Wednesday, April 25, 2007

10 Years on the Web ... a Decade of Connecting to the Poor

Ten years ago this morning, I pressed a really scary big button. It was the button that made World Vision's United States Web site first go "live" on the World Wide Web at

World Vision's first home page boasted 12 links and focused on the famine in North Korea. Today's homepage has 212 links and is a gateway to nearly everything World Vision has to offer.

As an editor with the world's largest and oldest Christian relief and development organization, I had been working with a team of folks for more than a year to turn our first Web site from dream to reality. A massive famine in North Korea was in full swing, and this added just the sense of urgency we needed to actually get online, ahead of schedule. Our very first Web site brought photos and stories about this crisis in a little-understood part of the world, to the living rooms of average Americans who cared and who responded compassionately. We were astounded by the response.

Ten years later, I am taking a few moments for a deep breath and a little reflection. The North Korea famine was just one in a string of crises, where we were able to turn to our Internet presence for rapid dissemination of critical information. In many large emergencies (such as Hurricane Mitch which devasted Latin America in November of 1998, or the Asian Tsunami of December 26, 2004) our Web site has been our first line of communication with the world. Frequently we have been able to go live with critical information within two or three hours of the time a large emergency strikes.

One of the really exciting things about our work here with the internet is how it has accelerated exponentially during the past three years. Three years ago I wrote a presentation, celebrating the fact that during our first seven years we had more than 6 million visits to our Web site. I just rechecked that number last night, and during the subsequent three years, through today, we've had an additional 12+ million visits. Our traffic has quadrupled.

And recently we celebrated a landmark: our 100,000th child sponsored online on our Web site! Nonetheless our current rate of online sponsorship exceeds 30,000 children each year. It's entirely possible we could hit 200,000 childen sponsored, late next year.

In recent years, I have actually seen many of our metrics actually double.

But even that's not the most exciting thing. The most exciting thing, to me, is the way God is using World Vision's internet presence for good in the world, to make a significant impact on the dire poverty and disease that is still the #1 problem besetting the planet. People like you and me who can actually do something about these problems, working together, are being mobilized by World Vision's internet presence at unprecedented rates. For instance, online "opt-in" subscriptions to our e-mail and internet news and resources have increased sixty-fold during the past six years!

To me, the internet has always been merely a tool to demonstrate the amazing work that compassionate people are doing throughout the world to reach out to children and their families who are impoverished and hurting. And not only that, it is a tool to actually connect people who care, with people who need care.

And, 10 years in, I feel like we are barely scratching the surface. The potential for the internet to revolutionize the way we go about achieving our mission is phenomenal, and so far largely untapped.

Practically every meeting I have attended during the past 10 years, we end up sitting around the table and dreaming: "Wow, wouldn't it be cool if we could do this ..." or "Imagine, if we could use the internet to ..."

I am grateful to God that many of those dreams have come true on our Web site during the past 10 years. Most have not ... yet. But, Lord willing, they will!

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