Tech and Nonprofit Collaboration in a Networked Era

Tech and Nonprofit Collaboration in a Networked Era

Description: Ericsson and the World Food Programme are finding new ways for modern networks to help communities in times of crisis and disaster. Governments, aid workers, and suppliers can coordinate, and family members can avoid becoming separated. How will faster, smarter networks enable a healthier, safer world?
This transcript has been lightly edited and condensed for ease of reading. 

Tech and Nonprofit Collaboration in a Networked Era

(Transcription by RA Fisher Ink)

Kirkpatrick: Catherine Cheney, you saw what a good moderator she is just a little while ago. She’s going to do it again with a session on Tech and Nonprofit Collaboration in a Networked Era with Heather Johnson of Ericsson and Enrica Porcari of World Food Programme. So, let’s hear another great panel moderated by Catherine.
Cheney: So, earlier we heard about some rifts in terms of East Coast and West Coast that came up in the session on Ethics and Responsibility in Modern Technology and another huge rift that I see in my reporting is between the tech sector and nonprofits and it’s a real shame because there’s so much potential when partnerships do work. And I will say on reporting that I do on Sustainable Development Goals, which I think you’re all familiar with but a global agenda for the world to improve to end poverty, promote gender equality, education, etc. Number 17 of those 17 Sustainable Development Goals is partnership. And I think we can all agree that none of these global challenges can be solved without partnership. And a partnership that often comes up is the partnership between the World Food Program and Ericsson. So, I’m really glad to be able to talk about it and what I’ve asked both Enrica and Heather to focus on is not just what they’ve done together but how they’ve done it. Challenges that they’ve had and learnings for you all, as you also consider partnerships in this realm.
So, just to briefly introduce our speakers, just next to me is Enrica Porcari. She is the Chief Information Officer and Director of Technology at the World Food Programme and also chair of the Emergency Telecommunications Cluster, which basically works on a lot of coordination post-disaster and you’ll hear about that.
And Heather Johnson is the Vice President for Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility at Ericsson. And she’s a big believer of the importance of ICT post-disaster. I just want to quickly throw this out there, I don’t know how familiar you all are with disaster response and the kinds of partnerships that are needed, but go back 15 years and you would hear that food, water, and shelter were the immediate concerns, right? And these days there’s a new pillar which is connectivity.
And, in fact, it’s not just a fourth pillar, it’s kind of foundational. If there is no connectivity, food, water, and shelter are not likely to come very quickly. And both of you partnered to kind of make that happen. So, can you tell us, it might be helpful to even zoom in on a particular response. I know you were recently recognized at the Mobile World Congress for your work in Dominica. Can you tell us about, again, not just what you do together, but how you partner and what are some of the learnings for this group?
Porcari: Absolutely. Thank you for having us here. I don’t know, how many of you are familiar with the World Food Programme?
Cheney: Ah, great to see.
Porcari: Wow, that’s overwhelming, but there are some that haven’t raised their hand. So, for those that haven’t raised their hands, the World Food Programme is the largest humanitarian agency within the United Nations that operates in to basically save lives and change lives. Every year we serve about 90 million people in many countries. Some of the most difficult places in the world, you know, the Iraqs, the South Sudans, the Sudans, the Yemens of the world. And so, it’s important for us to really leverage technology to be able to do our work. And so, we’ve been leveraging technology for a long time.
As you mentioned, we also as an organization, heralded the emergency telecom clusters, which is a construct across all U.N. agencies, private sectors, NGOs, to basically coordinate the work in emergency response. How do we coordinate our work so that when we go into these countries, we don’t trip over each other. How do we ensure that we stay efficient, that we stay effective, that we keep the beneficiaries at the center of our work, as I keep on saying, responding to an emergency for humanitarians, than for partners is not disaster tourism. You know, it takes a lot of commitment, it takes a lot of work; it’s a profession.
Cheney: I want to quickly narrow in on that because in terms of challenges, I think that’s a big challenge you have. Disaster tourism, people hear that they’re going to get to go to the field and help save lives, but there’s actually a lot of work that leads up to that, that’s not quite so sexy, and that’s where some really important partnership happens, right?
Porcari: Correct. So, we’ve had a lot of interest in partnering with the World Food Programme and with humanitarian agencies, but I think our relationship with Ericsson is a testament of “it takes work.” Like all good partnership, all good relationships, it takes work. And it’s about understanding what the needs are, understanding where technology can be used to support the work that we do. Not just dumping technology in a new environment, but really what problems are we trying to solve, who are we trying to connect, who are we trying to support. Not only providing the basic pillar of connectivity where there is a growing, four billion people [who] now have access to the internet, which means another four billion don’t. So, and this is where most of the countries where we operate. So, how do we ensure that we can deploy the appropriate technology to give them a voice. Not only to save lives, but also to hopefully support in changing their lives.
