New Tools for Big Ideas

From activism to art, social entrepreneurs make waves using online resources.

Social entrepreneurship is based around making a positive impact with your work,” says Anne Marie Burgoyne, portfolio director at the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation. “Virtually any discipline can be in the social entrepreneurship world, as long as your efforts are thoughtful and rigorous and, in a continued way, there’s a strong commitment toward doing good.”

Whether social entrepreneurs work to promote philanthropic causes, raise money for charities, or fund creative projects, recent technological advances have given innovators a powerful new set of tools. “Digital media can be great for fundraising and, thinking in longer terms, friend-raising,” says Burgoyne. “Online tools can help you inform and manage large volunteer communities, for example.”

To Burgoyne, some of the most important qualities that social entrepreneurs need to possess include openness to collaboration and a desire to try new things—and the knack for putting existing ideas together in unexpected and powerful ways. Here are just a few of the tools, initiatives and projects that encapsulate those qualities, and beyond.

TechCamp Global
Pioneered by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as part of the Civil Society 2.0 initiative, TechCamp gatherings bring technology experts and non-government organizations together to help solve social problems at a local level. The one- or two-day conferences have visited countries ranging from Kazakhstan and Thailand to Chile and Israel, with more events scheduled in Senegal, Ukraine and elsewhere around the world.

What kinds of social solutions come out of TechCamps? One recent conference in Bucharest, Romania helped introduce local nonprofits to FrontlineSMS, open-source software that can help connect isolated communities via text messaging—and that’s just the beginning.

It may be simple but good, old-fashioned blogging is important,” says Burgoyne. “Bloggers don’t need to be the leaders of organizations to be effective. A blogger can be anyone who does the work and has something to communicate.”

One example Burgoyne cites is Global Citizen Year, an organization that sends young people abroad to help them learn leadership skills, gain an international perspective, and build relationships across borders. “Each young person in the program blogs,” describes Burgoyne. “They have had great success getting these blogs picked up by news outlets and they have become a viral campaign that’s helped transmit the organization’s message. That’s the great thing about blogs—they’re about personal experience and are very transmittable.”

There are countless blog services available, but a few popular ones include, and

From starting up a homemade jewelry business to rebuilding farms damaged by fire, projects of all sizes and shapes appear on Kickstarter, a Web-based fundraising service.

After social entrepreneurs create a profile that describes their project or cause, Kickstarter accepts tiered donations on their behalf, giving the money to the creator once a funding goal has been reached. Supporters can donate any amount; higher levels of donations often lead to higher perks or thank you gifts from the project’s creator.

Amanda Palmer, an edgy and popular American singer/songwriter, decided to make her most recent album—and to create an art book and fund a tour, as well—without the help of a record label, so she turned to Kickstarter. Palmer raised well over $1 million from nearly 25,000 fans and reached her funding goal. Donors received thank you gifts like autographed albums, tickets to exclusive events, and the opportunity to meet—and eat donuts with—Palmer herself.

“Kickstarter does good work,” says Burgoyne. “It’s important to know that you can’t just put a project up there and expect it to succeed, though. You need a little bit of a following to build more of a following, and a certain amount of cultivation of your network is required before tools like Kickstarter can really take off for you.”

Palmer affirms the importance of building and cultivating a network. “Every person I talk to at a signing, every exchange I have online...all of that real human connecting has led to this moment, where I came back around, asking for direct help with a record,” she wrote on “[My fans] help because they know I’m good for it. Because they know me.”

Mobile America
I love when people with specific skills come together to do pro bono work for a social good, and Hackathons are a great example of that,” says Burgoyne. “People with very specific skills often want to be helpful, but don’t know how or where to apply their talents, so when people gather to write code for a specific social good, it can be a great thing.”

With the Mobile America initiative, Microsoft gets in on the game, working with the United States government to create a nationwide contest. Programmers are invited to create mobile apps that solve social problems and enter them in a variety of categories. Interested to see who won? Visit

phone/Pages/DeveloperContest.aspx for the latest.


Facebook, Twitter and YouTube
Though this trio of mega-popular Internet services does not fall purely in the realm of social entrepreneurship, Burgoyne has seen all three bring great results when thoughtfully used.

“A Facebook or Twitter presence needs to be cultivated and you need to engage with it often,” she says. “If you’re having online conversations and building a rapport with your connections, you will be more successful in your interactions.”

Burgoyne also points out that YouTube continues to make a conscious effort “to offer more tools for nonprofits. [Our foundation] recently did a training for our entrepreneur group with YouTube For Good highlighting how to create a presence on YouTube,” she continues. “We discussed how to build your video library, how to embed calls to action within a video context. Social entrepreneurs can be very proactive about using YouTube as a way to raise money, gather volunteers and share information.”


Michael Gallant is the founder and chief executive officer of Gallant Music. He lives in New York City.