Tuesday, March 16, 2010

NetHope Summit, Day Two - On the Same Page

I'd like to talk about two comments that were bookends to day two of the Summit in Nairobi.

This morning, Weibe Boer, Associate Director of the Rockefeller Foundation, challenged us with two things:

1) To encourage our other back office departments (HR , Finance, Legal) about the what, why, how and benefits of collaboration;

2) To have a double impact as NGO IT leaders: first, on program delivery in the Field, and second, creating economic impact on emerging countries by where we choose to put our IT services.

The role we increasingly play as NetHope is advocating within our own organizations on the value of technology and the impact it can have on our work. Charlie MacCormack, Save the Children's CEO, spoke about this in a
white paper on the NetHope web site. Charlie concluded that over the past 13 years "the same headquarters staff is supporting over two times the number of people who are working with children in the field. That type of productivity gain would not be possible without technology."

Our Board panel said similar things about increased technology investments in the midst of the recession. It's one of the few capacity building levers we can pull in our downsized organizations. Doing that together has proven even more impactful, realizing more than a 300% return on our NetHope investment. This is a collaboration that works, which other departments would do well to emulate.

Our Shared Services initiative is about building capacity, not necessarily by off-shoring IT services, as many of our corporate colleagues have done, but growing services to meet increased Field application demand. NGOs are behind the corporate IT services curve, and therefore usually do not realize the savings by moving functions to lower cost alternatives. If we have a small services staff, with only 8-hour by 5-day support, we are hard pressed to find the 30% plus savings that other organizations do. However, if we share services, we can grow support to 24 by 7 without increasing support costs.

One of the reasons we are in Kenya, is we believe that this increased capacity can be better delivered by an emerging country, especially one in which we deliver our program services. That these decisions can help the local economy is a "give-back" opportunity for us.

This evening, I had the honor of introducing Catherine Ngahu, Chairperson of the Kenya ICT Board, our host at this year's Summit. When I learned that she was very interested in the social side of technology, I could think of no better way to introduce her to NetHope than with the story of the
Fallen Tree. I said that we are that village who sang from the same page and moved the obstacle out of the way forward-- no matter whether the challenge of insufficient staff, budget or equipment, when we all pull together and trust each other, we can move mountains.

Catherine then told a story about the importance of context that we would do well to heed in our technology work. It was about an ad campaign NGOs ran a few decades ago to encourage the poor in Africa to have smaller families. The marketing approach was to show a family with four healthy children in front of a nice home, contrasted with a family with eight children in front of a meager shelter. However, the poor kept having more children. When they finally asked them why, they said the ad told them that poor families have more children! This was a perfect way to end the day: ask and listen before you build. We can be on the same page with our audience as well.

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