NGO-IDEAs Workshop

Corey writes:

Where have I been for the past week, you ask? I'm glad you asked, since that's what I plan on talking about. About three weeks ago, one of the project coordinators at SOVA quit. About two weeks ago, my boss came to me and said "You will go to the NGO-IDEAs conference next week in Coimbatore." I said "OK", knowing that eventually I'd find out what the hell NGO-IDEAs is or where Coimbatore is. I hoped it was on the planet Earth. As it turns out, SOVA is a partner for the NGO-IDEAs project, and the project coordinator that quit was running the NGO-IDEAs stuff at SOVA. Apparently, for now, I'm running that project. On one hand I'm flattered and pleased because this means that my boss trusts me and values my contribution to SOVA. On the other hand, this reinforces something that I've been thinking about lately.

I came to India to do IT work for an NGO. However increasingly I'm being asked to do other things, the latest being development work. I know how silly that sounds: "I didn't come to work in rural India to actually help people, directly! I just do computers!" At SOVA, and probably many other Indian NGOs, if you have common sense and motivation you will be put to work on anything the boss wants you to do. I'm trying to be flexible; I'm going to see where this trend goes; and I feel guilty saying this, but I'm not that interested in doing development work. I am interested in technology. I'm going to make sure I don't get pulled too far from my MIS objectives.

As it happens, Coimbatore is in the state of Tamil Nadu near the Kerala border. It's about a 31-hour journey from Koraput (5 by car and 26 by train).

The goal of the NGO-IDEAs project is to give NGOs the tools to measure their impact. Now for a miniature lesson in development jargon by way of an example:

Say you run a project teaching kids to read. An OUTPUT of your project would be something like "20 reading lessons". This is something immediate, measurable, and specific. An OUTCOME of your project would be something like "5 kids learned to read". This is something that takes a little more time and is a little more fuzzy. The IMPACT of your project would be something like "The kids grow up to have more money, be healthier, and make their community a better place to live." This is pretty abstract and far off in the distance. For these reasons, impact is a hard thing to measure.

Right now NGO-IDEAs is in the process of field testing the tools they have developed, and we're one of the testers. The workshop was a good education on the tools and concepts, and what the other testers are doing.