He wanted to understand how a Team Rubicon operation worked on the ground and said he’s only in the field with nonprofits that Microsoft supports a few times a year. So, on April 16, Microsoft’s General Manager of Tech for Social Impact, Justin Spelhaug, donned a grey shirt in Bellevue, Neb., during Operation Heartlander.
“Team Rubicon is emblematic of where we are trying to show the power of technology and how it can revolutionize how a nonprofit operates,” Spelhaug said, before heading out with Raj Kamachee, TR’s Chief Information Officer, to do damage assessments for the afternoon. The following day they joined a team for muck outs and demolition work on flooded homes.
“Team Rubicon’s leadership is willing to push the envelope, to rip it down and redo it if it isn’t working well,” Spelhaug said. “That’s why we invested.” And invest they did. In spring 2018, Microsoft Philanthropic gifted TR $1.8 million, which included in-kind contributions of technology, services and training.
At the time of Microsoft Philanthropic’s gift, TR’s CEO Jake Wood said, “We were just playing software whack-a-mole where one thing would pop up and we’d solve it, but we wound up with these disparate software platforms.” He continued, “Microsoft really challenged us to think about what it would take to convert to an enterprise solution that would rival a Fortune 500 company, which organizations our size typically don’t have the ability to think that big and that boldly about.” TR’s CIO’s office has been working on that ever since and has rolled out a completely redesigned volunteer management system.
Microsoft Tech for Social Impact works with four million organizations worldwide, including with the United Nations’ Center for Global Aid. The business model is focused on doing social good, and all of its profits from technology sales are reinvested back into philanthropy. Their priorities are “digital inclusion” and to “liberate data inside of the nonprofit and apply it to the nonprofit’s mission by helping them engage more effectively with donors, volunteers and recipients.”
Part of his reason for deploying with TR for approximately 36 hours, Spelhaug said, was “to learn about motivations: why people volunteer, what creates the TR culture and to understand the people TR is serving.”
After his first half-day in the field, Spelhaug reported that “the damage was unbelievable” and that he was moved by how people teared up when TR showed up at their houses. He was surprised by how many folks whom TR serves “have no savings, insurance, or back-up.” He likened the assessment process, during which homeowners and TR usually meet for the first time, to “being a social worker” because it involves building a relationship and trust.
Spelhaug used firsthand TR’s Palantine handheld in the field, phone-based electronic system of recording the work that needs to get done at a residence. He wondered if Microsoft could help improve TR’s current system, which he thought should be more intuitive and allow users to upload photos or to make calls. “All innovation comes from the field,” he said. “Spending time in the field allows me to see the inefficiencies and the ways things need to be more flexible.”