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Glasspockets Find: Ask Me Anything
October 3, 2013

(Rebecca Herman is Special Projects Associate for Glasspockets at the Foundation Center-San Francisco.)

Spreddit8You may know the social news website Reddit for its humorous photos, videos and links to articles about hot topics. One of the most popular content areas is IAmA (or "I Am A…"), where users may participate in "AMAs" (for "Ask Me Anything"). AMAs are a forum for interviews on any topic, and there are several live AMAs scheduled everyday. Any Reddit user may post a question or comment and vote topics “up” or “down”, so the collective response informs how the Q&A appears, and how it is ranked within the Reddit site.

The topics and seriousness of the Reddit users’ questions vary widely, but it is great to see some very direct inquiries that touch on challenges in the nonprofit sector.

A few foundations and philanthropic organizations have participated in AMAs in the past few years—most notably Bill Gates, of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, as reported on our blog earlier this year. Among the recent Reddit AMAs from the nonprofit and philanthropic sector are the Himalayan Cataract Project and Give2Asia. The topics and seriousness of the Reddit users’ questions vary widely, but it is great to see some very direct inquiries that touch on challenges in the nonprofit sector. Here is an excerpt from the AMA with Dr. Matt Oliva, a Himalayan Cataract Project board member:

redishhead: What types of resistance, if any, do you come up against when providing healthcare in other countries with laws and values?

mattoliva: Good question. It is important that US doctors working in other countries work within the current medical system and the local providers. We always get a local medical license if possible. We also strive to "never leave a patient behind" and ensure that the local partner can provide followup if there are any complications. Long term success requires a collaborative relationship with the local medical team and empowering them. If the quality of the service is high, even the poorest people will recognize this quality and seek the service. Many organizations and doctors can do more harm than good with the "fly in/fly out" model of care.

Give2Asia participated in a Reddit AMA about earthquake and tsunami recovery work in Japan that included advice on disaster giving and real-life lessons from the field:

macdaddy0086: How difficult was the whole thing?

give2asia: Every disaster is different, but this was one of the most difficult disasters I’ve worked on. It was a triple disaster (earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear) that affected over 420mi of coastline.

In the beginning, it was made even more complex because many NGOs and NPOs were waiting to hear the government’s response, so there was a fair amount of waiting, and a lack of coordination between them. For a time, they were limiting access to the area, and permits were required to enter. Even the humanitarian response was strictly measured, since the country has such a strong focus on equality. We’d never seen that before in any disaster, and it added a measure of complexity.

Only three days after the MacArthur Foundation announced its 2013 Fellows last month, new fellows Kyle Abraham and Jeremy Denk participated in an AMA. Here is the most popular exchange, as voted on by Reddit users:

aedwards044: What do ya'll intend to do with the Fellowship stipend?

MacArthurFellows [Kyle Abraham]: I still owe over 100k in student loans :-/ I'm hoping to get rid of those completely... Other than that, I'm hoping to work with a financial advisor to see how I can really work on building my company structure for the long haul. We recently found an affordable plan for health care for our company and plan on implementing that as of October 1st. That was already in the works, but now I know that we'll actually be able to pull it off for sometime to come!

Do you think AMAs are a tool that can make philanthropic work more accessible? Let us know if you have participated and what you have learned. And if you would like to read the Reddit AMAs without the extensive comments, I definitely recommend skimreddit.

-- Rebecca Herman

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About Transparency Talk

  • Transparency Talk, the Glasspockets blog, is a platform for candid and constructive conversation about foundation transparency and accountability. In this space, Foundation Center highlights strategies, findings, and best practices on the web and in foundations–illuminating the importance of having "glass pockets."

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