On a mission to make Indian NGOs tech-savvy
“Three Non-Tech Women Build Tech Platform for Nonprofit Sector” sounds like a dream title for anyone writing about technology and its impact on society in India. Not only are female founders rare in the tech startup ecosystem in India, the number of female founders who create a tech product even if they are not themselves from a tech background is even rarer. But with the launch of OTTER (Online Tech Training Engagement Resource), a technology platform for the non-profit sector, the Tech4Good community and its founders, Rinju Rajan, Anusha Meher Bhargava and Akhila Somanath, tick all the boxes.
The three co-founders worked in the development sector. They all met when they were part of the Indian Amnesty International team: while Rajan was a star fundraiser, Bhargava and Somanath were involved in training and development. During their time at Amnesty and through their work with nonprofit organizations in India, they first became aware of the gaps in technological knowledge – sometimes quite basic, such as the ability to keep digital records – among many more than three million NGOs in India. They also realized how it was preventing these organizations from stepping up their efforts and making a bigger impact.
In 2018, the three founders, who had all left Amnesty by then, got together and reflected on what they could do to fill this gap. Their first case study was with a women’s organization based in Raichur, Karnataka, Jagrutha Mahila Sangathane (JMS), a community organization led by Dalit women working at the intersection of caste and gender.
“By working with them, we realized that we couldn’t just rush in and provide them with solutions. So we spent time with them watching and digesting what they were doing, from making terracotta jewelry as part of their self-help group, to making posters for their grassroots campaigns for rights of women and Dalits. Trust had to be established first, ”says Rajan.
They found that the organization had recorded all of its data manually using paper forms or logs. This actively hampered growth: data was scattered, disorganized, and most of it was not collected. This included donor data, member data, recipient data, and information on past events and campaigns. A few years earlier, they had lost a lot of paperwork when their offices got flooded.
“What started as a transition to transferring data to Excel sheets has turned into a real exercise in digital data collection,” says Rajan.
Through an association with Google Earth Outreach, the Tech4Good community has enabled Google employees to train JMS staff on tools such as the Open Data Kit, a free and open source toolkit for collecting, managing and data storage in environments with limited resources. This allows data to be collected offline and submitted whenever internet connectivity is available.
The Open Data Kit is just one example of technological tools – many of which are freely available but not used by NGOs unaware of their existence – that can be incorporated into the community work that many of these organizations do. For example, Tech4Good has also helped organizations set up Management Information Systems (MIS) with Salesforce, use open source maps to plot data points geographically, and create digital payment channels to help fundraising, through collaborations with financial technology and payments companies. gateways like Razorpay.
“The Google-Tech4Good summit (in 2019) was a revelation for us. We discovered tools that would help us in our day-to-day work and made connections with companies that create these tools… in turn, they helped us learn these tools better and showed us how to customize them according to our needs. », Explains Anirudh. Dutt, founder of Let’s Be The Change (LBTC), a Bengaluru-based organization that works in the field of solid waste management.
During the pandemic, Tech4Good helped the organization map data using Google My Maps, which helped it visualize the distribution of volunteers and resources. In fact, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), the city municipality, took the idea of LBTC and used My Maps to map covid-19 health centers across the city during the second wave of the pandemic. .
Tech4Good, which has so far helped more than 600 NGOs, secured a grant from Facebook through its CSR initiative, Facebook Pragati, earlier this year, as well as grants from the Omidyar Network and the EdelGive Foundation. He now hopes to reach much more through OTTER, which connects Indian nonprofits with mentors and tool makers to amplify their social impact.
Nonprofits across India can use it to understand gaps in their access to technology, get help solving these issues, and access mentorship from companies like Google, Salesforce, Atlassian, GiveIndia. and Razorpay, who have collaborative projects with Tech4Good.
“As soon as a non-profit organization joins OTTER, it gets a diagnostic tool to identify the technology gaps it faces, and tools to fill that gap,” says Bhargava, who is also responsible for understanding the organization. “When NGOs are functioning effectively, their work helps many more beneficiaries, so the impact is gradual,” adds Rajan.