A breakout session at The Trialogue Business in Society Conference 2018 explored the potential of technology to facilitate more effective and scalable services through improved programme design and work processes. To do this, non-profit organisations (NPO) will need to stay on top of current technological trends and changes relevant to the sector. This is particularly important given that the African continent already lags as far as technology is concerned.
Phambano Technology Development Centre is a purpose-driven organisation that aims to increase the technological skills and capacity of NPOs across Southern Africa, empowering them to reach more beneficiaries locally and globally. Its work includes negotiating internet connectivity on behalf of smaller NPOs, and collaborating with tech giants like Dell and other large corporates wanting to support non-profits. Session facilitator and Phambano deputy director, Samantha Posselt, explained that the organisation has seen massive growth since its establishment and that there is an urgent need for more players in the tech space.
Technology needs to be relevant today, while positioning us for the future
According to Charlene Verzmoter, philanthropies lead for Microsoft, “technology is advancing at a faster rate than our skills. The subsequent technical skills gaps have created demand for highly skilled professionals and this trend will intensify in the years ahead.” While it is crucial for NPOs to be capacitated to deal with a changing world and the needs of the future, it is equally important to ensure the relevance of technology for NPOs today.
Linked to the need for relevance and sustainability is a culture of white elephants, particularly in the education sector. This is often attributed to teachers not being trained or skilled enough to effectively apply technology to improved teaching and learning. To tackle this, the panel agreed that stakeholders across the board need to come up with innovative solutions that will ensure the accessibility and optimisation of technology. An audience member suggested that, instead of placing technology in schools, technologically equipped buses could travel to different communities, making technology more widely accessible. The power of digital native youth embedded in schools and communities could also be leveraged to operationalise technology.
Software solutions and support available to non-profits
Some of the software solutions available to NPOs include Facebook for Non-profits, which is popular in the USA. Facebook’s donations programme was also cited as a tool that could be particularly valuable to NPOs, many of whom rely on grants and donations for survival. Through the platform, NPOs can also receive the data of the people who donate to their causes, providing them with an opportunity to cultivate relationships with their supporters.
Verzmoter also shared information on the various products available to non-profits from Microsoft, including cloud products, webinars and training sessions organised specifically for charities. Microsoft also provides $5 000 grants to NPOs, particularly those that can train the youth on digital and coding skills at scale. Verzmoter reiterated that this approach is designed to ensure that youth are not left behind in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and to help them develop problem-solving and analytical skills.
Overcoming resistance to change
While the potential benefits of technology for both the non-profit sector and the communities it serves are apparent, it is not always easy to get community buy-in and participation, explained an audience member, drawing on her own organisation’s challenges with implementing technological interventions. Panelists acknowledged this as something NPOs need to expect and factor into their programme planning and strategy, bearing in mind that the longer they leave the digital divide, the bigger the gap will become.
Another audience member suggested using success stories to show the positive impact that technology can have on vulnerable communities, to help generate interest. An example of a project implemented by the Post Office, in which rural farmers in Limpopo were trained to use the internet to research crop disease and weather patterns, among other things, was cited.
NPOs need to understand their digital needs and plan for them
The closing consensus was that NPOs have the opportunity to benefit from emerging technologies such as cloud computing systems, social media and mobile technology. However, in order to do so, they quickly need to figure out what their digital needs are, instead of just jumping onto the digital train. Equally important is for NPOs to learn how technological solutions can be integrated into the sector, especially given the diversity of interventions implemented by NPOs. “Digital inclusion that is based on system-wide solutions is one of the most powerful collaborations that can take place within the non-profit sector,” said Verzmoter.
Written by Connie Huma, edited by Zyaan Davids
Image © Brett Eloff