Why talent management is a matter of life and death for kids charity Plan International

Jessica Twentyman Profile picture for user jtwentyman July 2, 2014
For Plan International, talent management is about performance, but it could also be the difference between life and death for the children the charity seeks to help.




Around the world, poverty, violence and discrimination prevent children from accessing their right to an education. As of 2012, some 58 million children between the ages of 6 and 11 were classed as ‘out of school’ by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), with barely any change since 2007.

If current trends continue, the agency predicts that around 43 percent - or 15 million girls and 10 million boys - will probably never set foot in a classroom. As a result, opportunities for them to break the cycle of poverty may be lost forever.

The fight for universal schooling is an issue that global children’s charity Plan International takes extremely seriously. Just last week, it pledged €402 million to the Global Partnership for Education, an international initiative dedicated to public education provision in the world’s poorest countries.

In 2013, Plan trained over 67,600 educators on child-friendly learning skills and supported the construction and rehabilitation of over 2,700 schools.

According to CTO Mark Banbury, technology plays a big role in the work that Plan International carries out in over 50 countries worldwide, not just on education, but also in areas such as water and sanitation, healthcare and sexual health.

The implementation over the past 18 months of cloud-based talent management applications from SAP SuccessFactors, he says, is helping the charity not just to get the most from its 10,000 staff, but also make the donations it receives stretch that little bit further.

Why bother with talent management?

Talent management may seem, at first glance, like an unnecessary distraction for an organisation conducting such urgent and potentially life-changing work. After all, Plan International’s frontline staff operate in situations that are both physically and emotionally challenging.

Is it really fair to manage their performance in the same way that a bank or pharmaceutical company might measure its staff? Is it even possible? In fact, it couldn’t be more important, says Banbury:

Donor dollars are extremely precious to us, as are trust and transparency. Managing our people effectively is all part of that. Ensuring that every member of our large workforce is able to meet the goals we set for them is simply good governance.

In other words, poor performance is still poor performance, regardless of the environment in which it occurs. For any organisation, it can result in resources being wasted.In Plan International’s case, that could mean that less money is available to help the world’s most underprivileged children.

Part of what SuccessFactors has enabled the charity to achieve since the roll-out began in January 2013, says Banbury, is the setting of organisation-wide standards when it comes to roles and performance goals:

So if someone is responsible for a girls’ education project in a particular country, we can compare them to someone fulfilling the same role in another country, and make sure we’re presenting the same performance goals to both.

And when it comes to performance reviews, he says, the charity is able to manage both six-monthly appraisals and end-of-year reviews for both frontline and back-office staff more efficiently, he says. That saves time and money for both.

New funding

Talent management is also key to attracting new funding from organisations such as the World Bank and the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID). Here, recruiting the brightest and the best, with the right experience and language skills, is a top priority for Plan.

SuccessFactors’ recruitment modules have already been rolled out at Plan’s international headquarters in the UK and for senior international positions this year. Now, they’re being rolled out at a country level, too:

It takes very particular skills to manage these large grants - and, in most cases, there’s only a handful of people around the world with experience in doing that. We probably know those people and we probably have their names noted down somewhere, but by bringing that information into a centralised system, we’re in the best place to recruit them when they start to look for a new opportunity.

And when we apply for new grants, we’ve got details of senior, experienced people immediately to hand, whether they’re already employed by us, employed elsewhere or working on a freelance basis - because a big factor in being awarded these grants is being able to demonstrate upfront who we might get to administer them.

Perhaps the most important aspect of Plan International’s talent management drive is its aim of helping the charity to be able to easily and accurately demonstrate a clear link between the activities of its workforce and its impact in the field.

Children at Plan-supported school in Garplay village in Nimba County
By integrating SuccessFactors with a global finance system from SAP, currently being rolled out across the charity, Plan International aims to be able to build that picture of how staff activities and funding come together to produce quantifiable results.

Right now, says Banbury, the charity is hard at work at building dashboards and reports that will help it achieve that visibility, right down to the number of hours worked on a particular programme in a specific country.

This will appeal to NGO [non-government organisation] donors such as USAID, the United States Agency for International Development, he says, which increasingly ask to see timesheets and activities from the programmes they fund in granular detail:

so that they actually know what they’re paying for.

Because I Am A Girl

While Plan International’s work is wide-ranging, education has been a particular focus in recent years and, in particular, the education of girls and young women. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, four out of five girls currently receive no formal education at all. The charity’s ‘Because I Am A Girl’ campaign aims to tackle this problem head-on - and talent management is proving a huge help, says Banbury:

We know from experience that if you invest in a girl’s education, that investment is felt by the whole community. But in order to deliver on our goals effectively, we need to get the right staff in place, to raise funds, to raise awareness, to advise educators and governments, to deliver frontline programmes.

We need to manage staff at many different levels and make sure that our global agenda on girls’ education filters right through the organisation. And we need to be able to see where our efforts pay the best dividends and where we need to work harder.

Talent management, then, is absolutely a priority for Plan International, he emphasises. In some cases, for some children, it could be a matter of life and death.


Jessica has donated part of her fee for this article to the Because I Am A Girl campaign. If you would like to do the same, you can contribute here


Disclosure: at time of writing SAP is a premium partner of diginomica. 

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