Uncovering valid information about charitable organizations can be difficult. When organizations are headquartered abroad, it can be next to impossible.
Jennifer O’Neal, a junior who has crafted an independent major in the geography of poverty and culture, hopes to change all that with the help of a grant from the King Creativity Fund, which supports innovative student projects at Southwestern.
Working with Anwar Sounny-Slitine, instructor of environmental studies and GIS Lab manager, O’Neal plans to develop an online resource calledCharity at a Glance that will use Google Maps and GIS technology to help people learn more about charitable organizations headquartered in Kenya.
O’Neal is focusing on Kenya because she has a particular interest in sub-Saharan Africa. She volunteered with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in both Kenya and Uganda in 2009-2010 before enrolling in Southwestern last spring. Many NGOs have operations in Kenya because it has a stable government but is still relatively poor.
O’Neal plans to gather information such as where organization are located, how many beneficiaries they serve, and what kind of work they are doing for their communities.
“The idea is that Charity at a Glance will serve as a platform for users to come across up-to-date information about charities easily,” O’Neal said. “A big problem with charities everywhere, but especially those working in distant locations, is informing potential donors of what they do and how they do it.”
Once the initial organizational framework is created, O’Neal said Charity at a Glance could be expanded to include other regions of the world or act as a tool for analyzing more in-depth data about the organizations.
“What’s really exciting to me about this is that Charity at a Glance could serve as an organizational platform for analysis on charities, both on an individual scale and across a regional/national level,” she said.
For example, O’Neal said, the system could be used to determine whether a charity is making the best use of its money compared to other charities doing the same sort of work with the same sort of budget, or whether there are areas in Kenya that don’t have charities present and why that might be.
“I believe that the more information we get the better it is for potential donors, for the charities themselves, and for people like me who would really like to research the impact of charities in the communities they serve,” O’Neal said.
O’Neal will use the grant she received from the King Creativity Fund to host a website for Charity at a Glance and Skype with contacts she has in Kenya. She already has set up her website at www.charityataglance.org
O’Neal’s project is one of 14 to receive grants from the King Creativity Fund for the 2013-2014 academic year. Students will present their projects at a symposium to be held on Tuesday, April 8, 2014.