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Welcome to episode 37 of the Technology in Human Services podcast. In this episode I speak with Charles Buchanan.
The discussion about technology and non-profits is not a new one. But throughout the pandemic and now, even with lessons learned during that time, we’re struggling. Service providers are struggling to make the right decisions when it comes to infrastructure, skills & training, and where to invest. Funders are struggling to figure out how to fund technology in service delivery. It feels sometimes like we’re going backwards.
After moving from the private sector to support non-profits, Charles recognized that the state of non-profit technology and digital maturity was troubling. In fact, he saw a situation he called “technology poverty” which he feels best articulates the dire tech situation currently affecting non-profits.
I approached Charles because we were part of a recent Canadian Centre for Nonprofit Digital Resilience group discussion. In that discussion we talked about how non-profit leaders are paralyzed with fear and anxiety when it comes to discussing and figuring out what steps to take to protect their organizations, their data, their staff, clients, and communities when it comes to cybersecurity. So I knew I wanted to chat with him in more depth. Turns out he’s deeply connected to, works with, and understands the technology poverty in the Immigrant and Refugee-serving sector.
We discussed what technology poverty is and then took a deep dive into cybersecurity and the pressing need for non-profits to get Enterprise Risk Management right. His key message is that you’re not alone in this struggle. Get in touch with him at Technology Helps to take those important first steps. I think you’ll find his perspective and insights interesting and important.
(An aside. The beginning of our conversation focuses on Charles’ insights on AI. I like to start recording my podcast conversations early so I don’t forget to hit record (which has almost happened). We started talking about AI because I use Otter.ai for transcripts (see below) and the service has a feature where Otter can join Zoom meetings and transcribe as we’re talking. So I have to explain why there is another connection in Zoom with us, so folks are comfortable, or I turn it off. It got us talking about AI and I love what Charles had to say, so it’s in the podcast. 🙂 )
Some questions we discussed:
- Can you tell me a bit about that concept and how you’re working to bring non-profits out of technology poverty.
- Part of your work includes offering a Community Service Desk service to non-profits. For smaller non-profits and even large ones with IT staff, what role does a non-profit-focused tech support service play for these organizations? How is it different from, say, contracting with a business-focused IT support service?
- Another major service you provide is focused on Enterprise Risk Management. What do we need to to do help sector leaders feel confident in making a decision about cybersecurity framework, organizational policies, organizational practices (sticks/carrots to ensure security compliance), as well as staff training to feel more confident about their tech infrastructure choices, use of tech in client service security, and that their time, energy, resource, and money investments will be the right ones.
- What role do or should funders and policy makers play when it comes to helping bring non-profits out of technology poverty?
- You’re active with the Canadian Centre for Nonprofit Digital Resilience, which is focused on helping support and nurture a digitally-enabled and literate non-profit sector. What does a digitally-enabled sector look like to you? Why is it important that our national non-profit sector come together to build it collaboratively?
- This is a bit of a huge questions, but I’m curious, on a broader level, what do you think a responsible and inclusive technology ecosystem looks like where non-profits are not beholden to tech bros’ limited tech vision, but are active contributors and developers in the creation of technology and development of technology policies and governance?
Some useful resources:
- Technology Helps – Charles’ social enterprise supporting non-profits to come out of technology poverty
- Charles Buchanan is On a Mission to End Technology Poverty – an article with Charles’ story and his why
What follows is an AI-generated transcript of our conversation using Otter.ai. The transcript has not been edited. It may contain errors and odd sentence breaks and is not a substitute for listening to the audio.
Marco Campana 0:00
Welcome to Episode 37 of the technology and human services podcast. In this episode, I speak with Charles Buchanan. The discussion about technology and nonprofits is not a new one, but throughout the pandemic. And now even with lessons learned during this time, we’re struggling. Service providers are struggling to make the right decisions when it comes to infrastructure skills and training and where to invest. funders are struggling to figure out how to fund technology and service delivery. It feels like we’re going backwards. After moving from the private sector to support nonprofits, Charles recognized that the state of nonprofit technology and digital maturity was troubling. In fact, he saw a situation he called technology poverty, which he feels best articulates the dire technological situation currently affecting nonprofits. I approached Charles because we were part of a recent Canadian Center for nonprofit digital resilience group discussion. In that discussion, we talked about how nonprofit leaders are paralyzed with fear and anxiety when it comes to discussing and figuring out what steps to take to protect their organizations, their data, their staff, clients and communities when it comes specifically to cybersecurity. So I knew I wanted to chat with him in more depth. Turns out he’s deeply connected to works with and understands the technology poverty in the immigrant and refugee serving sector. We discussed what technology poverty is, and then took a deep dive into cybersecurity and the pressing need for nonprofits to get enterprise risk management, right? Its key message is that you’re not alone in this struggle, get in touch with him. And technology helps to make those first important steps. I think you’ll find his perspective and insights insert interesting and important. A note on a side, if you will, the beginning of our conversation focuses on Charles insights on AI, artificial intelligence, I like to start recording my podcast conversations early. So I don’t forget to hit record, which is almost happened. We started talking about AI because I use otter.ai. For transcripts, which you’ll see in the show notes. And the service has a feature where otter can join zoom meetings and transcribe as we’re talking. So I have to explain why there’s another connection in zoom with us. So folks are comfortable or I turn it off, they got us talking about AI. And I love what Charles had to say. So it’s in the podcast, I hope you enjoy this conversation
