Using Technology to Help End Poverty

Using technology to help end poverty throughout the world: That’s the quest that drives Heifer International, an organization that links communities around the globe in an effort to “help bring sustainable agriculture and commerce to areas with a long history of poverty.”

“We identify communities that need help and then provide animals or crops, along with training in how to care for the animals and grow the crops,” explains Robert Bloom, executive vice president and CFO of the organization. “Those families then train other families, passing on their knowledge. They also pass on the first female offspring of the animal they were given. We call this ‘passing on the gift.'”

To support its efforts, Heifer—which was founded 71 years ago and now operates in 125 countries—partners with private and public sector organizations and educational institutions, as well as working with a multitude of individual contributors. One way the organization keeps in touch with existing and potential donors is by producing and distributing 30 million catalogs that enable individuals and institutions to donate animals or crops to disadvantaged farmers.

Making Decisions and Measuring the Impact

All these efforts depend on a variety of technologies, which are managed by Cedric Lambert, director of information technology, and his department. With more than 900 employees scattered around the world, the organization needs to produce, edit, update, distribute, and approve documents quickly and efficiently so that employees can make informed decisions about their programs and projects—and can later measure the impact of those decisions.

That’s where the Laserfiche content management system (CMS) plays a key role.

Instead of emailing forms and documents to various stakeholders as they did in the past, employees now produce them online and automatically send the documents through the requisite channels until they are approved. This workflow process enables staffers to keep track of forms, contracts and other essential documents, and to have access to the information needed to support timely decision making and accountability.

Lambert and his IT team manage the CMS, and they interface with the various business units that use the system to manage workflow, version control and final document approval. These units are Human Resources, Accounting, Finance, Marketing/Resource Development (MRD), Donor Services and International Programs.

The organization is planning to connect the Laserfiche CMS with the organization’s other core systems: the Agresso ERP financial management system, the Blackbaud CRM for donor management and the Kimetrica project management system. That integration will provide transparency into all the data needed by program and project managers to monitor and assess the progress of their projects.

Phase 1 of the integration plans—the population of the document repository­—and phase 2—business workflow process automation­—will run concurrently. Both are expected to be completed by June 30, 2016.

Integration Links Project-Related Information

When complete, this integration will allow users to retrieve information from the organization’s other systems while working only in the system of their area. For example, a fundraiser will be able to retrieve project narratives from the Laserfiche system without have to log into that system or place a request to a staff member. Instead, the integration will link related stories and other project-related information by the primary user’s ID key. 

In addition, Bloom and Lambert want to make all this information, including videos, accessible via mobile devices. The goal is for stakeholders to be able to access the data they need when they need it, on any device—and then analyze the data and create accurate, timely reports. Lambert, who expects this project to take between 18 and 20 months, says that “mobility is the direction of all our systems.”

Of course, the ultimate goal for Heifer International, which has helped bring almost 24 million people out of poverty since its beginning in 1944, is to help another 4 million individuals achieve a sustainable livelihood by 2020.

For Bloom, Lambert and the organization’s 900 employees, that’s a very worthy use of technology.