A system is only as strong as its weakest connections. The most fragile and easily disrupted links of international development and foreign aid structures are unfortunately the most important: those connecting community stakeholders with one another and with the larger system designed to support them. Grassroots civil society organizations are essential to sustain growth in developing regions. Across Africa, these groups do the hands-on, local development work that changes lives, but the overwhelming majority operate in isolation, unable to collaborate, to plan new interventions, share best practices, or communicate directly with funders and supporters.
Joshua Stern will discuss some of the systemic obstacles facing grassroots civil society organizations, and the impact that web technology is having in developing communities across East Africa. Stern co-founded Envaya whose mission is to build and deploy a software platform that provides “the last mile” of connection between grassroots activists and the larger development sector. Built to be easy-to-use and optimized to work in challenging, developing-world environments, Envaya's online and mobile tools empower community organizations to stake out an online presence, connect and coordinate with each other, and directly engage the international development sector. The tools encourage collaboration and transparency, inspire activism and civil society engagement, and increase the efficiency of established programs. In just over one year, the Envaya platform has become the largest online network of civil society organizations in East Africa.
Joshua Stern (Stanford '06) is the Executive Director of Envaya. After graduating, Joshua served in the Peace Corps in Tanzania. He founded Envaya in 2010 with Jesse Young (Stanford '06, MS '07) and Tanzanian civil society leader Radhina Kipozi. Joshua splits his time between Africa and the San Francisco Bay Area.