Cisco WebEx Solutions Help Nonprofits Cut Costs, Increase Value
October 27, 2009
By Margaret Steen
It used to be that a nonprofit needed a large organization and lots of resources to work in multiple countries. Now the Internet has made it easier for smaller nonprofits to work globally, but these groups still need a reliable, affordable way to communicate with far-flung staff members.
Online meetings through Cisco WebEx, a desktop sharing and phone conferencing solution, fill that need for a growing number of nonprofit organizations. When WebEx launched in 1996, it counted 15 nonprofits as customers. Today, more than 1,000 nonprofits have turned to Cisco WebEx solutions to help manage their communication and organizational challenges.
"The geographic boundaries have been broken down," says June Bower, vice president of marketing for Cisco's Collaboration Software Group. "Nonprofits need to work with people in countries across the globe a lot of those people are in places that are difficult to get to."
Teachers Without Borders
This is certainly the case for Teachers Without Borders. The Washington-based nonprofit trains and supports teachers in locations as diverse as Africa, Brazil and the Middle East, empowering them to become agents of change and educators in their communities in an effort to improve human welfare.
"Teachers are really the key in international development," says Dr. Fred Mednick, founder and president of Teachers Without Borders. "They know who is sick, missing or orphaned by AIDS. If teachers are connected and collaborate, the whole community benefits."
Teachers Without Borders began using Cisco's WebEx solutions in May of 2009, primarily to help manage communication and planning among the group's regional and country coordinators and chapter leaders. The conferencing system replaced a patchwork of alternative, expensive communication methods that hampered the nonprofit's ability to effectively coordinate its members and track communications worldwide.
The new system has dramatically improved the effectiveness of Teachers Without Borders' communications, but Mednick doesn't want to stop there. "WebEx can support the development of a truly collaborative global network of teachers," he says. He envisions a future where Cisco solutions serve as the focal point for a decentralized organization, one in which teachers anywhere can set up and teach seminars for their colleagues around the world.
The Population Council
The Population Council, an international public health research organization, experiences the transformative benefits of Cisco WebEx solutions by using them to minimize international boundaries and help researchers and other staff members communicate better.
"The driving vision behind our maintaining our license is that our organization is always looking for ways to improve communication," says Deborah Boccio, an IT supervisor and project manager with the Population Council in New York.
The Population Council finds success in using Cisco WebEx to keep international project teams connected in diverse locations, support specialized applications it develops for researchers, and provide training for core financial applications to its global administrative staff. The organization also uses the platform to reduce travel costs as well.
WebEx allows the Population Council to stretch its 13 IT staff people to cover 18 offices located around the globe. In fact, almost half of the organization's use of WebEx is directly related to IT support. For example, IT staff in New York can support users in Washington DC, Mexico, Guatemala or South Africa, staff in India can support users in Vietnam or Bangladesh, or staff in Kenya can support users in Ethiopia, using a feature that allows one user to remotely control another user's desktop. The benefits in efficiency are a huge boon; WebEx lets Population Council staff do things that they simple would not be able to do otherwise without traveling to a country.
Later this year, when the organization rolls out new financial software to all its offices, it will depend on Cisco WebEx solutions to assist with the installation and training. Teams will supplement initial on-site visits to each office with a Cisco WebEx-based helpdesk. When someone has a problem, or wants additional training, they'll just click on a link to receive live web-based support right on their own desktop.
In addition to other benefits, Boccio says that WebEx helps the Population Council show donors it is evolving and provides its researchers with modern tools, which can increase their confidence in the group's ability to carry out its larger mission.
"It helps us show our donors and potential donors that we know how to work in today's international arena. Although travel and face-to-face interactions will always be an integral part of the way the Council works, by using WebEx we improve communications with our international counterparts and at the same time can reduce travel costs. "
Increased efficiency, increased collaboration
Nonprofits are not the only ones becoming more efficient. Cisco is continually working to deliver performance upgrades for WebEx services. According to Boccio, recent improvements in audio quality and user interaction have made the communications platform easier to use, which has helped her organization to get more people using it. Cisco is also working to increase the effectiveness of WebEx's audio options, either through partnerships with phone service providers in more countries or an improved Voice over IP (VoIP) product.
One aspect of Cisco's partnership with nonprofits is its Pass the Ball initiative, a marketing campaign that encourages people to share ideas and raises funds for Teachers Without Borders. Cisco also has a special program in place that's designed to make WebEx solutions more affordable for nonprofits, increasing their ability to offer transformative benefits to organizations both big and small.
For nonprofits, the hope is that these solutions will not only allow organizations to improve their internal communications, but that they will be used to spearhead larger shifts in their core operations as well. Mednick, for example, thinks Cisco WebEx online meetings can help Teachers Without Borders share ideas at a higher level and in doing so, fundamentally change the organization for the better.
"WebEx can support the development of a truly collaborative global network of teachers," Mednick said. "It has the capability of doing things that we couldn't dream of building ourselves."
Margaret Steen is a writer based in San Francisco, CA.