Friday, October 26, 2007

Closing Thoughts

It’s been quite a time here in Panama at the NetHope 2007 Summit. As I reflect on the past few days, there’s a tremendous amount of information to process – it’s hard to know where to start. I’ve always thought that NetHope was an inspired idea, but until the Summit, it’s been very difficult to access the full benefit of membership. Since I arrived at the IRC about five months ago, I’ve been faced with a myriad of challenges – some of which I’ve faced before, and some of which I’ve barely even contemplated. Chief among the latter are the challenges of delivering technology solutions to places like Africa, where bandwidth is a very scarce resource. Complicating this issue is the fact that just trying to learn about what our infrastructure footprint looks like in Africa seems nearly impossible. Lastly, the IT staff that supports the field reports into the country directors, and has almost no relationship with my IT group in HQ. The combination of these things makes for a complex set of challenges. My hope was that NetHope would be a resource for me as I navigate some of these issues. However, when I arrived at The IRC and began to learn about NetHope, I had a fair amount of difficulty getting specific info on some of my early questions. I kept looking for the listserv where I could send a note to the members asking for advice. There was none. The executive director made a few introductions for me, but I didn’t get a sense that that was his job, although he couldn’t have been more helpful. I did speak to a couple of NetHope members, and someone at Accenture, but none of it came to very much. So, when I heard there was a Summit in Panama, I wasn’t sure what to think. My boss, who used to be the boss of one of the founders of NetHope, suggested that I go, and bring along my new Director of IT Infrastructure. We both agreed that if we were going to participate in NetHope, it was important to attend the Summit. So, my expectations were fairly low as we approached Panama.

The first day started with Ed Granger-Happ, the CIO at Save The Children, and the current Chairman of NetHope, giving a compelling talk about the foundations of NetHope. While I subscribe to all of the ideals he mentioned, I still wasn’t sure how NetHope was going to help me. I kept looking for the knowledge-sharing opportunities with the other members, but since I didn’t know many of the members, these opportunities didn’t readily present themselves. There were updates on some of the projects that NetHope is working on (skills building, connectivity, etc), so I just absorbed this all, and kept trying to figure out how to take advantage of it. Day 2 was a field trip to a local indigenous tribe, and an opportunity to meet people in a more relaxed environment. Some good conversations, and spectacular scenery, but still nothing that would quite make the trip worthwhile. Finally, on the last day, I broke through. It started with a conversation with Kelvin, the CIO at Plan International. We started talking about what he’s doing with respect to connectivity in Africa, and it became clear that he’s solved many of the issues we’re struggling with. He introduced me to a few of his African IT staff who were there, and we talked a bit about what they did, traded business cards, and promised to stay in touch. Bingo – something real and actionable that I could take away from the meeting. Later that day, a few of us got together with a colleague from World Vision for an unplanned session to talk about their shared services effort. It was a very interesting session. In addition to talking about shared services, we had a very free flowing discussion about a range of topics, and I believe we all came away with more information. It was exactly the kind of information sharing that I had hoped the summit would provide. I’d really like to see more of these kinds of “Birds of a Feather” sessions at future Summits where one member presents their learnings about a particular topic. I’m pretty sure that the others who were there also felt that this was a great use of 2 hrs. Perhaps we could use TAG to create Communities of Practice areas where members could post questions, best practices, and have general discussions about issues we’ve faced. I also had the idea that each member could list the things they’ve done really well – that way if I have a question, I could see who’s solved this, and give them a call. Not sure which (if any) of these make sense, but some better and more effective way to communicate with other members would be very useful. I’m also a member of the New York CTO Club, which is basically a monthly meeting and an email list. I can ask any question of some of the top CTOs in the NYC area, and get a response within minutes. Enormously useful, and a good way to get to know people and develop a reputation without meeting face-to-face.

Another comment, as a new member, is that it would be helpful to have some sort of new member kit which introduces NetHope, gives an overview of the various projects that are being done (or have been done), and gives some sort of guidelines on how to access the value. Now that I’ve been to the Summit, I have some ideas, but if I had had something earlier, I could have made the Summit even more valuable.

In the end, like so many things, it’s about the relationships. I met some great people in Panama, and I will now make much more of an effort to continue these relationships since there’s clearly significant value to be gained. I’m thrilled to see more effort being put into marketing and fundraising, although I do have a general concern about the group spreading itself too thin. Are we doing the core activities well enough yet to start new initiatives? My guess is that the new initiatives are partially a result of where the funding is, and I think the NetHope team would say that they can do both. I hope so. There’s so much value to be gained, it would be a shame to fumble at this key stage.

One important point to make, though, is that the 3 days in Panama was very inspiring for both Chad and me. I can’t wait to get back into the office on Monday and start working on things. There's so much to do, and now I feel even more prepared since I have the support of all the NetHope members.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


Marketing and Innovation

Breakout sessions this morning on Marketing and Innovation. The marketing session was run by Monica Harrington, a former Microsoft and Gates Foundation staffer. She’s donating her time to NetHope and helping to increase awareness of what we’re doing. She gave a good overview of her approach, and has a solid plan for getting things done. One point she mentioned was that we should be working with our internal marketing departments on telling our stories. I made the point that our marketing departments may not know how to tell IT stories, or have the time to focus on this, and that perhaps it was a good opportunity for NetHope to provide some value by giving us extra help. I suggested that perhaps NetHope should be talking directly to our marketing departments. Are there conferences that all our marketing and communications folks attend? It’s great to see effort being put towards this critical area.

On the innovation side, the session was led by Steve Cooper, former CIO at American Red Cross. He was suggesting that we setup an “Innovation Fund” to fund project with specific business value, as opposed to just tech projects. It’s an interesting idea, but I wonder whether NetHope is staffed effectively to add this to the list of projects. Bill said they could walk and chew gum at the same time – I hope so – I’d hate for NetHope to trip while opening a gumball.

Cisco - Crisis Communications video

Video from Cisco from their "Human Network" series, starring Rui Lopes from Save the Children, and commentary from NetHope's own Bill Brindley:

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Long Day

Quite a day, today. Spent most of it with colleagues from The Nature Conservancy in Chagres National Park. Went up river to visit an indigineous tribe - too tired to write much, so I'll just post some pictures. More tomorrow...


Took a very interesting tour of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies' PADRU (Pan American Disaster Response Unit) facility this afternoon. Some of the highlights (going on memory, so might be a bit inaccurate:)

- They stand ready to send supplies for 20,000 beneficiaries
- Can mobilize supplies for another 5,000 every 48 hours ongoing
- Have an HF radio network setup with email capability - worldwide
- Put together "kits in a box" - IT Kit, Office Kit, Radio Kit, etc. - field staff can be up and running very quickly in a variety of situations
- Ericsson has donated some GSM repeaters (see pic) to be deployed in a disaster where cell service is completely destroyed or otherwise unavailable - they call it the "million dollar bet"; that is, if they decide to deploy the repeater, they're working under the assumption that they might not get it back. In some cases this could actually be a million-dollar investment, since there would be a scenario where the repeater just becomes part of the permanent cell network wherever it was deployed.

It's utterly mind-boggling how the IFRC manages the logistics around their disaster response - it goes way beyond technology. At the end of the day, it makes me remember that tech is simply a means to an end. It's humbling to think, since most of my career has been tech for tech's sake (or for the sake of profit.)


Hanging out in the room getting some work (and postcards) done. Grabbing lunch in a few, then off to the Red Cross' PADRU tour!