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Google Announces Launch of Technology Corps

Yesterday Google announced in a blog post that it is launching the HandsOn Tech Corps in collaboration with HandsOn Network, the volunteer arm of Points of Light Institute. Starting this September, the new volunteer corps will develop “technology capacity” that “will help organizations to address mission critical activities more effectively and efficiently.” The Transmission Project congratulates Google on launching an initiative that addresses the demands for capacity building of community-based nonprofits and for the establishment of a national digital literacy corps as laid out in the National Broadband Plan and other policy papers.

Many facets of the HandsOn Tech Corps resemble the Transmission Project’s Digital Arts Service Corps, and Google’s intentions reflect the values of the Transmission Project – in principle if not in practice. Like the Digital Arts Service Corps, HandsOn places AmeriCorps*VISTA members with nonprofits to complete a yearlong capacity building project. Comparable to the Transmission Projects support network, the new corps provides its paid volunteers with guidance and training beyond what AmeriCorps members would receive working independently in the field. Says Google, the Tech Corps will begin

with a one-week training at our campus in Mountain View, learning about both our nonprofit tools and cloud-based offerings from other technology companies like Salesforce.com and LinkedIn. Once they are armed with tech know-how, they’ll spend the rest of the year in three-person teams serving nonprofits in the Bay Area, Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, New York City, Pittsburgh and Seattle.

In the Tech Corps model, the Transmission Project recognizes its own conviction that technology has a role to play in AmeriCorps*VISTA’s mission of strengthening “nonprofits that are working to lift people out of poverty.”

Google’s commitment is certainly a step in the right direction. However, we wish Google and HandsOn would place the particular needs of organizations at the forefront of their new initiative. Google mentions that its Tech Corps members will be trained in its own nonprofit tools. Although familiarity with these tools may prove helpful to some, the solutions its Corps will be able to offer organizations after this kind of training are still highly prescriptive and techno-centric. Nonprofits need and deserve to have a voice in determining the nature of the project that will presumably transform their organizations. For Corps members, much more important than technology skills are the skills to collaborate with organization staff and work toward a solution. For organizations, a technology solution that is well planned-for and has the support of staff is more valuable than a predetermined set of technology practices. Rather than prescribing specific practices, the Transmission Project has served as adviser during the project design process, so that organizations are prepared to maximize the impact that the addition of a Digital Arts Service Corps member makes.

If Google wants to honor its commitment to building the capacity of grassroots nonprofits through technology, it will take into account the work of those already doing so. And it better do so soon. As the Transmission Project departs, it leaves behind a wealth of knowledge and experience. This includes a respect for diverse, grassroots media arts organizations. We invite anyone desiring to take from our ten year history to use the Transmission Project’s legacy in their work.

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