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The website www.akvo.org consists of three components, all of which are inspired by one of the giants of today’s new media universe. Inspired by Wikipedia, Akvopedia is an open knowledge forum for the water and sanitation community, designed to serve as a meeting place to compile and share knowledge. The second component, Akvo Matchmaking, uses a method resembling the eBay model to bring demand and supply together and facilitates visitors’ search for online project funding. The third component, Akvo Really Simple Reporting, presents photos, video clips and documents in the manner of YouTube to show the progress of various projects.

A Wikipedia for water

Swedish IT specialist Thomas Bjelkeman Petterson, who regularly attends the World Water Week in Stockholm, conceived the idea for a water-themed Wikipedia. As an IT specialist with an interest in water-related issues, he quickly reached the conclusion that the water sector encounters the same problems as the software industry. For example, the water sector is sluggish, focuses too much on itself, makes insufficient use of new technologies to exchange knowledge, and consequently fails to reach the younger generation. This was what led him to make his proposal for an online forum for water during the 2006 Water Week.

The Netherlands Water Partnership (NWP), which is a network organisation that works to establish links between partners in the Dutch water sector, reacted enthusiastically to the idea. NWP Director Jeroen van der Sommen immediately committed to support the project. This resulted in the launch of a prototype of the website in 2007. This ‘draft version’ was presented in October 2007 during the Stockholm Water Week and during HRH Prince Willem-Alexander’s state visit to India and immediately met with an enthusiastic response. The rest will follow.

Combining the strengths of IT and the sanitation sector

According to Akvo co-founder Peter van der Linde, there is clearly substantial demand for this innovative and unique approach to the sanitation problem. The concept has tremendous potential, which could greatly accelerate achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

“The site (www.akvo.org) combines the strengths of the sanitation and IT sectors. Both existing and new initiatives stand to benefit. We don’t aim to compete with the water and sanitation community, but rather to serve as a medium to facilitate its work. A website like this one enables collaboration and knowledge exchange on an unprecedented scale.”

In addition to generating funds online from donors who want to feel they are directly involved, the site is designed to more effectively and more directly engage ‘new’ groups of interested parties, such as young people, in the problem.

Acting quickly and at a local level

As it relies on tried and tested IT technologies, there are relatively few risks as regards the availability of Akvo services. In addition, the concept is easily accessible and exceedingly efficient because one of Akvo’s strengths is the ability to act quickly with a very direct impact. If someone makes a €100 donation, the full amount goes to the project, and the donor is able to see the results. A large portion of the donation is not lost as so often happens on costs such as overheads. Support for humanitarian aid provided via the website will therefore be characterised by a high degree of transparency.

This combination of transparency and the direct approach make the Akvo concept ideally suited for small-scale local initiatives. Using the online marketplace, everyone can donate or loan money via reliable intermediaries, local authorities or local organisations to individuals who want to take action to improve their own circumstances with regard to sanitation.

eBay and YouTube

The initiative has attracted a great deal of interest, and several large relief organisations have pledged support for the website’s continued development. Interested funding organisations include Partners for Water, UN-HABITAT, Netherlands Development Finance Company (FMO), SNS Bank, ASN Bank, Global Water Challenge (corporate social responsibility programme for multinationals) and various private investors. Specific agreements have been concluded with such relief organisations as Simavi and WASTE, as well as Indian relief organisations, including Fodra and Arghyam.

Akvo has also implemented measures for those in the field where Internet access is not always available. By integrating mobile technology, such as text messaging (SMS) with the website, Akvo SMS Really Simple Reporting enables partners in the field to contribute to reporting and monitoring without direct access to the Internet.

Source: www.akvo.org

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