Taking Technology Lessons Into the Field

Oct 6, 2014 | Big Picture Technology

Since joining the Brightworks team over a year ago, I’ve started to see technology differently. Sure, I was never much of a techno-conformist, being born and raised an Apple guy, but after learning alongside the team here, I’ve had a genuine “conversion” to the way we work. I don’t know of any other organization who can do so much, manage so many things, in such a lightweight and professional fashion. That’s just the kind of attitude NGO’s, especially those working in rural communities with little to no technical resources, need.

Early last year I approached my boss, Doug Miller, about taking some of my work week to support local nonprofits, and using the knowledge resources at Brightworks to help implement the same style of solutions in those environments. This meant I could use what I was learning in local businesses to make things better for the understaffed, underfunded organizations here in Indianapolis. So far, it’s been a great success. In fact, its not only improving organizations here, and how they operate, but NGO’s overseas as well.

Over the summer, I was given the chance to lead a team of technology professionals on a week long visit of several NGO’s in South Africa and Zimbabwe. These organizations specifically care for children orphaned by AIDS. I’ve spent the last year volunteering with an organization called Horizon International, who helps find resources and funding for such organizations, across Sub Saharan Africa. It was a genuinely incredible experience, and I have Brightworks Group to thank for much of its inspiration, and the time it took to accomplish the trip.

For those of us living in more developed nations, it’s easy to take for granted the plethora of options we’re given, and subsequently struggle to choose from. In areas where scarcity is the problem, not abundance, they still face the same technical challenges, but with limited direction for finding a solution. For instance, I spoke with several volunteers in South African Townships (essentially segregated slums leftover from Apartheid), who described perfectly in nontechnical terms, their need for a central server to manage classroom and library computers. They had simply never heard of centralized management platforms, despite continuing to manage what we would only hire an experienced administrator to do. They worked with what they had, but only knew what they’d worked with. The need was the same, they just lacked the knowledge of available solutions.

When your view of solutions is about simplicity and consistency, the answer is clear: do whats best, with as little as possible. Here in Indy, the answers lean more towards good redundancy, reliable services, and personal, relational support (all of which Brightworks is especially good at). In Zimbabwe, where it can be difficult to get a consistent power source, let alone an internet connection, the answer is still the same, its just the means for obtaining it that change.

The moment you move away from the core of good service and good solutions, you start to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Creativity is key in underdeveloped areas, where infrastructure is limited at best, but that creativity has to stay within the bounds of your core ideal, otherwise it flounders and fails, something which many of the NGO’s we visited were all too familiar with. Under promising and over delivering, alongside honest, personal communication and connection, are concepts that apply to any situation in which technology is involved, regardless of context.

I’m grateful for the things I’ve learned at Brightworks, and the chance to share those lessons with other groups that might not have resources or time to find solutions that fit. I’m excited about the steps forward I’m taking, and being encouraged to take, to help lay a stronger foundation for organizations worldwide, however small those steps may be.