ICT for CSOs: simple solutions for faulty internet connections

CSOs, like any other organisation nowadays, manage a lot of data. When we think about them, we tend to imagine all the activities they implement on the field; unfortunately, they also have to spend a considerable amount of time writing e-mails, sending reports or managing their accountancy.

But CSOs also meet a different challenge: their access to internet. What connection can we expect in the middle of the forest or in a remote village?

How can they then manage spending their time, with a slow, rare and unstable internet connection, on their field activities rather than waiting for a page to load?

More than anyone else, CSOs need simple, cheap and adapted solutions. These solutions exist; however, CSOs are unfortunately often uninformed about them.

Let’s start by hearing some real stories:

* Boniface needs to send a proposal today, but he is in the bush and the e-mail is not going through. He spends his whole day on Yahoo clicking on “Send”. He is unsure whether he should travel to the capital just to send an e-mail.

* Dieudonné goes to town once a month to access his e-mails. He must use this time to read and answer all of them. It’s an exhausting work and he sometimes forgets to write certain e-mails. He has to print all of them in order to share them with his colleagues.
* An electrical surge damages Patrice’s computer, containing all of his files. He no longer has the data to justify his activities and accountancy and wonders how to explain this to his partners.
* The CSO “Friends of the Forest" must send their supporting documents to their donor, but never manage to do it regularly. When the project reaches an end, the donor realizes most of the documents are invalid.

What are the solutions?
Two software programmes are enough to answer these challenges: one email software (such as Thunderbird) and one file synchronization software (such as Dropbox).

With the email software, you can upload all your e-mails on a computer, and thus access them off-line. It also allows you to write an e-mail offline, and sends it once the connection is working.

The file synchronization software makes a copy of all files on a computer on Internet (we call this a Cloud) as soon as a connection is working, even slowly.

How could these two software programmes be a solution for our CSOs? Let’s go back to our stories:

* Boniface’s proposal synchronized on Dropbox while he was writing it, even when the connection was very slow. Once he is ready, he only needs to write an e-mail on Thunderbird and include a link on Dropbox. The message is very light and will be sent automatically as soon as the connection works.

* Dieudonné can write his e-mails off line during the whole month. When he goes to the capital and gets connection, he will be able to: 1. Send all the e-mails he has been writing for a month, and 2. Download all his emails on his computer. This way, he can go back to the village and share them with his colleagues.

* All of Patrice’s documents are automatically synchronized on Dropbox without his intervention. If his computer is damaged, he can use another computer and get all his documents back. When he buys a new computer, he will also find all his documents ready.

* “Friends of the Forest" now scans all of their documents with a simple smartphone. These are automatically saved online and shared with the donor, who can now validate them as they come.

These software tools, “Thunderbird" and “Dropbox" are not the only existing ones, but they have the advantage of being free and user-friendly. The “only” remaining challenge is now to inform and train CSOs.

About the author

Guillaume Soto

Guillaume Soto is passionate about entrepreneurship, coaching and management. After several years working as a micro-electronics engineer for Philips Semiconductor, ST Microelectronics and a start-up called Stepmind, he went into development assistance – managing a local economic development project in the Democratic Republic of Congo from 2008 to 2009, and an economic recovery project in Haiti with Première Urgence-Aide Médicale Internationale after the earthquake of 2010.

Having spent 10 years working as an engineer and project manager in different parts of the world, he settled in Yaoundé in Cameroun in 2012, where he established the company Shauri Conseil & Coaching (Shauri-CC).

Shauri-CC provides specialist support for individuals and businesses: offering training on leadership, time and priority management, team building sessions and individual coaching to organisations and managers who wish to improve their performance and effectiveness at work. Most of its clients are based in Central Africa.