Digital Opportunity Trust

By Adam Stephens - September 19, 2017

An interview with Anne Patterson, Community Manager
Digital Opportunity Trust

Can you introduce yourself to our audience?

I am the Community Manager at DOT, a leading international social enterprise that operates youth-led economic and education programs all over the world. Our programs are delivered by college and university graduates – who we call DOT Interns – to people in their local communities. Our vision is to provide people with the necessary skills to effectively use technology so they can take advantage of educational, social, and economic opportunities around them.

Very interesting. You mentioned that DOT programs are delivered by DOT Interns. Could you explain who the DOT Interns are, and elaborate on their role at DOT?

Sure. Our DOT Interns are college and university graduates between the ages of 21 and 29. They are recruited from local universities and colleges in the communities where we work, and they all share a passion for change. Our Interns work with DOT for a total of 10 months. The first 3 weeks of the internship is dedicated to intensive online and face-to face training, where we equip everyone with the skills to deliver DOT programs – facilitation, coaching, mentoring, technology, and communication skills. We also do continuous training and professional development with our Interns throughout their 10-month internship to ensure that when they complete the program they have a full suite of workforce readiness skills. After their initial 3 weeks of training, DOT Interns start delivering our digital literacy, entrepreneurship, and tech-for-education programs in their own communities.

That is fantastic. Can you elaborate on the programs that the DOT Interns deliver?

DOT offers three economic and education programs: ReachUp!, StartUp!, and TeachUp!

  • Through ReachUp!, local young people (DOT Interns) deliver digital literacy and entrepreneurship training in communities that are developing, under stress, or in transition.
  • Building on the foundations of ReachUp!, the StartUp! program equips young university graduates with the skills to deliver business development and tech-for-entrepreneurship training to micro-business owners in communities that are developing, under stress, or in transition.
  • TeachUp! places young people who have recently graduated from education programs into classrooms, where they help teachers integrate technology into curriculum. The impact our programs have in communities is tremendous. We have found that 85% of our program participants feel that they have increased their confidence and skills with technology, and 70% are able increase their income thanks to what they’ve learned. At the same time, the Interns who deliver our programs benefit immensely: thanks to the workforce readiness skills we equip them with, 90% of DOT Interns find jobs, start new careers, or launch their own businesses after completing their internship. Those are big numbers – especially so when you consider that we’ve trained more than 4,000 young people as DOT Interns, and they in turn have impacted 800,000 people in their communities.
Where does DOT operate around the world?

We’re based out of Ottawa, but we deliver economic and education programs in 7 countries: Mexico, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and Lebanon. We also deliver services for our partners in China, Turkey, Angola and Brazil, and in 2014 DOT will be extending into South Africa and Morocco.

“Since we operate in so many countries, we also love Igloo’s multilingual capabilities. It’s awesome that users can select their language of choice, and translate their content on the fly.”

With DOT delivering core programming in 7 countries, how did you collaborate before?

We previously used an open source intranet powered by Plone. It had a very low adoption rate – only a handful of people used it. It was visually out of date and it lacked rich functionalities. It could get confusing and frustrating to navigate around the intranet looking for where certain pieces of information lived. Because we operate in so many different countries, it was also challenging for users to use an English-only system. Often people would just default to email.

But as you can imagine, it got complicated with documents. It became a difficult task to communicate internally around project management. So here we were with an unused intranet and an overloaded email inboxes – clearly not tools of choice. We also had an overworked, overwhelmed in-house technology team, so we decided to outsource our technology and focus on its use. This shifted our language from tech support to community development and management. Since our offices are located all over the world, we needed a place to connect virtually.

We also wanted the solution to be incredibly easy to use so our in-country teams could adopt and run with it very quickly. It turns out Igloo was the solution we were looking for – it met our needs exactly.

“Igloo was amazing in that they were able to map to our needs. Deployment was a quick and painless process. Since Igloo was so easy to use and customize, not only were we able to set up quickly, but we were also able to get everyone trained and up to speed in no time.”

That is great to hear Anne. Can you elaborate on your journey deploying Igloo?

