We are going to validate genuine NGOs: Brian Cute

Public Interest Registry CEO Brian Cute outlines his ambitious plan to organize the NGO community through the Internet

Moulishree Srivastava
First Published14 Nov 2014, 11:55 PM IST
Brian Cute says he is confident there will be a sizable demand that will bring a lot of NGOs online for the first time. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint<br />
Brian Cute says he is confident there will be a sizable demand that will bring a lot of NGOs online for the first time. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

New Delhi: Public Interest Registry, a Virginia, US-based not-for profit organization that operates .org and maintains the official database of all 10.3 million .org domain names globally, will launch in January new domain extensions .ngo at a global level and .ong targeted at regions with so-called Romance languages including French, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese. In an interview, Brian Cute, chief executive officer (CEO) of Public Interest Registry, who was in India earlier this week, spoke about the significance of the .ngo address, emerging trends in the Internet domain name space and the organization’s association with India. Edited excerpts:

What is the significance of .ngo and .ong domain extensions? How has the journey been since you started the initiative more than three years ago?

It’s important because it will empower NGOs to be more visible and to interact with donors online. It will also bring NGOs, which are not online, online in a very impactful way. We began outreach to NGO community on a global basis nearly three years ago. We conducted many workshops and two things we heard consistently whether it was here in India, Asia, Africa or Latin America. First, there is a reputational issue. NGOs need to be trusted (by donors) because there is a trust deficit due to fraudsters, who have posed as NGOs. Donors want to be certain (that) when they give money, it is going for the cause they are trying to support. Second, NGOs need to be visible and connect with donors. Having heard those two responses across the board, we built a set of solutions and services that will address that. We are going to validate NGOs as genuine NGOs. And, we will offer them entry in a global searchable directory, a Web page where they can present their mission to the world as well as (an) embedded ‘donate now’ button so that people anywhere in the world can donate directly. So, it was good consistent feedback and we have built solutions around that. The global NGO community is beyond 10 million in numbers and we are going to focus a lot of our efforts on the southern hemisphere, because these are underserved markets. We are very confident that there will be a sizable demand that will be able to bring a lot of NGOs online for the first time.

How do you validate NGOs?

We have asked the community to help us do validation. There is a wide variety of source data to determine whether or not an organization is legitimate or a genuine NGO. In many cases, it could be a government list, or NGO association list or credentials in any other form. The community has helped us understand what are the sources of data that we can rely on. Also, because we know some of the NGOs may be new or may not be registered, but doing good work on the ground, we will allow them to present a reference letter from a genuine NGO. Validation can be list-based, credential-based or letter of recommendation-based, but the most important is a community-based mechanism where the NGO community would be able raise a red flag in case a bad guy got in and we will have a process to take them out. So it is a dynamic form of validation. We are talking to a number of NGOs in terms of how to partner. We have an expression of interest that NGOs can submit to show they are interested in the service when we go live. More than 15,000 expressions of interest we have collected up until now and that’s just a small indication of the response that we have been getting globally.

What are the countries that you would be focusing on? What is your approach?

India certainly is an important country. We are looking at Nepal, Bangladesh, Kenya with DEF (Digital Empowerment Foundation) as it has expanded its activities into Africa, countries in Latin America, and South-East Asian countries like Indonesia and the Philippines. The service will be available to all, but we will have direct activities in a number of countries in the beginning and then will expand our footprint over time.

What is your approach?

In the southern hemisphere, getting NGOs online sometimes requires more. We can’t just put it online, and say “hey here it is”. We have to increase outreach, go to villages and in some cases go door-to-door. We have to go to NGOs to bring them online. That is why we are doing retail in the southern hemisphere. We know that we have to take that extra step.

We will sell .ngo and .ong through the registrar channels like Net4 and Go Daddy as we normally do. But in underserved markets, the registrar channels do not have a robust presence. Knowing that, we are establishing a small retail operator to make sure .ngo and .ong are available, and go that extra mile wherever it is needed.

We have resources which we can dedicate for marketing purposes and outreach purposes, but we do not have endless resources. So we have to select certain countries where we need to focus more on marketing efforts. It is also important to work with the local organizations that are already connected to NGOs. Like we are working with the Digital Empowerment Foundation in India; in Latin America and Africa, we are looking to partner with local organizations and that’s how we can have a presence in regions locally. That’s our approach.

There is a surge in new top domain level names coming online. For instance, Ahmedabad-based e-commerce portal Infibeam.com recently launched .ooo. How do you see things changing?

There are going to be 1,400 new addresses coming on to the Internet over two years’ time. There are already 400 addresses at present. So there are going to be many more choices for domain names and identities online. Some will succeed and some will fail. That’s the market. And the Internet users will ultimately dictate that. Some of these names are generic terms that the operators are hoping people will register because they want to have a .sports or .tennis name. This is different. It is much more than a new address. It is a clearly defined community-based address.

Do you see any India-specific trends?

The trend is more Internet access, more people coming online. That’s a hell of a trend. We don’t look at it as one domain address versus other, or Facebook versus domain names. It is about digital footprint. So, if you look at Internet users today, many of them will have a domain name, website, Facebook page, Twitter account and they use Instagram. So today’s Internet users have a broader digital footprint at many platforms they use, and that’s the trend.

How do you see Facebook Inc. and Google Inc. in the race for Internet space dominance?

I don’t really think about it in those terms. Big companies come and big companies go. And there is a period when one company is dominant and then 10 years down the road, there is somebody who has replaced them. What both these companies are doing, they are driving adoption and usage. That’s a good thing. The overall environment of the Internet is expanding to all users. And they are providing some energy in the sector. As long as users have a choice, that’s good as well.

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First Published:14 Nov 2014, 11:55 PM IST
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