Charles Buchanan 1:58
that we have to get more used to AI and in fact, your I mean, less intrusive, more in the background. I mean, AI would is the is the path forward. And I don’t know how come from that people will will will get more like now chatbots are generally accepted if though, I mean, some somewhat useless at times, but they’re like, but people have gotten used to them. I tried to avoid them, because they just they if they’re going to just read me an FAQ, then I could just read the FAQ myself, right, like just,
Marco Campana 2:32
it’s true. No, I know, I find with the chat bots I intersect with or interact with when it comes to like, if I need some sort of actual answer to a question I have to go through until they finally say Oh, would you like to speak to some a human? And it’s like, yes. Why don’t you give me that, like at the first step. It’s like going through voicemail hell, but we’ve applied that to AI and it’s like, really couldn’t do
Charles Buchanan 2:54
it. No big thing is, so it’s like, no, it’s bad AI, right? It’s actually like, and that that’s what it is. It’s not that it’s, I mean, we have a tool that could do something like it’s like, like we should AI you know, they come in there, there’s an intelligent part of it. And and what we realize is that, not every we just assume that the fact that something is human means it’s intelligent, sorry, this might sound elitist. But there’s a, what we’ve done is just taken or pedestrian stupidity to a technical platform. And what we’re getting is not artificial intelligence is artificial, pedantic stupidity that we that we engage in, like, it’s like going to get bad service at the store, you walk in, and they’re like, may I help you? And you’re like, Yeah, I need this. Oh, sorry, you’re in the wrong department? Why didn’t you just tell me that you’re? You’re in that you know, nothing about houseware? Or why don’t you just tell me what, you know, like, we don’t sell that here rather than? So yeah, it’s and that’s what it is just bad AI just the way they’ve designed interactions. It’s like, Is this really how someone would want to interact? Is this really how you would want to be treated? Like I mean, an AI? It’s one of the things I’m super passionate about, because that’s where I started my career. So interesting. Okay. So I’ve I spent a few years building expert systems for the mining sector and not in northern Ontario, but I live in Toronto, and then I listen, now, I’m, I’m hyped about AI, we’re looking at using some AI in our work, but we are not going to be using it for service desk, not initially, because we do not want someone calling for tech help. You know, say, okay, my computer’s broken, and it’s like, so tell me about your computer. I think or, you know, like, who are you? Oh, it’s Oh, are you having a pleasant day? No, I’m not. You know? You cannot help me with this. You know, like, I need to speak to it. So we’ve decided to kind of we’ve been through some scenarios around that. And none of them are scenarios that I would personally want to engage it like it’s with with a bot. But so what we are applying In AI for in your cybersecurity work around and not in the areas of threat detection or vulnerability management, but more in the area of, of governance that can lead to some of the higher level decisions that you make, after using all that data, like so you’ve seen, okay, so you have a vulnerability over here, you have these controls over there. What does that really mean, from a threat posture standpoint, which is really what the artificial intelligence where you’re taking information from a number of sources and actually doing something that a human would have. So you’re basically infused in some real human judgment into their, into the algorithm rather than just stop? Just the process steps? Yeah,
Marco Campana 5:45
no, I mean, oh, yeah. It’s the it’s actually infusing the intelligence in your I mean, there’s, there’s a long standing phrase that came out of the international development and humanitarian world about appropriate technology, right, you’re using it appropriately in the right instance, for to solve the right problem kind of thing. And it sounds like that’s kind of what you’re describing.
Charles Buchanan 6:01
Yeah. And that’s and that, so that’s what we’re taking, we’re taking what work we will be doing with AI for, for making cybersecurity delivery easier, rather than our service desk where it’s like, it’s, it’s nice to have a chat bot to tell people that they’re, you know, that we appreciate them calling but and we will get back to them in an hour, or I don’t think most of the problems that people need help with, in tech support can be solved by by bought, like some of the AI could be used in a background to help route it to the most appropriate person that we might be doing some of that, like make sure triage, right? Yeah, yes, just for triage. But very, very effective. Triage is not annoying, and I have yet to find a way where it’s not annoying.
Marco Campana 6:45
It’s astounding, isn’t it? Oh, listen, we’re diving in. And I’m gonna use what we just talked about in the in the session in the episode, if that’s okay, because I thought you said some brilliant things. And I don’t want to lose it. But but let’s dive in. Let’s let’s before anything else, before we dive in any more, can you tell us a little bit about yourself, Charles, and your background? And what brought you to this work? Now you shared with me an article which I’ll share with folks who are listening in the show notes, but I’m just curious, in your own words, what brought you to technology helps to to where you are today.
