idea shop: Connecting coders and NGO’s for social good

When it comes to using information technology to solve problems of communities, NGO sector need to play a leading role.

So why is it that NGO’s with great networks, human resources and know how, fail to create a larger impact in societies?

Limited usage of information technology is one.

NGO’s are not in a greater position to recruit the talent which is expensive.  And even if they have, NGO’s often lack a vision and thought leadership to guide it.

The “coding your way to opportunity” grant by World Bank and Microsoft, administered by Sarvodaya-Fusion, is an effort to bridge the gap between coders and NGO’s.

Immediately after announcing the grant, we, at Fusion, understood that NGO’s were having a hard time figuring  “what kind of an idea would fit the criteria of a good proposal”

Coders were interested as the grant was asking for using tech to solve social problems, but they were clueless as to how they could collaborate with a NGO. (One of the criteria for the grant is, that the project should be led by an NGO).

Taking responses from NGO’s and coders, we held a “live chat”, connecting experts from World Bank, Micorosoft and software developers with applicants.

Going further to bridge the gap, we have designed an “IDEA SHOP”, to guide coders and NGO’s to understand “ what exactly would make a good proposal”.

It started with an ice breaker session where participants had to know each other in the workshop beyond their job titles. Aim of that session was to identify a common ground for people coming from “2 different worlds”. That was how coders and NGO’s saw themselves at the beginning!

Then we explained about the proposal going through each of the requirement.

Most of the doubts and issues were solved by that session.

Then we started the most creative and impactful session. We got the participants to get in to two groups, each with a balanced representation of coders and NGO’s

Each group had to identify a need that the NGO partners has, brainstorm about it, develop a solution and present it.

 

First idea was to develop a tech solution to help deaf and dumb communities.

Second idea was to develop a portal to help small and medium entrepreneurs to share information about their products, so that they can find new buyers.

It was wonderful to see that the 2 ideas presented, were picked by 2 NGO’s to lead and send proposals to the grant before June 30th, which is the extended deadline.

Sharing her experience at the workshop, Kenosha Kumaresan from Family Planning Association, expressed her views.

“FPA Sri Lanka was very much interested in applying for the Youth Grant available for a project done via coding. However as an organization that works in Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) I found it hard to draw parallels between addressing SRH and Coding. Therefore, with the support of my superiors I participated in the Google-hangout conducted by World Bank Sri Lanka. Sadly, I did not receive a comprehensive response to my question; on the contrary it left me with more questions! Therefore I was really hoping that the ‘Idea-shop’ conducted by Sarvodaya-Fusion, World Bank Sri Lanka and Microsoft Sri Lanka would address these questions.

I consider myself fairly tech-savvy but programming and coding are far from my reach. Hence, being in a gathering with my fellow NGO colleagues as well as programmers/coders was indeed strange and yet a great initiative to bridge the gap between technology and grassroots work with communities.

It was also nice to see the programmers/coders taking an extra effort to simply their tech-jargon so the common man could understand! Truly a commendable effort as it could not have been easy!

While the open discussion addressed the questions that the participants had to a great extent, it was the group exercise that proved fruitful.  Through this exercise the NGOs were able to identify how technology can in fact simplify so many problems that the communities, particular the vulnerable communities face in society. Our case study on how a simple ‘real-time voice conversion app into sign language’ (and vice versa) could solve the needs of the deaf and dumb communities was a perfect example of how coding can open up opportunities for many both locally and internationally. This example also convinced me that there is a strong correlation between how coding can help spread Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) to the youth in order to enhance universal access to SRH and to address issues such as discrimination, gender equality & violence against women “

 

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