Transforming non-profits through technology: Insights from industry leaders

At a virtual panel discussion hosted by AWS Bharat Innovators Series, senior leaders from the non-profit sector came together to explore the incredible potential of technology in driving positive change.

Transforming non-profits through technology: Insights from industry leaders

Tuesday August 08, 2023,

6 min Read

Non-profits have long been champions of social causes, addressing critical issues ranging from education and healthcare to poverty alleviation and skill development. However, the challenges they face are often complex and multifaceted, requiring innovative solutions and efficient resource allocation. Technology adoption has enabled these organisations to optimise operations, enhance programme delivery, and amplify reach.

At a virtual panel discussion hosted by AWS Bharat Innovators Series, senior leaders from the non-profit sector came together to explore the potential of cloud computing in driving positive change. The panellists for the session included Ameya Vanjari, Head of Operations, Partnerships and Technology, Tata STRIVE; Jayant Rastogi, Global CEO, Magic Bus Foundation; Latha Madaiah, Senior Director - Fundraising and Partnerships, The Nudge Institute; and Prashant Mehra, Co-founder, Platform Commons. The session was moderated by Haja Sheriff, Head-NPO and Regional Expansion (South Asia), AWS.

With a focus on leveraging technology for impactful transformation, the panellists offered unique perspectives on the intersection of technology and social impact.

Ameya Vanjari, Head of Operations, Partnerships, and Technology at Tata STRIVE, set the stage by underlining the strategic significance of technology. "Unlike many other non-profit organisations, we recognised the significance of integrating technology as a strategic asset right from the outset," Vanjari stated. Tata STRIVE, a skill development initiative of the prestigious Tata Group, has harnessed innovative technology like facial recognition attendance and career counselling platforms to elevate learning quality for aspiring Indian youth.

“Our journey began by digitising the entire value chain even prior to the commencement of our centre's operations. As a result, we established a comprehensive digital framework that encompasses every aspect of our learners' experience – from admissions to attendance, training, assessments, certification, placements, and post-placement. This digital infrastructure grants us a distinct advantage by providing readily accessible information that we can analyse, learn from, and leverage to enhance our processes,” he added.

From tech skepticism to tech-driven success

Jayant Rastogi, Global CEO, Magic Bus Foundation, talked about how technology doesn't just solve existing problems but also enables the exploration of new models. "When I entered the NGO sector, I observed a notable lag of 15 to 20 years behind corporate counterparts in terms of automation and technology adoption. This discrepancy was largely due to resource constraints and prevailing attitudes towards technology's role. Initially, there existed a sentiment of ‘if it's not broken, why fix it?’ which classified technology as a good-to-have rather than a necessity. However, this perspective has evolved over the past seven years," Jayant asserted.

The Magic Bus Foundation has leveraged technology for attendance tracking, programme enhancement, and innovation stimulation. By transforming disadvantaged youth into value-added product distributors, the foundation witnessed a remarkable sevenfold income increase for local farmers. Rastogi also spoke about the challenges that they had to encounter and how technology helped overcome them. “The reporting process relied on self-reported information, causing delays and hindering proactive intervention. To address this, we adopted a dual strategy encompassing both the front-end, engaging beneficiaries and funders through real-time technology, and the back-end, constructing an integrated ERP, HRM, and CRM system,” he said.

“Despite budget constraints, we meticulously developed these applications, although integration issues persisted. Nonetheless, our journey has yielded substantial improvements in programme delivery and impact, manifesting in year-on-year enhancements.”

Latha Madaiah, Senior Director - Fundraising and Partnerships, The Nudge Institute, shed light on resilient livelihoods and technology's role in reshaping India's future. "Our mission is a poverty-free India within our generation," Madaiah said. Through technology-driven data collection and monitoring, The Nudge Institute has empowered marginalised communities to access essential government benefits, nurturing sustainable growth.

“Our partnership with the Ministry of Rural Development has yielded a national tech product, developed with The Nudge, to meticulously monitor and review programme implementation on a granular scale through the State Rural Livelihood Mission,” she said. This tech-driven approach enhanced administrative efficiency, data-driven decision-making, resource allocation, and integration with other national schemes to uplift the poorest sections of society.

“Importantly, the success of our initial deployment enabled us to secure funding from the Ministry of Rural Development for expanding the programme to six additional states, underscoring the pivotal role of technology in all our initiatives,” she underlined.

Collaborative tech solutions for non-profits

Prashant Mehra, Co-founder of Platform Commons, unveiled a novel approach to tech adoption in the non-profit sector. "Use cases guide us," Mehra shared. Platform Commons empowers non-profits to access and construct technology solutions collaboratively, fostering the exchange of domain-specific expertise.

“Our strategy has been to shift away from solution jargon and focus on practical use cases that mirror the daily activities of NGOs. This approach gave rise to the Solution Exchange, a repository of specific use cases that not only stem from our own platform commons but also gather numerous others, whether developed by tech companies or fellow NGOs,” he shared.

With Solution Exchange, a platform showcasing diverse use cases, he envisioned empowering non-profits to generate scalable, impactful solutions across various sectors.

The panellists delved deeper into their organisations' approaches and shared practical insights into the challenges and opportunities they encountered.

Summing up the discussion, Sheriff drew attention to the intriguing pattern – diverse approaches converging toward a shared purpose. While the methods may differ, the overarching mission to drive positive change remained constant.

"What struck me most is the potential for collaboration and knowledge exchange, evident in your narratives. It's clear that your solutions have common elements, addressing interconnected challenges," he noted.

Sheriff's insight pointed to an exciting opportunity – creating a platform to pool resources, insights, and expertise. "As we move ahead," he suggested, “we need to be looking at opportunities to share these best practices, so that not everybody is reinventing the wheel. I think we have enough of a problem statement for us to solve together.”

Sheriff's observation captured the spirit of collective advancement. Navigating the intricate challenges faced by non-profit organisations requires a united effort, leveraging sector-wide knowledge and skills for a more efficient and impactful journey.

A transformative frontier

The collaborative efforts of AWS and Intel have greatly benefited public service organisations, including educational institutes, edtechs, non-profits, government institutions, and startups. Together, they have facilitated the migration to cloud ecosystems and provided assistance in managing legacy technologies on the cloud. Furthermore, they have prioritised privacy, security, and data sovereignty across different sectors.

Their recent initiative, the Bharat Innovator Series, serves as a platform for founders, innovators, policymakers, and thought leaders to engage in meaningful discussions about technology opportunities. This initiative aims to foster dialogue, address challenges, and explore synergies for the future. The series incorporates webinars, podcasts, and events that shine a spotlight on the remarkable work of Indian innovators spanning various domains.