diginomica 2017 - the year according to Jessica

Profile picture for user jtwentyman By Jessica Twentyman December 28, 2017
Ten non-profits that have successfully implemented technology not just as a channel for interacting with the public, but as part of wider digital transformation initiatives that will change the way they deliver their valuable services.

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(1) The Alan Turing Institute

The world is changing. An organization like this, set up five years ago, would have probably needed to set up a substantial data centre. But we set out to be an institute in the cloud from the beginning.

Why? The Alan Turing Institute has notched up some impressive work since its 2015 launch and was quick to recognize the role that cloud computing should play in its data science activities. In January, director Alan Blake shared with me his plans for a gift of $5 million in Microsoft Azure credits and explained how almost limitless scalability will help the UK’s national data science institute to perform important studies on a far grander scale.

(2) Arthritis Research

Over time, we will see a move away from the very specific answers that we know we wrote ourselves, to answers that have a more nuanced feel in response to the specific question that was asked, a gradual change in the way that the natural language processing forms an answer. But I feel we’re on the cusp of seeing that, which is very encouraging.

Why? Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a sophisticated technology that might intimidate many nonprofits, but has huge potential for advising patients in healthcare scenarios, among other use cases. In March, Arthritis Research’s chief digital officer explained how the charity was piloting ‘Arthy’, a virtual assistant powered by IBM Watson to answer patients’ questions via smartphones and computers, in a form that feels like a natural conversation, so they have access to advice and support whenever they need it.

(3) New Incentives

There are five vaccinations to be given in a baby’s first year of life, and for each of the visits attended, our staff member hands out an amount of between $1 and $4 to the mother. The reason, of course, is that many childhood illnesses and unavoidable deaths can be prevented through vaccination, especially in a country like Nigeria.

Why? Conditional cash transfers (CCTs) are a highly effective way to tackle poverty and disease, by offering small cash payments to poorer people as incentives for taking positive actions for themselves and their families. In April, Patrick Stadler, chief strategy officer at New Incentives, explained how the charity is combining technology from cloud-based communications platform Twilio with CCTs, to send mums in Nigeria helpful SMS texts, reminding them of their babies’ vaccination appointments and compensating them for attendance.

(4)  Gavi

I see my own mission within Gavi as enabling the alliance, and all the stakeholders within the alliance, to have digital access to the data, information and knowledge that improves immunization practices – but we need to make sure we know who they are and that they’re d.”

Why? Vaccinations again - and no apology for that, when so many kids around the world continue to die of entirely preventable diseases. In May, I spoke to David Nix, chief knowledge officer at Gavi, a public/private partnership that brings together the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Health Organisation, UNICEF and The World Bank. He explained how identity management from Okta helps Gavi share immunization knowledge between its members and also with vaccine manufacturers, government health bodies and local healthcare providers in the developing world.

(5) National Museums of Kenya

If we are able to successfully digitize this collection, it will be a wonderful thing. It’s a collection for all of us, it’s a collection for the world. This is humanity’s heritage that we keep and Kenyans are just custodians of this heritage.

Why? The National Museums of Kenya (NMK) is home to some of the world’s oldest and most fascinating hominid specimens, the remains of our human and pre-human ancestors - and these treasures need to be shared. As NMK head of earth sciences Dr Fredrick Manthi told me in May, the organization is working with Digital Divide Data, Amazon Web Services and Intel to digitize 10,000 records relating to its unique collections and open them up to researchers, educators and the general public as a ‘virtual museum’.

(6) British Heart Foundation

This is a big opportunity for us to accelerate our goals and plans. It’s exactly what we feel we need to do in order to become a world-class employer.

Why? The war for talent is just as applicable to nonprofits as it is to commercial organizations. At the British Heart Foundation, director of people and organizational development Kerry Smith is leading a Workday implementation of HCM, learning and payroll modules. As she explained, the project is about helping employees and volunteers at the charity to share their knowledge and skills with each other and to develop new ones that will help them progress in their own careers.

(7) BRCA Foundation

Big Data is a critical component of cancer research now and that’s really where we want to go – to get enough people on the registry, with enough data, that scientists can make helpful conclusions.

Why? These days, the cancer journey for many people may not begin with a diagnosis of the disease, but instead, a positive testing for genetic mutations that may cause it in future. This summer, the BRCA Foundation launched a new registry program to gather the details of people who have received these positive tests. As BRCA Foundation and NetSuite founder Evan Goldberg told me, this will provide researchers with a potential goldmine of information that will hopefully lead to breakthrough prevention and treatment strategies for breast and prostate cancer, among others.


The Innovation Labs will teach valuable life skills to these kids that they can use wherever they end up settling, because right now we have no idea how, when and where they’ll resettle. This will give them skills they can carry with them anywhere. It’s about making sure they have a future.

Why? Because young people in refugee camps deserve a chance at a better future and because the world needs more programmers. In September, British businesswoman Emma Sinclair MBE explained why she was launching a crowdfunding campaign to raise funds for innovation labs at the Azraq refugee camp in Jordan, where young refugees are given valuable training in engineering, coding, programming and digital media.

(9) Age UK

We regularly see the difference this makes to members and, in many cases, it’s the start of a very genuine friendship between members and volunteers.

Why? The terrible effects that loneliness can have on mental and physical health are finally starting to be recognized. Age UK has used Twilio to underpin its ‘Call in Time’ service, to coordinate weekly phone calls from volunteers to lonely elderly people. According to the charity’s digital solutions architect Richard Holland, the Twilio technology provides the automation needed to scale up the program from hundreds of calls a week to thousands, and eventually, tens of thousands.

(10) Turning Point

We’re all used to interacting digitally in every other aspect of our lives, but we don’t seem to do that very much in healthcare. We want to go digital not just for all the right clinical reasons, but also from a productivity and efficiency perspective.

Why? Turning Point provides valuable services to people struggling with addiction and mental health problems - but it knows that identifying them as early as possible can make all the difference to long-term outcomes. At Oracle OpenWorld in October, I met with Turning Point CIO Amarjit Dhillon, to hear how he’s steering a digital transformation at the London-based charity designed to get the right help to people faster and bring treatment pathways “into the twenty-first century.”