Cheney: Great. And Heather can you expand on what Ericsson brings to the partnership? And also in terms of WFP as a partner, WFP is a U.N. agency but not like every other U.N. agency and perhaps easier to partner with than some other U.N. agencies, so can you expand on how do you partner and what makes a WFP partnership different and how might other learn from that?
Johnson: Absolutely, and to start I mean the program where we’re collaborating with the closest is called Ericsson Response. This was founded in the year 2000. It was a group of employees that really understood the power of connectivity and at that time were talking about voice connectivity and really wanted to find a way to channel that and contribute. And since 2000, we’ve been in over 40 missions, 30 countries together with WFP. Where I think there is this success factor has been that, of course what we bring to the partnership is technology expertise, what WFP brings to the partnership is their humanitarian expertise. But they have an openness and understanding about the capabilities, also some of the limitations. There is a very good, realistic, robust discussion and collaboration around how we can provide solutions in these extreme contexts.
Cheney: One thing I’d love to hear you talk about in terms of what makes Ericsson a little bit different in how you partner, you are not based here in the U.S. and that actually changes your ability to partner.
Johnson: Absolutely. We are a Swedish company founded in 1876 and because of the government rules that we have, basically donations are an op ex. So, we in a way, are sort of challenged to find ways we were contributing through more in kind through it technology, expertise, some are employees. And I think that rigor has served us very well. I mean, there have certainly been ups and downs. I don’t know how many of you have followed Ericsson’s journey, but even in times of drastic, you know, financial stress on the company, Ericsson Response remains a flagship. It is something that the entire company, no matter what CEO, is committed to and I think that’s a testament to the strength of that model.
Cheney: So, in a moment I want to open it up to questions, so get those ready. But in terms of tech and nonprofit collaboration in a networked era, I want to emphasize that in terms of what, why technology makes partnerships so critical and how technology also enables partnerships. I’d love to hear from each of you, if you could kind of complete the sentence, from the WFP perspective, “I wish more companies would…” and from the Ericsson perspective “I wish more nonprofits would…” Because for this audience, representing kind of both perspectives and everywhere in between, I think there could be some learnings. So, how would you complete that sentence?
Porcari: I wish more companies would be willing to take partnerships at heart. Take the value of what the partnership with an organization like the World Food Programme or another non-for-profit could bring to the company itself, you know, and understand and co-create this shared value between the two. There is value for the people we serve directly as humanitarians, but there is also value for the companies that are willing to partner with us. There are a number of companies that really believe, like for example, there is a great incentive to attract and retain talents because you’re not only doing well, but you’re doing good and you know and sometimes that’s a great motivator for, and I know that for a number of Ericsson volunteers that it’s really a moment of great pride and so I wish more companies would take some of the learnings from this experience and come forward and say we want to continue doing well and doing good at the same time.
Cheney: Just to, how do you expand on that? It’s essentially a recruitment tool and gets employees excited, right?
Johnson: Absolutely. I mean we have had people, actually in the context of 100,000 employees that we have in the company; it’s a rather small group, about 200 on rotation at any time. But just that core has such a ripple effect across the company, even if people don’t participate themselves, they say that they joined Ericsson because of the program. But just to your question about what are we looking for in a partner as well, and I really have to commend WFP for having this understanding of technology and for really realizing the impact that has far greater—I mean despite the situation that we have with donations—but far greater than the impact of any donation I think that we could have made is really to look for that to sort of co-creating that value, bringing our core competence.
Cheney: No, I think this is really interesting, especially because being based here and writing about the role of Silicon Valley in global development, a lot of what I also cover is how nonprofits and groups working on the SDGs are trying to engage Silicon Valley. And a very basic learning that I think we should state in this panel, is that too many people just ask for money in the nonprofit world without thinking, ‘what can this company bring to the challenge that I’m facing’ and it’s more than money. Right?
Johnson: And I think the SDG, I mean the SDG 17 you referred to at the beginning, if you sort of go into the details, it’s talking about technology, expertise, of course it’s talking about money too, but it is really looking at that much more holistic way of partnering.
Cheney: So, I would love to bring in some questions. Questions about this partnership and learnings, how do we replicate examples like this. I think there’s one right here.
Brady: I was just curious if you could talk about who you answer to. So, for example, you’re on a project in the field; you say we need this much more, you answer say to the CEO of Ericsson, is there any, like, do you take precedence whatever you need we give you or are there situations where there is any conflict? You can talk about it not directly with each other but just, what advice do you give because it seems sometimes there’s who’s the expert in what problem.
