6 Reflections on the NetHope Annual Summit 2019

Posted by Kate Daniels, Strategic Partnerships Leader

NetSuite and NetHope have collaborated throughout the year – including co-creating webinars featuring Compassion in World Farming and Mana Nutrition, elevating thought pieces together such as the Dollars to Outcomes research, jointly promoting the Digital Nonprofit Ability  (DNA) Assessment and the forthcoming NetSuite-sponsored IDEA journey for NetHope members.

Last week, Oracle NetSuite Social Impact spent a rich, full, wildly interactive and deeply satisfying week with the NetHope community, at the 2019 Annual Summit in Puerto Rico. Here are six takeaways from the week:

1. Every NGO is a technology organization

Gone are the days when organizational leadership could divert their attention from the technological components of fundraising, program, finance, HR and logistical systems. Today, every organization is a technology organization. Becoming comfortable with that fact and shifting your focus to how technology can enable critical nonprofit operations will reduce the time spent on backend processes and increase the likelihood of earning large donor funds. It will also facilitate mutually beneficial relationships with technology companies rather than combative or reluctant ones. And most importantly, it will increase the scope, speed and professionalism of your development work.

2. International NGOs should begin to think differently about their digital strategy

NetHope’s release of the Digital Nonprofit Ability (DNA) Assessment comes at an excellent time. The DNA Assessment can reveal critical insights into an NGO’s technology capacity, abilities and the gaps therein. This feedback can then inform whether and how organizations interact with the IDEA journey concept (Imagining the kind of organization desired; Designing the systems and technology required; Executing on design; and finally, Assessing the execution). This concept is structured, carefully thought through and appropriate to International NGOs, in that it honors the NGO funding cycle and the need to have a well thought through concept available before approaching donors.

3. Leveraging the best in technology (AI, Machine Learning) for development makes good business and organizational sense

There are good reasons for nonprofit leaders to look at AI with some skepticism when considering new and innovative ways to serve at-risk populations and the environment. The risks to development organizations will carry far more significant weight than the risks to for-profit companies. When a retail company harnesses AI in its customer service business unit, with a chat bot, for example, the worst thing that can happen is that the customer service is poorly delivered and needs to be supplemented. When the International Rescue Committee harnesses AI in a refugee camp, the consequences of it not working include failure to deliver critical services to human beings already existing on the periphery of society.

Yet, there is no reason whatsoever that the best-in-class technology and most cutting-edge innovations should be reserved for the private sector. Tools like artificial intelligence, machine learning and retina scanning in refugee camps enable improved service delivery, faster relief efforts, more efficient management of resources and improved transparency.

The International Rescue Committee, for example, has piloted a retina scanning project in a refugee camp in Thailand, with early success. The downside involves nefarious forces (e.g. oppressive governments) that would attempt to harness this data to exact harm on populations deemed undesirable. These are not insignificant risks. Yet the idea of foregoing the best that technology has to offer in light of the intractable challenges development agencies face makes little sense.

4. Integrating finance, program and fundraising is an important and compelling reason to invest in an NGO data model

International NGOs face mounting pressure to clearly link the dollars raised and grant activities to the outputs and outcomes of those activities. They must be able to then link that back to the financial and program reports submitted to donors. The issue of marrying data from different departments is complicated by the fact that many organizations use different digital (and sometimes, analog) systems. Finance uses one system to track costs, program uses another to monitor and evaluate programs, grants management uses another and fundraising maintains pipeline and constituent relationship matrices in yet another system. The technology to marry this data on one platform exists through integrations and connectors. Early adoption of these integrated systems can dramatically improve reporting, transparency with donors and the capacity to convey impact.

5. The NetHope working group on Frontline Humanitarian Logistics and the need for a multi-layered platform will compel technology companies ordinarily in competition to cooperate

Mike Smith from Oxfam International, together with support from NetHope, has convened a multi-disciplinary, multi organizational working group to address the complex needs of organizations whose operations include frontline humanitarian logistics. What is unique about this project is that it requires the collective input, contributions and technology of not only International NGOs, but also of companies, many of which classically compete with one another (e.g. NetSuite, Microsoft and Salesforce) in various markets. And this is exactly how we need to address complicated development problems. By consciously leaving our egos and territoriality at the door and discussing how our technologies can integrate, connect and talk to one another, we can maximize the power of our collective platforms to design something that is truly greater than the sum of its parts.

6. Donors are thinking about technology for development differently than ever before and they know they have a lot to learn

Greg Olson from USAID’s Food for Peace program offered a session, entitled Innovating Delivery: Technology and the Global Food Assistance Supply Chain, during which he explained the way the program supplies food aid with antiquated technology and in settings that often off the grid, disconnected and difficult to link via mainstream technology for development methods. 

He articulate that the donor community is increasingly aware that technology is not only useful and helpful, but critical to getting work done. USAID, the largest single donor in the world, is waking up to its role in ensuring the funding for technology is provided for in grant awards and in budget line items, not only because technology enables reporting, but because technology is critical to impact. 


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