Save The Children – challenging IT

How’s this for a challenge?

You have more than 14,000 staff operating in almost 120 countries worldwide, including some of the world’s most troubled nations, with a combined annual income of $1.6 billion (2011). Your mission is ‘to inspire breakthroughs in the way the world treats children and to achieve immediate and lasting change in their lives’.

More specifically, you are working towards reducing child mortality by two thirds, as pledged in the fourth Millennium Development Goal. To help achieve this, your organisation has embarked on a three year programme to transform from 29 separate national organisations into a single global movement for children.

As part of this journey, you need to deploy and operate new systems for Finance, HR, and international warehousing and logistics, whilst finding a ways to manage knowledge and keep everyone connected for no more than 1% of annual income.

Save the Children is the world’s leading independent organisation for children and has been on this journey since 2010: maybe they can teach IT leaders in multinationals some tricks.


Andy Williams recently moved from Unilever to take up the position as Chief Information Officer at Save The Children International . Andy explained that Save the Children uses an integrated approach across all of its work, concentrating on;

  • Innovating – to develop evidence-based, replicable solutions to the problems children face
  • Achieving results at scale – to ensure consistency and sustainability in all its programmes
  • Using its voice – to advocate and campaign for better practices and policies
  • Working in partnership – with governments, communities, children and both civil and private sector organisations

Save the Children now focuses its programmes globally into six core areas ; saving children’s lives, responding to humanitarian crises, securing children’s rights, protecting children from all forms of abuse and neglect, ensuring every child receives a good quality education and preventing the spread of HIV & AIDS.

In the new global movement, IT requirements vary, depending on the core roles of the different parts of the organisation. As you would probably expect in such an organisation, there are no frills. In most beneficiary countries, many employees are simply using desktops or laptop to access cloud-based email accounts and a global intranet; country office IT staff help users to identify simple ‘apps’ which can be deployed from the intranet and they often work out locally how best to access them. Staff who do have personal smartphones can be authorised to connect to this cloud service, from the office, from an internet cafe, hotel, or often from a field locations with limited internet connectivity.

Is this the most extreme form of “bring your own” computer? Could more companies do this?

Countries such as Ethiopia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Haiti have a large number of programmes and most of these countries have erratic internet access: it may be good for a long period and then disappear overnight. Bureaucracy and government interference can also disrupt services. Save the Children is dependent upon about 70 satellite links in ‘difficult-to-reach’ areas. These are extreme examples of challenges common to all IT managers: flexibility and a willingness to use whatever communication method works enables Save the Children to succeed.

After completing much of the initial IT transition to a global organisation, Save the Children is now developing a new IT Strategy. The aim is to find a small number of examples of how technology can drive changes in business processes which will deliver even greater impact for children. Examples such as digital fundraising and the use of social media tools will allow greater engagement and trust with supporters. Use of mobile technology, including ‘basic’ SMS applications, will drive more efficient and effective delivery of field programmes. Overall, Save the Children believes this new IT strategy will help them to become a ’21st century organisation’.

Andy: “There are already fewer “walls” between departments here compared with the average corporation, where it is often a challenge to get different departments to work together and to engage productively with IT “. Here everyone works together to deliver for children.”

To find out more about Save The Children or to donate, please visit their website