Note from Beth: My colleague, Daniel Ben-Horin, from TechSoup Global has been in the nonprofit technology for decades. He has seen it all. But when he gets excited about an activity that could benefit the nonprofit technology sector, I listen. What do you think of the Campus Party model?
Campus Party is the biggest technology phenomenon that almost nobody in the United States has ever heard of. Imagine SxSW meets Burning Man meets Makers Faire meets Spring Break meets Bar Camps. It is a huge success in the Spanish-speaking world and plans to debut in the States, in the S.F. Bay Area, in the summer of 2012. It will be a gamechanger in the US, with 10,000 of the smartest, most motivated young hackers and other young technoids being exposed to the best of web development, artificial intelligence, robotics, social networking, gaming and social engagement.
Seven thousand young Mexican geeks attended the 3rd Mexican Campus party July 18-25 in Mexico. Al Gore, Tim Berners-Lee and Vinton Cerf appeared on a panel moderated immoderately by the ineffable and inexorable Cory Doctorow. It was pretty damn great; those guys are all smart and Cory threw no softballs.
Campus Party is embraced by corporate sponsors. The warmest hug is by the Spanish telecommunications giant, Telefonica, which is pervasive in LatAm under the brand Movistar. Telefonica sees Campus Party as one stop shopping to reach the technology tastemakers and decision-makers of the near future. How does 11K gb connection speed sound to you? Every Campusero gets to hook up to the mother of all servers for a week. I think maybe a movie or game or two gets downloaded.
Like Burning Man, people camp. Not in the Nevada desert, but in huge indoor spaces in pup tents (In Mexico, donated and branded by Movistar).
Like Maker’s Faires, people…create. There is major emphasis on what is possible when ingenuity, 11K gb internet connections and collaborative teams intersect.
Like Spring Break, it’s young, libidinous and fun.
And like Bar Camps, people hack. These are best of breed young hackers doing what comes naturally, incited and incented by blazing connections, motivated collaborators, cash reward challenges and future employers’ avid attention.
Campus Party is cheap. A week-long registration in Mexico cost $100 for non-campers and $114 for campers (who also got to keep their very nice pup tents). Food for a week cost another $80.
Futura is a private company but their model looks to barely break even on registrations and income from the Campuseros. The money is in sponsorship from companies that want to be favorably exposed in one fell swoop to a critical mass of the best and brightest of the young technoid class. And that’s why it’s critical that all those young geeks have the best, geekiest time that ever they had because happy, fulfilled Campuseros translates into positive brand identification for Movistar, Microsoft, The Mexican government, Ibm, HP, Asus, Nokia, Motorola, Nec, Opera, Noiselab, Volaris, Cisco, Oracle, Zte
Campus Party organizer Futura Networks also recognizes that a big driver for young techies is…social relevance. For more and more of the best young technical minds, it’s no longer enough to line up their talents behind selling toothpaste on the web. They want their brains to matter. They are engaged with the world on multiple levels, including the political. They inhabit a zeitgeist of commitment to saving our stupid old world from itself, of making things better.
Which is why Campus Party has pioneered H4SB — Hacking for Something Better. These folks bond indelibly in hack teams. They commit to each other individually as well as recruit from their individual networks to train and support their nonprofit partners in the year to come and beyond. In the States, nonprofits have generally concentrated on the relationship between the volunteer and the organization receiving services, with a spiffy volunteer interface in the middle. This works house-afire for a lot of volunteerism but it has often been a failure when it comes to high skilled, technology volunteerism at any kind of scale. What has been missed, and what Campus Party gets, is that working in groups is central to most technology efforts and that relating in groups is central to being young. Voila. Bingo.
“Young” is an important and nuanced word in understanding Campus Party’s achievements and potential. It’s a student crowd, including grad students, and it’s a first job — of the “Is this all there is?” variety. They haven’t arrived yet. Some of them are a bit p.o.ed that their tech chops have landed them in the I.S. department of a bank, earning their stripes so they can … do what exactly? A lot of them have teamed to create (or at least contemplate) a start-up. But in the meantime, they work at the bank.
Computer Science departments are churning out geeks at a record rate. Where will they work? How creative will they be allowed to be? Who will be their community in the years to come? What will their lives be like? I talked to a lot of Campuseros; those are their questions. Their answer were quite moving. They know they’re smart, they know their skills are in demand and they don’t want to settle for less than a life in which skills and values are aligned. Nonprofits and NGOs need to harness this talent for the common good.
Gore, Berners-Lee and Cerf are the co-chairs of the first Campus Party USA next year in Silicon Valley. Welcome to the U.S., Campus Party — we need you.
Daniel Ben-Horin is the founder and co-CEO of TechSoup Global, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit technology product philanthropy service which connects 45 donating partners (including Microsoft, Cisco, Symantec, and Adobe) to nonprofits and NGOs in 36 countries, providing products and services valued at more than US$2.6 billion to date. The TechSoup Global Network, NetSquared, GuideStar International, and NGOsource projects facilitate philanthropic support, data transparency and shared innovation around the world. You can find him on Twitter here.