Innovation and Impact through Cloud Technology for Food and Trees Africa

Food and Trees for Africa (FTFA) is a leading non-profit organisation that is involved in food security, social development and environmental initiatives. FTFA was founded in 1990 and is one of the first organisations to recognize the effects of climate change globally and start planting trees to combat changes in the environment. In 1994, FTFA expanded their initiatives to food security and sustainability where they started the first school gardening program in South Africa, the EduPlant Programme. These programmes soon expanded to include tree planting in underdeveloped communities in South Africa, deforestation, reforestation and afforestation initiatives as well as food gardens in schools and townships. Some of these food security programs are income generating market gardens or even larger scale farmer development initiatives. The core essence of FTFA is recognising the need for social development in the context of global climate change to achieve real, long-term sustainability. Part of the solution involves finding ways to alleviate and make communities aware of our impact on the environment in a way that is sustainable, uplifting and sensitive to cultural elements.

FTFA is responsible for building a number of environmental and social development software programs and applications, such as and carbon calculators. These applications help clients understand their social development and impact metrics, namely, their return on social investment which looks at social and environmental impact. Footprint allows for clients to understand how and where the impact is made in various social development projects. Footprint uses a scorecarding model to understand these situational and behavioural factors that can impact the environment to inform better decisions. In 2015, FTFA started collecting behavioural and situational data and in 2018 started formalising the process of data collection and developing systems that could use the data to measure impact and make social development decisions.

FTFA use Google Workspace, specifically Google Forms to collect data and script it into various formats used by teams in the organisation. At the start of 2019, FTFA decided to move to Google Cloud to allow for centralised data management, ease of scale, centralised processing and collaboration. Some of the Google Cloud’s services that are used by FTFA include App Engine and Firebase. FTFA have felt that with Google Cloud they are able to collect data without having to use expensive platforms or systems. Google Cloud has allowed them to build data management systems without needing custom development. Google Cloud’s service offerings are geared towards data collection, scalability and have the right features and resources to allow for FTFA to take control of and clean their data. FTFA have used Google Cloud to build some core projects including the carbon calculator and an application to allow for public participation in legislation linked to climate issues.

Since working with Siatik, Chris Wild from FTFA, feels that Siatik have helped them with various aspects of Google Cloud including, billing and being a line of communication to technology companies in South Africa specifically Google South Africa. Chris Wild has noted that since moving to Google Cloud, their organisation has been more impactful and effective in their strategy as well as business processes. Google Cloud has allowed for FTFA to better manage and assess their beneficiaries and projects within their organisation. Since February 2022, FTFA’s social investment application has been used to assess over 1400 beneficiaries across South Africa after moving over to Google Cloud.

For the last seven years, FTFA have been collecting data for their social development projects and beneficiaries and they have found that none of their competitors can offer the same Value-for-Impact (VFI). Using Google Cloud, FTFA are able to build models to give feedback on client’s return on social investment and what they can expect to receive back, making them industry leaders at the forefront of the latest technology.

One of the concerns that FTFA had when moving to Google Cloud was the resistance to change that could occur within their organisation. However, FTFA have made an active decision to ensure that people within their business are given purpose and perform tasks that involve engagement, understanding and collecting data. Even with job roles changing because of automation, in the social development industry there is capacity for people to be utilised more effectively. FTFA have made sure to have a people management plan in place as they embark on their cloud journey.

Next in FTFA’s cloud journey, they would like to start looking into building out internal process systems and making changes to their existing scorecarding algorithms. Tree’s current scorecarding environment is based on assumptions of what success metrics should be for social investment. From the beginning, FTFA was adamant on using Google Cloud because of its impressive Artificial Intelligence (AI) offering and saw the value that AI could have in their business. Using Google Cloud’s Machine Learning and AI offering, FTFA would like to adapt their algorithms and use AI to inform critical success factors based on the data that they are collecting. FTFA would also like to explore Google Cloud’s blockchain engine to understand and build Proof of Concepts for carbon verification data. Google Cloud has enabled FTFA to not only scale their business but innovate on and reinvent their capabilities as an organisation, allowing them to operate more efficiently and add immense value to an impactful industry.