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Digital Preparedness for Today's World

The COVID-19 pandemic is teaching us a lot of things. How under-resourced our public health systems are, how fragile our financial markets are, and how our cities, communities, and institutions can and must take collective and coordinated action to help protect the most vulnerable among us.

Our resilience is being tested like never before. I am inspired by how the nonprofits and foundations I work with are finding inventive ways to continue their important work despite the chaotic and constantly evolving realities they, and all of us, are contending with.

And in the midst of this chaos, some are even reflecting on the ways in which their digital tools are helping or hindering their ability to weather unforeseen events.

I was visiting with a client organization a few weeks ago that would have come to a grinding halt in the face of a situation like this a year ago. But last summer they decided enough was enough and rolled out a full suite of cloud-based tools for communication and collaboration, a process that concluded in late 2019.

Some at the time questioned, "why now?" With so many competing priorities, it seemed like introducing changes into the way people worked was more trouble than it was worth. But those who were advocating for change knew how fragile their digital infrastructure was. While they couldn't have possibly predicted something like COVID-19, they knew that something would happen that would expose the vulnerabilities in their systems and leave them high and dry in a time of great need.

And, it turned out, change wasn't as hard as they thought it would be. They were able to use what they already had (in this case, Microsoft Office 365) and just configure and roll it out in a way that mapped to the organization's needs and work styles. One of those things that they were hoping to get around to eventually. And they did. Before it became an emergency.

Prior to starting a company to support digital transformation for the social sector, I spent nearly 15 years working as an international health professional at organizations serving all manner of vulnerable populations. Using digital tools to help our organization run more efficiently or achieve greater impact was never a top priority. There was always another fire to put out, a more important initiative underway, or a busy time for this or that team. Until an unforeseen event hit. A loss of funding, an Ebola outbreak, civil unrest. And then it felt like it was too late.

But it's never too late. If there was ever a good time to make a convincing case about the importance of upping your digital preparedness for unforeseen events, this is it. And if you do proceed down this path, remember that it is possible to act both swiftly and thoughtfully. How you approach "fixing" whatever is broken now can help you avoid the negative downstream consequences of hastily designed band-aid approaches later.

And above all else, be human-centered in everything you do with technology. Think of those you are supporting and what they truly need to get their work done. And then support them to use their tools effectively, simplifying as needed to keep them from feeling overwhelmed. In times like these, digital tools can help us stay connected in all manner of ways (virtual happy hour anyone?), so let's put them to work for us in ways that let our humanity shine through and allow for our important work to not only function but flourish. For right now, and well into the future.