A Closer Look at the Nonprofit IT Pyramid: Part 3

It seems like such a long time since we blogged about how *abz Austria was able to use technology (specifically, CRM) to optimize their service delivery to jobseekers in Austria (in real time, it was only about two weeks ago, but – in social media time – that feels like eons ago!). Are you ready to summit this Nonprofit IT Pyramid? It’s that time! To continue our 4-part post on the simple IT planning framework we call “The Pyramid”, let’s look at an example of how the innovative application of technology can transform how we address pressing social issues.

Transform through Innovative Technology

The top of the pyramid can feel like the trickiest level, but it can also produce some of the most astounding results (as Akhtar said in his recent post, it’s where we go from transactional to transformational use of IT). At this level, IT solutions empower organizations to deliver services in new or different ways. IT becomes a strategic investment that adds significant value and truly helps address big, hairy, real-world problems.

Technologies or innovations at this level include things like handheld devices for data collection, Geographic Information Systems (“GIS”) or mapping systems that help visualize data, mobile phone-enabled solutions, or new and custom web technologies or software applications, often sector-specific. Since transformative IT solutions have a reputation for requiring lots of IT expertise and/or serious up-front cash to implement, this is historically the most difficult level for organizations to achieve.

Still, the top of the pyramid is important to all nonprofits, even those that don’t feel they’re anywhere near it yet. Keeping an eye on the innovations at the top of the pyramid could be what inspires your own transformative technology solution. Or, you may come across a transformational solution from a sister organization that you could replicate, such as the mobile solutions Hilmi Quraishi has created to help with mass healthcare communications in India.

Using mobile technology to combat tuberculosis in India

Hilmi Quraishi, selected by Ashoka and The Lemelson Foundation as a leading inventor-entrepreneur, is changing the way the world delivers important public health messages. Keenly aware that tuberculosis is one of the leading causes of death in India, Quraishi sought ways to use technology to change the status quo. With 70 percent of India’s population in rural areas with little access to information, Quraishi needed to think beyond the existing “old-school” mass communications systems to enable people to more actively participate in their own healthcare. He set out to deliver TB awareness information to a generation of tech-savvy consumers with top notch, interactive, mobile phone games.

Innovating on existing solutions, Quraishi adapted mobile technology solutions and gaming platforms for a mass health awareness campaign. His solutions include educational games and training delivered through a standard mobile phone, as well as new management and tracking systems connecting mobile end points with centralized systems.

Quraishi’s games have now tracked more than 12 million sessions in South Asia and Africa. Users find the games a more accessible (and addictive!) way to learn about tuberculosis. And with the pervasiveness of mobile phones – even in rural areas – the critical information reaches a much broader audience in a more engaging way (over 33 million people in six languages to be exact!). Quraishi is not only changing outcomes through a transformative solution, but his concept is replicable and scalable as mobile phones become increasingly affordable and prevalent in the developing world. And as one of the first 25 participants in the new Ashoka Globalizer program, Quraishi is actively working with other global entrepreneurs to extend this innovative model around the world.

From Transactional to Transformational

Quraishi’s example of using technologies to literally change the game of how we address social challenges is what gets us excited about technology. It’s not the technology itself, but the impact it can have on our communities and our world that really gets our geek-motors running. And, while we can’t all be at the top of pyramid all the time, understanding the potential of technology to transform our work may be just the kick in the pants we need to start (or keep) climbing.

To learn more about Hilmi Quraishi’s technology-enable initiative to combat tuberculosis, watch his short video at http://bit.ly/tbvideo. And to see how all levels of the pyramid are interconnected, come back for our final post in the series, in which we’ll follow one organization’s journey from the bottom to the top of the IT Pyramid. Till then, happy climbing!

Part One in this series available here.
Part Two in this series available here.

Lindsay Bealko helps Microsoft Community Affairs put technology know-how in the hands of nonprofits through resources like webinars, NGO Connection Days, and software donations. With several years’ experience in the nonprofit sector, Lindsay understands the unique challenges and opportunities nonprofits face when trying to adopt technology to help them meet their missions. She tweets (sometimes) at @linzbilks.

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