Africa: Communications Boost for Non-Profits

Digital Content

The Internet is changing, and the greatest impact may be felt in Africa. With the exploding use of the web globally and the planned 2012 expansion of the top-level domain name system, the future of the web is on the mind of most non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

International attention has largely been focused on groups and companies in the global north that see the potential for profit in new online real estate. However, some of the biggest changes - and some of the greatest benefits - may be felt in the global south (and in Africa specifically) by NGOs taking up a new community extension designed for them: (dot)NGO (.NGO).

The aim of the initiative is to create a definitive online home for NGOs around the world. The extension .NGO (or .ONG for countries using French, Spanish and Portuguese, for example) would be exclusively for NGOs, giving them an immediately recognizable identity as members in good standing of the global non-profit community.

The Public Interest Registry (PIR), which runs .ORG and is applying for the .NGO and .ONG domains, has designed the new extension as a cornerstone of the next phase of online community-building for NGOs. The goal is to help NGOs gain real recognition and to network and fund-raise more, including conducting online fundraising with the growing African diaspora populations around the world.

As part of the initiative, Andrew Mack of AMGlobal Consulting spoke recently to assemblies of NGOs in Yaoundé, Douala and Dakar, including regional public service leaders, press and government supporters from some 10 Central and West African nations. The events were designed to introduce the initiative, but also to get feedback from the African NGO community about their needs and the best ways to include ongoing NGO participation as standards and new products are developed.

The meetings touched on a range of issues, from how the new extension could help with the sharing of best practices, to how NGOs could use a dedicated online community to help them combat cybercrime and other security risks. Guy TeteBenissan, of the regional NGO association REPAOC, attended the Dakar meeting. He said, "I appreciate PIR's approach. They are collaborative. They came here to listen as well as to seek our support. And I feel a high level of trust. I think PIR understands us because they, too, are an NGO."

A final decision on the applications for .NGO and .ONG is expected later in 2012 when the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers finishes its evaluation process.

"In the end," said Mack, following one of the meetings, "the future of NGOs in Africa is as much online as it is in the field. The creation of a new .NGO extension can really help capacity-strained African NGOs. And the way the .NGO initiative is structured, African NGOs can have a real voice - not just now, but over the long term - in the design and management of this great new tool. Africans can make history in the next phase of the Net."'