• Written by Mark Charmer
    12 March 2010

Computers are meant to make our lives easier. As Thomas Bjelkeman reminded me recently, “Mark, the aim is to get the computers to do the work, so you don’t have to.”

Akvo makes it easy to structure large numbers of development projects online in a visual, friendly manner, that until now would have cost the partnership, marketing and web teams at a typical NGO a lot of time and money to design, build, populate and maintain with information. Using Akvo, every project can be listed in one place, and specific or sample projects, or sublistings, can be featured in many others.

Witness the launch, today, of the Walking for Water landing page. Walking for Water is a great campaign where school kids learn about the issues facing many of the world’s poorest people, who lack access to clean water – here’s the background. Next month, tens of thousands of kids will walk 6 km with 6 litres of water on their backs, raising money from friends and family, to fund real-life water projects in the developing world. Now in its 9th year, it’s a huge success story. Last year’s campaign, in the Netherlands alone, saw 18,000 kids from 380 schools raise €1m for water projects, at fairly low organising costs.

Putting all projects online, in one place

Akvo has made it possible for the campaign to feature, for the first time, all the projects that Walking for Water will support, online, in a really flexible way. All of the projects get entered once, in Akvo.org, using the simplified partner admin pages we’ve built.

Here are some stats (as of today, Friday 12 March 2010):

22 projects.

12 countries, all in developing nations, all in rural or slum areas.

Project sizes vary between €2,400 and €397,287.

33 project partners involved.

€970k total project value (and rising)

This is the second introduction of a campaign-specific landing page – the first, in October, was Live Earth. Akvo landing pages are one of the ways we’re evolving our system to fit really comfortably with a campaign partner’s existing branding, while they gain the benefits of our carefully designed online tools.

It adds a top level, super-smart way to front a multi-project campaign. Normally projects are also then featured online elsewhere on the organisation’s website – so right now there’s a listing on the main Walking for Water website, and it’s easy to embed banner ad-style “widgets” on other sites, such as here and here. These latter examples are important – we’re creating ways for individuals and small foundations to feature projects online really easily.

It could go further. Schools (or indeed the kids themselves) can even ’embed’ widgets on their own blogs, if they have one, by choosing a project and then clicking “get a widget”. As updates to the projects happen, either in the field or from the fundraising side, all instances of the project online also get updated automatically.

See it happen – every project, in every location

By using the Akvo.org system, Aqua for All is helping the kids see the actual project they’re funding – not just a few samples. 2010’s ten-year olds have completely different expectations of development projects and expect far more in terms of images, maps and status updates than kids did even five years ago. This is about instigating direct connections to real places and real people.

It’s going to be really interesting to see what kind of dynamic is triggered between schoolkids and the projects. We’ll be able to follow that progress over the coming months, right here.

Making it easier to get every project online, looking good, in a format that can be easily updated and expanded is a central goal for us. Featuring all projects online, every one of which is enabled to share and serve photo and text updates directly from the field, is something that’s only now becoming possible, practical and affordable for NGOs and campaigners. It’s great to have been involved in making this happen for Walking for Water.

Mark Charmer is a co-founder of Akvo. He’s based in London.

Related reading: Nicholas Kristof’s Advice for Saving the World (interesting piece on the power of direct person-to-person storytelling).