jan. 26 — notes on nonprofits

For context, I‘ve been on the design teams of B2B startups and collaborated with three nonprofits on their websites in my work at Studio Bisita.

Working in both the tech industry and NGO ecosystem gave me the impression that these two spaces are antithetical to each other:

  • One is focused on speed and scale, achieved through replicable services to meet investor expectations...

  • ...the other on playing the long game to uplift the lives of their beneficiaries,

    in the absence of immediate incentives. So reading about Ameelio and their status as a “nonprofit startup” pleasantly surprised me.

Anyway, here are a few lines from the article that I'm calling out for my own reference.

"Every nonprofit should ask, how can we not exist as quickly as possible?"

I first heard about this mindset when I worked on the website of Lokal Lab, which aims to build Siargao into a self-sustaining island. “We envision that in time, our NGO disappears as we are able to hand off all the projects to the community," their founder, Kara Rosas, said.

At the time, I thought that this was too idealistic of a POV to operate from. (It's giving internalized capitalist realism!)

Capitalist Realism is a term coined by Mark Fisher to describe "the widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is nowimpossible even to imagine a coherent alternativeto it."

However, the more I acquaint myself with the folks in our ecosystem and their work, the more I understand this ethos. If it sounds idealistic, well, that‘s the point — we have to design for the unreal world, to envision a time at which societal structures have already been rehabilitated to accommodate the needs of citizens. I also arrived at this realization after being introduced to utopian science fiction like Becky Chambers’ Psalm for the Wild-Built.

That's why I'm so interested in deconstructing: what is the world we are trying to build at Studio Bisita?

“I started trying to look around and learn about civic technologists that have built tech to solve social problems, not building technology just to create leisure for people that already have it.

I resonate so much with this line. I was telling Rachel over call that most B2B product work doesn't excite me anymore, and how I feel I've outgrown my design portfolio pre-Bisita.

I love the word civic technology and want to continue working on projects within that niche. As a side note, I think all technology should be of civic nature in some sense, but this is far from the case in the Philippines, where the technology scene has just emerged from infancy.

Alas, it's a privilege to design for social good — the article points out that “[Ameelio] employees can’t get the sort of equity or compensation similar roles at tech companies might fetch” — but I think I do already have enough comfort to explore this in my work.

"Lacking the signals most startups have to evaluate their success (like revenue)...they track a variety of outcomes — recidivism rates, mental health conditions, and behavioral infractions, among others."

Another thing that inspires me about Ameelio is that because their founder is so immersed in the problem he's addressing — he has a M.A. in Philosophy in Criminology — he knows exactly how to measure their impact in elevating public goods. Shifting from success as reach or profit to success as getting closer to achieving their mission.

It'll be interesting to see how my psychology and research backgrounds can play into this. Been thinking a lot about how I want the tools and knowledge that academia can equip me with, without being bridled by the bureaucracy of it all.

. . .

That's all for today's field notes, written from a street café along Sgt. Esguerra in Quezon City. I highly recommend reading the full article that sparked these thoughts, if you resonated with any of the above.

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