Since February this year, all that humanitarian organizations in Serbia need to do to collect food donations for those in need is visit a web site where all foodstuffs available for donation are visible, click and order. Yes, just like we all do when ordering a meal online. Only, this is the very first digital platform for food donations in Serbia.
So, what does this have to do with our story? The platform named ‘Plate by plate’, a joint initiative of the biggest supermarket chain in the country - Delhaize Serbia, and UNDP in Serbia, was developed from scratch by the UNDP County Office (CO) ICT Unit. We based it on blockchain technology so the whole process of food donations is traceable from the first step to the last, which makes it more transparent and secure.
But wait, you might say, isn’t ICT in the office all about fixing daily issues with IT equipment and, lately, Zoom support? Since when do we design web platforms, and why?
To answer this question, I need to go few years back, to 2017. At that time, our ICT unit had a ‘usual’ setup within the UNDP CO. We were providing services like user- and conferencing support, maintaining office intranet, local network and equipment, to name a few. Our small team of two (for a CO staff of 100+) had previous experience in software development, which we used to build in-house systems and automations, including the intranet, which we still use in our CO.
As a Head of this team, I was at the center of all programmatic and operational ICT and digital activities. I had insight into spending on various software products and, thanks to my previous software development experience, was aware of the amount of work, time, and resources our external vendors spent to deliver their digital products and services. Beneficiaries of most projects in our CO needed digital solutions, whether it was a web portal, e-learning tool, web database, ICT system or a mobile app. While supporting program colleagues to procure these products, we noticed that companies on the market are oftentimes overcharging for their services.
An analysis about spending for digital services for the 3-year period (2015-2017) showed us that it amounted to 300.000 USD per year for 20 projects, with an increasing trend. This made us think about implementing one part of these activities in-house, instead of outsourcing, to make savings in project budgets. The premise was that if the ICT unit could do the same work and be cheaper than the market - that would enable our program colleagues to do more for less.
In addition to expected savings, we asked ourselves: If we offer our services and expertise, will that inspire and empower our colleagues to be more confident in the digital area when meeting partners and negotiating new projects?
In 2017, the Government of Serbia (GoS) announced digitalization as one of its long-term core priorities, so we also wondered: could we provide digital services to the Government and other UNDP partners and become trusted Government partner of choice in the digital area?
Our idea of in-house digital services was a bit revolutionary, as it has not been tested in any other UNDP CO before. We had no way of knowing how it would go, but we felt that the timing was right and believed that we can implement it successfully.