Case Study: Save the Children

Why we can’t do it alone.

The UPS Humanitarian Solvathon (a case competition held recently at The Ohio State University in Columbus) gave Ohio State students an opportunity to partner with representatives from UPS and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to address real issues the NGOs are facing. Following whiteboarding sessions, the students presented their solutions to a panel of judges from their respective NGOs. The following is a summary of one of the cases.


The problem

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How do we build a front-end system when we have real-time things happening?

Save the Children is an NGO that helps children in 120 countries get off to a healthy start in life, gives them the opportunity to learn and protects them from harm. To do this, the organization delivers food, medicine and other essentials to areas with the most need.

The challenge that Save the Children (STC) faces is that the majority of locations where its supplies go use paper-based tracking methods, which makes it difficult to standardize a system to verify who receives the supplies and to store this information on a central database.

When identifying beneficiaries, there are factors to consider for each unique location, including:

  • Access to support and electricity
  • Connectivity to the Internet
  • Economic Level
  • Costs Associated

To overcome cultural and language barriers, volunteers are usually residents from the community, where literacy is typically low. There is little time and limited resources to train these volunteers on new tracking technology, making the paper-based system the natural default.

“We want to move towards an electronic cloud-based system,” said Imee Cambronero, monitoring and evaluations senior specialist from Save the Children. “But how do we build a front-end system when we have real-time things happening?”

[Also on Longitudes: A Master Class on Thought Diversity]

STC imageThe students’ solution

The winning team conducted research on mobile technology development and did a cost-benefit analysis of a more efficient process that makes better use of available funding.

By putting funding into IT system development and technology, there would be an increase in tracking efficiency, leading to long-term cost savings.

The new mobile platform would enable the STC field operator to register new people on the program using identity verification in the form of photo ID, handprint, fingerprint and retina scan and add the data to a central database.

This verification, in turn, would generate a unique ID number that would be used to assign the person to a specific program, track what has been allotted and distributed, view family size and determine the length of the program.

The device used for this platform would be a custom-made tablet designed for the sole use of STC operations to prevent theft. The tablet would have offline capabilities with automatic updates to improve information flow.

This also creates an opportunity for other NGOs and governments to invest in the software for other social programs, providing STC with additional funding to broaden its scope and increase its impact on the communities in which it operates.

Winners of the competition include:

  • Abdullah Alomair – Industrial Engineering
  • Abd Al-Rahman Traboulsi – Biomedical Engineering
  • Jack Busch – Industrial and Integrated Systems Engineering
  • Jennifer Winther – Finance and Psychology

[Also on Longitudes: Can Boomers and Millennials Save America’s Start-Up Engine?]


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Collaboration makes the world a better place.

Events such as the UPS Humanitarian Solvathon can reveal new opportunities for organizations with limited resources.

“Many times, we are working our day-to-day jobs and prioritizing whatever emergency is happening at the moment,” said Cambronero. “We don’t have time to bring our head up above water because we’re doing the swimming underneath.”

For students, the experience creates an opportunity to gain practical experience that complements their studies in areas such as process improvement and project management.

“This goes beyond what we studied in class because it challenges your ability to solve problems, think systematically and use soft skills,” said Jack Busch, a senior majoring in industrial and integrated systems engineering and one of the winners of the competition. “You can’t be successful with just class knowledge – that’s just a part of what enables success to happen.”

For UPS, the competition is an opportunity to share experience and expertise with the next generation of problem solvers.

“This exercise was a lot like what we do with customers every day,” said John Kraus, UPS Solutions Development Manager. “We sit down with them to understand their business and collaborate on solutions. It’s good for students to be exposed to that process early on.”

Collaboration, whether it happens in communities, in developing markets or on a university campus, makes the world a better place for children. goldbrown2

Click here to read Charlie Covert’s piece from the solvathon: A Master Class on Thought Diversity


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Yura Choung is a writer and editor for UPS Longitudes.

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Reprinted with permission of Longitudes, the UPS blog devoted to the trends shaping the global economy.