Can good data save lives?

Carlin Carr, Mumbai Community Manager
Mumbai, 2 October 2015

Many social organizations working across India operate with a deep sense of passion and purpose to tackle complex problems. Some of these problems seem quite straightforward, such as a new mid-day meal program, but measuring the impact of these interventions can be complicated. For example, counting the number of meals given out each day is a simple, doable metric. It shows the reach and the consistency of that reach. However, is it making a dent in malnutrition? Is it reducing vitamin deficiencies in children? There is an increasing need to provide data-driven evidence to decipher the impact of programs to inform future decision-making and raise appropriate funds.

Mumbai-based Vera Solutions believes that data can transform the efforts of social-change organizations. The company uses mobile data and cloud-based systems to build customized databases. These databases can be automatically analyzed and give important programmatic information to staff in home offices and in the field to understand quickly the effectiveness of particular approaches and programs. Time, effort and funds can be spent more efficiently and effectively with easily accessible numbers from the field.

Vera's three founders saw the need for better data when they worked together on an HIV project in South Africa in 2008. Like many non-profits in India, field workers at the South African intervention were tracking progress with pen and paper, making it difficult for them to answer simple questions about the program’s effectiveness. "We soon realized the challenges faced by this program were nearly universal: most social impact organizations—from large i-NGOs to community based organizations, from funders to social enterprises – use paper and spreadsheets to track their operations and performance. Most organizations we met had trouble answering the simplest of questions like, 'How many people do you serve?' or 'How many products did you sell last week or last month?' or 'How do your inputs and outputs break down across communities, countries, regions, populations, or program areas?'"

In Mumbai, Vera Solutions worked with the Foundation for Mother and Child Health — a program that works to improve nutrition and health for underprivileged communities in the city — to build a clinic management system. Now, when a child comes to a FMCH clinic seeking assistance, all healthcare providers — from doctors to nurses to social workers — have access to real-time information entered on tablets, where anyone connected can have up-to-date data on the child.

As FMCH proves, access to reliable data is about more than simply reporting accurately and transparently to donors. FMCH's live database allows organizations to interact more efficiently among themselves, as well. For children visiting one of the FMCH clinics, accessing this type of information leads to more informed decisions by doctors and other clinicians — and could likely even save lives.

Photo credit: DFID.

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