Bringing NetSquared to New Orleans. Finally.

August 21, 2008 at 10:59 pm (Meetups and Events, NetSquared, New Orleans, Technology)

Finally, after many many months of inaction, I’m finally following through on my promise to start at NetSquared group in New Orleans.  Thanks to Javier for introducing me to Britt Bravo, and to both of them for blogging about it way back in March.  Talk about making someone accountable!  There’s even a picture, so no way I could deny that it was me.  (Not the most flattering picture ever taken, but it’s already floating around on the internet so it’s not like I can keep anyone from seeing it.)

I’m really excited about Net2NO, and can’t wait to see how the first meetup goes.  I’ve already met some amazing people as a result of this initiative; I look forward to actually meeting them in person.

If you’re not familiar with NetSquared, it’s a project of TechSoup.org and the goal is to “spur responsible adoption of social web tools by social benefit organizations…tools that make it easier than ever before to collaborate, share information and mobilize support.  These tools include blogs, wikis, RSS feeds, podcasting and more.”  Visit the NetSquared website for in-depth information about the project.  (And to see the post about Net2NO that’s currently on their homepage!  As of today, anyway.)

Although NetSquared is officially aimed at helping nonprofit organizations, I personally would like Net2NO to be a resource for startups, as well.  In an invitation to members of Search Marketing Group – New Orleans, I emphasized the fact that you don’t have to be a nonprofit to particpate (and benefit from) the meetup.  That’s because my interpretation of NetSquare’s mission is a little different than what’s being done in other cities–New Orleans’ situation is unique.  Our needs aren’t the same as everyone else’s.  Let me explain.

As far as I’m concerned, a “social change organization” in New Orleans is anyone who is working to make our city a better place to live, work, and start a business.  Chris Schultz has some great posts about the “startup ecosystem” in New Orleans, and I think this is one of the most important things happening to New Orleans right now.  My experience with nonprofits has been primarily in economic development, so I see helping a business grow–essentially helping a company make money–as being a legitimate mission of a nonprofit organization.

GNO, Inc., The Idea Village, Louisiana Technology Council, and virtually every Chamber of Commerce in the state are examples of nonprofits working to help companies grow.  This is important, and it’s not just about increasing revenue.  Economic development affects the very fabric of society, because it has an impact on the kind of people who decide to live here.  The makeup of our economy determines the makeup of our community.

If, as has been done in the past, we focus on the business of tourism, we have a bunch of “tourism” related jobs.  So the people who live here are the people who work in restaurants and bars, serving food, mixing drinks, shucking oysters.  They’re the people who work in hotels, cleaning rooms, checking in guests, parking cars.  They’re the people who work in t-shirt shops in the Quarter–specifically on Bourbon Street–selling shirts, selling beads, and yelling at you for donning a mask to take pictures (without buying it.)

This is awesome.  These people make the city an interesting place to live, and they’re good at what they do.  I can’t imagine our city without them.  But they’re not nerds.  Or geeks.  Or entrepreneurs.  They’re not making six figures, and they’re certainly not going to live in any of the condos people like Donald Trump seem to think need to be built here.

Something is missing.  Do you see?

Where are all the professionals?  The doctors, the lawyers, the IT companies.  You can’t build a city on tourism alone.  Can you imagine a city populated solely by tourists and the people who serve them?  Summertime in New Orleans would be desolate, even more of a ghost town than it already is at the sweltering height of mid-August.  Somebody needs to focus on the rest of the economic picture, because a society needs all kinds of people to thrive.  And if the state, or the city, or whoever is in charge of making decisions about which industries to support with public funding, doesn’t do anything to encourage innovation and help create the kinds of jobs that bring (and keep) talented people here, then who is?  Well, we are.

It’s not much, but groups like NetSquared New Orleans are a venue for people like us to hang out.  It gives us a reason to keep on keepin’ on, when there’s little on the horizon to give us hope.  I have little faith in the leadership of local officials, but I have a LOT of faith in our own ability to make amazing things happen.  Startups are fragile creatures; they need support.  And community.  Just like nonprofits do.  And New Orleans needs innovative businesses as much as it needs effective nonprofits, so Net2NO must be inclusive if it’s going to make a difference worth getting excited about.

That’s my vision for NetSquared New Orleans.  Nerds and idealists unite!  We don’t need good policy to succeed here.  (Though obviously that would be nice.)  What we need is a way to collaborate, and I hope Net2NO can help.

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4 Comments

  1. chris said,

    Jessica, great post. Thanks for all you’re doing for the NOLA tech community right now. This event is going to be great. Keep up the great work.

  2. jeskanola said,

    @chris Thanks! Can’t believe you actually read this. Makes me wish I’d proofed before hitting “publish.” Oh well. Also, don’t thank me for what I’m doing–my motives are entirely selfish. I just want to hang out with smart people.

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