Mobile services help scale up NGO operations

November 06, 2017 01:42 PM
Mobile services help scale up NGO operations logo

When Diona hit upon the idea of using mobile and tech solutions to ramp up operations in the NGO space, they probably didn’t know that they would disrupt many of the existing services in the NGO space. As the Bangalore-based organization is gearing up to expand its horizon in India, Anil Singaraju co-founder and chief technology officer of Diona takes us through the endearing journey.

By Kavitha Srinivasa

Can you throw light on Diona? How did you tailor the offerings for the NGO space specifically?

Diona was established in 2012 with offices in India, Ireland and the U.S., and for five years we have addressed societal problems by working with government agencies. Diona provides innovative mobility solutions and consulting services for Health and Human Services agencies around the world.NGOs are a natural extension of the same. Having already interacted with certain segments of the government sector, we realized that a somewhat similar line of thinking could be applied in the NGO domain. We help NGOs help people by providing mobile technology tools to enable NGOs to achieve their mission and monitor program delivery outcomes. We do this through our commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) mobile technology solution suite called Diona Mobility.

The thought gained momentum when we felt it’s possible to tweak our mobile solutions for purposeful outcomes in the NGO domain. We began by tapping our user experience and domain expertise. That’s how we arrived at mobility-based tech solutions and consulting services for agencies and NGOs to monitor programme delivery. Branded as Diona Mobile Visits and Diona Mobile Uploads, these solutions are hosted on the Microsoft Azure cloud platform. Along with this, we created a central data portal to consolidate and extract data for monitoring activities of the NGOs. 

We arrived at a subscription model, whereby the products are configured and deployed on the cloud and to the mobile devices. The entire process has been designed in a manner such that we don’t need to interact with NGOs on a daily basis. 

Our solutions are used by NGOs in India, Sri Lanka and the U.S. whose concern areas include human trafficking, rehabilitation, education and skill development, among others. Diona Mobility solutions have turned out to be disruptive technologies within the NGO space.

The solutions are typically used to track and monitor the progress of NGO programs over a period of time.

Critically, we get a sense of understanding as we interact with people at the grassroots level who do field work and incorporate that understanding into our solutions.

Please, can you offer an insight into Diona Mobile Visits?

Diona Mobile Visits is our NGOs outreach campaign and field visit enabler. It is designed to enable caseworkers to take progress notes and conduct assessments in a user-friendly manner; record keeping and information retrieval happen through a multitude of multi-media options. NGOs can also choose from a variety of data-capture approaches like handwriting, typing, audio, video and photographs.

From a suite of innovative tools, users can select integrated interactive maps to identify routes and get directions to client locations. Sometimes NGO field workers have to visit remote locations for their field work, where mobile and internet connectivity can be an issue. Diona Mobile Visits is designed to work in an offline mode in areas where there is poor connectivity.

All this is backed by tools and technology that protect the data, due to which data can be wiped remotely in the event of loss or theft. Information related to client security is built into the system and information at rest and in transit is secured through encryption. 

What prompted you to create Diona Mobile Uploads?

The genesis of Diona Mobile Uploads originated from the day-to-day requirements of an NGO, and most of these involve paperwork which is both times consuming and prone to errors. With a certain amount of brainstorming, we arrived at an enterprise-grade software solution which is packaged as Diona Mobile Uploads. It allows clients and caseworkers of NGOs to use their mobile phone to photograph and submit copies of documents. Diona Mobile Uploads integrates with agency systems and processes to simplify and expedite the agency processes and get to better outcomes. Diona Mobile Uploads can also utilize simple handoffs from Dropbox or Google Drive, allowing clients to easily upload documents. The solution supports multiple languages and new languages can be added quickly and without coding.

What benefits do Diona Mobile Visits and Diona Mobile Uploads offer to NGOs?

NGOs have enjoyed tangible and intangible benefits of Diona Mobile Visits and Diona Mobile Uploads. Results have shown a 50% decrease in administrative and paperwork for one NGO, allowing field workers to spend more time with clients and on skill development. NGOs enjoy other benefits too, the travel cost and time spent on commuting has reduced drastically, and this is especially beneficial in hilly regions as well as remote parts of West Bengal where we connect with many NGOs. These are all tangible and real-time benefits.

The intangible benefits are that both solutions offer clarity and objective evaluation due to which NGOs enjoy better outcomes. Having leveraged technology NGOs are able to achieve scale and standardize procedures while better managing backend operations. This has worked favourably while approaching donors.

