Using Technology to Fight Poverty

So when you think Compassion International, the first thing you think is “technology” right?

What?!? You don’t?

Me neither. When I think of Compassion, I think of the three wonderful children my wife and I sponsor. I think about the first time I met Ana Maria, our little girl from the Dominican Republic. I think about the thousands of professions of faith Compassion reports each quarter and the amazing leaders emerging from our Leadership Development Program. I think about impact. About lives changed. About the chance we all have to eliminate poverty in my lifetime.

So yeah, I’ll admit it, I don’t think “technology” when I think Compassion. Not at first, even though I work in Information Technology (IT).

And that makes sense. Compassion is about releasing children from poverty in Jesus’ name. The goal of Information Technology is to support that goal, not replace it. Compassion has always expressed a great commitment to using technology in ways that support our mission, and the IT organization has enabled Compassion to fulfill its mission in countless ways.

And while that will continue to be true for many years to come, technology today is about so much more than servers and software and applications built by IT shops. In my opinion, technology in the 21st century is about community. About giving people a global voice. About connecting people across the city and across the globe. About enabling people to experience life lived beyond their borders.

Community. Now that’s right up Compassion’s alley.

And what amazes and inspires me the most about modern technology is how it enables you to do amazing things for Compassion and other causes around the world.

I look at Facebook, where Roderick Pitts, a student from Tupelo, Miss., created a cause page for Compassion. As of today, that cause has nearly 27,000 members and has raised almost $2,700 for Compassion. The cost to Compassion was zero, because Roderick found a way to use technology to fight poverty.

I look at the Uganda Blogging trip, now drawing to a close. Fifteen popular bloggers given an opportunity to see our work firsthand. These 15 individuals were changed by the experience to be sure, but their posts, pictures and videos have resulted in a change for thousands of their readers as well. Many of their readers have sponsored a child. Many now see poverty in a new light. Many will join Compassion to stand up and fight, because these 15 individuals found a way to use technology to fight poverty.

Compassion is by no means alone. Programs like One Laptop per Child (OLPC), and sites like Freerice are not just raising our awareness of global poverty, they are doing something more. They are doing something about global poverty by providing you and me with opportunities to join the fight.

And that’s how I look at my job in Compassion IT: using technology to fight poverty.

It’s a theme I am passionate about and one I hope to visit often as a contributor to this blog. But I need your help. I want us to dialogue together about technology and poverty. I want to hear your ideas and experiences.

Basically, I am asking for feedback, either in the comments of this post, or on your own blogs. How do you see technology being used to fight poverty? What ideas do you have for how Compassion can use technology to fight poverty? How do you use technology in your mission?

It’s a great time to be at Compassion. I’m looking forward to our dialogue.

Brandon Satrom is the Enterprise Applications Architect for Compassion. He works in IT evaluating both new and emerging technologies and helping Compassion IT make the best use of existing technologies.

19 Comments |Add a comment

  1. Brandon Satrom June 9, 2008


    I gotta say, I love those ideas! As a sponsor, I would certainly make use of both.

    The biggest issue with the first idea is plain-old internet connectivity, especially in many of the churches we partner with. The good news, however, is that IT has been actively working for some time on ways we can enhance internet connectivity in many of the places we work. Obviously, we’re often still at the mercy of the open internet, but we do have a lot of brilliant people looking into ways we can extend technology (like in your example) to the broadest reaches of our ministry.

    Once we’ve done that, I think that your great ideas and others like them can become a reality.

    In the meantime, I’ve got your suggestions on my list. So thanks!

    – Brandon

  2. Andrzej Gandecki May 30, 2008

    Hello Kees,

    Gin Dobre from Poland!

    Yes, through God’s grace we have some sponsors from Poland. Thank you for your greetings.

    God bless you!

  3. Kees Boer May 30, 2008

    I was just rereading it. I can’t edit it any more, but the last paragraph should be the second paragraph.


