to 60 by the year 2011, branching out to underserved areas of Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America.