Charles Buchanan 7:14
Okay, so that I’ll give you that on the very short version. So the so the short version is I’m a, I’m trained as a computer engineer, we have grew up in Toronto, did computer engineer at U of T then did my, started my career in AI, did my MBA got into consultant and Technology Management spent several years in that space. And then in the last about six years, almost gone on seven. Just, it just hit me like I mean, it was throughout my career, I’d spent a lot of time around the nonprofit sector. And that when I say around, I mean, as a board member, as a volunteer, you know, but really just pretty much the way most professionals interact with the sector. And so 27 2016, you know, we I was Board Chair for the Center for newcomers, which is you’re familiar with them immigrant servant agency across in Western Canada. And we decided that we’re going to look at, we’re going to do an org review to help the new executive director, take charge of the organization. And we looked at all the, you know, so I did a Technology Review. And, and what I found was absolutely astounding. Like I did not believe that an agency of that stature or any agency was was experiencing that had that level of technology, or basically, the difference between what they had and what we what we experienced in corporate was dramatically different. Like, I mean, there was just no, there was just no comparison. And I looked at a few other agencies around around Calgary, and the situation was just dire. So what I realized that we had was just like, basically two classes of, of technology implementations or technology usage out there. corporates, which is unlike like, where I was at Suncor was, you know, like, I mean, where if we had half a billion dollars of technology investment in a year, and a nonprofit sector, which was just like, make the second class or worse, just almost like a technology ghetto in the middle of the shine in Tech City. And so, you know, realize so at the time, I did not know what caused that or what reasoning was, I just thought they were just human services organizations or nonprofit organizations who just didn’t have the didn’t have the capacity. They just didn’t have the they just didn’t have the technological alignment or the strategic approach. That’s what I thought was was the was the real reason and not that it was that it was that it was based on a whole bunch of historic and systemic wrongs. That got us there, but but that’s where I, you know, want and it just, it just occurred to me that I should just that This is a problem that needs to be focused on, it needs to be solved it needs it’s not something that you’re going to do from the corner of your desk, or as a volunteer, it requires focused, dedicated action to make this happen. So it I mean, the timing was just such that it was I was pondering some some things, some personal things, I call it a midlife crisis, if you will. But it’s like, Am I really using my talent for maximum good in the world? I mean, yes, I’m in a career where it’s very lucrative and doing some interesting things. But am I, you know, so the way I put it is that the pendulum shifted from making money to making a difference. And, and it’s shifted hard. I just, you know, came back from vacation just got up one morning and said, That’s it, I’m done. And I just jumped in no business plan, no, nothing, I just know, there was a problem to be solved. And I’m going to solve it. And, and I, you know, thought about it, the problem was, I didn’t even think about it having a name. But when I looked at it, and saw what was happening in the state, it was it was very, very similar to real world poverty. So poverty in the real world has, you know, people who are the I mean, the poverty issue, I mean, I’m not an expert on poverty. But at the time, my sister, she was doing her PhD in the feminization of poverty at UBC. So we were having a number of conversations about poverty. And I realized that wait a minute, what I’m seeing in the nonprofits and the tech space is very similar to what people who are experiencing poverty or living in poverty are experiencing like and it’s, it’s it comes from, it’s basically the same, they just on the surface, you’re just seeing things that look like they just don’t have these things, okay, you don’t see the bright shiny computers, you don’t see it. But below the surface, there’s so many other things like with real poverty, their issues around education, digitalization on health care, there’s so many other related things that are that come from this. So it was I’m like, wait a minute, this really is, you know, technology poverty. So we just started off with this is our mission, we’re going to end technology poverty. And from where I will sit in it wasn’t
Charles Buchanan 12:14
I, at the time, I did not see it as a difficult problem to solve. Granted, it was probably the single most naive position I’ve ever taken in my life. I didn’t see it as something that could not easily be solved the same way. People like homelessness, and some of those other where poverty related problems can be solved. It’s not absence of housing or absence of money. Why these why these problems persist. So I just figured, well, for such a well functioning sector, or well, you know, well regarded sector well recognized and a problem that’s so that’s out there in the open, like technology poverty in the sector, we should be we should be able to shine a light on it and fix it. in very short order. I didn’t see how it should, you know, like, seven, almost seven years later, we would be even worse off than we were 70. But when I started this work,
Marco Campana 13:06
Oh, wow. That’s astounding that notice, do you feel like the sector sector is worse off than it was seven years ago? Even?
Charles Buchanan 13:14
Yeah, absolutely. Because the problem was the problem with technology in the sector is that are the problem with technology poverty, and our failure to acknowledge it. And, and go to the heart and the root of fixing the problem is that, yes, there’s a systemic reason for the problem exists. And and, and they could get into quicksand or into poverty cycle that we’ve had have designed. But but one of the things is the is the fact that the technology is changing. And it’s changing at a rapid pace. So if you’re standing still, you’re falling behind. So so we are falling behind, because we are not running as fast as the technology is changing. So, so years ago, so what techno mean, right now, a lot of social service, a lot of community based service agencies are technology companies offering social services, it’s completely flipped. However, they’re their organization, their structure, they’re nothing, but they have not evolved, or they have not accepted that. And it’s not like something that the board needs to meet and say we are now a technology company, it technology has crept up they don’t have the means nor the resources are the skills to to make that shift and and they also do not have the the economic capacity to attract the people who can, who can, who can orchestrate that shift to that kind of organization and even culturally and up from a brand perspective, they would hate to see themselves as such, but they don’t have to define themselves as such. They just have to recognize the important role that technology now plays in their in their structure. So that brings me To our the technology poverty cycle, which funders hate and, and they acknowledge it, but they hate it because the technology, technology poverty, I’m not going to say it’s, it’s a funder created phenomenon. But it starts with the constraints we place on, on investment, and I. So throughout, I tried to move away from words like funding, and I see it more as an investment I used, I try not to see where it’s as volunteering, I see it as community involvement, because they don’t so, so let’s start with the investment or the funders, or the people who, people who do all this work from an economic from a financial standpoint, there is this misconception or this, this idea that 100% of the fun of the money that goes into an organization should go to the programs, and zero or very little, as little as possible, should go to overhead. So they, it’s people who work in the sector, people who work in capacity building, they know that they don’t a fallacy of that. So why so however, technologies are always been considered a part of overhead. So as the there are two shifts happening, there’s increased pressure on the on overhead, to reduce it to less, and the role of technology or the requirements of technology in these organizations is increasing. So, you have this, this increase in not less investment, and more and more needs, which means that a widening gap in the, in the in their ability to invest. So it starts off with these constraints on on investment, those constraints and investment lead to natural under investment in, in critically required technical infrastructure, that that under investment comes in the form off of not hiring the appropriate skills, not having the appropriate support, not been able to keep your organization safe, and what with that under investment comes some some retardation in the in their ability to deliver effective programs. So their organizational effectiveness is is reduced, their efficiency is reduced. And their their reach their range, their relevance, their ability to serve community or respond to the needs of community are reduced. And that basically leads to, to arrested impact. And so, constrained investment leads to arrested impact. And that’s the, that’s the cycle that goes on. However, it’s not it’s it’s less of a cycle and more of a death spiral. Because with with impaired impact or reduced impact, that caught the basically that you’re less eligible for, to win the funding contest that happens every year, because that’s how that’s some investment is made in the sector through a contest. And it’s a ridiculous notion. But there’s this funding contest. So if you’re less eligible to win the contest, then you get less funding, or you get more constraints placed on you by through these funding agreements that have thou shalt nots. And and then it just goes back, it just keeps going on over time. So since considering it being a spiral, you can you can see why we’re falling behind because organizations are being less effective or less impactful and, and more constrained. So we’re basically killing these organizations with our, with our policies with our funding agreements with our approaches. And But that said, there isn’t unlimited funding, or unlimited resources for for everyone. Right. So that brings, you know, so that’s, that brings up but so I could just stop there.