  4. Kees Boer May 30, 2008

    I was thinking about an idea today for sometime in the future.

    What if we could have a video camera connected to a computer in the child’s country and a video camera in the sponsor’s country and the sponsor and child can visit each other through the internet. I know that nothing will replace the experience of actually meeting the child in person, but for some people this might be the best thing.

    It might even be something that a project could do. Or I have thought about an idea. What if one student, maybe an LDP student could send a letter to various sponsors, saying that he/she could take some digital pictures/videos of the child that the sponsor is sponsoring for say $20. It might take the LDP student 1 hour to do so per child, the sponsors might be excited to spend the additional $20, because it’d be a huge blessing to see these extra footage of the children and the pictures and the LDP student might be able to raise his own funds this way, which would give him/her more self confidence or if anything the ability to put another student through LDP. I know that a friend of mine went to visit some of my children and took videos and pictures and it meant so much to me and not only that, but also I felt, especially with the video that I really knew the child so much better.

    This might also be a good idea once many of these things become three dimensional, so it could be that the sponsor could see the child three dimensionally. Or am I thinking now too much of Star Wars IV… LOL!

    I’m excited to hear that there are sponsors in Poland. I’ve been on lots of ships from the Polish Ocean Line. Gin Dobre!!!



  5. Brandon Satrom April 23, 2008

    Yong: You’re welcome! And God bless to you as well!

  6. Yong Lee April 22, 2008


    Thank you for a thoughtful, kind and professional response. God bless you!

  7. Brandon Satrom April 21, 2008

    Hi Yong,

    You make an excellent point. We absolutely want to seize the low-hanging fruit as much and as often as possible. In fact, it’s something we’re always on the lookout for, both in IT and in each organizational unit.

    That being said, the idea of “low-hanging fruit” can be deceptive. Sometimes, changes that seem simple to implement can be quite difficult in reality due to hidden dependencies or downstream complexity. On the other hand, sometimes they are just that simple, but hadn’t yet been considered.

    To be honest, I’m not certain if Compassion’s ability to provide you with e-statements is simple or not, but I will promise you that I’ll look into it and get back to you.

    Thanks again for your comment and for reading!

  8. Yong Lee April 12, 2008

    We can talk about technology all you want, but why not seize the low-hanging fruit — like giving contributors the option to receive e-statements, rather than paper ones? It would reduce Compassion’s overhead costs and reduce waste.

    Even though I’ve signed up to have $$ deducted from my bank account, I still receive a monthly statement with a return envelope that I have absolutely no use for.

    I asked about this a couple of years ago, and got an email with defensive-sounding excuses. Now that we’re well into the 21st century, couldn’t an international entity like Compassion implement something that my health club down the street is doing?

  9. Andrzej Gandecki March 4, 2008

    Thanks, Brandon, it’s good to know people are thinking in the same direction.

  10. Brandon Satrom March 3, 2008


    Thanks again for the follow-up, and for taking the time to think the process through. I really appreciate your suggestions and will be sure to send them along to some individuals involved in the letter-writing process.

    Some steps in the process you suggest are already in place, while others are being actively evaluated as we speak. To be sure, Compassion is very interested in using the internet, and other technologies, to speed up our processes and truly enhance the connection between sponsor and child, without either detracting from the power of handwritten communication, or compromising the integrity of the children we serve.

    Again, these are great suggestions. I, for one, would love to hear from my child sooner electronically, even if the physical letter (which usually includes wonderful illustrations) arrives a few weeks later.

    I will be sure to capture your suggestions and forward them along to the appropriate individuals.



  11. Andrzej Gandecki February 27, 2008

    Dear Brandon,

    Thanks very much for the explanation. Let me add some more details of my thinking.

