Using Innovation to Address the Plight of Marginalized People

Editor’s note: This article is a part of our series, Conversations with CIOs, which features thought leadership from technology leaders across the United States.  Read another recent article from this series featuring Rusty Kennington, CIO of Henry Company. 


 

On a normal day, you might find Chief Information Officer at Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Karl Lowe, meeting with teams to figure out how to better use technology to tackle unusual problems, such as efficiently delivering 85 million bed nets to protect families in Africa from malaria, or getting handheld technology into the hands of field workers in some of the most remote corners of Nigeria. 

This CIO’s job is mission-critical.

For some, it may be difficult to see the immediate outcome of their actions and accomplishments at work; small tasks over a long period of time can translate to big wins–but many of which may be unclear in the short term.  But for Lowe the impact of his work is clear.  His efforts have a direct effect on some of the most marginalized communities around the world.  Lowe works to support CRS’ global mission through digital innovation, allowing the organization to more effectively and efficiently serve 127.3M people around the world.

Operating in more than 100 different countries, with nearly 7000 employees, Catholic Relief Services is a humanitarian and development organization that works alongside local partners and those it serves to create resilient communities that can lead their own development and address injustices like poverty, disease, and hunger. CRS provides this support based on a need, not a creed. 

Lowe, who has worked with CRS for nearly five years, has extensive experience working in technology and innovation in the for-profit world in both the United States and Europe before pivoting to work for a non-profit organization.

“When you work in the for-profit world, information is safeguarded and proprietary,” says Lowe, “but when you work in the nonprofit world, the focus shifts.  We give away intellectual property so that we can work together with other organizations.  We’re focused on collaborating to ensure the people on the ground can get the support they need in a much more consistent way.”

Most recently, Lowe helped CRS to launch an enterprise resource planning system aimed at automating all the organization’s processes.  From human resources to budgeting and planning to managing the supply chain, the system ensures that data can be consistently collected and tracked across the 100 different countries where the organization is present.

“If we can build the capacity to better use technology and data, it will help the organization to make more informed decisions at every level,” says Lowe. 

From helping to reduce the cases of malaria in Nigeria, where the risk of transmission is 97%, to distributing $200 million worth of emergency food to people in Ethiopia, Lowe is challenged every day to figure out how to drive agency-wide improvements using digital technologies.

“My mission in the for-profit world used to be focused solely on accomplishing challenges using my head.  But now my mission combines both my head and my heart to determine how to improve every day,” says Lowe.

At CRS, Lowe’s primary focus is to help the organization with its fundraising efforts, reduce costs and risks, and strengthen the capabilities of staff and partners. He also travels to meet team members in the field to better understand the unique challenges presented by each locale and how to adapt to them.

“We’re in the business of service to others and try to engage others who share in our mission. We may be physically distanced because of COVID-19 but we are in it for the long-haul.”

Catholic Relief Services is the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. The agency alleviates suffering and provides assistance to people in need in more than 100 countries, without regard to race, religion or nationality. To learn more about how you can support the mission of CRS, visit crs.org/ways-to-give. 

SMC² CEO Dr. Patricia Connolly was honored to meet Karl Lowe and CRS at Gartner’s CIO Symposium.  “It didn’t take long to determine that serving others was a common personal mission. SMC² supports CRS and is looking forward to a long partnership in serving others.”  #loveyourneighbor

 

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