Wenger Launches CollaborAid Project

Kate Preziosi

The aid community is crowded with hundreds of thousands of organizations, volunteers and donors fighting to alleviate global poverty. Since graduating in May, Mike Wenger ’09 has been on campus working tirelessly to launch CollaborAid, an online platform he created that can finally connect these aid providers with each other and the communities they serve.

After spending two summers in Africa, Wenger realized that poor communication among volunteer groups and organizations is a chronic problem that wastes valuable time and money every day.

“When I went to Zambia [in Summer 2008], I had a $10,000 development grant that I could invest any way I chose,” Wenger said. “I spent a lot of time talking with various organizations in the area, and I found that many of them were raising funds and resources to do the same things, but were completely unaware of one another.”

In Spring 2009, Wenger began reaching out to other Colgate students with similar abroad experiences to help develop the CollaborAid platform. Junior Melissa Lehman volunteered in Kenya in January 2008, and was likewise struck by how little communication there is even within the same volunteer network.

“Before we got to the orphanage that [junior] Katelyn Selver and I worked at, we had no indication of what they would need,” Lehman said. “Had we known that they lacked basic necessities, we could have been much more effective in our preparation. We brought children’s books, but of course they’re the same ten children’s books that everyone else brings.”

Lehman helped Wenger and Kaitlyn Godfrey ’09 develop the basic layout for CollaborAid. The team connected with aid providers at USAID, the Peace Corps and the UN as well as with community-based organizations. The platform evolved based on continued feedback to include mapping, survey capabilities and virtual conferencing.

“The goal is to actively recruit future users by getting their feedback,” Wenger said. “If we can receive a lot of endorsements from donors, volunteers and all the stakeholders that we’re looking to serve early on, it will be easier to populate CollaborAid once it’s launched.”

In August, Wenger and Godfrey presented CollaborAid at the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance Conference, where they received overwhelming support.

“People said, [this] website would help us overcome some of the barriers to information we have based in the United States; this would be a resource we would use to implement our projects more effectively,” Godfrey said in an earlier interview with Colgate University News.

Wenger is living part-time in Hamilton while he teams up with over 40 Colgate students to recruit future users, technology professionals and donors. The Center for Outreach, Volunteerism and Education (COVE) is providing financial support for CollaborAid as Wenger works with faculty and alumni advisors. He spends the rest of his time in New York City, where he has recently developed a partnership with MyActionMap, a technology company dedicated to providing virtual conferencing to the philanthropy world.

“In my ‘Economic Development’ senior seminar, I read about the inefficiencies of aid that I was also able to witness first-hand,” Wenger said. “Money and other resources really can be spent in more effective, sustainable ways. I’m hopeful that CollaborAid can make a huge difference on that front.”