Interview with Michael Ghosoub from Caritas Lebanon
This article contains a transcribe of a recent interview of Mr. Michael Ghosoub, Information Management Officer at Caritas Lebanon.
During the interview, Michael described the crucial role played by Caritas in Lebanon and how ActivityInfo is helping them assessing their activities and reporting regularly to their donors. Caritas needs a reliable IM system to be able to reach no less than 400.000 beneficiaries each years.
Michael helped us to understand how ActivityInfo is used within Caritas and draw a picture of what is needed to benefit best from ActivityInfo. He explained the internal structure involved around the platform and how he trained new hire or how he does his reports. Thanks to ActivityInfo, it only takes Michael minutes to create a report instead of hours before AI was used.
With so much enthusiasm resulting from ActivityInfo, Michael ended our interview saying; "I love AI. It’s a new IM world, without boundaries."
What is Caritas worldwide?
Operating in 200 countries and territories, Caritas Internationalis, founded in Rome in 1951, is the mother company. This is the largest humanitarian organization in the world with 165 daughters companies.
What is Caritas Lebanon doing?
Founded in 1972 to serve the poorest without any discrimination, Caritas Lebanon (CL) assists unconditionally the most vulnerable people regardless of their political, religious or ethnic background. CL provides different services such as: social programs, emergency programs, psycho-social support, recreational activities, health care services, peace building activities, protection programs, education activities...
How many people work for Caritas Lebanon?
Caritas Lebanon has 700 employees and works with over 4.000 volunteers, making it the largest operating NGO in Lebanon.
How many beneficiaries do you help each year?
Each year, CL helps more than 400.000 beneficiaries through the UNICEF project only (education and protection activities), covering all public schools and thousands of families across Lebanon. Tens of thousands of beneficiaries are being assisted in other projects too.
How are you managing your projects? Do you manage humanitarian project on your own or do you work with other organizations?
Caritas Lebanon mainly works in partnership with UN agencies such as UNICEF, UNHCR and UNRWA and other international NGOs and donors. CL is working on about 38 different projects with all the above donors. CL is the exclusive partner for UNICEF in the implementation of national activities in formal and non-formal education across the country.
Can you explain what your job role is? What do you do within Caritas?
I am an IMO and I am working on the UNICEF project, I;
- design forms for the databases,
- create macro-excel templates,
- perform data compilation & integration,
- do data cleaning & distillation,
- analyze data to share with departments,
- Report to AI and different donors.
How do you do your work? What kind of tools do you need to perform in your work or where do you find the information you need in order to create your reports?
Most of the data I receive in order to do my analysis and create my reports are coming from the field (Caritas regional centers). In brief, the collected data are:
- entered in our databases,
- exported to excel worksheet,
- analyzed and segregated,
- Sent to different departments and donors.
Why do you use AI?
AI is used as the reporting tool for our donors. AI offers a unified platform allowing reporting in real time. As it is an online tool, the donors can access AI at any time and see the figures straight away.
How do you work with AI? I suppose you have different forms that need to be filled in AI? Since you are not the one doing the data entry, this means you work with the data already filled in AI?
Before the final reporting to AI, the collected worksheets are to be processed into an IM system. A good IM platform needs a cleaning process;
- standardization of the data,
- cleaning and archiving data,
- check duplicated data,
- integration, automation and data enrichment
- Processing, validating, analyzing & reporting data (AI falls into the 5th step).
How many forms do you have in ActivityInfo?
I report using 4 different forms, as I work on Unicef education project for 4 different activities:
- school transportation activity,
- outreach & assessment activity,
- school supplies delivery activity,
- Child protection activity.
With the information you received through these forms, do you work with the reporting capabilities in AI to do your analysis?
I use all the reporting capabilities of AI.
What kind of reporting/reports do you do?
I report using charts, pivot tables and geographic maps, depending on the requests of the Project Manager, the education team, the different departments and the donors.
When you need to work with the reporting capabilities of AI, do you find it easy?
I find AI’s reports easy to use. If deeper analysis is required I will export the data into an excel file and do further analysis there.
Why did you or Caritas start using AI?
At the beginning, the main target was to report to UNICEF, UNHCR and other donors.
What are you trying to achieve using AI?
I report all the Caritas activities & figures as part of the Unicef project implementation.
Your main goal is to report your activities to your donors?
Yes, that was at the beginning. But we are using AI for other things nowadays.
What are the other reasons you are using AI now?
AI is also used as our reference to the old figures & previous reports. We are using it as an archiving system for our data too.
What if you didn’t have AI, what would be the consequences? Does AI saves your time? How would you do your work without AI?
Before AI, Caritas was using excel sheets and documents which was a very complex and difficult process:
- each of our different centers had its own layouts and tables,
- these excel sheets and documents needed to be compiled by the IMO in master files to be shared with the donors without being sure they would accept the layout of the master sheets,
- the IMOs were never sure also whether these shared files (from centers) were the newest, latest updated or same versions.
It would be a mess without AI. All our figures are there. AI has the benefits to provide a uniformed platform which is always available, online and in real time.
If you can estimate it, how much time are you saving with AI?
Thanks to AI, we are saving A LOT of time. It only takes me a few minutes to publish a report. Without AI it would take hours.
How many of your colleagues are also using AI?
15 employees of Caritas Lebanon are working with ActivityInfo. We have 2 Focal Points; one for the UNICEF funded projects and one for the UNHCR funded projects. I am the focal point for the UNICEF project.
How do you do when you have a newcomer? How do you do the training?
Caritas gets a mass training from UNHCR and UNICEF at the beginning of each year (January). These trainings are provided to the AI trainers who will then train the new comers and other colleagues whenever needed at work.
How long does it take you to train the newcomers?
I have a well-defined structure of training the newcomers: Somebody who is experienced with IM will need 2 hours to get a full training. A new comer without IM background will take longer, maybe some 4 hours.
Are the newcomers asked to create forms and databases or do they only do data entry?
It depends on their job and position. Usually they only do data entry for their activities’ figures.
Which topics do you cover in your training?
For all newcomers with or without experience, I will divide the training in 3 categories;
- the dashboard section, that is essential for monitoring all activities,
- the data entry section, where I focus most of my time and attention. Deep information is provided about the indicators, how they are grouped under the outcomes, the different levels of reporting, with respect to the logframe, and how & where to report each month,
- the reports section’s functionalities.
Can you refer to something that you were not able to do without AI? From your experience, if you wouldn’t have AI, is there something you are doing today that you wouldn’t be able to do without AI?
- We would have never reported systematically, such as site level, governorate and national levels.
- We wouldn’t benefit from the following services: available, sharable, sustainable (cloud database 24/7).
How is that essential for you?
This is crucial for me as I can report to our donors and partners anytime, anywhere and generate reports within minutes.
What kind of future do you foreseen for AI within your organization or within Lebanon?
Within Caritas, AI could be also used for our case management.
Within Lebanon, we can introduce AI to the governmental organizations.
Do you have a 1 sentence customer testimony about AI?
I really enjoy working with AI. A big thanks to the ActivityInfo team for providing such a great service.
Anything else you would like to add?
I love AI. It’s a new IM world, without boundaries.
Abbreviations used in this article:
- AI = ActivityInfo
- CL = Caritas Lebanon
- IMO = Information Management Officer
- IM = Information management