On the 31st of January, we studied the anatomy of the computer. All seven members of our staff and one volunteer were present. The eRider made a banner and attached it to the wall: “Don’t be scared.” She placed the processor on the operating table and gave each of us a screwdriver. We were encouraged to unscrew everything, to take this sacred machine apart and to put it back together however we liked. It was wonderful. Until this experience we were afraid to damage the computer-- we were tentative to touch the exterior and would have, under no circumstances, actually taken the machine apart. Of course, we do not repair our computers on a regular basis, but the eRider helped us to overcome our fear of this mystical machine.
Positive Side Effects
There was a very positive side effect of the eRider training at our office. You see, we have a technical coordinator who works part time, but he was never very interested in our activities. He would respond to our “emergency” calls with little enthusiasm, silently fix the problem, and then leave again. However, when the eRider began training the entire staff, showing them how beneficial technology could be for our work- and for the people we are trying to help- well, then Pasha became very interested in our activities. At one point he actually said, “Aha, so that’s what you are all doing in here.” Pasha Sukhoveev spends a lot more time in the office these days. He spends more time helping our staff, and he talks through technical issues aloud while working on the system. He has even decided, voluntarily, to create a record of the organization’s technical development.
ICTs Attract Volunteers
ICTs have been an attractive force for NGOs hoping to attract volunteers. One of Astana’s NGOs was having a particularly difficult time recruiting volunteers. The eRider organized a meeting and made a presentation to prospective volunteers. He stressed the opportunity for the volunteers to develop ICT skills while working with the organization. One individual expressed interest in developing database skills and is currently working on a project with the eRider. Since the meeting, two more volunteers have joined the organization and have initiated projects under the supervision of the eRider.
I can remember our first eRider consultation. When the eRider asked, “What percentage of your annual budget is spent on ICT”, we simply did not know. We had never considered what proportions of our finances were allocated to ICT. We had never budgeted funds for ICT training for our staff. We had never discussed fundraising for ICT equipment or training. In retrospect, it is both embarrassing and inspiring to realize how much we have learned since this first eRider consultation.
Online Art Catalog
The Georgian Arts and Culture Center is primarily involved in the promotion and conservation of Georgian cultural heritage. They have partnerships with several NGOs that organize the creation and sale of traditional cultural products. Typically, this network promotes their artwork at international exhibitions, where NGO representatives market their products to potential buyers. Often, they maintain these relationships via the Internet and market new products via email. Here’s were the problems arise. The NGO’s marketing photographs were stored as gigantic jpeg files in a single folder, and these photos were sent to the potential buyer as email attachments. This process is both extremely time consuming and nerve racking for several reasons. Due to the slow Internet connection, it would often take several hours to send a single photograph. And, due to the poor labeling system, the buyer would often wait patiently for hours only to open a photograph of the wrong product. The NGOs marketed their products in this manner for three years. Not surprisingly, they lost a fair number of clients.
Here’s where the eRider comes in, talks with the NGOs, evaluates the situation, thinks and offers a solution. The eRider designed a database of approximately 300 products, each with a unique picture, description and reference number. He then created an online catalog using php and MySql, which enables the buyers to shop online before contacting the NGO. The NGOs had considered developing such a website, but they could not afford to hire a commercial consultant and they were not able to create the site themselves. The site should be complete by the end of July 2003, and is awaited by at least 20 regional gift shop owners.
Convincing the Donor
The Women Information Center (WIC) received a grant to collect data and publish a printed catalogue of women’s organizations in Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. However, they were keeping all of the data in Word documents, which makes updating and analysis very difficult. The eRider has helped this center to create a customized database for their information and has trained one the NGO staff members to use the database. The plan was to put the database online. However, the donor was reluctant to fund the website. The donor had awarded a grant for web site development to another organization in the past, but the site was never developed. They needed some convincing. Together, the eRider helped the WIC to develop a detailed plan for a web portal. This included a thorough budget and recommendations concerning which programmers would design the modules for the site. The donor was convinced and decided to fund the creation of the site.
The First Day
After weeks of eRider training on technology and consulting issues, an optimistic eRider went to her first NGO, expecting her skills and the Technology Assessment Form to get her through the initial interview. She was confident and ready to build the capacity of any NGO. However, upon entering the office, she realized there was not even a desk at which to sit. The emptiness of the room closed in on her expectations. She had been taught not to present herself as an expert, but her quickly diminishing self-confidence made everyone a bit confused. Instead of working through the Technology Assessment Form on her lap, she sat in the office and read a book on practical tips for consultants. Practice makes perfect.
Fund Future provides information about medicines that are available at local drug stores. They have three telephone operators, each of whom answer hundreds of phone calls every day. The director of Future Fund has been trying to improve the quality and effectiveness of their information services. The eRider was the first to recommend putting the information online. Together, the eRider and Future Fund have developed a plan for a website, which will include not only the availability of medicines, but also descriptions and the locations where they may be purchased. The budget is now complete and the NGO – eRider team are in the process of seeking funding to construct the site.
The eRider’s technical evaluation of the Volunteer House revealed that the organization was using a single line for both email and telephone communication. This line was severely overloaded. As a result, communication and information exchange among the organizations in the region was very slow. The eRider installed an additional telephone line and chose a faster Internet service provider for the Volunteer House. Now, the Volunteer House is able to communicate easily with their partners and to send information quickly and reliably.
Reducing Publishing Costs
The Network of Experts on Sustainable Development in Almaty, Kazakhstan publishes on a variety of topics. The NGO hires a publisher to produce these materials and at a substantial cost. The eRider has trained the staff to create and produce these materials in-house, on desktop publishing software. The NGO now saves approximately 50 USD per publication. Currently, the eRider is training the staff to use graphic design software in order to enhance the aesthetics of their publications.