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Global Washington Helps Members Alleviate Poverty with the Help of Esri’s Mapping Solution and VMware Cloud
Hundreds of philanthropic organizations call Washington state home. The problem is, until recently, many of them haven’t met their neighbors.
That’s changing today, thanks to Global Washington, a membership organization serving the state’s global development sector. Formed in 2008, Global Washington’s goals include increasing members’ visibility, facilitating best practices and, most importantly, convening Washington’s nonprofits by country, issue and organization type.
Initially, Global Washington’s primary tool for helping members connect was a garden-variety database. Member organizations updated it by submitting information about their work: what countries they were targeting, for instance, and what specific activities they were pursuing in those countries. The functionality of the database was somewhat limited, however, and its interface design didn’t include the constraints needed to ensure the data was accurate and clean.
Because Global Washington is a lean organization, it didn’t have resources in house to architect and implement a more robust and sophisticated solution. Then the organization found a new ally: Esri. A software development and services company specializing in geographic information system (GIS) software and geodatabase management applications, Esri proposed a new way to help connect Global Washington’s members. “We suggested that Global Washington use mapping capabilities to improve the visualization of members’ work,” notes David Gadsden, account executive, Esri.
The concept was inspiring, but it got better: Esri also suggested that its technology could be deployed as software as a service (SaaS) from a VMware vSphereTM cloud infrastructure hosted by Bluelock . “As a nonprofit, we often worry about the servers that host and store our information,” says Bookda Gheisar, executive director, Global Washington. “Deploying this new application in the cloud alleviated that worry.”
Needed: Good Data
Global Washington’s value to members was validated almost immediately after its founding. At one conference it hosted, 42 nonprofits working in Nepal showed up. “Half of them had never heard of each other,” notes Gheisar. What’s more, several discovered that they were working in the same area: offering free or low-cost cataract surgeries to needy individuals. “Nepal is so small, and cataract surgery is such a narrow specialty,” Gheisar says. “They were shocked.”
Connecting such organizations helps them on multiple levels. They may be able to pool resources or collaborate. Nonprofits formed to support a particular cause can advocate for it more effectively by becoming a unified voice.
Global Washington also helps ensure that the state’s nonprofits don’t inadvertently build redundant programs. This reduces the risk that other populations or causes are underserved. “Global Washington’s members needed a precise, operational view of their programs, as well as the programs’ geographical context,” notes Esri’s Gadsden. “The more transparent, the more good they can do in the world.” None of this is possible without good data and effective ways to access it.
Esri helped Global Washington in two areas. First, it helped clean up the existing database by, for example, eliminating duplicate information. The new database application also features a more sophisticated interface for members to use when they add information about their activities. With the old application, “It was too easy for members to say they were working ‘everywhere’,” says Gadsden. The new application Esri designed includes front-end constraints that require the nonprofits to be more precise about what they’re doing and where. This, in turn, helps ensure that database information will be more useful.
When members access that information, they do so through a highly visual, immersive interface. “Members access program information by drilling down through a GIS map,” Gadsden says. This mapping capability serves as a structural foundation for the organization of the database, while also improving members’ ability to visualize each other’s work.
Software this sophisticated, however, requires a state-of-the-art platform and Esri recognized right away that it would be impractical for Global Washington to host the application itself. “They have enough to do managing the services they offer members,” Gadsden says. “They don’t have the bandwidth to take on more IT administration.”
“It’s not the type of expertise we have,” Gheisar agrees. As a nonprofit, Global Washington must watch its budget carefully. Purchasing a new, dedicated server would not only consume precious dollars from the organization’s operating budget but would also burden it with ongoing support and maintenance costs.
Hosted in the Cloud
When Esri suggested that Global Washington leverage cloud technology to host the new application, Gheisar was immediately intrigued. “I knew very little about cloud,” she says. “But when I reached out to other nonprofits, I quickly learned that it is widely accepted as the future direction of technology.” The idea of the cloud also resonated with Global Washington conceptually. “Our members’ work is international,” Gheisar notes. “We like the idea that our information will not be stored in one physical place.”
Having the application delivered via a SaaS model from a VMware vSphere cloud provided by Bluelock also meant that Global Washington would not be encumbered with application or hardware maintenance.
As Global Washington pursued its due diligence on the solution’s viability, Esri and VMware worked closely to answer questions about issues like security and availability. “They were super-responsive throughout the process,” says Gheisar. “Esri and VMware understood our concerns and helped us gain a clear understanding of the technology and how it fits our needs.” They turned to rely on VMware vCloudTM Datacenter certified Bluelock Virtual Datacenters hosted in the public cloud.
With the support of Esri, VMware and Bluelock, the first iteration of the new application quickly took shape, moving from concept to production in about six months. Over time, the functionality of the application will become even richer and more robust. “Members will be able to click on another organization and see its blog or view videos about its work,” Gheisar notes.
But even without such enhancements, the application has dramatically increased the quality of service Global Washington offers to members. “Washington state is famous for its innovation,” says Gheisar. “It’s also a global leader in alleviating international poverty. Now, by helping Global Washington members connect and align their resources, this new software enhances our ability to realize our vision.”
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