A View from the Engine Room

Tanuja Pandit shares an update from the engine room of the Start Network.


Time to read: 4 minutes


I returned to the office on 5th January refreshed, energised and simultaneously daunted and excited by the challenges ahead.  On 6th January our operations kicked off with an alert for the floods in Sri Lanka.   By Friday 9th January, day 5 for our new Start Fund Officer,  we had disbursed £266K towards three projects in Sri Lanka.  With  Annemarie Poorterman on board we are now up to our complement of two Start Fund Officers to cope with the five-fold increase in the disbursement pot this year and both she and Kat Reichel rose to the challenge magnificently.  I am impressed that the Allocation Committee Members are keen to tackle at least 70% of the forthcoming alerts themselves in addition to all their other duties.  With this level of commitment we have great confidence that we will succeed in our mission to accelerate humanitarian crisis response.

This year is going to be very much about building the infrastructure for an independent Start Network.  Save the Children UK have been generous and accommodating hosts, supporting us with sound legal and financial advice besides offering us the physical space to operate in, and with a number of our staff already working from locations outside London we need to make virtual working a reality as soon as possible.

In his New Year message Sean talked about an exciting opportunity to partner with Box, the Silicon Valley technology company.  We will be working with them to migrate our data to the cloud and to design our global systems.   We continue to be challenged by terminology, is it a platform? a dashboard?  an interface? and our sometimes breathless aspirations to bring various exciting applications on board.  The fact is there are a lot of competing apps out there, none of which will be perfect, nor will we have the resources to bespoke them.  A few months ago we unleashed a couple of external experts to help us get a grip on our information systems requirements and we are making steady progress.  We will be talking a lot more about this work as a number of these solutions can only succeed if we make them happen together.

We are now advance testing a much needed Customer Relationship Management system called Insightly and are migrating our contacts and project management on to it.  It is a cloud-based software application and sits well with our virtual working plans.  We will use Insightly as part of a focused engagement plan, to keep up with key stakeholders and maintain a record of our conversations for effective follow-ups. The system incorporates state of the art encryption to ensure data security

We will be bringing on new donors and members this year and have already received four member applications ahead of the 15th January deadline.    A process for new member due diligence will be put to the Board at our meeting on 29 January.

Undocking from Save the Children means we must further professionalise our services to give our donors the confidence that we are a sound and well run organisation.  This will include developing and documenting policies and procedures on everything from risk management at project level to crisis risk management, new member and donor due diligence, and internal control processes for budgeting, expenses and so on.  This is not a blank sheet as we start with the wealth of experience in all our Member organisations.  At the same we must keep it light touch so that we can be highly responsive and cost efficient.

So this year will be about building that infrastructure, growing the Start Fund, delivering the 8 Start Build projects, innovating in the Anticipation and humanitarian financing space, establishing Start Beta and testing the idea of a market-place for online humanitarian co-ordination.  Above all, we must measure, measure, measure more effectively, and this is where creative solutions supported by mobile technology will help us to make a step change.

We will focus on deepening our relationships with existing and new donors and partners.  We will seek them out and we will collectively engage with them on this exciting agenda to reimagine the delivery of humanitarian response.    The potential the Start Network offers for improved efficiency and effectiveness of humanitarian action continues to be attractive to our partners so there is a good base to build on.

We are also excited to have new independent Board members joining us soon. We expect they will put us through our paces and we will work hard to deliver to the standards of rigour and scrutiny that they will rightly demand from us.

The enthusiasm and energy to realise the principles of the Declaration of Intent are visible in the interactions between the Start Network team and Member agencies.  Our diversification plans will be realised with your support and that of our members' in-country partners.

The only limitation will be our imagination.

The engine room calls…….