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Leveraging technology during COVID-19: The relevance of connectivity for non-profits

May 21 2020 / Posted in Health


-  Dr. Anuja Jayaraman (Director,  Research, SNEHA) and Shaikh Nadeem Yasin [Database & Network Administrator (Information Management), SNEHA]

 

As we find ourselves under restriction during lockdown, we are becoming dependent on internet connection and phones for communications, work and entertainment. Even as the lockdown is being lifted in a phased manner, life will not be returning to pre-COVID-19 era any time soon. All sectors including the non-profits may need to invest more in IT infrastructure which initially may come at a price but eventually reduce the cost of doing business in post-COVID-19 period. Towards this end we list out the key points to be kept in mind while thinking about new ways of functioning.

 

Enabling the connection: Equipment, internet and phone

It is believed that access to the internet has helped in reducing the adverse economic and social impact of the disease. People are able to hold on to their jobs, many functions can be carried out without interruption and it is possible to work with a team/group. In order to keep the organization connected at all times, it is important to ensure all employees have functioning laptops/desktops, internet and phone connections. As a strategy, it is now wiser to invest in a laptop than a desktop because of its portability. It will not be possible for organizations to suddenly provide for laptops for its desktop users during times of crisis when buying and selling of non-essential items is prohibited. Lockdown was announced very suddenly in India and there was no time to buy or borrow laptops. IN the future we may see more of these lockdowns.

It may also be possible that the users do not have good internet connectivity to work from home. Organizations will need to take up the cost of provision of reliable high-speed internet plan and even mobile phone recharge for its employees. This will also facilitate remote access of data, files and folders. It is evident that going forward, most interactions would be either online or over phones. This may be very much affordable as organizations now save on travel and other operational costs.

 

Web-conferencing and video conferencing applications

Web and video conferencing applications like Google Meet, WebEx and Zoom are being increasing used for not only connecting with co-workers but also with customers, beneficiaries and community members. These facilities are not only used of day-to-day interactions but also for trainings and other capacity building activities. This way cost of renting a place for training and other logistical costs can be easily reduced and even avoided.

While working in the community, attention must be paid to collect phone numbers of the residents so that one can connect with them even during lockdown or times of crisis when mobility is restricted but work must go on. Care must be taken to routinely update these numbers. This is especially vital for community-based organizations to remain in touch with their stakeholders at all times.

 

Tech support

With majority of workforce working from home, organizations also need to strengthen their tech support. Need will arise routinely to help users in accessing servers remotely, to provide training on effective use of communication and conferencing applications and in getting local internet connection. This does not necessarily mean that the team size has to increase. The IT team may need to build capacity of the users to troubleshoot so as to reduce the load on the IT team and user may not need not wait for help to resolve small problems. Another way is to document commonly arising problems and creating a list of frequently asked questions for reference for all employees.  Additionally, the tech team should also inculcate the culture of keeping updated about new low-cost technological solutions that can be applied in their context.

 

Security

In all this, attention must be paid to data security and confidentiality. Along with using video conferencing facility, remote access of files and folder and other internet-based technology comes cybersecurity concerns. This exposes organizations to phishing, malware and cyber-attacks. At the very minimum the tech team should install and update antivirus and antispyware software on every system used in the organization, use firewall for internet connection and continue to download and install updates related to operating systems as and when available. All team members should be aware of basic cyber security principles

Finally, as Makhtar Diop, the World Bank’s Vice President for Infrastructure said ‘’the benefits and opportunities of technology are not equally distributed’’. There are bound to be people who may be unconnected and they may belong to the most vulnerable sections of the society. We need to constantly think of ways to reach them. We may all need to think outside the box and find realistic solutions that will work for us.


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