Sunday, July 18, 2010

Jaalaka - Connecting the HIV/AIDS Community through Technology

“Things will change when you get to India”. This was echoed throughout the pre-departure planning stages for my project. I had a very clear understanding of my purpose for this project: resolve the technical issues and expand the software into other NGO’s, but I went in knowing that these objectives could change dramatically.

I am fortunate that my project has not deviated greatly from the proposal my team had prepared. The NGO’s that are working with us are extremely organized and have realistic goals and expectations that were communicated clearly and promptly from the beginning. Despite the pre-departure planning, there have been many challenges that I did not anticipate. Specifically, the length of time needed to resolve the technical issues that these NGO’s are facing, the technical knowledge needed to implement the program, and the identification of possible expansion opportunities for the software have proven to be the biggest challenges.

However, we have been able to take a step back from the urge to focus solely on fixing the technical issues and have analyzed the most efficient growth for the SMSFrontline software. After meeting with multiple stakeholders working with the HIV/AIDS community, my team and I have identified a need to expand the program and create a more efficient network to connect all the stakeholders that are currently using the SMSFrontline software. A centralized database would allow the NGO’s I am working with to share their data to create a more automated and structured tracking, referral and follow up system. In order to create this database, we have enlisted the help of various sources- LEAD students from BVB College, a software engineer and a fellow intern. I am hopeful that this database will streamline the data flow currently being implemented and improve the overall data sharing between the NGO’s. So what does my team envision? We hope that a specific NGO can refer a patient to register for a support group via SMS, and the support group will receive a message regarding the referral. If the patient attends the support group, the support group can then send a SMS message back to the referring NGO to confirm the registration of the patient. All of these messages would go through the central database and a history of the patient will begin to accumulate. With such limited resources, the NGO’s can benefit greatly from this system and will allow the NGO’s to spend more time working directly with the community members.

Working in India is definitely a unique experience. I have learned to become much more patient and accept the miscommunication that is bound to occur. Because my project involves many stakeholders, I am often at meetings to discuss specifics about the project. Email and phone calls are not effective in India, and thus, things take much longer to accomplish because of the face time that is required. One benefit to this is the chai and biscuit requirement for every meeting- if I wasn’t a tea drinker before coming here, I definitely am now!

Despite the delays that consistently take place in India, small victories do occur and are appreciated that much more. I am truly enjoying my internship and I feel fortunate that I can now truly understand the different work cultures that exist across the world.

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