Creating a Digital Peace Corps
A few thoughts to add to the many insightful comments on the Digital Peace Corps concept.
The Corps concept has value, particularly in providing a mechanism for greater involvement by the private sector in community development work. Engaging more people and more resources is a very good thing. The feasibility of a Corps has been demonstrated by similar efforts that already exist, examples of which have been named by other participants on this list.
I think, however, that a Corps has significant limitations as a solution to the capacity building needs of community development/service organizations. The primary limitation, potentially, is a mismatch between the needs and the capacity of underresourced community organizations and the skills and mindset of Corps members coming from environments with vastly greater resources and dramatically different modes of operation. This goes to say, that unless the level of resources in community organizations is raised to a much higher level, encounters between groups from the corporate sector and groups from the community sector will be low impact.
This mismatch is already played out in community organizations that attempt to work with high level groups from the private sector, universities, etc. Advisors and providers make suggestions and start to implement solutions that come from experiences rooted in an entirely different set of conditions and assumptions. As Jonathan Piezer noted, there is often no or little follow through once the assistance ends. I do not mean to imply that those interventions are not helpful in many ways. But when it comes time to look at tangible returns, there is a big gap between inputs and outputs. For example, bringing lots of training into underresourced groups has a low yield. (Experience seems to indicate that the more underresourced the group, the lower the yield.) Long term value and results requires a significant, long term infusion of resources, training and talent.
There is good reason to believe that trends in values and lifestyle expectations are changing the assumptions about what kind of work and what kind of environment people with marketable skills desire. Folks like Brad Williams and I -- young people who have been fortunate to have many opportunities in education and work -- know a lot of people with different skills and backgrounds who would like to devote more of their lives to positive social change and community development. Right now there is a scarcity of good places to pursue community development work professionally, so the potential remains largely untapped. If we assume that a healthy sector of community focused organizations can never compete for talent with private sector organizations, than we will perpetuate the current situation.
It might also be interesting to consider a reverse Corps exchange, where people who work with community groups have internships in private sector companies, perhaps assisting with corporate community development/philanthropic initiatives or simply contributing to and learning about core business practices in marketing, technology, finance and other areas. Many community groups fear that if they provide too many skill development opportunities to their staff, especially in technology, those staff will leave their groups to pursue private sector work with greater pay and benefits. This fear has to be addressed, because it perpetuates a cycle of underresourced organizations hiring and keeping staff at low skill levels. We have to break this cycle to build a foundation for much greater and much more purposeful and effective investment in community work.