Friday, January 15, 2010

New Leaf

In Wiring the Global Village, the connections are ultimately about people and not technology

There comes a time when you realize that you have achieved your goals and it is time to move on to the next chapter in your story. I am at that juncture and need to turn the page. I therefore elected to take an early retirement from Save the Children.

Here are some of the remarks I made at my final staff meeting at Save that I'd like to share with the rest of you. These are words of encouragement and challenge, not only for IT at Save, but technology people at all nonprofit organizations.

It’s been a memorable decade at Save, and there is much for the IT teams to be proud of. Here are the top-10 numbers I count as standout achievements:

  • 241 Intel Classmates being used in Bolivia and Bangladesh schools
  • 225 PDA’s in service in the Bangladesh Food Security and M&E programs
  • 3.7 – the Internal Client Satisfaction Index for IT among our field offices
  • 5 Alliance members on the path to share a common financial management system
  • 186 Field Offices wired for doing business across the Internet
  • 6 Systems Building enterprise projects funded for meeting business unit needs
  • 29 video conference rooms in operation across the Alliance
  • 2 Legacy AS400 midrange computers retired
  • First of 28 NetHope members in the most successful international NGO collaboration to-date
  • 0.6% – the voluntary turnover rate in IT for the past 5 years (until the recent restructuring)

However, these numbers don’t tell the whole story. As Charlie [our CEO] put it so well, we have been the team that has brought technology into the 21st century at Save.

Part of this has been about vision, and part has been about hard day-to-day change. Some have suggested that I’ve often been five steps ahead of everyone else. That’s short of chess masters who claim to see a dozen moves ahead, so there’s always room for improvement. Though it’s often been a lot of change to handle, I’ve always felt that if you stand still, you get hit by the train.

Let me tell you a story to illustrate the point:

Imagine a bullfrog sitting on an old train rail. It is a strong frog. It is a fast frog. It is a wise and noble frog. One could even say it’s a prince of a frog!

In the far distance, from the south, is a faint whistle.

"It is nothing," thinks the frog. "I can stay put."

Ever so slowly the whistle grows louder. "Ah, the sun is warm," sighs the frog, "It is nothing."

Louder still gets the whistle. "There is time," says the frog, "the wind whistles too."

Then the whistle becomes a roar.

"I feel a rumble," the frog says out loud, "perhaps I should pay attention."

He turns too late and is flattened by a roaring bullet train, barreling to the north.

"But wait," you say, "It is a wise frog!"

“Rewind the story.”

“The frog would jump in time, wouldn’t it?”

"OK," I say, "the frog jumps to neighboring rail, a familiar stretch of iron."

And he's hit by a different train, an old freight train, barreling to the south.

Right now, in our IT departments in nonprofit organizations, we are the frog. The whistle that grows steadily louder, the northbound train, is the call to move north, to be a more mission-moving force in our organizations. The freight train lumbering south, is the recession, hard times, and the retrenchment to familiar, lights-on operations.

Now imagine you are the frog. What do you do? In many ways, we have been a team that’s moved forward. And this is our call anew today.

So what am I doing for the next chapter? There’s a “burning platform” that needs attending. We need to move the IT agenda up the pyramid, as you’ve heard me say a hundred times or so. As most NetHope members have experienced the budget cuts of the past year, it’s hard to keep the lights on, let alone make the changes needed for leveraging technology for delivering our programs in the field. How to better do that is my next mission. You can expect to hear some great things coming out of NetHope and elsewhere as a result.

Lastly and most importantly is my sincere thank you to all who put in the long hours and dealt with the complex and thorny problems that technology often presents. We could not have achieved our goals without the team work. For that I will be forever grateful.

1 comment:

  1. Ed,
    Congratulations on the new leaf! I still go back to your presentation's slide - the one with the pyramid- every time I need a reminder that we cannot run IT in the international development sector and world of the non-for-profit organizations the same way we run it for business. I'm honored to have met you through NetHope and consider you my role model for an ICT4D leader and strategist. I hope we'll cross paths again at NetHope, and look forward to hearing more great things from you there.