World Concern’s voucher system for distributing food in the Horn of Africa crisis is about to go high tech. The Seattle-based humanitarian organization is piloting a new mobile app in the drought-stricken region, aiming to streamline the process of tracking food distributed to hungry families and payment to local merchants.
The app was developed by Seattle start up ScanMyList, whose founder, Scott Dyer, developed a mobile application to help retail businesses track inventory. When Dyer saw one of World Concern’s vouchers, he realized the same system could help the humanitarian organization reach people during a disaster more efficiently and track aid more accurately.
The system tracks beneficiaries and the food they receive via bar codes that are scanned into a mobile phone. Merchants have an I.D. card with a barcode, which is also scanned so they can be paid via wire transfer almost instantly.
The app allows field staff to use a tool they are already carrying (a mobile phone) to record data in the field (instead of a pencil and paper), and negates the need for re-entry into a computer at a later date. This saves time, but more importantly reduces chance of errors.
Dyer is currently in the Horn of Africa with World Concern Deputy Director of Disaster Response Chris Sheach, kicking off a pilot program, which will put the new technology into action in the field this month as 4,000 food vouchers are distributed in Eastern Kenya and Southern Somalia.
“Not many people can say they’ve birthed an idea and seen it to fruition,” said Dyer. “It’s super exciting.”
The real brain behind this technology is the custom database, which is not only programmed to receive data from mobile phones, but to “think” about what it receives. The database will identify possible duplicate entries, flag significant variations in data, and crosscheck entry errors. Then, the database is programmed to generate custom reports in real time. World Concern staff can view these on a website, seeing exactly how many meals were distributed that day. Not only does this make reporting faster and more efficient for field staff, it allows for real-time course correction. A manager can review the data from their desk and identify a source of problems the same day, allowing for a modification tomorrow.
Sheach said World Concern is always looking for innovative ways to provide emergency relief to those who need it most. “This technology will enable our staff to report on their life-saving distribution in real-time, increasing our ability to respond to immediate needs as they arise,” said Sheach. “I am excited to partner with ScanMyList, as they bring not only cutting-edge mobile technology, but also a passion to serve the neediest people in the world.”