Marco Campana 18:56
Oh, man, there’s so much to unpack. But I wonder one of the things you still talked I mean, I think you’re right about that, in particular in the immigrant refugee serving sector when it comes to technology. But that’s also a really well researched and documented challenge overall, in terms of service delivery, not just with technology, with technology are mediated by technology, but but in general, the lower wages, the lower the competition, right, the contest, as you put it, you know, those types of things. And I wonder, it’s interesting, because even with technology, though, this is this is a more than 20 year conversation in our sector. There’s some research that I’ve been part of over the last few years. And one of the things I did was a chronology, looking back at all of the restriction reports. And as you know, IRCC is the main funder, and one of the things that they they seem to be doing every five years and I can take you back to 1997 when there was a massive investment investment in the Ontario the Ontario part of the sector by the Ontario regional office, where every settlement worker got a computer on their desk, every agency got what was at the time. Hi speed internet, it was dual ISDN lines, right, which was a massive step up from from dial up. And And settlement.org was created, which is a website for newcomers as well as for settlement providers to share information. And, and then the recommendations were, along the lines of what you’re talking about this investment can’t be a one time investment, we need to look at the total cost of ownership, we need to factor that into the operational costs. But we also need to look at technologies not just operational, but also as programs, service delivery costs. So it’s not just this budget line over here, part of overhead part of you know it or whatever, but also, its skills. It’s training, it’s, as you say, it’s evolving with the technology that evolves. And then every five years or so IRCC funded yet kind of another project, sometimes it was called Innovation. Sometimes it was specific to technology, and essentially the same recommendations would be made, the sector in the funder needs to work together. And you know, there’s tons of innovation that can be harnessed, but investment is required. And we need to set up, you know, until ultimately, you know, two years ago, I was part of the this settlement sector and technology task group where we basically looked at all of this stuff and said, Okay, it’s the middle of the pandemic, you know, what are we learning, the future is no longer possible for us to stop doing this investment. But we started talking about these baseline. So when you talk about infrastructure, for example, you know, I think that’s a key word to talk about. Because when we looked at it, it was infrastructure, not just from an IT perspective, but also from the human side of it. Right? So the leadership skills, the ability to manage in a hybrid service delivery or digital environment, what what new skills do staff need to be on boarded with or expected to have when they’re hired? And how do you compensate them for those skills with the, you know, because the sector has terribly low wages? And then what about all the new roles that need to be created the data scientists, the AI people, the, you know, the app developers, the, the cybersecurity folks, the, the the whole range of, you know, as you say, I said earlier, the whole range of types of positions that exist in the private sector that are going to eventually be required, either being part of somebody’s role, or an entirely new role in these agencies, if we’re actually going to move forward harnessing technology, all of this, at the same time that we are going to about to go through an inevitable budget, belt tightening, post COVID spending kind of thing, right, so for our sector, the next big call for proposal or contest, as you put it, is 2024. And so we’re looking at what needs to start happening to move that move things forward to actually create that investment. So so that’s my version of infrastructure, it’s all of those kinds of things. When you say it, I wonder if it’s similar. Or if there are other nuances to when you look at moving an organization out of technology, poverty, what does that look like to build up that foundation?
