If you ask Mercy Corps’ new CIO, Chip Carter, about the best uses of technology at Mercy Corps, you might be surprised by the answer. The latest and greatest technology is rarely as important as listening carefully to Mercy Corps’ frontline teams and the communities served around the world.
“Often you can apply existing, proven technologies in innovative ways to new contexts,” says Carter. “Or you can work to enable your partners and reduce barriers for deploying and using well-understood technologies. But you always start with the context.”
As Mercy Corps’ first CIO, Carter entered his role in May 2009 with the principle of context in mind. Mercy Corps has long been a leader in providing innovative technologies and multi-sector programs, working in more than 40 countries worldwide. Mercy Corps is a member of NetHope, an IT consortium of 25 leading international non-governmental organizations.
Mercy Corps aims to use technology for peaceful collaboration, productive dialogue and economic cooperation. Global Youth Connectivity is one such program which intersects a variety of digital media — including mobile phones, multimedia, and social networking — to connect Arab and American youth. Most recently, this initiative helped young people in the Gaza Strip convey their emotions and experiences during and after the December/January war between Israel and Hamas.
“Global Youth Connectivity provides a great antidote to the repression and isolation many young people feel in the Middle East,” says Carter. “It fuels cross-cultural understanding and a sense of empowerment to create just and peaceful change.”
Another intersection involves the application of banking technology to micro-finance challenges in Indonesia. In partnership with the Gates Foundation and other organizations, Mercy Corps recently launched a wholesale bank – Bank Andara – to provide financial support and tailored products to a large number of microfinance institutions across Indonesia.
“The potential upside for more than 110 million Indonesians who live on less than two dollars a day is enormous,” says Carter. “Bringing these resources on line and within reach at reasonable cost and to scale will require novel approaches to technology application and integration, but the technologies are there.”
Just as important as weaving sound technologies into field solutions are the issues around internal business process for an organization with 3,700 employees around the world, many of whom work in global hotspots such as Afghanistan, Somalia and Iraq.
“Though it’s not as intriguing as our field programs and the associated technologies, tuning business process and administration allows our field teams to be more efficient, productive and responsive to changing conditions,” says Carter. “Improved morale and productivity are a direct benefit to our people and therefore the populations they serve.”
Recent improvements include the introduction of video conferencing technology, an intranet to facilitate team member connections and workflow worldwide and continuous upgrades to connectivity infrastructure.
Mercy Corp has many emerging technology initiatives, but all of them demonstrate Mercy Corps’ passion for innovation, according to Carter. “The willingness of our teams to adapt quickly and lead in transitional areas guarantees no dull moments.”