“When we built the Back-to-School App, we wanted one place to store all of the information about the families, and one place to store all of the information about the students, and we wanted to make sure there were no mistakes,” shared Jason Wilson, Director of Data and Marketing.  As Jason glanced across the table, he received an affirming smile from Naseer, an Iraqi staff member who works on data, IT, and visual communication at CRP and created the Back-to-School App. With Naseer prompting, both men proceeded to open their laptops and log into the App that has streamlined the distribution of back to school supplies at CRP.

Each year, we assist hundreds of families in sending their children back to school. Back-to-School vouchers provide children with necessary school supplies like backpacks, uniforms, and textbooks, all of which are often financially inaccessible to refugee families. We also grant financial assistance for school registration fees if needed. Back-to-school items are tailored to each child. School uniforms correspond to both age and gender. We offer younger kids backpacks in bright tones with cartoon characters, and muted hues without graphics for teens. Of course, we provide textbooks and supplies according to grade level.

Naseer (left) and Jason (right) working collaboratively.

Staff members access the Back-to-School App on tablets during registration. Pairing every child with the correct school supplies requires a considerable amount of detailed information. We need to know the age, grade, gender, and even country of origin for more than  1000 children and their families. Yet in previous years, this massive sum of data existed in solely in stacks of paper. “We found that we were doing a lot of extra work just to make sure that we were getting all the right families, that we weren’t missing any children, and that the data was accurate,” Jason recalled.

Naseer then turned his computer screen to reveal a clean online form that represents the first step in replacing the piles of paperwork. The form prompts parents to provide their family size, UNHCR number, head of household, neighborhood, and phone number. Once that information is received, the form allows parents to input information for each of their children. The database will then compile both the family and child-specific information into one neat file. Since the database itself is held within a downloadable App, volunteer staff running registration can access it from any tablet at any time.

The introduction of the App made this year’s registration more trouble-free than it has ever been. “It went very smoothly, it was very easy,” shared Education Specialist Karam, who helped administer registration. “The process of developing the app was very collaborative. Naseer asked for our feedback about exactly what to include based upon what is important for back to school and for CRP in general.”

As Karam and the rest of the registration team gathered information from families in one office, the App sent the data right to Naseer and Jason’s computers in an adjacent room. They were able to watch the numbers come in live, organize them into charts immediately, and compose customized vouchers that list the specific needs of each family, such as uniform sizes. Families will be able to bring their vouchers directly to the distributor in exchange for supplies that reflect the information they’ve provided.

The success of the App in practice already has Naseer and Jason looking towards the years to come. “The great thing is that for next year, we already have this data so we won’t have to collect it in the same way, we will just call and have families verify,” said Jason. “This is the type of stuff that we’re doing a lot of work on now, at CRP. We really think that we can become much more sophisticated in the way that we manage things. This also will allow us to be much more accountable to our donors.”

Staff use the Back-to-School app on their tablets during registration.

The new Back-to-School App may be impressive, but it is just a stepping stone in the plan that Naseer and Jason are building together. “This will actually form the seed of what we’re going to do in the fall, which is put together an entire database of all of our beneficiaries,” Jason outlined as he looked towards Naseer. “It ties into taking attendance for our programs, it has to do with distributions, it has to do with when we move to case management. There is a grand plan, but it sort of emerges slowly.”

Naseer closed his laptop with brisk click in order to grin at Jason in camaraderie. “It’s going to be big, and it’s going to be great.”

It takes a lot of coordination to send refugee kids back to school. Be part of that process with your donation.