Charles Buchanan 22:48
So I’m glad Okay, so I’m, I’m, I’m relieved to hear those conversations have occurred, and that they, and that the record that there’s recognition, that technology and technology infrastructure goes beyond, goes beyond computers and, and hice and broadband internet. It is, I just, I participated in the City of Calgary digital equity strategy. And I’ve been part of other strategies, and I’ve had conversations with telcos. And there’s still this common misconception, even at the federal government level, is that all people need our, our computers and our connection, right? That is basically the that’s not even table stakes. Right? So so what we’re when I would say, I stopped using the word infrastructure, because I realized people did not know what it meant coming from coming from Enterprise Architecture and Long Range Systems planning, I just did not, I realized our infrastructure to was to me was just the base part. Whereas in, in a technology stack, its infrastructure, its applications, if the data is a process, security, there’s mobility, there’s social. So there’s a whole there’s nine levels above what they call above what they’re calling tech. So so when I look at what’s required for the Secretary, I’m really I really like to spend some more time looking at some of those, some of those studies and hopefully try to get IRCC and other government departments to see to, to accept the what they know, I don’t think they’re they don’t know, because they exceed that’s not the lives they live even in their own departments in their own day. So I’m not sure why it should be. Why did it not see social community service agencies as as as service organizations that serve the community and and not just some special special organizations that are capable of just doing doing things with magical infrastructure? That’s that requires no investment and No, no cost? No, people know nothing. So so what? So that brings us to something which I didn’t know what we’re going to be talking about. But what we’ve looked at now is the solution for community members and community serving organizations is I’ve taken up the Beyond infrastructure, and what I call it is digital capability, right? And digital capability is, has four things associated with it very, very simple. One of them is, first and foremost is, is access. And access is the devices and economy activity that gets you started, right. So if you don’t have a device, and you don’t have a stick, an internet connection, you are not in the game at all. Above that you have an access gives you gets you to the table. And now what you need, you need to know what to do. So you need to have digital skills. So and skill development, it’s, and it’s appropriate skill development, it’s for the axis and for the purpose. So there’s a whole range of things around skills. Beyond skills. It’s not not technology is changing at such a rate that even I, as a computer engineer, don’t support, don’t do my own tech support. I have a team of people who are trained and they’re on the front line, I call my service desk, and I’m like, This isn’t working. And they’re like, Yeah, but you’re a tech guru. Why can’t you fix your own your own device? I’m like, No, I. So it’s, the support is critical. And tech support goes beyond just responsiveness. There is some proactiveness around it. And it’s proactive, and I keep saying appropriate and accessible. Support, then. So there’s the access, there’s a skills to support. And the one thing that people tend are not thinking about, they do think about it, they don’t recognize the importance of it is the security aspect of it. It has to be done safely. Like I mean, you know, I have, you know, I’m on the grandson committee for the Calgary Foundation. And we had a grant application that came in and they were they had a great notion of given laptops, and tablets to seniors. So I asked them, you know, they said, great, good idea, because it was during COVID, there was they were going to solve social isolation. And I’m like, yes. So, you know, so I presume you have a fund for the, for the homeless senior problem that you’re about to cause? And they’re like, we’re not going to cause a homeless senior problem. And right, yes, you are. You put device and connectivity in the hands of someone who’s completely naive about online dangers, you will be created significant, you will be causing significant harm to this community that you that you think you’re at. So where is your cybersecurity plan? Where is your endpoint protection? Where as your cybersecurity awareness training, where are they where’s the entire security apparatus required to protect these people from, from this world that you’ve just introduced them to? So security is is the other big part of the, of the mix. So we put all that together as a skills, support and security, you have what I call digital capability. And that is not that goes that’s even below you get into specific applications line of business services, just really the base, what I would call digital infrastructure require foundation base. Yes, the digital foundation is Yeah, I think Foundation is a great word, actually. So digital capacity, digital Foundation, is really what you have now. And by at that point, you could go on and you could engage in education, you could you could engage in your faith community, you could consume goods and services, you could you could participate digitally in society, once you’ve got those fundamental that foundation in place. So so that’s where and it’s important. The people who are invested in are not are probably failing to see or acknowledge that there is more to it, because it’s easy to do the capital, the one time capital expense of the tangible just, okay, we buy a tablet, and we throw it over there. And then we’re job done. Nobody wants to acknowledge that. That it’s ongoing, because ongoing we have this, this other bizarre concept about capital versus operated and, and we want to spend one and solve the problem. If if our approach to that problem is to spend once then, then no. So we have one agency that we work with in Toronto, and she basically she she, she she turned down funded.
Charles Buchanan 29:30
And it shocked It shocked the font the foundation that was trying to support her because she said I this this funding, yes, I will be wasting your money. Because if you’re saying that I can only I’m only you’re going to pay for me to acquire some technology and implement it. And you and you’re not given you’re not and I have no support to sustain it to keep it going to train my people on the use of it to to secure it. I will fail so I’m, I suggest you give this money to somebody who could actually, who will not fail with your investment. And they, they were surprised, because no agents is never turned away money. They were embarrassed because their shortsightedness was was brought to the table. And they came back and we worked with the agent, we work with that agent to help identify a way in which the funds they the funding could be used for subscription as opposed to purchase. And, and the funders, they still haven’t resolved that internally. That was
Marco Campana 30:41
the question I was gonna say is like, so they learned from that with you in that one case. But have they internalized that then going forward with their their approach to how they fund these things?
Charles Buchanan 30:50
No, they know, they have not. And so there are a few foundations that are that are seeing they’re going in that direction nurse and you know, like, I won’t name any but they’re, they’re contemplating or considering what would it look like for long term for long range funding three years, it’s still it’s still has not changed. It just becomes the goes from one time funding to three year funding. And it’s still it’s still like we do not want to with foundations there. I think their base position is we do not want to own the problem. We do not want to be to be responsible for solving this forever. In fact, we don’t like forever problems.
Marco Campana 31:35
Even though like you know they exist. Yeah,
Charles Buchanan 31:37
yeah, we like discrete project based things that could just be done. And done. So wins, right? Yeah. Yes. They Yes. They want wins. They want. Yes, they want things that yes, I call it Yeah. I hate calling them wins, because they’re really not wins. They’re just Yeah, checkmarks they’re just Yeah. Acknowledge, like, yeah, I don’t need it. Because they’re not wins. Like I mean, you you implement something, declare success, and I’ve run away while it falls apart. Right? That’s not a win.
Marco Campana 32:10
No, but for them, they got the tablets out to the seniors that’s there when the wind needs to be redefined. Basically. Right.
