Islamic Family and Social Services Association looks to tech for social progress – Taproot Edmonton

Edmonton’s Islamic Family and Social Services Association (IFSSA) is moving beyond how non-profits typically work by using technology to better deliver its services. And it has hired Raj Rajakumar, the co-founder of Spontivly, to help it do so.
“I was looking for my next opportunity — something that was more personal to me … spiritual as well as Islamic. I basically wanted to leverage technology and leverage my own passion for providing social services for the sake of humanity,” Rajakumar told Taproot. “So I saw this opportunity come up and … something propelled me to apply for it.”
Rajakumar will lead the development and maintenance of two apps, Transform and Amplify. Transform is an intake, assessment, and case management system for the social services sector that is focused on helping clients achieve their goals, while Amplify is an existing product that will be localized to Edmonton to strengthen local businesses and “increase dignity, choice, and connection” for IFSSA clients.
The goal is to use technology in a way that will “disrupt the system,” said Omar Yaqub, Servant of Servants (the equivalent of an executive director) at IFSSA.
“Oftentimes we get into the work and we get caught up in the things we need to do. And sometimes it’s those things we need to do that take us away from the impact we initially want to have,” he explained.
Yaqub wanted to move away from IFSSA’s success being tied to how many people it serves, noting that an increase in clients in need is not necessarily a good sign but rather “a sign of severe, catastrophic deprivation in our community.”
Instead, he’d like to be able to measure achievement by looking at how many people IFSSA has helped achieve their goals, by figuring out what appropriate goals are and how progress is made. And while technology will provide the tools to make that happen, it won’t be the focus.
“We often see technology leading and I think it’s important to see that here technology is just enabling and supporting a more human-centered approach to how we do work in the social services sector,” Yaqub said.
The Transform app that IFSSA is developing aims to reduce the amount of time social workers spend on paperwork and increase the time they can spend with clients. (Islamic Family and Social Services Association)
That will involve building up the tech infrastructure of the organization, as well as improving data systems and enabling communication. Some of it is as simple as building a new way to connect with clients, which has proven to be challenging to do in person throughout the pandemic.
“Let’s say we get a whole delivery of winter coats. How do we tell the right people about those coats? Then you have a bunch of social workers trying to scramble and that’s because we haven’t done the data hygiene part,” Yaqub said.
IFSSA is working with the Bissell Centre, Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), and Jewish Family Services Edmonton on Transform, in an effort to build a tool that can be used across the social services sector.
It has secured more than $150,000 from MetaLab, the designers of Slack, to develop the app. Transform is now ready to move from prototype to product and IFSSA is aiming to begin internal testing of the tool in the next three to five months.
Rajakumar will take over that work when he joins IFSSA on Feb. 15. He is no longer head of product at Spontivly, which is now based in Florida, though he said he plans to stay involved with the company. Eventually, Yaqub would like to see Rajakumar’s product manager role grow into the non-profit’s head of innovation and technology.
For now, Rajakumar is just looking forward to returning to the organization that has helped shape his time in Edmonton since he moved to the city four years ago.
“When you move to a new city, you don’t know anybody. This organization was basically the one where I’m just like, ‘Wow, I actually met people that I can call family.’ Like, that’s a big deal.”
Clarification: This story has been amended to reflect that while Rajakumar co-founded Spontivly, he is no longer head of product for the company.
health, social services, technology
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