    Maybe we could try to set up an additional, fast communication channel with sponsored children, using the Internet as much as possible. This is a basic idea of how the whole process could work:

    1. A sponsor writes a letter online.
    2. The letter goes online to Compassion Headquarters for quality check.
    3. The letter is send online to the national headquarter in the sponsored child’s country. (This should speed up the whole process significantly and probably save some money. Most of the headquarters probably have an adequate Internet connection for receiveing emails, am I right?)
    4. The letter is translated and checked for appropriatness in the country office, preferable without even printing it out. The translation is added to the original letter, using the country’s script if necessary.
    5. The letters are send online to the Child Development Centers that have an adequate Internet connection, or printed out and mailed the usual way to those that do not have it (yet).
    6. The letter is printed out (preferably for the first and only time) and given to the child.

    The process for child’s letter could look like this:

    1. The child writes a letter, using a computer if possible.
    2. The letter is transfered to a computer file at the Child Development Center, or mailed the usual way to the country office and keyed to the computer here, along with translation.
    3. The letter is emailed to the sponsor (without even going to the USA Headquarters, if possible – or it may travel electronically via the Headquarters, if this is necessary).

    What do you think? What weak points do you see in the process? Maybe we could find some solutions. One country after another could be added to the system, as the technology there improves.

    I know this method has some disadventages, like not being able to send paper items, but we could introduce it just as an additonal option for the present system, not as a replacement for it.

    God bless you!

    Andrzej Gandecki

  12. Brandon Satrom February 25, 2008


    Thanks for your feedback. As a Compassion sponsor myself, I can understand how writing our children seems slow in today’s hyper-connected world. Where
    technology can help, Compassion is always looking for ways to not only speed up our ability to connect sponsors with their children, but also enhance and
    enrich those experiences. The online letter writing form is a great example of using technology to speed up that process in an easy way.

    However, technology can only go so far to speed up our communications to and from the developing world. Factors such as translation and quality checks to international shipping and the volume of letters in each country add time to the process, but are vital steps to ensure that the letters reach you and your sponsored child.

    Thanks again for your feedback Andrzej! I hope this response was helpful. If not, drop me another comment, I’d be happy to dialogue about this subject
    some more.



  13. Andrzej Gandecki February 22, 2008

    Dear Brandon,

    Could you implement a way to use technology for fast communication with sponsored children? I’m a Compassion sponsor living in Poland, Europe. A letter from my child may take more than two months to get to me. Even thou I use the online letter writing option of your website, the total letter exchange time takes months. Could you use your technology to speed it up?

  14. Brandon Satrom February 20, 2008

    Hi Kasey,

    I sent you an email at the address you provided so that I can get a beter idea of what you are looking for. Let me know if you don’t receive it.

  15. Kasey Ewing February 20, 2008

    I would like to add a page like the facebook page to my blog to help earn money and raise support. However, I am technically challenged. Do you know how. All I know is how to post on the blog. Any suggestions?

  16. Brandon Satrom February 19, 2008


    That’s wonderful… on both counts!

  17. Brandon Satrom February 19, 2008

    Llama Momma,

    That’s awesome to hear that experiencing the trip through the bloggers added depth and reality to your own sponsorship experience! As a longtime Compassion sponsor and employee for over three years, it added a level of depth for me as well.

    You make a great point as well when you say “Reading Sophie and Shannon’s blogs were like sitting down with a friend who was there.” That’s exactly why I think so much about technology today is actually about community. The trip was an opportunity for you to see Uganda through the eyes of people we “know” and people we trust.

    I think that’s pretty powerful.

  18. Michiel February 19, 2008

    Same here! I’m living in the Netherlands and we’re sponsoring a almost 16-year old boy and through this blogging trip we decided to sponsor an second child!

    We’re even signing up as translators…


  19. Llama Momma February 19, 2008

    As a longtime supporter of Compassion, I will say that the blogging trip made it real to me. Reading Sophie and Shannon’s blogs were like sitting down with a friend who was there. It had an impact. It put a face to the problem of poverty and made it more real somehow.

    I forget in my day-to-day life that it’s not just a check every month — it’s a child’s life.

    I remember now.

Add a Comment

Read the ground rules for comments.