How have you used technology to facilitate NGOs? How is technology helping to fill in the gaps in the NGO operations? Please run me through the process. 

As we entered the NGO domain, it was found that the lack of digitization within the NGO is the biggest hurdle. Technology adoption is a challenge. We decided to use technology as an intervention to make systems and processes within NGOs function better. In our initial interactions we found that in most NGOs, technology usage is minimal. Secondly, they have a huge amount of unstructured data, which has been manually compiled together. This is where we step in to fill in the gap as the data needs to be properly channelled in a digitized format to give visibility, accuracy and clarity to processes within the organization.   

What are your plans for this year? Are there more innovations lined up in your stables? Would you be able to provide a glimpse of behind-the-scenes developments?

We currently deploy our services across six NGOs in India, Sri Lanka and the U.S. and plan to expand our presence in India. We will be adding three more NGOs to our portfolio in India by this December.

Like in any other business, we intend to scale up our services and our global services are centrally rolled out in all locations, regardless of geography. Our R&D team comprising 20 technical experts based out of Bangalore and Ireland will work on various product enhancements like analytics.

Our immediate concern is to add new features to the existing data offering and sharpen the focus towards data extracts and field workers.

Website https://ngo.diona.com

  • Mobile services help scale up NGO operations logo
  • Mobile services help scale up NGO operations logo
  • Mobile services help scale up NGO operations logo
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Voices…

When technology becomes an error-free intervention

The Bal Suraksha Abhiyan (BSA) Trust located in the sylvan surroundings of Kalimpong in West Bengal focuses on child labour prevention and child protection. BSA Trust also responds to Childline (India’s child abuse hotline) calls in Kalimpong and supports police across three states in tracing missing children and child abuse investigations.

All the activities revolve around vigilance committees and local schools in different villages located in the hilly terrains of the Himalayas. The Child Protection Workers of BSA Trust communicate and collaborate with these local communities to identify potential child labour violations, child abuse situations and missing or runaway children. Naturally travelling to hilly regions is an uphill task, with that, documenting information manually has been cumbersome and prone to errors. All data captured in notebooks about children, their communities and case-related information was copied and stored in paper files in their office.

“Anil Singaraju oriented us towards Diona and its app, I guess he had heard about the efficiency of our work in the fields,” said Sr Subeshna Thapa, director of BSA.

BSA Trust has partnered with Diona to implement Diona Mobile Visits on Android phones for their caseworkers and supervisors. Since then, all paperwork has been digitized and saves time as well. The implementation also included community-level surveys, such as India’s Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS).

Field workers can also update details, record video, take photographs and digitize information. Their visits to the location have come down from five to one. “As field workers, we compile information manually, sometimes we tend to miss out on some information. This app takes care of all that,” added Ritu Uraon, child protection worker, BSA.

Diona and BSA are preparing to identify and target specific areas and communities for intervention in the coming months.

Where operations are streamlined & given professional touch

Bangalore-based Shishu Mandir has focused on underprivileged children over the last three decades. Those children who would have been school dropouts are given free schooling, vocational training and higher education here.

Hella Mundhra, a visionary, is credited for starting Shishu Mandir in 1983; at that time, it began as a children's home. As time passed, the organization began to face operational challenges. 

Shishu Mandir has an annual assessment process to identify the most deserving children for admission into their school and home. Given that each classroom is limited to 10 students, the process of assessing families is quite elaborate and time-consuming. On average, 10 students are assessed for every one student that is selected. Paperwork has been the means of gathering data and assessing the eligibility of families and children for admission. Another area of concern in the Shishu Mandir process was that it did not track the progress or outcomes of a child in school or family circumstance over the tenure of their stay in school, which could be 10-12 years. While Shishu Mandir used a basic IT system to capture a child's academic information, there was no system in place to track their overall progress.

This is where Diona stepped in as a partner, offering to implement Diona Mobile Visits on Android phones, for field workers. “We need to collect 300 applications from 300 homes, after which the selection and filtering process begins. Earlier this data was gathered manually and had to be fed into the computer. But now we can directly update it digitally. So what took one month to compile, now happens in a fortnight,” explained Raghunath K, a social worker. 

Besides saving time, it also helps in identifying deserving students. “The operations have been professionalized and documentation systematized,” said Arulananthu (Anand), director Shishu Mandir.

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