This was originial posted on the Stanford Social Innovation Review.
Earlier this year, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) held its fourth event dedicated to exploring how technology can be used in global development. With more than 170 participants, CRS held intensive sessions on how technology increasingly plays a role in solving challenges across all verticals—from financial services and field work to data, communication, mapping, business, education, health, poverty, and disease.
Events like the CRS conference showcase emerging trends and sets of data demonstrating that information and communication technology (ICT) can greatly benefit humanitarian work in the developing world. The rise of multistakeholder forums such as the mHealth Alliance, TechSoup, and NetHope provide proof that sectors want to collaborate—or at least converse—around technology. And, thanks to cloud computing and mobile technologies, there is a higher adoption of technology into service projects.
Despite this interest, and despite evidence that technology can help nonprofits achieve greater scale with their programs—NetHope’s work with The Rockefeller Foundation to build out its Innovations for Development program is a great example—most foundations do not consistently encourage investments in technology as part of their requests for grant proposals.
In partnership with Intel, NetHope recently surveyed 80 of the top global foundations that have a presence in developing countries to learn about the technology requests they make of their grantees. We discovered that only 37 percent of respondents perceived technology as “essential” and more than 70 percent of respondents said that their foundations do not require or only occasionally require the inclusion of technology in their grant proposals.
The survey also revealed that the biggest barrier to including technology in grant proposals is that foundations do not have access to or knowledge of the many proof points that link ICT solutions to end beneficiary outcomes. Respondents believe technology is an enabler, but they do not see enough case studies to demonstrate its value. Other barriers included a lack of capacity to understand and evaluate ICT in different contexts, and a lack of familiarity with how to shape asks for ICT that best suit beneficiaries.
It leaves me wondering: What can we, as a community of people invested in social innovation, do to support NGOs that want to embrace technology solutions to improve their programming? Some ideas include:
In the end, multistakeholder support is essential as we push for technology to become a larger piece of grant proposals. We need to leverage the relationships and trust we have built with donors to ensure that the shift is backed by nonprofits and funders alike. If more foundations are willing to fund technology, together we can collectively shift our fundraising culture, moving to an era of co-created, co-implemented technology solutions that benefit more people in need.