Every year, the world’s leading social entrepreneurs gather at Oxford University to participate in Skoll World Forum. For three days and nights, attendees take part in debates, discussion and work sessions to address the world’s most pressing social problems through the lens of 'profit with a purpose.'
The forum hosts delegates from a wide array of sectors—including finance, corporate, academia and policy—to discuss topics that fall within the overall theme. This year’s theme—“Large Scale Change—ecosystems, networks and collaborative action”—looks at how our complex, interdependent world may challenge or help our efforts to make large-scale change. One only has to look at Twitter or Facebook over the past few weeks to see the precipice we are at in translating disruptive innovation into wide scale change. The Forum offers an opportunity for an entrepreneur to pitch to the head of investment for UBS or Goldman or participants to talk about civil society with Desmond Tutu. It the rebirth of the French salon for these brief three days in Oxford.
This year’s sessions will touch upon topics ranging from China and Sub-Saharan Africa to leadership and navigating unchartered waters. The subject that hits home most for NetHope is “Enabling Technologies for Large Scale Change.”
Let’s take a look at the scalable tools NetHope uses and plans to use going forward:
Hitting Our Stride in the Last Mile
When NetHope was founded in 2001, the promise of inter-agency collaboration was clear in reaching the most isolated, rural populations. Many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) understood that reaching that “last mile” would serve those in the greatest need. However, on their own, these organizations’ human and technology resources were stretched to the limit making this expensive “last mile” practically out of reach.
By collaborating with other NetHope agencies, member organizations could better serve their beneficiaries as well as take advantage of the collective’s shared expertise and resources. Ten years later, reaching the last mile still stands as one of our chief objectives as the main focus of our Connectivity initiative.
One way that NetHope delivers broadband service to those hardest-to-reach places using VSAT (Very Small Aperture Terminal) systems. VSAT systems require little or no field construction; placed outside, a VSAT system consists of a 3-meter-large earth station that connects to an orbiting space satellite. Field offices are able to connect to each other, as well as with their headquarter locations, through their VSAT system. The transmission is strong enough to support VoIP, an Internet connection, video or data transfer like processing credit cards.
Technology like VSAT supplies connects rural areas to the global internet, which can be life-changing for the newly connected. Connectivity provides the infrastructure for influential Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) solutions. For example, World Vision Canada uses rural connectivity to implement their Last Mile Mobile Solution (LMMS). LMMS ensures families in rural areas receive fair food rations with a swipe of their identification card; this process replaces slower paper methods and offers a faster procedure that even gives real-time inventory statistics. LMMS was even re-applied in Haiti last year as a way to efficiently delivery emergency resources.
Technological advancements now allow VSAT systems offer higher bandwidth for lower costs coupled with new off grid solutions like femto cells the promise of connectivity – both fixed and mobile – now looks like a reality. So with low-cost and support for high-impact solutions, integrated VSAT systems are a great example of a scalable technology that gives large-scale change
Hope in the Cloud
Advancements in cloud computing technologies have made it easier than ever to scale technological solutions. Cloud computing systems allows for growth and new features without requiring a rebuild of existing infrastructure. Nowadays, discussions often cast cloud computing as “where we are all headed,” but who is to say that the future hasn’t already happened?
Cloud computing is a complex beast, taking on different faces in different situations; for NetHope, the most familiar presence is “Software as a Service,” or SaaS. Along side Connectivity, we have another program area—Shared Services—dedicated to assisting member NGOs in their managerial and financial processes, with the aim of standardizing and reducing back-office spending for infrastructure and support. When four member organizations were interested in creating a tool to manage their assets -- inventory, hardware, software and licenses -- SaaS was the best avenue to take and Save the Children deployed the first Service-Now Asset Management pilot. Because Service-Now is cloud-based, it is available anywhere, anytime and provides an all-in-one solution with flexibility for additional data fields or other future changes. The versatility and capacity of cloud computing suggests that more cloud-based services can be spread across all verticals to make scaling pain-free and less costly.
How have you seen cloud computing used to deliver large-scale change? How do you see ICT used to address social challenges now, and in the future? Share with us on Twitter @NetHope_Org with #SkollWF or Facebook.