90999: How It Happened

In the past few days, over 800,000 Americans have collectively donated over $9 million to support the work of the Red Cross in Haiti with a simple text message of "HAITI" to shortcode 90999. There have been a number of similar shortcodes set up, but we at NDN have been promoting this one for two reasons: First, donations to this shortcode are entirely free of fees, so all of your $10 go to the Red Cross. Second, our friends at the State Department helped facilitate this particular effort, and have given it their imprimatur.

Remarkably, this shortcode was active just a few hours after the earthquake.  This came about through around-the-world coordination between our State Department, the mobile donations nonprofit mGive, and the major mobile carriers in the United States.  Fortunately, mGive already had a shortcode set up for $10 donations, and so when Alec Ross, Secretary Clinton's senior adviser on innovation, called James Eberhard, chairman of mGive, and roused him from his bed in Pakistan, mGive was able to quickly modify the code to accept donations for the Red Cross's work in Haiti. The mobile carriers also stepped up, waving all fees and charges on SMS messages sent to this code.

The tragedy in Haiti is on a truly devastating scale, but it has been heartening to see Americans step up in the way they have. To the extent that this collective action has been facilitated by mobile technology, we must again be thankful for the people and organizations who helped make it possible. Haiti will be in very bad shape for years to come, but hopefully early and sustained support from the American people will play a role in getting this devastated country back on its feet.