ALPINE A Utah-based start-up humanitarian organization that describes its mission as "techno-philanthropy" has attracted the attention of the United Nations.
The Digital Alliance Foundation aims to provide technological hardware, such as computers, and technology education, such as training on how to use spreadsheet software, to people in developing countries.
Its founders are couple Quinn Sutton and Martha Branigan-Sutton. He works in marketing and she is a stay-at-home mother with a law degree. Their five children help, too.
Shortly after they began the organization and its Web site, www.ictefa.org, they were contacted by the United Nations' Global Alliance for Information, Communication and Technology and Development. In April, the Suttons travelled to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Quinn Sutton said, and discussed possibilities of building up the workforce in Africa by using technology with representatives of 50 African nations and nongovernmental organizations.
"We were the only U.S.-based humanitarian organization that had any connection with the private sector," Sutton said.
The Suttons described the best practices of technology use among companies in the private sector.
At the end of the month, they will head to Jordan for a conference organized by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Queen Rania Al Abdullah. Quinn Sutton will present a paper on bridging the digital divide through public and private partnerships.
In the time between trips to Ethiopia and Jordan, the Suttons have been laboring on a digital literacy project with the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa, the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and an organization called Reach the Children.
The literacy project aims to "provide basic digital literacy skills, computer skills and cell phones," Quinn Sutton said. "That way people can access the Internet to better their lives."
The groups working on the digital literacy project plan to pilot their program, which will be offered at existing community education centers, in five African countries.
"If you think of digital literacy, how do you use a computer? How do you use the Internet? How do you use a cell phone? A lot of people don't have that knowledge," Quinn Sutton said.
"If you're trying to survive, do you really need a laptop?" asks Daniel Borochoff, president of the American Institute of Philanthropy, a charity watchdog group. "It would hopefully be for people who have met their basic survival needs, for them to improve."
Borochoff says there are other organizations that provide charity in the form of technology, such as Techsoup, that provides nonprofits with technology know-how.
The term "techno-philanthropy," however, is new. Quinn Sutton said he created it and believes its catchiness will help people and companies donate to his organization, which is also working to provide 20 computers with Internet connections to children in an Indian leprosy colony."People are already (working to provide food and medicine)," Quinn Sutton said. "There's many organizations out there that are doing a great job helping the poor with the food and medicine out there. We would be another organization. There's an unmet need in the space of technology education."