How the cloud helps Camfed empower girls in rural Africa

Profile picture for user pwainewright By Phil Wainewright July 26, 2016
Moving student records, donor management and now financials to the cloud is helping Camfed support a million girls in rural Africa through secondary school

CAMA alumnae via Camfed
Camfed, the campaign for female education in Africa, is a fast-growing non-profit that is committed to support one million girls in rural Africa to go to secondary school by 2020. Education has a proven role in combating poverty, improving health and fostering economic growth. Camfed's community-led programs not only support girls to succeed at school, but also go on to empower them to become entrepreneurs and change-makers in their communities.

Cloud-based software from Salesforce, and more recently FinancialForce, has played a crucial role in supporting the organization as it has scaled up its activities to deliver on its ambitious goal. Camfed now holds all information pertaining to each student on a single record in the Salesforce system, which tracks their circumstances, entitlements, financial transactions, school attendance, retention and progression.

It also helps maintain contact when she joins the CAMA alumnae network, which at the last count has 55,358 members across Zimbabwe, Ghana, Malawi, Zambia and Tanzania. Camfed pays special attention to supporting students into work or business after they leave school and encourages them to 'give back' as mentors and role models throughout their careers. A recent informal survey of 150 alumni found they were each supporting three or more other girls through education, further amplifying the effect of the program.

Support and reconciliation

In each of the seven countries Camfed operates in, community workers, teachers and back-office staff all interact with the cloud-based system, often just using Android mobile phones. Bringing financials into the cloud has really helped collaboration and also cut costs — before moving to FinancialForce, which runs natively on the Salesforce cloud platform, Camfed was using an ageing Sun accounting system based in its UK headquarters. Finance staff in Africa had to access it over VPN connections using Citrix remote desktop software. This led to frequent support calls, says Dan Probert, head of IT innovation at Camfed.

It makes complete sense in the modern cloud-based environment to take away an internal system that was a pain to support and manage. We had remote users from all of our offices accessing a single point of failure, in my mind.

50% of our internal IT support requests were from our complement of maybe 35 IT finance staff, asking, 'Why can't I get into Sun, why can't I access Citrix, why isn't this report running in Citrix?

Having finance on a separate system also created a lot of behind-the-scenes work to validate and cross-reference the numbers.

We had finance running in Sun and that was almost an untouchable part of our environment.

What was always hidden is the backend work required for numerous members of staff across the entirety of Camfed's environment, working to provide reconciliations between these multiple systems and resolving issues where we find duplicates ...

This reconciliation process was not just time consuming, it was error-prone. We were almost reconciling, auditing and then reconciling again. It was an ongoing issue and when you're an organization trying to attract new donors, that doesn't really work very well.

You want to be able to very quickly pull out a number when a new donor prospect is on the phone saying, 'I want to donate, how many students have you supported this year?' You don't want to have to contact three teams and say, 'I'll get back to you in a week.'

Finance in the cloud

When Camfed landed a huge grant from the UK government's Department for International Development (DfID), it provided the spur to make the leap to finance in the cloud. Accurate reporting is vital to meet the contractual requirements of this kind of donor, and Camfed needed to be able to provide that at scale.

We have some of our bigger donors like MasterCard or DfID, they have outcomes from the monies that they give us, which is to confirm 10,000 students went to school this year and you can confirm them. We need the ability to be able to show those 10,000 and the evidence they require is a list of names and we can't just say, "No, we've done 10,000." You have to be able to provide that supporting evidence.

A financials upgrade was unavoidable, the only question was whether to go with an updated cloud version of the existing package or put in something new. Probert says:

Our finance system was still running a version of Sun that hadn't been updated and the upgrade we were being presented with was scaring the life out of my finance team.

A cost comparison made it clear that adopting FinancialForce running on the Salesforce system would create significant savings, even before taking into account any of the benefits of having the data natively integrated on a single platform. But it turned out that the impact on the organization ultimately proved to be of most value.

Historically, it had always been the program team working on one part of their world, the finance team working on another, and only when we came to reconcile the data, actually communicate about what's going on between the programs.

We've now improved the quality of our program data through ensuring that program teams, our impact teams and our finance teams are working as one team for a single beneficiary.

Improving collaboration

Having a single system has improved collaboration and broken down walls between functions.

Finance are more involved in the program aspects of the organization now than what they ever have been. They were always involved but the involvement is now almost from day one of us meeting a beneficiary.

With less time spent reconciling the data, finance can put their Excel skills to use improving data quality, says Probert.

It's enabled us to see the benefit of having someone that has advanced Excel skills to be able to ensure the data is good before it gets into the system.

Moving that skillset — because the resource is available — further down the line, enables us to benefit from finance dealing with a mundane data process. It enables our program teams to be more focused on what they should be, which is the support for the beneficiaries, the entitlement management and the relationship management with our community partners.

My take

This story highlights one of the hidden benefits of using connected cloud systems, namely that it frees processes to cut across historical functional boundaries to achieve better outcomes. In this case, quite remarkable and inspiring outcomes.