MANILA, MAY 9, 2006
 (STAR) By Ann Corvera - With the click of a mouse, information is readily available on which corner of the world suffers from poor living conditions. This is the humanitarian age where technology, too, plays a vital role in keeping track of the progress of every effort to uplift the lives of those left behind by the fast-paced modern world.

Common communications tools like cellphones and e-mail speed up the philanthropic process. But in measuring the success of humanitarian efforts, a more organized and target-specific approach is needed.

Plan Philippines, for its part, has adopted a software which the United Nations’ Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is utilizing to monitor the progress of programs geared toward the Millennium Development Goals.

A database system called DevInfo results in "responsive decision-making" for Plan Philippines, said its program unit manager, Rodel Bontuyan, citing the availability of the database for each of Plan Philippines’ projects centered on child development.

DevInfo provides indicators, time periods and geographic areas to monitor human development projects.

Pointing to a map of the Philippines on their office wall, Bontuyan said DevInfo allows them to readily identify, for instance, which areas in the country have a high mortality rate for children under five years old or where low birth registration continues to be a problem.

"Then you can readily analyze what can be done to help address the issues," Bontuyan told NetWorks in an interview at the Philippine headquarters of the international non-government organization in Makati City.

The National Economic Development Authority also uses this software, especially in areas where UNICEF operates, Bontuyan said.

Dong Waña, sponsorships and grants support manager of Plan Philippines, said the government could improve the monitoring of agencies addressing the problems of poor communities if it institutionalizes this software.

Plan Philippines carries out its programs through a child-centered community development (CCCD) approach that promotes the participation of children, their families and communities in the development process.

Sustainability is the key, which explains why Plan Philippines pursues lasting improvements in the quality of life of deprived children using a "roadmap" to build "child-friendly" communities.

To do this, Plan Philippines uses the Results-Based Management (RBM) system alongside DevInfo, inputting indicators, program strategies and the status of individual projects.

Manuel Madamba, a research specialist of Plan Philippines, cited the "flexibility" of the DevInfo software which he said could be "tailor-fitted" to the "specific indicators" of each of their programs.

As such, Plan Philippines can create its own template to monitor the progress of its "roadmap" from the "phase-in" period when it establishes a participatory relationship with a target community, to the "mid-phase" when joint activities are facilitated, and finally to the "phase-out" period when the community fully determines and facilitates its own development.

Based on data from its RBM system, Plan Philippines has extended direct technical and financial assistance and extension services to 452 communities in 45 municipalities in nine of the country’s poorest provinces.

Under its ChildLive program which aims to strengthen household economic security, Plan Philippines last year trained 7,226 rural producers and processors in agricultural, fishery and forestry livelihood programs, while 2,483 others were taught skills in trade and enterprise management.

Equally significant is Plan Philippines’ ChildHealth initiative which resulted in a 25-percent reduction in childhood mortality cases, thanks to its partnerships with relevant entities. Also, Plan Philippines, in its 2005 annual report, cited a 25-percent increase in the number of local health centers certified by the health department.

In designing programs and monitoring their progress, Bontuyan said they use the PPM or program and project module. "We get to track the progress of the projects but the PPM is used on the level of provincial units for Plan’s monitoring," he said.

"PPM supports our planning and monitoring of projects. The system can track the projects’ expenditures, actual output deliveries and actual beneficiaries," Madamba added.

Plan Philippines was established in 1961 upon the invitation of Carlos P. Romulo, then the president of the Fourth Session of the United Nations General Assembly.

Plan, which operates in 45 developing countries, derive its financial resources from sponsors in 16 developed nations.

In managing its resources, Plan Philippines utilizes the ES4 corporate system, an internal system for the listings of all Plan-sponsored children, Bontuyan said.

It also makes use of other software to keep track of its budgets and expenditures.

In reporting the status of their programs, Plan Philippines’ communications coordinator Cathy Seco said they feed the data to Plan International’s regional office in Bangkok which, in turn, forward them to their international headquarters in the United Kingdom.

As Plan Philippines expands its program areas, it realizes the need to better align its CCCD approach not only with non-corporate initiatives but also with corporate elements such as sponsorships and communications.

As with other advocacies, technology can help the fight against the complex issue of poverty. At the very least, if developing nations can’t catch up with its rapid advancement, technology will remain for humanitarian groups like Plan Philippines a vital tool to respond to the evolving needs of the times.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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