Humanitarian groups share information across borders

A spin-off from Care Canada is using knowledge management tools to help non-government organizations around the world improve communications during wars, earthquakes and other crisis situations.

Established in 1946 as part of an

international network to bring emergency relief to the people of Europe, Care Canada has more than 800 projects active in 75 countries, including a poverty-reduction program in Afghanistan and efforts to cope with the drought in Ethiopia. Amid often dangerous conditions, however, the humanitarian organization’s workers have struggled to stay in touch with one another.

That’s why Care Canada’s IT department and its human resources department have created Global Development Group (GDG), which will provide online “”workspaces”” to its own teams and to NGOs around the world.

Using Livelink software from Waterloo, Ont.-based Open Text Corp., GDG is creating custom interfaces that will allow NGOs to post files that will secure permission to import or pass goods across borders, according to Jose Garcia, GDG’s product support manager. Care Canada began using Livelink as the war in Kosovo intensified during the late 1990s. Care recently decided to extend its use of Livelink across the international organization, which includes branches in Australia, Brazil, Denmark, the United States, the U.K. and France, among others. One server will be dedicated to Care’s use of Livelink, while another will be used in collaboration with other humanitarian groups.

Collaborative applications have become critical to NGOs who depend on reports from those working in the field, Garcia said. In the past, these reports took 12 hours or more to come in via FedEx or UPS. When an earthquake caused devastation in El Salvador, for example, or Hurricane Mitch wrought havoc in Nicaragua and Honduras, Care had people from local contra offices storing pictures, reports or their budgets over Livelink to fine-tune their response to the crisis.

“”You cannot just say, “”There was an earthquake — let’s send a whole bunch of trucks with rice,'”” he said. “”They may not need rice. They may need water, for instance.””

GDG will be acting as an application service provider to the NGOs, Garcia said, with all profits going back directly to Care Canada. The organization does not give other groups the software but resells it and if necessary develops specific views or ASP pages using the Formark module LLCOM 2.

The agreement with Open Text will fill a large void in the market, Garcia said. Although approximately 35 to 40 per cent of the work GDG is doing now is dedicated to Care International, many other organizations are expressing interest in its services.

“”Nobody had the vision, I would say, to look out in the market to what was available or who would work with us,”” he said. “”Remember that we are NGOs; we cannot afford to pay for really expensive tools.””

One of GDG’s customers is the Ottawa-based Forum of Federations, which describes itself as an international clearing house of data related to the practice of federalism. So far, GDG has helped the Forum create a more dynamic way to publish articles to its database and Web site, according to its director of communications, Karl Nerenberg. Eventually, however, there are plans for much more.

“”The concept of the organization is that it’s an international network — we’re dealing with people everywhere,”” he said. “”Livelink will give us remote access to the stuff that we’ve got. Out of the office, we’ll be able to get into our main files. They’re also giving us something called GYST — Get Your Stuff Together — for project management.””

Garcia said he is hoping to see instant messaging capabilities integrated into Livelink so that member organizations can adopt a more consistent platform. Right now, for example, Care UK uses ICQ, while Care Australia has adopted MSN. Open Text spokesperson Rich Maganini said GDG won’t have to wait long.

“”We are actually looking at adding that early this year,”” he said.

Other NGOs working with GDG include the Christian Children’s Fund and International Development Enterprises.

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