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I met Concern Worldwide last night at The Guardian newspaper’s smart new London office (above) in Kings Cross. Founded in Ireland, Concern works in about 30 countries, focused on reducing suffering and eliminating extreme poverty. They’re not an Akvo partner and we’d never met before so it was good to learn more.

Concern has a major project underway in Dhaka, the Bangladesh capital and this was the focus of last night. The project’s featured online at theBigGive.org.uk, a high-wealth philanthropy site designed to appeal to wealthy individual or corporate donors. It’s a £200,000 (GBP) pavement dweller project.

Every night around 20,000 people – adults and children – sleep on the streets of Dhaka and Concerns’ bold goal over the next four years is to support 10,000 of these pavement dwellers with dedicated centres where they can get support and education services and also wash, rest, clean their clothes, get healthcare, start saving accounts and store valuables in lockers. The plan is to set up 11 community centres. They want to open a night centre too. There’s a water and sanitation element involved in this project, too, but it is of course much wider.

The Big Give

I know the Akvo dev team will be poring over theBigGive site as there are some parallels to the Akvo marketplace – structured, simplified project descriptions bringing together many projects from different NGOs in one place, with a simple, clean interface. Projects, ranging from £10k up to £250k, are on average much larger than Akvo projects (we stick to below £30k, with most being under £15k).

Where the systems differ is significant. I’m not clear how the project database can be used by the NGO partners themselves and where the limits of its ambitions sit. For example, whether any of the pages or features can be embedded in the NGO’s own sites to reduce admin overhead and marketing effort, for example. It’s also not clear whether multiple partners can work on the same projects. In essence it doesn’t feel like a system designed to replace existing internal systems. It’s also very logo-heavy, rather than image-led and I can’t see provision for automated project update streams in the same way that an Akvo RSR page and widgets are designed to provide. And of course they cover a vast range of projects, rather than our focus on just water and sanitation. Anyway, it’ll be great to see how the system evolves and I’d love to meet the people behind it.

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Where it’s especially good is in how it guides people who want to fund a project in a particular area, simplifying the process to eBay-levels of browsing. There’s a match funding process in place too, where the charity’s trustees set up a £50k match fund, meaning individual donations up to £5k will be matched until funds run out. A very nice man in the room had provided the first £50k for the Bangladesh project. We all clapped.

Who I liked

A couple of people I met stood out. First, Lilu Ahmed, head of families support and outreach at the Bromley by Bow Centre and the only person from Bangladesh in the room. I’ve heard a lot about BBBC already, having met the sharp, imaginative Susie Dye late last year. Lilu told me about some water projects they are looking to undertake in Bangladesh and we talked about maybe running these in Akvo. More soon.

Second, I had a good chat with Chris Elliott, a Concern Worldwide trustee, and also managing editor at The Guardian. Chris clearly grasps the potential for projects to come to life using mobiles and the internet and we talked Akvo and the curiosities of NGO culture. Ten minutes wasn’t enough. I need to go back and see him.

Judy Smith and I also spoke at length with Concern’s Julie Kingsland about bringing projects to life in new ways. Concern showed a video of the street dwellers – a bit sadder in tone than I argue for, but beautifully shot and not sentimental. We talked about how fantastic it would be if we could move beyond that – where the wall panels around us were featuring photos and text updates from today, from the project itself, and the different community centres. What if we could see, right now, the people in the centres. That’s the kind of thing Akvo’s working to make really easy.

As Lucia Ennis, Concern’s director for Asia finished her talk in front of the big screen, the Windows XP logo floated behind her on the automatic screen saver. I was buzzing with ideas on what could be there instead.

Mark is a co-founder of Akvo, based in London.