World Vision’s purpose – to help the poor and dispossessed – is being communicated through dynamic digital channels, thanks to the vision of its CEO, Claire Rogers.
Earlier this year, Claire Rogers, visited one of the world’s largest refugee camps at Cox’s Bazar, near the southern tip of Bangladesh. The camp is home to 700,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees who have fled violent military persecution in Buddhist-dominated Myanmar.
The squalid and overcrowded conditions shocked the World Vision Australia CEO. Makeshift houses – nothing more than tents made of black plastic sheets or hessian sacks – are built on the treeless slopes around the camp, which extends for kilometres. There is little clean water or proper sanitation, no street lighting, no education facilities for the children and few employment opportunities for the adults. The streets are devoid of teenage girls; the risks of harassment, rape and abduction are too great.
It’s a world away from the banking sector she worked in for 15 years. For Rogers, a big difference between the corporate and not-for-profit sectors is the latter’s sense of purpose.
“Most corporates in the for-profit sector struggle to find a purpose but are very strong on execution,” she says. “World Vision doesn’t have a problem with purpose. Our purpose motivates our team, who come to work every day inspired to make a difference.”
World Vision’s staff regularly reflect on the organisation’s mission statement – to work towards eliminating poverty and its causes – which keeps them focussed and engaged, says Rogers. For example, her team recently held an off-site meeting where staff were asked to imagine a world where no child lived in poverty.
The current reality – the sights, sounds and smells from Cox’s Bazar refugee camp – are still fresh in Rogers’ memory and she worries about the long-term implications for such a large group of displaced, stateless people.
It’s this reality Rogers wants Australians to understand. She will be addressing the 2018 AHRI National Convention on how expertise in digital communications are helping World Vision to transform the way supporters appreciate the organisation’s work.
When its former CEO Tim Costello retired in 2016 and took up the position of chief advocate, World Vision Australia went looking for a modern, experienced digital change agent with a strong social commitment to replace him. With years of experience in a number of digital and IT roles at ANZ Bank, and holding board positions at the Australian Council for International Development and Melbourne’s Christian Ridley College, Rogers fitted the bill.
Rogers was excited by the opportunity to take an organisation with “such an incredible purpose and reimagine it for a digital future”. In an era when most people get their information from social media via their smart phones, it is vital organisations communicate with their supporters and customers via the same mediums, she says. Rogers sees digital technology, such as short personalised or 360 degree videos, as a powerful tool to connect donors to the field work they are supporting.
For example, World Vision has created a 360 degree video of what it’s like living in Syria and in the camps Syrian refugees have fled to, that allows a potential donor to move the camera angle around a room or a scene to get a complete picture of the environment.
In the UK, World Vision worked with a design studio to create a ‘story shop’ at a large shopping mall in London where shoppers could sample produce made by World Vision-supported communities or play with an interactive mirror. From inside the mirror a child beckoned to passers-by and encouraged them to touch hands on the screen. If a hand was held to the screen, the child’s world would appear.
The longer the connection was sustained the more of the child’s story was revealed. The shopper could then explore a set of drawers and artefacts in the shop, each containing an invitation to sponsor a child.
“I can talk about [places such as Cox’s Bazar refugee camp] but digital technology can draw out the contextual information that people can more easily connect with,” says Rogers.
“One of the targets I have set myself is to create a window through which the transformative nature of our work is clear to all Australians. Through a window you see exactly what is happening and you see it right now … People give to what their heart responds to.”
Digital transformation is not just about new ways of telling stories. Under Rogers’ leadership, World Vision is now focusing more heavily on IT, system capabilities and data analytics so it can deliver those experiences to supporters. By analysing information about its supporters, for example, different messages can be tailored for different groups of donors.
Technology is also helping front-line staff make more decisions in the field. For example, World Vision is using mobile phones to improve the efficiency and quality of one of its nutrition services in Indonesia.
Via the phones, nutrition counsellors can assess underlying illnesses and feeding habits and practices of the children they see during counselling sessions – and at the homes of those people who are unable to access a medical clinic. The phones process growth and nutrition measurements and flag the level of nutritional risk enabling the counsellor to immediately tailor a nutritional plan for a child.
One of World Vision’s guiding principles is that economic progress should never be made at the expense of a child. An estimated 168 million child labourers are involved in nearly every stage of production of many commonly purchased items. Governments and corporations are large consumers and their procurement policies have a major impact on the lives of millions of children.
To that end, World Vision has started working with Australian companies on their supply chains. One project, for example, is looking at cosmetic manufacturers who source the mineral mica from India, where it’s mined with the use of child labour.
“We want to get children out of the supply chain,” says Rogers, who believes the corporate sector’s definition of corporate social responsibility is too narrow.
“At the moment we only measure profit in a corporate context, or how many customers we have. But what is the impact on society from the way that profit was made or the way those goods were produced?” she asks.
During her time in Bangladesh, Rogers met many young girls in the refugee camp, clever, vibrant children who could “change anyone’s world” but who would likely end up hidden by their parents from social contact for cultural and safety reasons.
“That breaks my heart and inspires me to do this job,” she says.
“Many of the world’s most vulnerable people are women and girls so it is a delightful opportunity to champion them [at World Vision],” she says.
The organisation has high and generally favourable recognition in Australia but an organisation’s brand is only as good as its supporters’ most recent experience. Just how quickly a brand can be damaged is evident from the fallout from Australia’s Royal Commission into banking, says Rogers.
“World Vision doesn’t have a problem with purpose. Our purpose motivates our team, who come to work every day inspired to make a difference.”
Discover how World Vision Australia CEO Claire Rogers and other leaders achieve digital transformation in their organisations, at the AHRI National Convention and Exhibition at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre from 28 to 31 August. Registration closes Thursday 14 August.