Sure. DOT deployed Igloo in 2009. Our original requirements were for a very simple intranet and content management system that we could quickly and easily deploy to our country offices without a lot of time spent on training. Igloo was amazing in that they were able to map to our needs. Deployment was a quick and painless process. Since Igloo was so easy to use and customize, not only were we able to set up quickly, but we were also able to get everyone trained and up to speed in no time. Igloo’s scalability was also fantastic since it scaled with us. Within 2 years, we already had 6000 users.

Igloo has been invaluable to us as we have expanded. Since we operate in so many countries, we also love Igloo’s multilingual capabilities. While we mainly use English, we also use Spanish, French and Portuguese. It’s awesome that users can select their language of choice, and translate their content on the fly. And on top of that, everyone really loves it. It’s very easy to use. We now have a space for professional development and for networking opportunities.

That must be one active community then.

(Laughs) Yes! We have 7 country intranets, one global intranet, and what we call “The DOT Community” – a site that hosts our thousands of Interns. All together, we have about 6000 users. As a community manager, I’m actively involved in all of the communities.

Here’s a quick run-down: Our global intranet serves upper level management and global senior executives, and provides our staff from around the world a place to interact with each other. We then have 7 country-specific intranets, which are used and administered by our in-country staff and management teams. They’re primarily used for project and program management.

And finally – the DOT Community. I’m very proud of the DOT Community. It’s used by all DOT Interns, staff, and management, although Interns are the primary audience. The DOT Community is where Interns do all of their online learning and professional development, access program delivery materials, and it’s also where we host engagement activities like festivals, topical community-wide discussions, etc.

9 communities? Being a community manager, that must have been overwhelming for you. Did you deploy them all at the same time? Or was it a phased approach?

We rolled out with a phased approach, with the global intranet being the first we launched. Shortly after, we deployed some of our country intranets, including Kenya, Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Lebanon, and we officially launched the DOT Community in 2012.

While we could have had 9 spaces (or sub-communities) within a single larger community, we decided to deploy 9 separate communities and network them together. We made this decision because we wanted each of our country teams to have an autonomous community they could have full control over. It allows each country team to have a very robust social intranet where they can have work spaces for their own management, staff, HR, technology, and communications teams and completely customize everything to suit their individual needs.

The DOT Community in particular is an interesting use case. How many DOT Interns do you have each year?

In January 2014, we will launch our next phase of programming where we will have around 400 Interns delivering our programs around the world. In 10 months they will complete their internship and graduate to alumni, and we will bring on about 400 more.

As you can imagine, with this kind of program cycle the number of people using our communities grows quickly. Igloo has made managing our onboarding process very simple. Before Igloo, I would have to manually send out a lot of invitations and login details. With Igloo’s bulk upload, I can easily upload new members with their permission settings already in place and get them set up immediately.

Today, we have 6000 members in our community, about half of whom I would consider “active users”. Our users are a mix of DOT Interns (both current and alumni), staff, and management. I think everyone recognizes the value in this community. Thousands of very engaged and interested young people from all over the globe networked together is a powerful thing.

How have DOT Interns embraced the community?

They love it. The community is designed to look and feel engaging and simple, and even users with very little experience with online communities find it easy to use.

Upon log-in, DOT Interns are welcomed with a personalized homepage. From here, they can navigate around the community – view their main dashboards, visit their program delivery spaces, access Google Apps, visit the support center, and more. They can see what other DOT Interns are working on and participate in discussions with their peers. Even though our Interns are often delivering programs in locations that are at a distance from their country office, connecting with peers online makes them genuinely feel like they are a part of the team.

But the main attraction is the learning and the program delivery that takes place. From a learning perspective, Interns can access online courses and see any they have completed or have yet to take. They can complete a skills evaluation that will suggest professional development courses to them. From a program delivery perspective, they can go to their country space, find all of their program delivery materials, interact with their managers, and share their challenges and successes. Igloo is integral to our programs.

Happy to hear DOT Interns have embraced the community. Engagement tends to be a frequent issue for many organizations. With 6,000 members in 7 countries across 9 communities, how do you keep your members engaged?

Having an engagement strategy is important. There is a lot of value built in to Igloo and how we use it, but we also like to host fun activities every couple of months.

