Program Services Delivery Starting To Go Mobile

April 12, 2011       Samuel Fanburg      

Realizing that it took far too long for medical clinics to receive lab tests in Bangladesh, Nadim Mahmud, co-founder of Medic Mobile, decided to create a network where lab results could be distributed with relative ease.

“In Bangladesh and many other developing countries, it is a common scenario to see a huge shortage of health care workers leaving the health clinics under resourced,” said Mahmud. “We wondered how we could utilize the mobile technology boom in making this process more efficient.”

Bridging the gap between developing nations and nonprofits, mobile technology has taken a foothold in the way outside organizations can make a positive difference in the lives of people at the ground level. During latest of the New York University Heyman Center’s, Philanthropy 3.0 Speaking Series, technological innovators along with nonprofit consultants got together to discuss how advancement in mobile technology allows a way for nonprofit organizations to connect with potential donors and constituents like never before.

In the case of Medic Mobile, by creating ad hoc committees that distributed mobile cell phones to volunteers, test results were effectively communicated via text messages giving those infected a better chance in battling their disease. Mahmud offered four postulations in establishing a successful mobile technology program with the ability to change behavior:

  • Regionally Based — As every nation is different, projects have to be based in the users area. It cannot be developed in the United than transferred;
  • Open- Programs have to be open source to allow active sharing in an egoless fashion;
  • Monitoring- With data provided in real time, it’s important to have people examining what exactly is going on; and,
  • User centered- Make sure the program is not too extensive or difficult to use.

Solutions like Medic Mobiles approach to lab tests in Bangladesh are viewed as cutting edge in their ability to transform ordinary volunteers into lab technicians but have encountered a pushback from the nonprofit community, according to Liz Ngonzi, founder and CEO of Amazing Taste.

“One of the biggest challenges we have seen in bringing these types of programs to nonprofit organizations is that they are not entrepreneurial in nature,” said Ngonzi. “A lot of the issues we encounter are that it is too expensive, or they want to know who had done it before? I think a lot of people don’t realizing that engaging in this type of technology will better connect organizations with younger donors, the future of their stewardship.”

One nonprofit that has taken an active role in using mobile technology in their campaigns is UNICEF. Represented at the forum by co-leader of innovation Christopher Fabian, he discussed how mobile technology gives organizations a new opportunity to examine the results of a program in real time.

Fabian also reiterated the sentiments of Mahmud that when using this type of technology, “You need to be open about what you’re doing,” said Fabian. “Transparency in open source or open content is important to keep in mind. There also needs to be an openness to failure, as a way of not to do it again.”

The future of this type of technology lies in the data mining that will happen when more of these programs are instituted. Andrew Zolli, curator of PopTech!, said that it will be imperative to analyze the data we receive now to be better prepared for future natural disasters.

“I think we need try and enable the most at risk people,” said Zolli. “One new improvement we are seeing is a way to dissociate people’s cell phone numbers from their cell phones a la email.”

Ngonzi believed that we should utilize the spread of location-based advertising. Through this type of advertising, nonprofits that might not have a large budget could integrate this technology in their models and be able to engage groups they haven’t before.

With all this development in the United States though, Ngonzi mentioned that it is still essential to look worldwide for developing technologies, “Based on the great work that is done in the continent (Africa), there is a lot of young people becoming engaged and are creating these tools. While there are great activities going on here, the developing world is coming up with their own solutions.