Today is my last day with Geekcorps. I’m not entirely sure how you resign from being the founder of an organization – I suppose I’m still the founder, even if I’m not actively employed as such. But I’m no longer working (very much) on Geekcorps projects and I’m no longer the person to approach about working with Geekcorps on new or existing projects.
My reasons for moving on are largely uncomplicated and happy ones. The Berkman Center at Harvard Law School has offered me a terrific position starting in July that lets me focus on my research for an academic year. I’ve been trying to carve time away from my activist career to do more work on media attention, digital independence and citizen journalism. I’m hoping to do a great deal of work on tools inspired by the Global Attention Profile project and to publish a couple of papers that are in embryonic states right now. I’m very grateful to John Palfrey and all my friends at Berkman for the opportunity to join Berkman full-time, and I’m greatly looking forward to the year ahead.
I’m also thrilled to be working with Open Society Institute’s Information Program on projects using information technology for development and human rights. I’m sitting on the program sub-board and am greatly enjoying the novelty of being part of a funding organization instead of begging for funds. The Information Program is doing tremendously cool things, supporting projects like Africa Source and The Wireless Roadshow, and I’m glad to be a part of it. And I’m honored to be working – even indirectly – with George Soros, a man who’s decidedly on the right side of a number of key battles.
Some of my reasons for departing Geekcorps are more complicated. Two and a half years ago, Geekcorps joined forces with the International Executive Service Corps (IESC), a nonprofit that, over almost forty years, has sent tens of thousands of business volunteers to work in developing nations. The merger was critical to Geekcorps at the time – we were out of money, and IESC rescued us, preventing us from going out of business. IESC found funding for Geekcorps work in Rwanda, Mongolia and Armenia, and it’s unlikely that we would have won grants for major programs in Senegal and Mali without IESC’s help.
For the first two years of our relationship, Geekcorps worked with a great deal of independence from IESC. Recently, IESC has moved much of the decisionmaking around Geekcorps programs to corporate headquarters, out of the hands of the people who’d built Geekcorps. This may be the right thing for IESC to do, but it’s hard for me, as a founder of the organization, to give up the ability to decide what projects Geekcorps does and doesn’t work on.
To be very clear – Geekcorps is alive and well. We’ve got volunteers in the field in Ghana, Senegal, Mali and Vietnam and those programs are continuing. My colleagues in North Adams are working hard to continue our programs.
I’m sad to walk away from Geekcorps, but mostly I’m proud of what we’ve done and grateful for everyone who’s made it happen. When I started talking with friends in late 1999 about sending a few geeks to Ghana, I couldn’t have imagined volunteers working on over a hundred projects in a dozen countries. And I certainly couldn’t have predicted that volunteers would help Ghanaian companies invent new wireless technologies, help the Rwandan justice department resolve genocide cases or help Senegal introduce e-cash.
What I really never could have predicted was the generosity and commitment of all the volunteers, staff and funders who’ve made Geekcorps happen. I’m eternally grateful to everyone who wrote a check, recruited a volunteer or got on an airplane. Thank you all – I’ve enjoyed the ride.