At a glance

When the pandemic hit, CARE created the Women Respond program to provide humanitarian relief around the world. Slalom and Microsoft partnered to develop a modern data solution that helps the organization deliver exactly what’s needed to those who need it most.

What we did

  • Azure Data Warehouse
  • Azure Synapse
  • Data and analytics
  • Knowledge transfer
  • Language translation
  • Power Apps
  • Power Automate
  • Power BI
  • Reporting visualization

Showing the world what happens when we lift up women and girls

The scope of CARE’s humanitarian work is staggering: 100 countries, 1,300 programs, 90 million people. With a mission to save lives, defeat poverty, and achieve social justice, the organization provides women and girls with healthcare, advocacy, food, water, shelter, hygiene, and more. CARE’s work recognizes that these groups are differently and disproportionately impacted by any crisis—whether it’s a natural disaster or a military conflict.

COVID-19 added yet another layer of complexity to women’s situations. Not only were they losing lives and livelihoods, they were losing rights and experiencing increased domestic violence. CARE created the Women Respond initiative to provide support and learn how women are leading through crisis—but in order to do it effectively, the organization needed data.

With no modern precedent for the pandemic, there was nowhere to turn for information. CARE conducted surveys on the ground, interviewing people in displacement camps, dense urban areas, and rural villages. Outreach took place via automated phone system, texts, tablets, and paper notebooks. Each member country tailored its questions to specific communities, and responses came back in so many languages and formats they were impossible to compare or aggregate.

“The world was responding with soap and face masks and social distancing, but the women we spoke to were telling us they couldn’t eat or feed their kids. They couldn’t possibly quarantine, so listening to these women was very different than listening to ourselves,” says Emily Janoch, director for knowledge management and learning at CARE.

While the program had often provided aid at an individual or project level in the past, the widespread devastation of the pandemic meant that CARE had to respond on a massive scale—quickly. CARE needed modern data and analytics capabilities to provide global insights, so it invited Slalom and Microsoft to join the effort.

CARE can now respond faster with the humanitarian efforts that will have the most impact.

A common goal for the common good

Prior to COVID-19, CARE had explored creating a centralized data store that would alleviate the manual, time-intensive process of entering and reviewing data in spreadsheets. The pandemic lent a new urgency to the initiative, but financing was the first hurdle. As a charitable organization, CARE needed partnerships.

Microsoft provided licenses through its Tech for Social Impact program. Next, CARE needed data and analytics engineers. “Slalom has always been a key partner of Microsoft, and because I’d worked with the team and seen that expertise in the past, I felt very comfortable with Slalom’s understanding of data design, architecture, user experience, and capability building,” says Michelle Routh, former chief information officer at CARE.

Slalom assessed the requirements and use cases and established the foundational vision for a modern data architecture. We then presented the solution back to Microsoft, which, along with Slalom, made additional investments. “One of our Slalom core values is to build and shape a better future,” says Lauren Stark, a senior director at Slalom. “It’s been a fulfilling experience to partner with Microsoft in service of CARE to enable a better future for communities of women and children around the world.“

mother helping child with school
young woman smiling

A worldwide workshop

During the three-week discovery process, a Slalom data and analytics lead conducted 14 interviews with 21 stakeholders in 13 countries across 11 time zones. Sessions were facilitated in French by a Slalom team member in Canada. Eight unique audiences were defined, from CARE’s central office to its field teams and the agencies that affect policy change. We asked users how, why, and what types of surveys were being conducted, what they were trying to achieve, and how best to present the data to facilitate their goals. Informed by those conversations, we designed a dashboard to layer in the data by actions, the business insights that enable those actions, and the data that drives the insights.

As more surveys came in, the team saw that both the data and the method of entry varied tremendously. Flexibility became a top priority, and the solution required a complex business logic that could accommodate a high degree of customization. Our goal was to create and streamline survey templates that would automate the incoming data, allowing CARE to better understand which resources were needed and where.

Slalom jump-started our effort, establishing the much-needed capabilities we needed going forward.

A build for a brighter future

The team decided that the Microsoft Power Platform suite of tools would allow them not to only build very quickly, but develop a solution that could be easily managed by CARE’s relatively small team. “Slalom jump-started our effort, establishing the much-needed capabilities we needed going forward,” says Cherian Varghese, director of data science and analytics at CARE.

Slalom specialists from all over the country developed the solution: a data engineer and a Power BI consultant from Atlanta, a Power Apps expert from Seattle, and an Azure expert from New York. We leveraged Power Apps to upload survey data and map responses to impacts, actions, and needs. The standardized data could then be aggregated, compared, and analyzed to discover the communities where help could make the most difference. We used Power Automate, Azure Data Factory, and Azure Synapse to load, process, and store the data, and then built an intuitive dashboard in Power BI to turn that data into actionable information.

Because the logic needed to map both numerical and narrative survey answers, data modeling was a challenge. For example, different versions of the same questions and answers might look like this:

  • How have you been impacted by COVID-19? I had to start homeschooling my kids.
  • Are you homeschooling kids between ages A) 1-5, B) 6-9, or C) 10-15? B
  • Select 0 if you are homeschooling your kids. 0

Working closely and iteratively with CARE, we reviewed the data, ensured maps uploaded correctly, adjusted the business logic when numbers didn’t add up as expected, and accounted for different inputs. To ensure long-term success, Slalom advised CARE’s internal team on new hires and spent time on knowledge transfer to better enable them to support the system. “Slalom stands by our products. Even once we’ve handed over the solution, I’m still there to answer questions and continue to own this project for you. I’m not off the clock just because the build is complete,” says Adrian So, a data and analytics director at Slalom.

Data comes full circle

The Women Respond survey data tells a powerful story about how women and girls are impacted by COVID-19. Using an intuitive, interactive dashboard, the CARE team can now clearly see which communities are experiencing the greatest needs. The agency shares this dashboard with other agencies and potential donors to show in a visual, visceral way exactly how their donations are used to meet those needs. Thanks to these efficiencies, teams can quickly compare impacts, focus conversations, and mobilize aid.

The solution is a first step on a change journey as CARE becomes more data-driven—especially those teams that have the power to take action quickly. In the next phase of our partnership, we’ll put the solution’s flexibility to good use by adapting it for other programs. Advanced solutions, including translation capabilities, will further empower the organization. “We’re so fortunate that because of Slalom’s great work, we’ve also developed a deep confidence from Microsoft in our ability to deliver, launch, and support this modern data architecture,” says Routh.

“This project just resonated so deeply with me in terms of mitigating COVID-19 impacts and empowering women, working with stakeholders to understand their needs—it all aligned with my passions, both personally and professionally,” says Crystal Meyers, a senior delivery principal at Slalom.

CARE’s data also tells inspiring stories, many of which are captured in the She Told Us So report. Women have used the pandemic as a motivator for leadership, supporting each other through savings groups and shared childcare. In fact, by the time CARE was able to communicate with one community to share safety measures, women had already negotiated with local power companies to set up handwashing stations all over their hometown—further proof of what happens when the world lifts up women and girls.

Is your organization ready to do more with data?