Thursday, December 29, 2011

News Update BPOs, private groups do a ‘digital bayanihan’ for typhoon-hit Iligan

Emily Pascua, an executive of a fast food chain office in Iligan City, was one of the lucky residents spared by floods spawned by tropical storm “Sendong” in northern Mindanao last week. When she heard that thousands of families were displaced and brought to evacuation centers due to the calamity, she and her colleagues immediately offered cooked rice to feed the evacuees. While helping out in relief efforts, she noticed the disorderly way donations were being distributed to evacuees. She also saw how social workers were having a hard time manually organizing information on affected families. “While we saw that help was coming in, magulo ang distribution. Walang sistema. ‘Yung iba nakakadoble-doble ang tanggap. ‘Yung iba hindi nakakakuha,” she said in a phone interview. Because of this, Pascua and some United Nations (UN) volunteers tried to figure out a way to bring order to the relief operations. They wanted all affected families to benefit from the help reaching their area. The solution they came up with was simple: organize the data being gathered by local social workers so that they will have a clear idea on the exact number of evacuees and their specific needs. “The lack of a system prompted us to do the other side. We decided na we will be in charge of organizing this data. Tago lang ito na effort, so while people are sending in some help, we will be able to have information kung sino at saan ba talaga kailangan ito,” she said. This was how a “digital bayanihan” began. Pascua got in touch with information technology graduates from the Mindanao State University, who helped them create a program by which they can organize data. People from Pascua’s office, as well as her colleagues from the Iligan Chamber of Commerce, also volunteered to help scan data sheets from the Department of Social Welfare and Development, which served as the first step in converting information into soft copies. BPOs heed call for help The modern form of “bayanihan,” however, did not stop in Iligan. Gigi Virata, president of the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) Association of the Philippines, was also told of efforts to organize data on evacuees in Lanao del Norte’s capital city. She heeded calls for help. “I asked our partner associations if they can help, and they very quickly signed up for it. Some individuals in some companies even volunteered to do whatever they can to help,” she said in a separate interview. Virata added that several Manila-based encoding and medical transcription companies agreed to do what they do best: encode scanned data sheets into spreadsheets to better organize and process the information. “We did this so that we can keep track of the evacuees and to know their needs. We can even help people looking for each other,” she said. What’s best is that the companies agreed to accept the encoding job without asking for any monetary returns. “The companies offered their services to organize the data pro bono. This is our way of helping those in need in Mindanao, even though we’re in Manila,” she said. Thanks to technology Pascua said that she plans to present an initial copy of the database from over 6,000 data sheets to local officials on Wednesday afternoon. The database contains aggregated basic information on the evacuees, such as age and sex, so local government can figure out their immediate needs. “If there are grants and other forms of assistance that are coming in, for sure hihingi ang donors ng data on the damage. These are all captured in the database. If you have data, you can use this data for the good of the people,” she said. She added that she was overwhelmed by how quickly the task was accomplished, citing her gratefulness for technology. “If we are not in the age of information technology, for sure hirap tayo rito. Ngayon, in a span of hours, we already have data,” she said. More than technology, however, Pascua said the willingness of Filipinos to help others in need made their project a success. “This is very surprising and amazing. Grabe ‘yung assistance from other associations. At least, we managed to help the government kahit sa maliit na paraan lang,” she said. — VS