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Like Prosecco and Parmesan, digitalization pairs strategically with humanitarianism

Identifying digital dimensions and interconnected digital ecosystems inform effective cross-sector collaborations, and amplify impact.


By Nicholas Kerastas, The Center for the Digital Nonprofit

Standing in front of the proverbial digital charcuterie board, the enticing spread of information-based resources presents a technological deluge that mystifies today’s nonprofit leadership. Unless you are a digital sommelier, appropriately accenting the attributes of any innovation with the operational nuances of an organization can be an extremely difficult task (just look at the many failed remnants of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) implementations). Properly navigating this digital landscape has the potential to revolutionize the way that humanitarian services are delivered, and the speed at which we achieve development targets such as those laid out in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Which, as it turns out, many nonprofits are looking to do.

NetHope has made it our prerogative to aid the nonprofit leader such that they become their own digital sommelier. Much like pairing a fine wine with an aged cheese or a hot tea with honey, NetHope aims to match the intensities of digital innovation with the metaphorically aged distinctions of nonprofits.

In pursuit of this goal, the Center for the Digital Nonprofit (CDN) has been engaging with the 2030 Strategic Alignment Project. Following agile research methodology, we executed an exhaustive conceptual analysis upon the strategic documentation of NetHope’s Membership. This research led to the creation of a holistic landscape assessment that contains three major components – an overview of nonprofit strategic plans and digital investments, ICT capabilities of countries and governments, and solution roadmaps from corporate technology partners. NetHope identified the existence of 10 digital dimensions (Ecochard and Kerastas, 2021). Each of which represent a priority investment pathway that the membership will be taking as we approach the 2030 end date of the SDGs.

More significant, was the discovery of an interconnected digital ecosystem that includes Information Certainty, Digital Skills, Applied Technologies, and Peak Performance (Ecochard and Kerastas, 2021).With these findings in hand, NetHope will continue its work fostering digital collaboration between nonprofit members, technology partners, as well as philanthropic and donor institutions thereby generating actionable, digitally enabled programs that will meaningfully contribute to the achievement of the SDGs.

The research team also sought to evaluate how each digital dimension existed within the various approaches to humanitarian action. This process of applying the digital dimensions to program areas allowed for NetHope to more closely examine how technology enables impact acceleration. In this case, from the focus of the membership’s top programmatic areas: Emergency Response, Health & Wellbeing, and Economic Empowerment.

Figure A- Emergency Response

For emergency response programs, of which the majority of the NetHope membership implements on an annual basis, the dimension of Digital Skills stands out as a potent pairing (Figure A). From this perspective, emergency response organizations are very concerned about the digital capabilities of both its program participants and the staff providing program services. Internally through this dimension NGOs, want to encourage and develop value-led staff to continually learn and grow such that they become more effective in their roles and in the provision of COVID-19 inspired digital programming. Externally, with regard to program participants, digital literacy is the top barrier to an individual facing disaster preventing people from participating in the digital economy. Thus, by addressing the Digital Skills of program participants NGOs are also helping build marketable skills that function as an accelerated ramp for economic and social wellbeing.

Figure B- Health & Wellbeing

Health & Wellbeing, research indicates another unique pairing with the dimension of Platform Solutions (Figure B). Through partnering and pilot testing with corporate technology partners, health-focused NGOs are working to provide sustainable and scalable platform solutions that provide a broad array of healthcare services. Such platforms are inspiring digitally enabled telehealth programs that offer 24/7 access to community health workers, trustworthy and accurate information resources, and SMS-text consultations. Most notably, such digital health programs are extending critical resources to millions of women across globe resulting in greater access to testing for communicable diseases, education about sexual reproductive health, and interventions regarding gender-based violence. As a result, the NetHope membership is transforming the delivery of healthcare services and ensuring the wellbeing of millions of previously underserved individuals.

Figure C- Economic Empowerment

Finally, in the area of Economic Empowerment, there is a clear and obvious pairing with the dimension of Applied Technologies (Figure C). Through this dimension, this niche of poverty focused NGOs seek to fill the gap in current solutions and achieve the last mile in service delivery based on the adaptation of existing products and innovations. The identification and replication of such technologies, especially in banking and financial inclusion, are creating new opportunities and sparking adoption of solutions to previously unwavering problems. Sector use cases involving FinTech (Financial Technology) are highlighting the promise of Applied Technologies by expanding access to bank accounts, mobile money and online banking, as well as e-commerce platforms, and peer-to-peer services. Regardless of the exact service delivered the result is the same: greater opportunity to participate in global financial markets and reduction of poverty amongst some of the world’s most marginalized groups.  

While the world may be falling behind on the SDGs, many nonprofits are catching up with digitally enabled programs. For some organizations, the process of pairing technology with program areas generates a messy and disorganized array of systems and applications that contributes to the inertia the sector faces. On the other hand, effective combinations of technology and program areas, akin to the pairing of an aged parmesan with an extra dry prosecco, already exist throughout the sector. The real task at hand for digital sommeliers and nonprofit leaders now becomes strategically identifying those pairings and scaling for greater impact.

For more information about NetHope’s strategic alignment work please checkout our first white paper on the subject or contact the Center for the Digital Nonprofit at NetHope.

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