Our Global Impact Database: How short-term volunteers achieve long-term goals
Projects Abroad recently launched our Global Impact Database , a monitoring and evaluation tool through which we can identify needs in local communities and create action plans that bring us closer to achieving the goals we set for our projects and volunteers. We also collect data on the communities we work with to determine which of our efforts are working and which need improvements. “It’s our obligation to do proper research into our volunteering efforts and into how our volunteers can make the biggest difference at their placements,” says Jessi Warner, Head of Operations for Projects Abroad.
Growth and expansion of the database
Work towards the database started in 2014 when Projects Abroad staff began comprehensive assessments to identify in more detail the exact needs of local communities. Jessi Warner began working closely with one of our partner organizations in Cambodia, Khemara, to develop checklists that volunteers could use to collect data. Projects Abroad volunteers and staff used these checklists to contribute to what was then called the Care Database.
Identifying the potential for growth and improvement that this database opened up, we began developing databases for all the placements that make up the Global Impact Database. “It’s incredible what’s happened in a relatively short space of time,” says Warner. “In three short years, we’ve gone from having the Care Database to having databases for Care, Medicine, Conservation and community days.”
An important evaluation tool
Volunteers input the information they gather into the database and as local staff analyse this data, we can get an idea of which initiatives are making the most significant difference in local communities. “It’s important that we can adapt our efforts based on verifiable data,” says Warner. “We want our volunteers to be making meaningful contributions at their placements and by adjusting our efforts according to what works and what doesn’t, we can ensure that our volunteers are always helping to move us closer to our long-term goals.”
Guiding our volunteers
“We use the database to identify areas of need and direct volunteers’ efforts by giving them clear, personalized goals,” says Jenny Puyo, Projects Abroad’s Head of Program Development. Particularly with short-term volunteers, it’s important to create very specific action plans that will generate results in a shorter space of time. Minassie Alemayehu, the Country Director for Projects Abroad in Ethiopia, where volunteers have been adding to the database for the last two years, has noticed that volunteers are now better able to focus their efforts: “Volunteers have started to understand the value of their short-term contributions from a larger and long-term perspective. They see their interventions as part of a long-term plan to achieve a particular goal for a particular placement.”
The database allows us to create a clear action plan for each volunteer. “When a volunteer arrives, they are introduced to the database on induction day and on their first day of work they are already clear on the work they have to do, be it gathering baseline data, creating charts, flashcards or posters, engaging the children in songs or storytelling, assisting with the labelling of toothbrushes or creating songs and fun games on hygiene,” says Sanikia Powell-Morgan, one of our Program Development Officers. “The volunteer is able to see tangible results within a matter of days or weeks, he/she updates the database and feels that his/her project, be it a short one, was very worthwhile.”
Working towards long-term goals
With a clear record of the work that previous volunteers have done, the database ensures that each volunteer is building on this. “Previously, volunteers would arrive in a country and begin work with a certain set of students or on a certain goal, but there was not sufficient record of this to allow for follow-up,” says Powell-Morgan. “The database allows current volunteers to record their work and progress, which future volunteers can easily access and follow-up on to bring the goal to accomplishment.”
We are already seeing important insights thanks to the Global Impact Database. Local staff and authorities identified nutrition as an important focus area for placements in Fiji. To help address this issue, this year we have conducted 36 nutrition awareness outreaches in Fiji with a total of 663 people in attendance and our volunteers have been collecting data during health screenings in the local communities. Each patient has an anonymous patient profile, which can be updated with information about their health status over time. The database generates easy-to-read graphs so that volunteers can quickly identify health problems in each patient, provide medical information to the patient, and recommend the appropriate treatment or refer the patient to a health care professional. Importantly, we have specific confidentiality measures in place to ensure that the data is secure and our beneficiaries are protected.
What the future holds
The database provides a safe platform for us to store data and pool information on a global level. With global access to checklists and trend analysis, our staff from around the world can learn from each other, which strengthens us as an organization. We also share our data with local authorities, local education boards and schools to promote the sharing of information and strengthen our relationships with them. They can then use this data to inform policies put in place and get a better idea of where to direct resources.
In the future, we will continue to expand the database to projects like Microfinance, giving us the opportunity to track loans, monitor small businesses and generate insights into how future loans can be better utilized. “My hope is that Projects Abroad will stand out as an organization that takes their responsibility to beneficiaries very seriously,” says Warner. “I want us to always ensure that our beneficiaries are at the centre of the organization and that all the work we do will contribute meaningfully to local communities.”