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How Tech Helps Deploy the Best People When Disaster Strikes

Feature Article | March 2, 2018 by Judith Magyar

Not many people reading this article know what real hunger means, including myself. Even more difficult to imagine is the despair and uncertainty of not knowing where the next meal for your family is coming from.

Welthungerhilfe, one of the largest private non-governmental organizations in Germany with more than 50 years of experience in relief, rehabilitation, and long-term development, fights hunger with vital humanitarian aid to victims of poverty, conflict, and natural disasters around the world.

In Bangladesh, the organization is providing food for 12,500 people together with its local partner organization Anando. Families living in the camps choose a majhi, or local leader, to liaise with the camp authorities and relief agencies to get support for their group. Each local leader has responsibility for a group of one hundred families, in some cases many more.

One such leader is Azizul Haq who fled the violence with his family. He receives food rations to distribute among the 173 families in his group. When they arrived they received 25 kilos of rice and nothing else. Now, in addition to rice,  Welthungerhilfe partner Anando also distributes food packages consisting of lentils, oil, sugar and salt.

Conditions in the camps are appalling. Besides dealing with hunger, people have no health care, no sanitation, no water and no shelter apart from makeshift tents made from plastic sheets.

“We only have six toilets for 173 families,” says Azizul Haq. To help alleviate the situation, Welthungerhilfe’s partner Anando also distributes hygiene kits containing soap, sanitary napkins, laundry detergent, and pots and tubs for personal hygiene and toilet use.

Who Are the Right People?

People who work for aid agencies like Welthungerhile witness the depths of human despair day in and day out. They must bring hope and relief to people whose lives have been disrupted and who have no future in sight. Aid and field workers must have special skills and sensibilities to deal with such extraordinary circumstances. Who are these people and how do agencies find them?

Florian Landorff was a field worker for 10 years before becoming head of HR at Welthungerhilfe: “I was deployed to several crisis situations. The first days after a disaster are really tough because there are so many negative impressions, but you have to focus on the job to help people in need. The way you handle yourself in such a situation is really important and really difficult.”

How Do You Find Them?

“Our first challenge is identifying the right people for local and global roles,” Florian says. “We get a lot of applications, but finding out who has the right skills and the right personality is difficult. On one hand, we’re looking for technical experts such as nutritionists or engineers for water projects, but we also need general skills like self management, communications, and intercultural competencies. And of course, we need people with management skills. SAP SuccessFactors makes it faster and easier for us to identify, recruit, and onboard the right people.”

Other challenges include onboarding recruits and sharing knowledge and information across the organization. Tracking finances is equally important. As an NGO, the organization depends on grants and donations.

“Cost efficiency and measurements help us live up to commitments we’ve made to donors, and SAP SuccessFactors provides us with the right tools for tracking and analyzing data,” says Linda Szelag, head of Information Technology at Welthungerhilfe. The system also provides templates, standard processes across the globe and flexibility to accommodate local needs.

Being More Strategic

One of the most important developments technology brings to organizations like Welthungerhilfe is the ability to transform HR from being mainly an administrative function to having a more strategic role. NGOs like Welthungerhilfe rely on a vast network of partners and local organizations to be successful.

When disaster hits, the emergency staff must be ready to hit the ground running anywhere in the world. HR plays a key role in identifying and deploying the right people with exactly the right skills quickly to the right place.

“During the recent earthquake in Nepal, HR played a key part in pulling together the emergency team,” Florian explains. “We first determined who we could send out right away and then who was available for a second wave for long term reconstruction.”

No Lack of Purpose

Studies show that as the digital transformation takes hold, profit alone will not make companies successful. Successful companies must offer their employees two important things: the freedom to be creative and a sense of meaning.  NGOs like Welthungerhilfe are not profit driven, and most people who work for them already have a higher purpose.

“The reason I work for a non-profit,” Florian says, “is simply because we create a huge impact for people who are not able to help themselves.  Salary is not the motivating factor.  Working with great people for our great vision, a world without hunger, that is really very satisfying.”

Welthungerhilfe has 2,523 highly motivated employees in 39 countries. Its goal is to help eradicate hunger and malnutrition worldwide by 2030. As its technology provider, SAP’s goal is to help make it happen!

Follow me on Twitter: @magyarj

This story originally appeared on Business Trends on the SAP Community.

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