“Yes, the aim of our program is to reduce newborn mortality by 25% or to reduce the child dropout rate by 20%. And we do appreciate how data can be helpful in our initiatives. But the fancy solution you are processing would take 14 weeks to implement, and it is not on our list of deliverables, and meanwhile, I have other impending tasks and tight deadlines to meet…”
What you just read (not the Dilbert cartoon, the one before that ;-)) is an example of a typical conversation we have with some of our clients in the non-profit sector. Long term positive impact of technology driven automation initiatives easily overshadows the immediate cost. The focus of any NGO should be to secure collection of timely, reliable data that can be analysed anytime for operational insights, measuring program efficiency, performance or other relevant KPI. In the eyes of the program manager, the focus remains on improving program impact. An automation solution that promises a cost saving of 200%, which could be used in program interventions and reaching out to a wider population in not a small win at all.
However, for that to happen, the program manager needs to see beyond the immediate costs that an automation initiative requires. A simple calculation puts the argument in a better perspective:
Assumption I: An NGO that collects monthly program data through fieldworkers on a paper based form
Assumption II: The program reaches out to 10000 families
Assumption III: There is no reduction in time required to get the forms filled
Cost of printing 10000 forms in a month = INR 10000*1/65 ~ 150$
Cost of mailing 10000 forms to Regional headquarters = INR 100 * 30/65 ~ 50$
Time spent in loading the data from one paper form to an excel sheet ~ 30 minutes (0.5 hour)
Time spent in loading all form data to excel sheet = 0.5*10000 = 5000 hours/month
Resource Cost ~ 5$/hour
Total Cost = 5000*5 = 25000$
* All costs are in Indian context. 1$ = 65 INR
Also note the time delay to get the data into a digital form before it can be used to generate insights.
Any delay in identifying a problem with the program implementation can result in significant loss of donor money and delay in reaching out to the needy.
The program manager should not focus only on impact but also on the delivery of impact and how technology and analytics can be used to bring down the operational cost. He/She should look at automation as a tool to lower costs, and reach out to a wider population resulting in cost saving and effective program management through immediate, real-time access to field data.
Again, instead of looking at this post as a ‘let me sell you this thing’ pitch, try to look at it as ‘let us help you be more impactful’.