Nethope Logo

Daring to dream: Marie Stopes International embarks on digital transformation

We will savor the experience in London and look forward to applying the learning to expand on the lessons learned in upcoming Dream Sessions with other NetHope members

April 17, 2019

This post is one in a series focusing on the second networking group of NetHope members participating in IDEA (Imagine, Design, Execute, Assess), a broad umbrella for digital transformation processes offered to NetHope members through The Center for the Digital Nonprofit. The first IDEA implementation pilot was based on Dream, Design, Deliver, a social impact accelerator developed with Microsoft.

By Fredrik Winsnes and Jean-Louis Ecochard, NetHope’s Center for the Digital Nonprofit

In the challenging world of global nonprofits, dreams may seem like a luxury, but Marie Stopes International and other NetHope members are discovering that dreaming is a necessity; and dreams are the first stop on the path to digital transformation.

Marie Stopes International (MSI) is one of NetHope’s newest members, joining in 2017. Their size and singular focus on “give women and girls the opportunity to have children by choice not by chance” is powerful, incredibly challenging, and at times controversial. This global nonprofit is active in more than 37 countries with a staff of 11,000.

For us, the opportunity to spend two days in London with the Marie Stopes International team, exploring the “art of the possible,” was a profound learning experience. Marie Stopes International is looking to solve the broad challenge of devising an integrated digital data and technology landscape to support their 2030 strategy. Many questions have yet to receive answers such as:

  • How can data and digital technology help to reach clients, especially those with the greatest unmet need?
  • How can the organization efficiently track clients’ journeys from first contact through referral to service provision, across different touch points within Marie Stopes International and its partners?
  • How can they bring data together to inform operational as well as strategic decisions that need to be made in different parts of the organization?

Identifying these challenges was the result of a carefully planned and executed event by NetHope’s and Microsoft’s consulting partner, Seattle-based Revel Consulting. The preparation, spanning eight time zones and numerous web conferences included scheduling and assembling a broad set of participants, spanning  a country director, Global Support Office staff, and senior management. Introduction and orientation calls were conducted so participants had certain expectations going into the two-day, in-person session.

Day One

To get us all warmed up for a creative two days, facilitators asked participants to introduce themselves and their “superpowers.” It rapidly became apparent that the room was filled with talent capable of changing the world. Among the two dozen or so participants, there were close to 10 nationalities represented, offering a wide set of perspectives. Almost all the executive team was present.


To get into the right mindset, the group was asked to ponder contradictions like “Failure is success,” and in some cases “failure is not an option”— a method of permitting participants to expand their thinking and juggle two competing thoughts in their heads.

After introductions, we oriented on overall MSI objectives: 1) how to increase capacity for more clients; 2) ensuring decisions are rooted in data; 3) constantly seeking new and better ways; and 4) tracking activities and making sure they are carried our more efficiently and sustainably.

We quickly turned to defining the “key persona” part of the MSI value creation: The client (a young girl or woman); the provider (nurse); and various support people from field to Country and Global Support Office. Based on the “current state” of today’s realities, it was interesting to get insight into the daily challenges these roles face and how, in turn, they effect how business is carried out, both in the field and at headquarters, and the interactions and tensions in between. We empathized with a range of people and situations, such as the long wait lines a client may encounter, the burden of assessing stocks of supplies by nurses, and the complex data and financial reconciliations needed in-country and at the Global Support Office.

After reflecting on the “current state”, thousands of Post-it Notes, and rounds of prioritization and voting, the discussion zeroed in on two central areas of the MSI business: 1) how to make the service provider (nurse) in the field more efficient and less burdened with administrative tasks, and 2) on a broader scale, how to make relevant data from a variety of sources available to decision makers throughout the company. These were ripe concepts for focusing on people first, rethinking existing processes, and exploring how technology can be used to enable greater impact. After all, business transformation in the digital age is led by people, followed by process, and made easier by technology.

Day Two

The second day was set aside for creative thinking. Teams, with intimate knowledge of MSI’s business, were encouraged to dream big and imagine new possibilities. Although it’s too early to reveal these outcomes, the outcomes of this Dream Session will shortly be documented in a Marie Stopes International “Dream Book.”


Toward the end of the second day, we had a chance to reflect on the two-day experience. The prevailing sentiment was that it was a refreshing way to look at the organization as a whole. One of the participants noted, “This process was awakening and what we were able to imagine during these two days truly blew my mind!”

We will savor the experience in London and look forward to applying the learning to expand on the lessons learned in upcoming Dream Sessions with other NetHope members, including Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières, The Carter Center, SOS Children’s Villages, Trócaire, the British Red Cross, Mercy Corps, Team Rubicon, and others over the next weeks and months. Stay tuned!

Read more about other Dream sessions:

Twitter @NetHope_orgFacebook NetHopeorgYouTube iconLinkedIn Company NetHopeInstagram nethope_org