Wednesday, August 24, 2005

eRIDERS: A Wealth Of Technical Expertise

What if you wanted needed to put a population density map for central Kenya into a grant proposal that you wanted to submit for funding? And what if you had no idea how to get such a thing free, or at a reasonable cost, from the Internet?

Most NGOs have a wealth of expertise and knowledge, but often they do not have the technical skills to fully utilize the Internet or computer technology. Now, there is a place where you can go for help. This help is eRiders, a network of computer savvy individuals and organizations that offer their services to non-profit organizations in order to make them "more effective, efficient and innovative through the use of all forms of technology. "

According to their web site an eRider is "part trainer, part management consultant, part computer expert." Often making visits to the organization they serve, these people provide consulting and assistance with technology strategy development and provide advice and information by phone and e-mail.

The eRider network also provides training materials and resources that can be accessed through their web site.

But this network is two sided. While the site offers a place where non-profit organizations can go to obtain technical service and training, it also acts as a recruiting station for those with the technical expertise to volunteer their services and/or to start their own assistance programs.

To the technical experts that may wish to become "eRiders" they offer the follow advice for starting a program:

"The ingredients of a good eRiding program are:

* an identified need for technology support for NGOs in your community,
* a well though out plan,
* strong donor or revenue generation scheme,
* committed, well trained and diverse team and
* a lot of energy."

And they tell these would-be eRiders that:

"In the eRiding resources section on this site you can find materials on the assessment, development, implementation and evaluation phases of an eRiding program."

The eRiders have taught people in the non-profit organizations everything from how to take a computer apart (in a Computer Anatomy class), to how to use ICT to attract volunteers.

At one page titled "For NGOs - group" there is a list of links that will take the reader to various resources on the web. For example, there are links to:

There is the "Benton Strategic Communication Toolkit" that "offers valuable tips and tools for eRiders and nonprofits to develop effective communication strategies. The research is based on best practices and lessons learned by nonprofits about the impact, successes, failures and struggles in using strategic communications."

"Database, Software and Technology Use" provides "Information and tips about databases for nonprofits."

The "Non-Profit Resource Center," which is said to have "a wealth of information for nonprofit organizations. … (Y)ou can find a list of links to websites of interest to nonprofits, and virtually everything you need to know about how to form, manage and maintain a nonprofit organization.

"Tips to Build Your E-mail Address Database By: Michael F. Murphy." This site says that it explains how to create a successful e-mail marketing campaign if you do not have a substantial e-mail database. And it also includes "tips to cost effectively build your e-mail address database and increase your donor participation and retention rates."

Plus, there are many more. Additionally, there are comments to each of these links that provide the reader with the opinions of people who have tried the advice and services offered at these links.

Remember, I began this article with a mention of being able to obtain a population density map of a certain area of Kenya. Well, under eRider's "Cool Tools" page, there is a link to numerous GIS sites (Global Information Systems) that provide mapping information from everything to topography, to aerial photography to city maps and property boundaries. And many of these sites have tutorials on how to use them.

At the Cool Tools site, this explanation of GIS maps is given. "Simply put, a GIS combines layers of information about a place to give you a better understanding of that place. What layers of information you combine depends on your purpose-finding the best location for a new store, analyzing environmental damage, viewing similar crimes in a city to detect a pattern, and so on." Pretty handy tool, I'd say.

All right, so you don't think you can take on this type of computer wizardry on your own. Well, don't forget the other side of the eRider equation. There are eRider geeks out there looking to help non-profits in need of computer training. These eRiders are all over the world and you can search for their expert help in any number of ways: By Alphabetic Order, By Country, By Organization, By Specialty or By Skill. Additionally the eRider site allows you to search for people, organizations, projects or statistics.

As I said, eRider experts are all over the world, but and in Africa you can find these experts in: Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Uganda, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

So now, you have no excuse, visit eRiders and see what ITC doors are opening up for you at:

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