Cheney: Really quickly, can we just get who you are?
Brady: I’m Diane Brady.
Cheney: Thank you.
Johnson: I can start and then please take it. I mean, first of all, I would say the missions and that’s of course what everyone sees, that’s the tip of the iceberg, right? So, actually the entire year, we’re training, we’re co-developing, testing, trying technology because this is not the situation you want to fail fast in the field. But we go on second to the U.N., so we become part of WFP, in this instance, they are driving the mission.
Cheney: Does that make sense to everyone or would you want hear a little bit more on how that works? In terms of working in partnership with WFP, how that categorization works.
Porcari: For us, we have a blanket partnership agreement with them, we have staff on secondment, so we have an emergency, when an emergency is declared we reach out to our partners and usually because Ericsson’s response team is on the aircraft, WFP runs aircraft to basically bring humanitarians on the ground, and Ericsson’s response is on the first aircraft to go in there with our own equipment. And again, because it’s a year-long training, they train at Ericsson, we train together in Germany as a simulation exercise without other NGOs, because as you say we don’t want to hit the ground and try things out there. So, it takes time and sometimes Ericsson is even faster than us putting the appeals out, and I said, “Oh, I heard there’s been a hurricane, or there is an earthquake.” “Do you need any help?” And I said “Wait, we haven’t even reactivated yet.”
Cheney: One step ahead.
Porcari: Yeah, one step ahead. And I think that that’s part of that commitment and the Ericsson response team is like chomping at the bit and I think that’s part of the success.
Cheney: I’m really glad this point came up about partnering between disasters. And I think it’s also, you know, keeping in mind these are full-time Ericsson employees doing other things at Ericsson, who are also doing this work with WFP and it’s how many employees you said?
Johnson: It’s roughly at any given time about 200 that are sort of on the roster.
Cheney: Okay. And it’s this point to that they have to be, I think this came up earlier when we were just discussing, ready, willing, and waiting.
Johnson: That’s right.
Cheney: And how do you keep them engaged when, you know, their services are not yet needed, but they will be. I want to bring in one more question. We only have about a minute left. So, maybe a question we can get some rapid-fire answers on if there is one. I see one over here maybe, yes. And could you say who you are as well for those that can’t see.
Banks: My name is Clayton Banks from Silicon Harlem. So, I had a question about how you guys identified each other, how you came together because what I’ve noticed is there’s a lot of nonprofits. The question is like, in Ericsson, do you have to choose one that’s really super big in order to work with them or could you work with a smaller type nonprofit? I’m not a nonprofit by the way, but I work with nonprofits that are very much community embedded, not necessarily worldwide and I’m curious how you partner with other people besides the whole international thing.
Johnson: Great question and just as quickly as I can to say certainly we’re in 180 countries. We’re a global organization so we do, in fact, look quite often for partners that have that same scale. We think that’s where we can really meet each other. That said, we do definitely look, I mean we have smaller partnerships as well, but I think that’s where we can bring some value because that is why we are able to deploy. Those 200 people are scattered throughout the world, so they’re sort of ready to go.
Cheney: And I might throw out there that coalitions can play a role there to. So, in the disaster response realm I think of Net Hope, where rather than partnering with individual organizations there might be a coalition to engage with. We are out of time, but I always love to end with any final thoughts or calls to action, especially again with the idea of replicating partnerships that work. Quickly.
Porcari: Well, I think that you heard of some of the things that work, some of the challenges, some of the opportunities and the World Food Programme and the organizations that we represent responding to humanitarian disasters, we’re open for business. We’re open for more business because unfortunately, as the world is going there is more demand for humanitarian support. So we are humanitarians; we are not technologists. So, if there are technology companies out there who, taken some of the lessons from experience, are willing to join the coalition, please, I’m here.
Johnson: And just to say, I think we often, and I think especially in the context of these amazing things we’ve been hearing these past couple of days, thinking always about the new, and the latest, and the greatest, but also to really understand that there is so much power in what we have today. And going back to the year 2000, a phone call, voice connectivity, was a breakthrough intervention and so 10 years fast forward, we are able to do so much. We can only anticipate what the next 10 years will bring.
Cheney: And I’ll just quickly tie this back to something we heard earlier, when it comes to how Silicon Valley companies can partner, we talked about this need to shift the mantra from “move fast and break things” to “move purpose and fix things.” And I would just throw out there, that the only way that can happen or the most effective way that can happen is in partnerships with groups that understand that local context. So, thank you and please join me in thanking them.


Enrica Porcari

Chief Information Officer and Director of Technology, World Food Programme

Heather Johnson

VP, Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility, Ericsson

Catherine Cheney

West Coast Correspondent, Devex

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