Charles Buchanan 32:18
That’s what I’m Yeah. So that’s what I’m saying. It’s not it’s not a win. It’s about the way they, it’s, and that’s probably where they can say where it’s, it seems like whenever we have these conversations seems like I’m dumping on, on funders and foundations, but they are at the crux of this whole thing. They they are the economic engines, they are off they have most of this work. And it’s it’s upside down. It’s you know, it’s it’s colonial it’s, it’s bizarre. And, and it’s that’s a much longer conversation about foundations, but it’s, it’s, it’s yeah, and there’s not a lot of true long term thinking. And, and not a lot of, you know, let’s say donor or investor education, around what would make sense because investors, they’re not dumb, and I commend if I know that I’m invested in, in systemic change. And this call it I’m not gonna call it a forever problem, but improving something long term for the community. I will accept that I’m investing in something long term for the community. I don’t, I don’t look at law enforcement that way. I’m like, okay, so we’ll just have a police officer patrol the street on January, and then we’re good for the rest of the year. Right. And I don’t look at our utilities that way, because I know, okay, so we’re just gonna tackle water, and then we’re good right now, we don’t do that. Right. We don’t not repair our roads, because we just repaired them last year. Yeah, but we drove on them. Right. Like, we don’t, we don’t. So we are, we’re capable of acknowledging that there are things that don’t get fixed once. So we know that it’s not like donors or investors, people don’t realize don’t have things in their world that are that require, requires that need to be sustainable. Healthcare, we don’t just, yeah, why don’t we just get our animals into school and just go chill, right? No, we don’t be. We have so we do have systems of, of support and service and care that we that we maintain normally. However, I’m not sure where we, where we get off thinking that when it comes to social services and Human Services, a different set of rules should apply. i That’s where I bet departure. I’m still like, if I were to do a PhD, that’s probably what I would study. Like, what the Okay, what were you thinking, how do you how do you get there? Like, what’s the, like, how do you reconcile that like, why would you think that I came here Human Services Organization is not is different, right? Do you think they can just solve these problems? And just or just make this thing go away? Like I mean, just stop having, you know, like, newcomers just stop having sick people just stop having kids with autism just stop, like, they can’t just stop. So how can we stop? Well, we don’t have, we only have limited funds for this period that we need to redefine, we need to change the way we look at, at how we’re doing this investment.
Marco Campana 35:32
I totally agree. And when I send you the some of the there’s, there’s a, there’s one report, I want to send you a bunch. But there’s one report that essentially pulls all of the reports that were done during the pandemic. But there’s a board has about six actually really interesting research reports done and this one pulls them all together, and provides a roadmap to the sector. And it’s not a roadmap that I would say is different from other nonprofits, but it’s specifically the immigrant or refugee serving sector. And a lot of what you’re talking about is in there in particular, around the nature of funding. So in our sector, for example, they’re now have five year long contribution agreements, but they’re inflexible, they’re rigid. So there’s no pivoting, there’s no learning and changing, you start with an idea, and you kind of have to go with it. And so there’s that conversation about the nuances of funding, which we learned a lot about during the pandemic, because there had to be a lot of pivoting, there was no choice. Right, so much changed in such a short time. So the question is, can they embed that into the institutional funding sort of structure that exists? But so and we can continue that conversation after for sure, I think you’ll find some really interesting alignment in that in terms of where some of those recommendations are. What I’m curious about is, is and I hate to do this, but I’m going to but practically speaking, right? So if there’s an IDI listening to this conversation, who’s got, you know, 25, to 50, staff organization, mostly from one funder from IRCC, but they get some provincial, they get some municipal and maybe they get some United Way, funding and things like that. And they’re thinking, Okay, this digital transformation thing, we’ve been on the path, I feel like I’m, I’m still just surviving, I’m not even sort of moved up to kind of, you know, thriving at all, I’m, you know, I’m trying to figure it out. We, we’ve done, we’ve we shifted, we were able to to be digital, but I don’t have a system in place, you know, I’m terrified of making the wrong decision when it comes to a cybersecurity vendor or a plan or policies, because I just don’t have that knowledge. And technology helps is an organization that provides support and scale. And and and this idea of, you know, we you understand nonprofits and where they’re coming from, what if they, if they, if they were interested, or they wanted to move forward with, you know, again, the way you help that other nonprofit, negotiate with a with a with a foundation, for example, what what this technology helps offer an organization like that, to help them navigate, in spite of the systemic challenges, right, navigate their way out of technology, poverty.
