SOCAP RECAP: Adapting Tech for Local Needs
The recent Social Capital Markets conference (SOCAP) in San Francisco was a refreshing chance to chat with people from the U.S. and around the world who are taking technology a step further by adapting it to the needs of their nonprofits. This year SOCAP brought together investors, foundations, NGOs and social entrepreneurs for 3 days of brain storming by the beautiful San Francisco Bay. TechSoup Global provided in-kind tech support for the conference and at the TSG information table we had informal conversations with leading social activists from groups like MercyCorps, African Medical Mission, GSMA Development Fund, the Evergreen Project, OneRoof, Social Enterprise Alliance, Sustainatopia impact investing, Nonprofit Enterprise and Self-Sustainability (NESsT), and Rainforest Partnership.
We met a surprising variety of physicians not only taking an active part in leading their NGOs but who are pioneering the use of technology in their work – doctors such as MCN Healthcare founder Amanda Valeur using SMS to transmit medical data via text message (similar to FrontlineSMS Medic), or Biosense co-founder Myshkin Ingawale also using SMS technology to deliver services in Mumbai.
And we learned that NGOs are increasingly innovating their own technology solutions adapted to local needs, such as Operation ASHA President Dr. Shelly Batra who leads a nonprofit developing thumbprint scanning software treating 4 million TB patients across India. (Operation ASHA’s entry in this year’s Ashoka’s ChangeMakers competition describes their eDots solution developed with Microsoft which is now being replicated by the World Health Organization).
FoodCycle’s Kelvin Cheung (a recipient of software donations from TechSoup’s U.K. partner NGO Charity Technology Exchange) is also going a step further by developing his own CRM software for volunteer management.
We asked Kelvin why he’s going to all this trouble. “We found that many charities are using customized versions of Salesforce, along with old school CRM tools, but this requires a lot of manual transfer of data. Since we didn’t find an option that would do everything, we decided to do it ourselves!”
By ‘everything,’ Kelvin explained that food banks need a public interface where volunteers are registered, put through an online ‘induction’ process, and their confidential information stored. At this point, the data is tagged and various administrators are given access for newsletters, fundraising appeals and so forth. “But we also needed to coordinate this data with our other databases tracking meals prepared, the amount of food reclaimed, staff and volunteer rotas [duty rotations], and a knowledge sharing wiki. So we created a new system, the FoodCycle Fortress, our online virtual heart.”
Surprisingly, Kelvin also explained that “it’s harder for the English to accept hunger as a social problem, but that is starting to change.” Food banks aren’t a cultural norm in Great Britain where there are only several hundred food banks, vs. tens of thousands in the United States. “I wouldn't say people are averse to the food bank idea, it's just that it’s a new concept here, and certainly not as familiar as Feeding America is in the U.S.”
Our thanks to the SOCAP team for bringing together such an amazing group of thinkers this year and every year. Innovators like this – pioneering new tools adapted to local needs – are part of a global wave of empowerment, working hand-in-hand with social entrepreneurs and enlightened philanthropists to kick-start the impact of social benefit organizations. This is what TechSoup Global is all about.
Have you attended SOCAP? What was your experience?