We hold writing contests, film festivals, and photo contests. We’ll have our community members vote for their favorite entries and in return we give away little prizes and awards. We also recognize our top commenters and our top bloggers. It’s fun for everyone since it allows all of our users to connect across borders, and from my perspective as a community manager events like these are a great way to get everyone to participate and engage. We also like to nominate a monthly community champion from every country. Rotating members through this role is a great way to cultivate a strong network of influencers.

Can you elaborate on the community champion role?

Sure. Each month, we nominate a DOT Intern from every country to be an active community member, or in this case, a community champion. In this role, they are responsible for proactively engaging with their fellow DOT Interns with content, sharing their experiences, posing questions and encouraging discussion. It encourages adoption of the community, but it also makes our DOT Interns feel important since their voice is being heard. Common topics that our members like to discuss are gender issues, strategies for getting other young people in their communities engaged, entrepreneurship, technology adoption, and more.

That is wonderful to hear. Gender issues are definitely a pressing subject in many countries where DOT operates.

Absolutely. DOT has a strong gender strategy, and gender is also at the forefront of our online engagement practices. Using Igloo’s social analytics, we found that many of our female Interns had a low online engagement rates – they weren’t actively participating as much as I would have hoped, and certainly not at the same rate as their male peers.

Because we were able to identify this, we embarked on a bit of a research mission to discover why women in our network weren’t engaging as much as men. We found that women moreso than men reported feeling uncomfortable voicing opinions or sharing on what was perceived as a “global stage.” They were less confident in their use of the Internet. There are a lot of social and cultural reasons behind that, so we opened the issue to our community and launched the DOT Women’s Network where we foster discussion and working groups on barriers women face when it comes to technology adoption, entrepreneurship, and more. It’s wonderful to see women in East Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America come together and work to find ways to make sure their voices are heard. One of our users described it as a “grassroots think tank” for women’s issues in the developing world, and I think that explains it very well!

Without Igloo’s social analytics, we would never have known or been able to address this issue.

Moving forward, what are you excited about with DOT’s future?

We’ve evolved in our use of the communities quite a bit – while we originally started with intranets that hosted all program staff and Interns with the goal of supporting program delivery, we’ve now broadened our use of Igloo to incorporate e-learning, professional development, and actually delivering parts of our programs through the community.

We are really looking forward to expanding our online learning environment. As you know, we currently offer online courses through Igloo which are focused on professional development for our Interns. But we are building out new tools that will allow us to expand our audience and open many of our valuable skills evaluation and e-learning tools to youth around the world.

“That is a great thing about Igloo – they’re always willing to help and say ‘hey, let’s work together.’ As a customer, it feels great to know our suggestions are always heard.”

That is interesting since Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC’s) are a huge trend in the learning space. Can you expand on how you offer online courses? How does Igloo surround the structured learning (online course material) with social tools? If so, do they work together?

Sure, we have a few components:

  • Learning Content Creation: We do this with a proprietary Learning Content Management System (LCMS) that allows our learning team to rapidly create and deploy courses and modules.
  • Learning Content Delivery: We do this using Moodle, an open-source e-learning platform that hosts all of our learners. It allows them to participate in courses from the LCMS, and it allows our facilitators to have oversight on their progress as learners.
  • Resource Center: This is an Igloo community we’ve customized to provide resources to the team members who create our learning content. It allows them to collect and curate inspiration and ideas. The Resource Center is also the entry point to our LCMS.
  • DOT Community: This is where our learners actually access their e-learning content. It’s our learner’s entry point to Moodle.

We have everything seamlessly pulled together using a single sign-on system, so an end user can move from piece to piece based on their permissions. Someone on our learning team who needs to put a course together can go to the Resources Center, share and gather ideas with the learning community there, and then create the actual course in our LCMS. When it’s done it goes through an approval system, and then is pushed into Moodle for delivery.

Students visit our community, where they can go to the learning area and take any online courses they have access to. Igloo helped us strategize and execute this idea, and they helped us integrate it seamlessly. That is a great thing about Igloo – they’re always willing to help and say “hey, let’s work together.” As a customer, it feels great to know our suggestions are always heard. I can go to support and get a response within 30 minutes, which is amazing. If ever I have a comment or question, the Igloo team is always willing to listen. I can’t explain how amazing it is to have our needs heard and responded to.