OpenMarket Supports Text Giving Launch in Australia

Today OpenMarket helped launch text giving in Australia. This allows members of the public to donate to good causes by simply sending a text message to a 19-digit short code number. For each text message sent, the user donates $5 from their phone bill to the cause. The first charity to use this facility is UNICEF, and their video goes live across Australia later today. You can view it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J9x01UHM7cg.

Overseas using SMS as a method of giving has transformed fundraising, brought new donors to charities, and raised very significant amounts of money – in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

On this important day, I wanted to take this moment to recognise many of the individuals who have contributed to make this initiative a reality. For OpenMarket, this journey began in Australia in January 2012. We took the carriers up the Hunter Valley in NSW for the day. We discussed over lunch the subject of using their billing systems to make it easy for mobile subscribers to donate. Let’s just say the response at the time was mixed, although the seed was sown…

A long journey began for our team in Australia speaking to the carriers and beginning the arduous work of persuading them to support Australian charities in this way. For many years, OpenMarket had provided the same functionality in the UK, so we knew the benefits it could bring – and thus, our winding road began.

At the start of this effort, which was really April 2012 by the time we had follow-up meetings, we began to form the kernel of an informal team – although “team” is probably too strong of a word. We had Tim Cuthbert who worked for Optus at the time, Ewan Isbister at UNICEF, Jan Chisholm from Vision Australia, and Jenny O’Donnell from WWF. We quickly added more folks from Optus, including Helen Maisano, Susie Thompson and received a bit of a push from the then CEO Kevin Russell, who had implemented a similar initiative in the UK when he worked at 3. For many months we talked about how we would do it, how it would come in to support the work that Optus does in regarding emergency relief efforts through its existing capability and so forth. By the turn of 2013, we had a vision in principle of how it could work at one carrier. We felt if we could make it work with one, then it probably work at all.

In 2013, we were into detailed conversations with the Australian tax office, and a couple of new people joined the team – Adrian Graham from UNICEF and Michael Newsome who had replaced Ewan towards the end of that year. Vodafone and Telstra had always shown an interest in how the project was developing and during this year separate work by the Telco Together Foundation, which was aimed in the same direction, started to bring the initiatives together. By the end of last year, it quickly turned into a single initiative that all three carriers thought they might be able to support in a similar timeframe.

In January 2014, the carriers decided to run a process to select the best technical partner for the project, and Telco Together led a carrier appraisal of mobile engagement providers in the Australian market. We were delighted when OpenMarket was selected as the mobile engagement provider the carriers wanted to work with to bring this exciting initiative to fruition.

Since then, all three carriers have worked in unison over a few months to put in place the technology to make mobile giving possible. I don’t think I have observed three networks operators work this quickly on an initiative, and perhaps more surprisingly, work so closely in collaboration in an industry which is usually fiercely competitive.

I’d like to mention just a few more important names: Andy Obad and EJ Estavillo at Optus, together with the whole Optus networks and billing teams, Carolin Seeger and Christine Karnezis at Telstra along with all the folk behind the scenes who supported them, and David Butler at Vodafone who seemed to pull off the work of a whole team just on his own. Renee Bowker and Cam Foley at Telco Together Foundation have done a good job of being the facilitator throughout the last few months, chairing the working group meetings and keeping the timeline on track, and I know that many other people at Telco Together have also helped at different stages along the way.

From OpenMarket’s perspective, we have been assisted throughout the journey by James Stokes, Oisin Lunny, Damien Sainte-Cluque, the Finance team, John Ellis and Minh Nguyen in the Sydney office who have been busy testing this month, and most important of all is Lina Georgis, who runs our payment processing business in Australia, and has been singularly responsible for pushing this initiative through.

Every one of these people, along with the many others who have assisted them behind the scenes should feel happy today. It’s a trial for 12 months, but assuming it goes well, this capability will allow charities in Australia to raise many 10s or even 100s of millions of dollars for good causes over the next few years. Without all of their work, this would not have been possible.

I once worked for a very wise man who told me that the trick in business was to make money for your company, and do good along the way. In our everyday working lives at OpenMarket, my team in Asia has been very successful over the last few years. Succeeding in this initiative is our contribution to the Australian charitable sector and to the Australian community at large.