Today's Five for Friday interview is with Kamael Sugrim of mPowering. Kamael's story is a story of change, having stepped out of her high tech career to follow her dream. Now she is using mobile technology to mobilize change - with a goal to change the world.
Kamael happened to be part of the Stanford MBA graduating class that heard Steve Jobs' commencement address, and she is one of the rare breed of people looking to do something that has never been done and make dent in the universe.
Meet Kamael Sugrim.
PM: You are the founder of mPowering. What is mPowering?
KS: mPowering is a non-profit seeking to alleviate extreme poverty with the aid of mobile technology. We develop mobile apps that collect real-time data on the education, nutrition and health of kids living on less than $1 a day. We use that information to develop agile programs and partnerships with a specific goal of moving a child above the poverty line in less than 3 years. For us, technology provides a clear and concrete path to the poor, undeterred by location, language and cultural obstacles. The information we collect is shared with donors who crave more information on and a human connection to the causes they support.
PM: mPowering is mobilizing resources with a mobile first technology approach - how did you approach the technical requirements?
KS: I have a background in software, so for me, it was imperative that mPowering build technology with the ease, agility and scale made possible by cloud computing. I spent months in remote villages in India understanding my end users (teachers, nurses and program managers). While these individuals never saw a computer or TV, they were well versed in using a mobile device. With cell service covering over 90% of the world, we knew a mobile strategy would help us reach our goals faster.
Looking at the proliferation of smart phones, we decided to build an app vs. using SMS options currently deployed by other non-profits. Just as customers in the for profit world purchase technology for their company's future needs, mPowering chose a platform that would allow it to scale rapidly in the next 5-10 years. The cost of smartphones will drop dramatically, lowering our program costs in the long run while providing us with deep reach into poverty stricken areas. Everything we do is in the cloud - google docs, our CRM database, file sharing. With such a diverse and global base of employees and stakeholders it was important to choose a scalable technology architecture.
PM: What metrics are most critical to you in running your organization?
KS: Every CEO will tell you they need to keep costs down. This is no different for a non-profit and, in fact, non-profits run the risk of losing donations - the lifeblood of their organization - with high overhead costs. Every dollar we spend on operations is one less dollar we put in the hands of the less fortunate.
While most non-profits use technology to track funding dollars, I focus my technology spending on putting the right software infrastructure in place to measure, analyze and scale my regional programs and operations. Our program dollars are closely tracked and analyzed monthly to make sure we meet our goals. We keep headcount down by using technology to automate processes. But most importantly, these investments in technology allows us to have real-time data on the behaviors and needs of the high-risk populations we help.
PM: You were a newly minted Stanford MBA graduate who listened to Steve Job's famous commencement address in person. What do you remember most about that day?
KS: I remember thinking that there was no other option in life than to do what I loved and what inspired me. It's crazy to think that you can end poverty. But it's even crazier to have this interest and not, at the very least, try. As an MBA, I studied all sorts of theories and frameworks to make me a better leader. But that day, Steve reminded us all that, the only proven framework for success is to believe in yourself and follow your dreams.
PM: What advice do you have for other aspiring entrepreneurs?
KS: Focus on the idea, not the exit. Being an entrepreneur is about having bold ideas and pursuing them. There is no formula or "right" way to achieve your dreams. There will be setbacks. Things won't make sense to others, and sometimes they won't even make sense to you. Just keep going. You will get there.