All of us share the experience of childhood. Whether from getting lost or having a bad dream, nearly every kid knows what it's like to feel helpless or scared — and how great it feels when relief comes. Fewer of us share the experience of 185 million children who find themselves in the midst of crises like Hurricane Sandy or war-torn Syria, but we can all appreciate the value of organizations that save children in such situations.
We can also recognize the volume of inputs required to efficiently coordinate this kind of life-critical, global humanitarian aid, in as near real time as possible — from the number of people and processes to the variety of content, structured and unstructured data, and technology involved.
Founded in 1919, Save the Children (STC) is the world's largest, independent nonprofit organization, which operates in 120 countries on a two-fold mission: First, protect kids in crisis. Then, keep them safe as they develop livelihoods, build income and arrive at sustainability. STC Director of Partnerships & Innovation Strategy Kevin McAndrew knows firsthand the unique challenges of delivering global services — and changing strategy at a moment’s notice. As such, his innovation framework may inspire other executives grappling with digital transformation.
While technology has yet to disrupt nonprofits as it has the private sector, says McAndrew, the humanitarian sector is receptive to technology because of its potential to deliver relief to people in need. To save kids around the world, his team enables STC to solve problems in 72 hours or less by innovating in the following dynamic ways:
Speed up accurate delivery of mission-critical information
- Get the most value from content. Mobilizing machinery around the globe is hard enough, especially when areas of crises and rescue teams are often geographically dispersed. Where there was once an overload of email attachments and decentralized content storage, cloud-based solutions now share mission-critical information. STC's assets collect data and content in the field, assessing dangerous and fluid situations, and push content to help field agents who need to understand what's happening on the ground.
“[We're] building systems and entry points for people assessing in field, being able to push in content, so we can understand what's happening on the ground.”
— Kevin McAndrew
- Automate workflow and empower mobility. McAndrew’s team is also addressing confusing workflows. "We're building liquid workforce management tools [that] help assemble search teams, identify those people, automate workflows, mobilize and deploy," McAndrew says. "And it all shows up on your phone."
- Do more with tech. Kevin’s team creates apps for digital cash and vouchers, identity platforms, commodity transfer systems and real-time data tracking and visualization. Says McAndrew, "We use [technology] in our work to achieve things we couldn't do otherwise.”
Open doors for machine learning
Currently, a majority of data used during crisis response is highly-structured — for example, a document, spreadsheet or written assessment file. It requires a human to synthesize data first.
But McAndrew anticipates pouring on much bigger datasets of the information collected — like where connectivity exists, satellite or drone imagery or facilities locations — without first having to understand how to program it. The result, he expects, can only result in faster assessment and ultimately, faster mobilization.
"Right now, our systems content and data are highly structured. In the future, unstructured data sets will be enough."
— Kevin McAndrew
Form mission-critical partnerships
STC navigates a tension common to every innovation-focused organization: What is the best way to allocate available resources for immediate employee and customer needs, while building infrastructure for the future? For Kevin’s team, fundraising is one answer, and forming creative partnerships to access external assistance is another. For example, the team leverages volunteers’ time and creativity to solve their problems at events like Box's Hack for Good challenge. This year, technology experts created open source tools.
Technology leaders prime their organizations for similar success to champion digital transformation by forming mission-strategic partnerships with like-minded entities and creatively investing in tech infrastructure to keep the trains running today and tomorrow.
Reimagine the entire organization
"The future of all this is based on community and coalition, organizations focusing on doing what they do well and working as a global community. At the end of the day, it's about saving the same lives."
— Kevin McAndrew
Of course, not every business leader's job involves delivering innovation to power a social mission, but they do share a similar charter to McAndrew’s: identify, assess, develop, and execute effective solutions that are as future-proof as they are scalable and easy to implement.
The blueprint for content delivery, when speed matters
- Build unified a platform that shares mission-critical content.
- Automate decentralized processes to deliver excellent experiences to employees and customers.
- Build deep learning capabilities that monitor current, manual processes.
About Kevin McAndrew
Kevin McAndrew is the Director of Breakthrough Innovation Partnerships at Save the Children. He works to bridge the gap between Save the Children's mission and the partners they need to achieve their goals. As the world's largest independent agency for children, Save the Children focuses on health, education and protection services for children in utero to adulthood.