It’s Time for NGOs to Embrace Digital Technologies

It’s Time for NGOs to Delegate to the Computer event banner.

This article is published in collaboration with Infoxchange.

Nongovernment organizations (NGOs) play an important role in supporting people in need across the Asia and the Pacific (APAC). But they are often heavily under-resourced and under-staffed. Microsoft recently shared that given rising inflation, many NGOs are faced with shrinking budgets, which translates to reduced community impact.

Digital tools and resources can help NGOs dramatically reduce workloads and increase productivity.

But what exactly is digital transformation, and why is storytelling so important in creating impact? 

In this Q&A, Pablo Gonzalez, a creative and executive producer, editor, writer, former data analytics officer, and researcher, talks about why NGOs need to embrace digital transformation. In upcoming training sessions under the APAC Digital Transformation Project webinar series led by Infoxchange (IX) with the support of and the Asian Development Bank, he brings a unique perspective on how not-for-profits can use digital technologies to thrive and spur impact. 

IX: Thank you so much for joining us for a chat, Pablo. You come from a background in social policy and economics before leading strategy and digital capability programs with not-for-profits. Can you share a bit about your work?

Gonzalez: I'm going to go way back to when I was younger because I used to do social work with remote communities in Mexico back in the 1990s. My auntie is a nun and she used to invite me over to do some community work. And I just loved it. I really liked going to rural communities in Mexico and teaching kids topics from math to playing football. I've always enjoyed being part of a group where we learn together. Today, I’m working with organizations, teaching them how to convey a message as clearly as possible. I love strategy—I like setting up goals with organizations and making them happen. I work with not-for-profits who have a willingness to make an impact. They know what they want to achieve, but they might not be able to articulate it.

It’s important to identify what it is that you want to achieve and know what you want to break down into steps. How are we going to make it happen? How can you implement social change in a way that is more actionable than just having a goal in your head? Implementation might be the toughest part of the process.

IX: Why is storytelling so important? And what does telling a good story from a not-for-profit organization look like?

Gonzalez: Well, I think it has to do with empathy. So when you tell a story, there might be connections, regardless of where you come from; I think there are some touch points that might generate some empathy with other people. Sharing stories makes us more relatable as human beings, particularly in the social sector, where that component is key.

It’s important to find the elements that make a good story. You need your hero and then you have a villain. So for instance, if you're trying to reduce domestic violence, you're the hero, how are you going to reduce domestic violence? What are you trying to fight or what are those things that you want to overcome in order to meet your objectives?

IX: What is the theory of change? And what exactly does a change narrative look like?

Gonzalez: Well, a theory of change is a tool with which you can present all of the elements that will help you achieve something. So you break it down into those elements, to make sure that your outcomes are achievable. My unofficial definition of theory of change is a story. At the same time, while having a framework is crucial, it's just as important that you believe in your work and that you’re doing something of value for your community. [Theory of change is a method that explains how interventions can lead to specific development changes.]

I worked with an organization in Adelaide, Australia, working with children whose parents have been in prison. Using a theory of change, we developed actionable goals and outcomes. We were able to gather data that was visually compelling and engaging to attract people's attention.

Clear outcomes and data allow people to understand what you do as an organization. With a theory of change in place we were able to make some calculations that could be built into their story, such as how many children are affected. We also found research to learn what was the probability of children whose parents were in prison to end up in prison themselves.

When you have the numbers or the proportions then your story and mission are more compelling to your community, donors, and funders. This project managed to raise funding from the government. When the government saw the figures, they were like, “Oh, okay. We’ve got to do something about this!”

IX: Improving your digital capabilities or trying new marketing strategies and methods involves testing and learning. Not-for-profits are often under-funded and under-resourced, with many deprioritizing IT. What are your thoughts on this?

Gonzalez: Money doesn't grow on trees for anyone. Resources will always be constrained. But it is important to test and also capture the things that you’re testing so that you can learn from it. This will help inform your next steps.

Digital transformation is important because I think we should be delegating certain processes to computers within a digital world—particularly with things that require a lot of time and resources. If you can let your digital tools take care of the stuff you don’t have time for, it can transform your processes into digital ones so you can better allocate your limited time and resources for other things.
IX: What is your advice for nonprofits who are thinking about undergoing a digital transformation but haven't started yet?

Gonzalez: My advice would be to map your current processes and identify which ones are priorities and which are the ones that you think computers should be taking care of. Those tasks that can be supported by a digital process can be delegated to technology.

IX: What can people expect from your webinars?

Gonzalez: We’ll be doing hands-on activities inspired by my high school math teacher’s philosophy, who used Confucius’s phrase, “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” It might have been an elegant way to say we would have some homework to do but I believe in it today. On top of theory, I like having a lot of exercises during my sessions. 

Pablo Gonzalez will lead four webinars during the Asia–Pacific Digital Transformation Project: 

Sign up for the free webinars here.