Enabling not-for-profits to utilise technology and their directors to become tech-aware is proving a successful business model for social enterprise Infoxchange.
Two years on from the start of the pandemic, social enterprise Infoxchange reports that reliance upon technology across the not-for-profit (NFP) sector has reached previously unseen levels. “We saw more digital transformation in the sector in the first three months of the pandemic than we’d seen in the previous three years,” says Infoxchange CEO David Spriggs.
The organisation’s 2021 Digital Technology in the Not-for-Profit Sector survey shows an increased shift in the number of NFPs that have moved, or are in the process of moving, to the cloud — from 58 per cent in 2020 to 69 per cent last year.
“There are still a lot of challenges out there, with 25 per cent of organisations saying they still can’t support their staff to work from home and don’t have the necessary infrastructure in place to support new ways of working,” says Spriggs.
Infoxchange chair Morgana Ryan FAICD, also a non-executive director of Wodonga TAFE and CARE Australia, says this figure highlights the need for directors to ensure there is someone on the board who really understands the value of technology and how it is positioned in the organisation. “In not-for-profits, IT is often a really junior position reporting to HR or finance, and doesn’t have a voice at the leadership table. When that’s the case, you miss that opportunity to bring the business and tech leaders together to have that important conversation about how tech can transform the organisation.”
While tech advancement in the sector has helped fuel Infoxchange’s growth, and allows other for-purpose organisations to reduce barriers to accessing services, the information security challenges in the sector still keep Spriggs awake at night. “There is an urgent need for improvement in information security practices given the sensitivity of data held across the sector,” he says. “Unfortunately, far too many organisations are still unprepared and think it won’t happen to them.”
Anglicare Sydney confirmed in 2020 that it was being held to ransom over sensitive information stolen from its computer system. In January 2021, Oxfam Australia suffered a data breach in which information belonging to 1.7 million supporters was unlawfully accessed. A few months later, UnitingCare Queensland saw a cyber incident shut down systems and applications.
Given proposed policy changes that might make company directors personally liable if their company suffers a cyber-attack, Spriggs says all boards, both commercial and NFP, should have information security as a standing agenda item. “Every organisation, on an almost daily basis, would be having information security incidents, so if the report is, ‘We haven’t had any incidents since the last board meeting’, then they’re not tracking the incidents.”
Infoxchange has a 30-year track record in tackling social challenges through the creative use of technology and supporting the digital transformation of the NFP sector, so it’s well positioned to spot the pitfalls — and help others avoid them. Its work with other NFPs has seen the organisation double in size over the past three years, to the point where it now has more than 180 staff across Australia and New Zealand.
Infoxchange’s “Ask Izzy” mobile website, developed in partnership with Google, realestate. com.au and News Corp Australia, helps people with housing, meals, money and health and support services across Australia. It is widely used by charities to help those seeking help.
“When we launched Ask Izzy back in 2016, we aspired to help 100,000 people in the first two years,” says Spriggs. “During the pandemic, we’ve been serving more than 200,000 requests for help every month.”
Off the back of demand that emerged during the pandemic, Infoxchange also launched a Digital Transformation Hub in July 2021 to help NFPs build digital capability, guiding them through a self-assessment, providing good practice resources, expert advice and access to donated/ discounted technology.
Assisted by Deloitte, Infoxchange recently developed a three-year strategy that will see it seek greater levels of scale and more opportunities to disrupt disadvantage using technology and data as an enabler.
“Often, the challenge in the corporate world is, ‘How do we scale things up and serve larger organisations?’” says Spriggs. “For us, it was about how we could we scale in a different direction, to serve more of the almost 60,000 small to medium organisations across the NFP sector.”
The company has leveraged strategic partnerships in government, private enterprise, academia and the community sector. “It is about spending the time with partners to work out what those opportunities are — what core assets that corporate partner has they could share with the sector or the community for really significant benefit,” says Spriggs.
For example, Telstra and Vodafone offer meter-free access on their mobile networks to Ask Izzy, so clients with a prepaid phone with zero credit can still search for housing, food or other assistance.
Infoxchange is also partnering with Google and the University of NSW on the AI for Good project.
Proportion of NFPs unprepared for the move to work-from-home arrangements
Australians still highly digitally excluded
Value of technology products and services donated to NFPs via Infoxchange
Australians still live below the poverty line
government and community services use Infoxchange products
1 in 2
NFPs lack multi-factor authentication to protect core information systems
Average cost of a data breach
of Australians still want in-person mental health support despite virtual options
increase in cybercrime reported 2020–21
Sources: Infoxchange, Australian Digital Inclusion Index, IBM, LifeWorks, ACSC
Spriggs has worked with Infoxchange since 2009, and has been its CEO since 2013. Ryan has been on the board since 2012, becoming chair in April 2021. As part of a succession refresh, two new board members recently joined and the organisation is actively recruiting a third. “We’re consciously carrying a larger board at the moment because a couple [of directors] are coming to the end of their terms,” says Ryan.
For the past three years, board meetings have included an observer as part of the Observership Program, supported by AICD. “It’s a great way to tap into people with amazing skills, often from diverse and interesting backgrounds, to give them that initial opportunity to brush up on their governance experience and provide potential succession for board recruitment down the track,” says Ryan. “Having different views and perspectives in the discussion can be very powerful, because it just means that someone has a lens of looking at something that had never even entered your frame. It results in a much more rounded conversation for the board.”
Looked ahead, Infoxchange is focusing some of its attention on collaborative impact. “We do a lot of work serving, but the core social issues we’re trying to tackle continue to get worse every year and so we’re looking at how we can shift from serving to solving,” says Spriggs.
“We’re not naïve enough to think we’re going to wake up one morning and solve homelessness, but if we start thinking through the prism of, ‘How might we solve homelessness?’ and ‘How might we bring some of our data insights to the table?’ and ‘How can we start to think a little bit differently about some of these problems by partnering with others?’ then we can move to more of that solving agenda. We will continue working to improve outcomes for people in need, with technology for social justice at the heart of everything that we do.”
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