The 2010 Haiti Earthquake struck just as SMS-based donation platforms became technologically viable. “Text +100009 to automatically donate $10 to Haitian relief efforts,” suggested televisions all over the country during one January football weekend – the Red Cross reportedly brought in over $500,000 in a single hour that day. Hailed as evidence of generosity enabled by the digital age, the technology has become ubiquitous amongst non-profits. Tom’s Shoes technique of tacking on a donation to every simple act of consumerism banks on a similarly strategy, targeting the emotions of shoppers and media consumers.
Which is not to say that these marketing techniques aren't a wonderful way to reach potential donators – they are, and we all text and buy Tom's! Yet some within the non-profit community harbored misgivings. Immediate donations are only one aspect of the average humanitarian organization; education and awareness is the long-term goal of many working in the non-profit sector. Technological breakthroughs used by non-profits seemed to only be addressing the former, not so much the latter.
“To date, the movement has relied on anecdote and emotion,” says the CEO of Slavery Footprint, an Oakland non-profit that was just awarded a $1.8 million dollar grant by Google’s non-profit arm, Google.org. Slavery Footprint, similarly to the organizations mentioned above, has developed an incredibly strong digital strategy for raising awareness of global slavery. Unlike its internet-based peers, the organization uses technology as a purely empirical tool. Using their web-based app, users take a (beautifully-designed) quiz that spits out an estimate of how many slaves are working to enable your lifestyle. Using inputs like how many gadgets, toiletries, shoes, food intake, and children you’ve had, the app allows you to share, compare, and take action to stop international slavery.
My score was a deafening 45, and I was even able to find out what particular gadgets and soaps make my standard of living harmful (surprise! That iPad didn’t make itself. Nor did the shrimp floating around in your curry soup farm itself).
The app is an intuitive gem, developed by SF-based interactive agency MUH·TAY·ZIK | HOF·FER and programmed by Unit9. It deserves to be checked out as a design alone. But what’s really crucial about Slavery Footprint is that it’s developed such an amazingly engaging platform based on empirical measurements. The app is based on an algorithm created by the organization, after researching the supply chains of 400 of the most popular producers of consumer products. This information is drawn from a number of reports from organizations like the International Labor Organization’s “Corruption Index 2010” and the Department of State’s “Trafficking in Persons Report 2010.” Your score is based on the likelihood that slave labor produced the objects you buy.
"Google’s support allows us greater empiricism," says CEO Justin Dillon to Gothamist, "making us all the more successful.” It’s a nod to the Google’s ability to enable projects that depend on the internet for traction, and a signal that as we move from our collective digital adolescence into digital twenty-something-hood, the products and technologies we design will undergo a similarly-sobering coming-of-age.