Tu Hoang parttime Ruby dev, fulltime Bun Rieu maniac

Behind the scenes: Charity Map

It’s been three years since we jotted down the idea of what-is-now-called Charity Map.

Charity Map started out as a modest map of orphanages in Ho Chi Minh City. We felt compelled at the idea of visiting nearby orphanages, and was thrilled to find out our friends felt more involved if they knew of places within walking distance from their companies, so that they could do a quick visit over lunchtime, or after-work.

Three years have passed. My friends keep on asking me if Charity Map is still a thing, as if technology and charitable work in Viet Nam don’t go well aligned. So after some repetitive answers, this blog post landed.

Yes, it is still a thing.

What I gave away in this Quora answer still pretty much apply. But here are a few things not many people tell you, or they do but you haven’t realized how important they are yet:

  1. Doing charitable work in Viet Nam is hard. Corruptions, benefit groups and inefficiency are too common problems to be discussed.

  2. Charity groups aren’t too tech savvy. Pen and paper are dominant tools. I once found a big NPO (with donation influx of $50k+ daily) list all donations on a single web page, and their staff use that page to manage, verify, coordinate and do all kinds of things.

  3. There are unexplainable things. Be it well managed or having too many good volunteers, we survived three years with just a grant from Princeton University (and our balance sheet is still positive, weee). I reached out to the big NPO mentioned above offering free development work to build them a donation management platform, and was told off at once.

We also have tried a lot of things during the last three years. Charity Map’s flagship product is a crowdfunding platform that is parked at charity-map.org. We pulled off this project in early 2014 (after two months of full-time development work), and have let it run by itself ever since. As a technology organization that is dedicated to helping people do charitable work in Viet Nam, a lot of other ideas came into our picture and we tried (most of) them to the extent of human and financial resources we could afford.

One of the ideas is Charitio. Charitio lets businesses reward customers with charity credit, be it $0.1, $0.25, $1 or $10. Customers can accummulate their credit over a range of partner businesses, and use it to donate to charities of their choice. E-commerces in Viet Nam have long given away similar e-rewards, now it’s just a matter of letting the customers convert those rewards to charity credit on Charitio.

At the moment I’m writing this, it’s been a few months since a big ecommerce did a similar thing, except they sourced their own platform. They let customers convert their in-house credit to money so that customers could donate to a project the ecommerce prepicked. It all went well for a few weeks, until the said ecommerce found it costly to run this operation, customers found their choice of charitable projects limited, and the whole project went in limbo.

I’m not saying they should have partnered with us (well, I lied, they should have). But Charitio was made to do this. Our dev team has built a production-ready/tested API, we have worked with a lot of NPOs and understand well their needs and cases, and using our platform allows their customers to gather as much credit as possible on many other platforms that partner with us as well.

That being said, it’s an ongoing battle over the years. Three years are long but not as long. My work at the organization has always been plentiful, and I’ll always be around with my co-founder and fellow developers to fight this battle.

PS: I know I ended this post quite abruptly. Writing in 5*C has never been my thing, and my stay in Melbourne is timed, so I’m heading off to some warm place to enjoy the city as much as I can. See you soon with more posts when I get back to Viet Nam.