Bidisha Pillai, CEO, Save The Children discusses the company’s unique tech challenges and how cloud enabled it to overcome the hurdles.
Save The Children, one of India’s leading independent child rights NGO has leveraged Oracle Cloud application to drive efficiency in HR and to streamline finance. The entity that has been working to reach out to the most marginalized children across 19 states has seen a marked difference in its operation and efficiency post the deployment. In a recent conversation with CXOToday, Bidisha Pillai, CEO, Save The Children discusses the company’s unique tech challenges and how moving to cloud enabled it to overcome the hurdles. She also discusses how technology is impacting the non-profit sector in India and the way forward. An excerpt.
CXOToday: Technology has disrupted business functions across industries. How do you see the impact of technology on the non-profit sector in India and globally?
Bidisha Pillai: Save the Children. Our origins are rooted in the concept of children’s rights. We are constantly evolving ourselves from two perspectives. One is to be able to reach the most marginalized children by leveraging technology effectively to amplify the impact of change. Secondly, with the growth of an organization, it is important to innovate simultaneously in terms of operations, internal processes, systems, operating models in order to embrace opportunities offered by technology.
This will lead to improved operational systems, better management and tracking of financial data, therefore better-quality reports can be provided to the donors so that they know the value of every rupee being contributed for the children. Although, as a sector, we are yet to fully embrace the potential that technology is offering, Save the Children is surely committed as an organization to embrace all the opportunities and possibilities that are available for us.
CXOToday: Do you think that organizations like Save the Children have similar business functions and challenges like any other multi nationals?
Bidisha Pillai: The concepts in which we are operating are far more complex than other MNCs because here the impact of the success of a campaign is measured through programming lens, but the complexity that is involved in every campaign is huge. We are a team of 400 people in the country and we work with 90 partners across the globe. So, people management is a huge task. At the same time, it is very important for non-profits to pay more attention to financial management as we are accountable for every penny that we receive from the donors donated for the welfare of the children.
We have operations which are spread across about 20 states, and simple things like having standardized protocols and processes, having an integrated payroll and benefits system is as essential to us as it would be for any other FMCG company. In that sense, we need a technology platform that could be adapted to our organizational needs which could increase the value of our workforce so they could spend less time, doing paperwork for simple things. I think using cloud and digital technology has really helped us to not only improve our operational efficiency but also to have a much more productive and effective workforce.
CXOToday: What kind of specific challenges did Save the Children face given the fact that you have spent almost 100 years within the industry? What are some of the challenges that you have faced as an organization and how do you see these challenges being tackled with technology now?
Bidisha Pillai: Save the Children is completing its 100 years this year. Our founder, Eglantyne Jebb believed and have championed the same with various political leaders that countries may have political differences, but children can have no enemy, and it is, therefore, the duty of all governments to uphold the rights of children. In India, we are present for more than 50 years.
India’s earliest contribution was as a donor and our first program in India was supplying milk to Tibetan refugee children in Ladakh and Leh. We have come a long way from there. Now we are trying to ensure that we reach out to children in the remotest parts of India.
We are trying to make sure that children and their parents in remote regions are all aware of their rights. That’s the journey of our programming that we’ve made in the last 50 years. As an organization we have grown tenfold. We are a 200-crore plus organization now. We would not have been able to manage this change and maintain consistency in our programs without technology.
CXOToday: You are using Oracle cloud services for your HR and finance functions. What has been your experience in using Oracle cloud services?
Bidisha Pillai: We are moving towards digitalization of our HR function globally, not just in India. As an organization, we are recognizing the criticality of managing our singular most important resource – our people. They used to feel that they are spending their time in mundane paperwork rather than their core work i.e. helping children.
Oracle cloud applications have allowed people to spend their time effectively towards more value-added work by automating the mundane work. People may take some time to adapt to new technology. Once those teething problems are over, people’s time can be used much more effectively and efficiently. Oracle cloud applications have benefited us in terms of transparency of data and in ensuring that as an organization we are able to manage to allocate time and resources more effectively.
From a global perspective, the cloud has allowed us to create a pool of global resources,where people are able to look at opportunities and can track our top talents, so that we can deploy them in the most effective manner. And this becomes most critical during emergencies. So, when there is an emergency, for instance, in Kerala, we could put out on the system that we need a health specialist because we don’t have the right kind of expertise and globally, we’d be able to draw on resources who can come and work with us for three or four months and move out.
Another challenge was to ensure the availability of the financial data on a real-time basis from all the locations. As there was a lot of paper work involved, we never had real-time knowledge on how much of a grant has been spent resulting in the situation of under-spending or overspending. Now, we have a system which is inter-connected and real-time data is available. Oracle cloud applications have really helped us to make sure that the budgetary spend is aligned.
At the end of the day, we managed the under-spent money and reported back to the donor. This resulted in increased confidence of our donors in our capabilities to deliver large scale programs. The other most important and practical aspect is the streamlining of processes. Now, there is no need for filing paperwork to get reimbursements. The managers can approve all the claims on a real-time basis. This resulted in less time consumption in paperwork, more time for core work of helping children.
Over the last three years, we have reached out to 2 million children in India. We have reached out to them with access to health facilities, nutrition, vaccinations, better education, social protection schemes, etc. This is our primary mission. Anyone that helps us to amplify the impact of our actions is beneficial for us. Oracle is a global service provider. They are one of the best solution providers. What is important for us is to have a partner who understands the needs and nuances of the sector and provide us solutions that work for us. Oracle has done exactly that for us. We all are very happy with it. It has enabled us to drive up efficiencies of our internal processes with Oracle Human Capital Management cloud and expenses module of Oracle ERP cloud.
CXOToday: What role do you see the technologies like AI and analytics play in nonprofit sector?
Bidisha Pillai: I see a huge role of these technologies in the social sector. Let me give you an example. If we removed a child from labor and enrolled him back in school, we need to keep a track of that child’s progress. We also need to make sure that the child is staying out of that work and is attending the school. Without the use of technology, it is a human resource intensive process where one of the field workers need to go and check on that child periodically and file reports. And by the time that report reaches the leadership team, the situation may have changed on the ground. But technologies like AI make the process of tracking much easier.
Not just that, we can also keep an eye on nutritional health and vaccination status of children, whether children are staying in schools as well as the number of people accessing government services available to them. AI can make all these processes and many more processes more efficient.
The second important thing is to generate actionable insights from the data that we generate as an organization. For instance, we generate reams of data from our child labor projects from different states. With the help of analytics, we can cull out insights into commonalities and uniqueness of these situations. The quality and timeliness of data that can be generated by using technology and evidences become crucial and fundamental. And we are committed to leveraging technology to the maximum to make positive changes in the lives of our children.