Charles Buchanan 37:57
So So, so technology helps is, is it’s a very different construct. Right. It’s, so one of the challenges we have when we engage when we were engaged with organizations is that they don’t believe that we’re that we’re real, in that we our technology helps is designed to solve the lawn solve the, the, the wicked problem off technology, poverty. So technology helps it’s yes, we parts, we present as a business in some ways, but we are our focus is around finding is around the way around solving the big problem. So the way we started technology have started with Yeah, when I when I started on health, it was we thought the problem was strategic alignment of of technology with, with, with, with services, or with the work that organizations do. And we found out in very short order that strategic alignment is not the biggest problem. The biggest problem is sustainability off beyond beyond the project. So we helped a few organizations, implement some techniques, identify and implement appropriate technology. And we were like, Okay, guys, we’re done. We’re walking away, and they’re like, you can’t like because they were like, what will happen is like, well, it will fall apart. And we’ll be back here next year. I’m like, okay, that’s, that’s terrible use of investment and terrible waste of every time, talent and everything. So let’s, so we implemented our community service desk, which is our support, accessible available, appropriate support for nonprofits layered by service response, IT management, you know, applications as a service, service layers based levels based on what your organization needs, and it’s only as per their need. And then, so there was and within that space, we help organizations identify what’s appropriate and appropriate needs appropriate like we do not sell nor resell anything. We work with the organization Knowing their constraints know when their limitations know when they’re funding the nuances off of getting the investment and the challenges of getting investments and the challenges of, of accounting for that investment, and we make their money go for it. So we help organizations get exactly what they need most effectively. With cybersecurity one, you know, we’re from a safety standpoint, that wasn’t even on our roadmap, either. So one year in 2016, I gave a presentation to a bunch of nonprofit leaders on cybersecurity. And they left quite concerned. The next year, I was presenting to an audience and they were, I said, Okay, so what’s changed between last year and this year for the people who were in the room? And they said, Oh, last year, we were very concerned, we were concerned. Now we’re very, very concerned. And I’m like, so what have you done about it, and they said, We haven’t done, we’ve just been running around in circles. And so our cybersecurity program is designed for that, for the nuanced for the, for this special relation for this special structure of nonprofit organizations. There are a lot of cybersecurity tools and solutions out there. However, there isn’t anything that acknowledges that acknowledges the governance of nonprofit organizations, and the role that the board plays and the and the investment. So there’s a governance governance constraints or governance requirements, that exists within large enterprises. However, they’re not very many small businesses that have that same that requires that same level of risk management rigor as a nonprofit organization. So to get that to, to, to serve the board or to serve or for that, for the stewards of the organization, to have what they need to say an organization is safe, they need something way more comprehensive than just a pen test, or something more comprehensive than just some training, they need to know their vulnerabilities, they need to know what’s been done about it, they need to know they need to know the state of the response plan, they need to know so many things and what we’ve done, we’ve managed to pull all that together in a single in a single platform, based on an assets. And the way to do that. And the secret to doing all this for nonprofit organizations across the board is through
Charles Buchanan 42:19
an enterprise architected approach where the state of the sector is it’s almost the way I’ve described it before, it’s almost like a feudal village, village, a village of feudal families, where everybody in this village has their own water, their own well, their own sewage, their their own sets, you know, systems for everything, they traveled to town on their own roads, they can their own guides, particularly their own means of transport they, they have their own doctors, and what so that’s kind of like the state of the sector now. Whereas What’s needed is just some, just some common common resources and, and that scared people the first few years, we came up, because we’re not advocating for, for sameness, we’re accounting for commonality of things that are not, not, that don’t take that are not required to be, to be to be to be unique. So like my neighbors, and I and the people who live around me, we all drive downtown for work, we all use the same common roadways, and none of us need any special grants for that. However, what happens and you know, we use electricity from the same electric from the same grid, we have water come in the same except what happens in my house is my business and I do what I do in my house, Nobody tells me what I may do with what I may do with the water or the electricity or where I may go on those roads. So when we when we so what we’ve got is, is I mean, I’ve tried not to use words like shared services, because I know that scared a lot of people because if they okay, we’re going to share our data, we’re going to have things mashed up, we’re going to, you know, it’s going to be unsafe, we’re going to be touching things. It’s like no, we all know we know there is a there is an architected approach that works and I come from enterprise architecture, which is essentially the city planning off of technology. So I look at techno that’s why I thought the problem was easy to solve, because I could see some, some deep commonality around processes around systems and around skills and tools. And then I could see the unique mix being applied within each organization at at the edges and in no way affects their ability to execute there. So yes, you want to use a special app or go ahead and get your special app, you want to do various things. You want to deliver Human Services, you want to deliver service, do what you want. However, there are some things that could be provided centrally, like support and security and the security model. We mean each organization that we support and cyber secure Do they have their own response plan, they have their own awareness programs, programs they have, they’re, they’re dealing with their own vulnerabilities, but they’re using a common framework, a common a common way of going about things and accom. And it’s not that technology helps, it’s going to be solving the problem uniquely, and independently, we’re looking for accomplices to help us do this. And, and we’re also looking for people to help us scale that model and help us, you know, make them you know, improve the model, because they say right now, does it work? Yes, it works. It’s working for close to it’s worked for over 200 organizations across Canada in the last seven years. And they’re people who are joined in, you know, coming on board working with us every day, and we are, we have never made a cold call. So, it’s happening. And it’s not like it’s the only game. But it’s an approach that we would, that we that I advocate. And if people have better ways of doing things, then absolutely, we welcome it. But, but we are but that’s that’s what’s happened. And so for an organization wants to wants to
Charles Buchanan 46:08
