Tech Talent 4 Good

Edward G. Happ, Global CIO of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

Editor’s note: Ed Happ, CIO of the International Federation of Red Cross/Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is one of the key individuals we at Microsoft look to for guidance and feedback on our work the NGO community. We think his blog post below offers some terrific insight and reflection for anyone considering work with, or already engaged with community organizations on their IT needs and so we are cross-posting from his blog. Enjoy!

I recently attended the launch of the Microsoft and AIESEC Tech Talent 4 Good student intern programme at the Microsoft Executive Briefing center in Brussels. I had proposed a similar programme to Microsoft a year ago, and so was asked to speak to the initial class of students and participate in a “Day in the Life of an NGO” panel. Here is a brief outline of my remarks:

What are the qualities needed for working in an NGO?

  1. Passion – you have to believe in the mission
  2. Triage – not all the good can be done
  3. Patience – on decisions; consensus is messy and takes time
  4. Forgiveness – rather than permission
  5. Openness – immerse yourselves in the conversations

Others mentioned listening skills, relationship skills and sense of humor.

What were my career choices that brought me to the nonprofit word?

  1. I’m on my 3rd of 5 careers (See Charles Handy on careers in the post-modern era)
  2. Why? A shift from success to significance

What is strategic IT for nonprofits?

  1. The Relevant IT Manifesto; technology more for:

a) delivering program scale than support

b) as the glue for communities

c) working together more than solo

d) the field than for HQ

  1. The IT Strategy Pyramid: Get out (of lights-on tech), get in (to beneficiary tech), move up (to more mission-moving tech.)

Where has there been progress?

  1. Wiring the Village – we have taken the connections out the countries where we work, now to the branches and project areas
  2. Collaboration – we are working together on projects, and trusting centers of tech leadership
  3. Emergency Response – we have taken ICT from rapid connecting of relief workers, to shared networks and connecting survivors

What is possible and exciting about the future?

  1. Everyone is less than 2 degrees from being connected – world population of 6.9B, 5B cell phones with 20-30% as two phone users, means 4.4B mobile users
  2. The mobile users in emerging and emergency relief countries are the new connectors – In Haiti 10% reach 100%
  3. Consumer tech as more relevant than corporate tech for the vulnerable, and the organizations who work with them

My Advice for students?

  1. Go to the far country, a hotbed of innovation – the IFRC App Inventory case: discovering 53 volunteer management applications in our national societies, not in HQ
  2. Your experience is not the world’s experience – Why? Imagine Cup case: No sense of limitation
  3. No rules, no limits: get it done – the case of Shawn Ahmed: free agent philanthropy

What are the relevant stories?

  1. Naomi Fils-Aime in Haiti – “Life is very difficult: [cholera and hurricane] messages help me protect my family” – the IFRC SMS program
  2. The starfish story revisited – think big, start small, but get started!

Disclaimer: The opinions in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent positions, strategies or opinions of any of the organizations with which I am associated.

Edward G. Happ is the Global CIO of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), based in Geneva, Switzerland, and Chairman of NetHope (, a U.S. based consortium of 34 leading international relief, development and conservation nonprofits focused on information and communications technology (ICT) and collaboration.