have a conversation. Our conversation starts with what is your purpose? What is your mission? What are you trying to do? It doesn’t start with technology. It’s like, what are you trying to do? What role can technology play in? In you effect more effectively deliver on your mission? Are you having better impact? That’s the second question. And after that is, what how could technology has possibly helped with that? So we don’t come in saying, Here’s technology helps us do this. It’s like, what are you trying to do? Where are you trying to go? And one of the, one of the base conversations we have with organizations is around their technology roadmap. So what we do we look at their, their starting point, and we don’t call it the current state. It’s a starting point, because there’s intention to do something. And where are you with technology? What state? What are the constraints? What are the limitations? What are the aspirations? What are the pains? And then we say, what, where would you like to be, which is your target state and your target state? Today becomes your starting point tomorrow. And then in your target state? That’s a vision for okay, I would like to serve serve people remotely, I would like to do these things. Okay, then we look at something that’s what’s what’s happened. And what are the forces that are making that are causing is what’s changing in the environment, it could be constraints on funding, there could be a new class of people to serve, there could be new services, new geographies, all kinds of things might be happening that would drop that would be causing you to want to take action. And then then we look at So in considering though they they have the forces, considering where you are and where you’re trying to get to, what’s the path? Or what see what what paths or possible actions could be taken to bridge that gap? And what’s the priority? What’s the priority of that? And what’s the feasibility of that? And what’s the sequence of these these actions that would get you from here to there? And then for each of those actions, what’s the impact of the action? Because there’s no point taking these actions without them have an impact? And the impact could be, could be financial? Is it going to make you but is it going to score you revenue or save you money? Is it going to help you with your ability to serve your clients is it going to make you safer is it going to make you stronger is going to make you more effective, more efficient. So there’s a whole bunch of impacts off these actions. And when you look at all that, that is your entire technology plan on a page. So for every action that if for every action you’re taking to close that gap, or to bridge the gap from poverty to not so poverty, if there’s a justification, there’s a reason for it, there’s something causing it, there’s something known about it, and there’s some result of it. And that’s your bid, that’s the technology plan on a page. And that’s the approach we take with all the organizations we work with. And, and it’s so everything has to make sense within their context. So that’s how we that’s how we would engage and from that action plan, that’s where the conversation about specific like is, and some of the things the highest priority things on your action plan might have nothing to do with technology helps it could be you need to improve your your your bandwidth, which means we will we will walk with you down to your local telco, and we will have a conversation with them or we will or we need to have sustainable funding for something that’s not a one time. So we will we will assist we will then you know we will help you and educate your funder. Or in some cases we will help you identify sources of funding and and articulates your position or your your or your need. That doesn’t translate to us writing your grant application for you. But we do actively support grant applications and we do educate funders and about not just specific cases, but overall investment in in technology for organizations because funded would say Is this really necessary or is there a better way? And and then the other thing we also do we maintain? We curate a number of Technology Solutions. Not that we did. We’re not resellers, we’re not partner, we, we just solutions that we’ve identified. That makes sense. So people could come to us and say, What should I do here? Instead of going to an exhaustive search, we’ll start you off with a shortlist and say, Hey, you might want to look at you might consider these. And they’ve been used by people, like you who’ve who’ve done this, or I would not, I would not do that, because it does not fit well with what you’ve got in your current environment. So we are, we’re also a resource center for agent for organizations, and where we welcome people to come to us with off the wall questions or request for assistance? Or say we’re considering this? You know, what do you see it? Or what are you doing or, or for collaboration on things? So that’s how we do it engage with technology helps, and we and it’s about really, what’s appropriate for your agency, based on where you are.
Marco Campana 50:52
That’s, there’s I mean, there’s, it feels like that you’re talking about working with an almost like an ally ship, you’re standing beside them. And when your expertise is needed to help answer a funder question or to figure out a technology, they can, they can rely on you and or they can call the community help the support desk, and and move along with that. I think that’s a that’s a big thing that a lot of agencies, even large ones, in our sector, they’re just not sure what those steps are. So that curation, for example, is a really good example of Oh, an organization like me, who has the similar kind of restraints, but needs and outcomes and security requirements. You know, there’s such a vast field of possible technologies, how do I even start making that choice but without wasting time and again, that fear of making the wrong decision? Having having kind of a partner along the way, would go a long way to help them feel better about those decisions, and that they’re, that they’re not just one time decisions, as you’re describing as well, but that you’re looking at the lifespan of the organization, the evolution of that technology as well. Exactly. Amazing. Okay. I, we’ve we’ve been talking for almost an hour. So I don’t want to I don’t want to take much more of your time, other than to say thank you for this is there if there’s anything I mean, there’s a lot of other questions we could ask maybe we’ll have a part two sometime. But I feel like I feel more knowledgeable about what you offer and the role that you can play in our sector. Now, it sounds like you already are playing that role, but in nonprofits in general. Because I think one of the one of the challenges is exactly what I was sort of describing is that idea of too many choices. There’s too many frameworks, there’s too many options. And so there’s decision paralysis, or, you know, as as you described, the minute someone becomes a little more literate about something, they just become more afraid, because a little knowledge doesn’t take them where they need to go. It just opens them up to the possibilities of making the wrong decision. Even even more starkly kind of thing. So if there’s any is if there’s anything you want to leave people with from, again, my sector is the immigration refugee serving sector, but the nonprofit sector in general, and even if there’s a funder listening, is there any final kind of message for this round of our conversation, because I see us having more that you want to leave people with just to help them feel like a next step could be x, y, or Zed for them? What’s a good starting point?
Charles Buchanan 53:11
Yeah, the honest thing I would probably say at that stage, is that just stop being stop being afraid. Right? It’s and do something reach out, get in touch. We are, we are we are not going to sell you anything with it. Let’s have a conversation. If this is the you know, like, I mean, we can solve this together. Like I mean, yeah, as I would say is that together, we can add technology poverty.
Marco Campana 53:35
Nice. So they’re not alone. They don’t they shouldn’t feel like they’re alone. And they shouldn’t feel like there’s any bad questions when it comes to this. There are no bad questions. Thank you, Charles. So much. It was really great to connect. I appreciate the time, we will continue this conversation in other places. But this has been really useful and I appreciate you taking the time.
Charles Buchanan 53:53
Okay, thanks so much. Bye.
Marco Campana 53:56
Thanks so much for listening. I hope you found this episode interesting and useful for you and your work. You can find more podcast episodes, wherever you listen to your podcasts are also on my site marcopolis.org. I appreciate you listening and if you have any tips, suggestions, ideas or want to be interviewed or know someone who wants to be interviewed, please drop me a line through my website, or email@example.com Thanks again.