Amnesty International is make extensive use of online technology

Amnesty International is making extensive use of technology to raise awareness and encourage engagementPhoto: Amnesty International

Human rights charity Amnesty International was founded on the belief that ordinary people have the power to bring about extraordinary change.

The basis for Amnesty International was established in the 1960s when British lawyer Peter Benenson wrote a newspaper article calling for an international campaign against the imprisonment of individuals due to their political or religious beliefs.

Thousands of people sent letters of support and offers of help along with details of other prisoners of conscience. Within six months, the international movement that became Amnesty International was up and running.

Fast-forward some decades and the organisation’s supporters are using the web to exert pressure on governments and make their voices heard – and so too is Amnesty International.

Amnesty International’s head of IT Kamesh Patel recently talked to silicon.com about how the organisation is getting the most out of its online technology to strengthen the movement in the 21st century.

Revamping Amnesty International’s online presence

For Amnesty, its protectthehuman.com and amnesty.org.uk websites are key conduits to interacting with supporters, and the organisation is working hard to make sure its digital presence is up to speed with the latest online developments.

“We’ve got an evolving digital strategy which is about how the Amnesty International movement in general uses its digital presence and how it will work together in delivering against the organisation’s objectives through the digital sphere,” Patel told silicon.com.

The emphasis on growing digital engagement with contributors, members and partners has driven the organisation to look at how it can improve its ability to call people to action and generate income via its online presence, and prompted the introduction of a single sign-in system.

“Everyone that ever joins Amnesty becomes a…

 

…member of our web presence, has a single log-on into our systems and not multiple, therefore we can service them at CRM level to ensure we get them the right communications, we know who they are, they only need to fill in their details once, and they can continue to fill in more and more details about themselves if they wish but we will only ever ask for it once,” Patel said.

The amnesty.org website uses private cloud technology

The amnesty.org website has benefited from moving to a private cloud infrastructureImage: Amnesty International

Other functionality Amnesty International wants to add to its websites is the ability for members to set up direct debits for contributions via the website, making the whole donation process easier.

Social media is high on the agenda too, and the organisation is looking at how it can use social tools to drive more users to Amnesty’s sites, as well as incorporating elements of social media into the websites themselves to raise awareness and encourage greater engagement with the organisaton.

“We’re now embarking on an approach where we’re going to be where these people are – so on Facebook, Myspace, Twitter. And where it’s appropriate, we will bring them back to amnesty.org or protectthehuman.com for either necessary information or to take an action or carry out some kind of activity on our behalf to engage further people and get our messages out, then they’re welcome to go back to their social sphere where they exist,” he said.

As well as drawing people in from social networks, Patel’s team is attempting to capture data to get a better understanding of what’s going on in the social sphere and work out what kinds of conversations Amnesty International could benefit from joining.

“We’re trying to steer the conversation in the way that it…

 

…needs to be – so towards changing human rights for the better and also ensuring these individuals are given a voice in the space they’re in,” he said.

Uniting Amnesty International’s technology

Managed services company Claranet took on the hosting of the amnesty.org.uk website in 2009 as the human rights organisation looked to consolidate its web properties, and now hosts protectthehuman.com as well.

The organisation had previously been using a range of web and hosting companies, a situation that wasn’t ideal, according to Patel.

“We identified that we needed to do something with our website because we were exposed. We had a number of risks, a number of management and support overheads and a lot of people to contact to get things done,” he told silicon.com. Risks included issues with back-up for the website content management system and functionality changes being inconsistent between staging and live versions. Amnesty also harboured concerns about the risk of one of the several hosting companies going out of business and taking their hosting capability with them.

Patel’s team put together a business case to consolidate the hosting services on to a single hosted provider which, after a tender process, was chosen to be Claranet.

One of the challenges for Amnesty in moving to a single hosting provider was working effectively with the incumbent suppliers to move the websites off their platforms and on to Claranet’s, a process Patel described as “quite tricky”.

“It involved a lot of persuasive discussions with particular agencies so that they would engage in the process of the move,” he said.

Claranet is now supporting the website and the infrastructure behind it including the hardware, firewall and the Red Hat LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL and Python) environment behind the website.

According to Patel, the move to Claranet has increased uptime and improved security through the use of a managed antivirus and firewall. Claranet also monitors the website for hardware faults, traffic spikes, patch updates, load balancing and back-up.

With Amnesty’s hosting now on…

 

…Claranet’s private cloud infrastructure – which will help it better cope with spikes in demand for the website during popular campaigns – the organisation plans to build on this foundation with a new Amnesty International website set to go live by the end of 2011.

“It’s really the beginning of something we will continue to develop further. Amnesty is currently engaging in redeveloping its website and so this platform with Claranet is really the underpinning piece which will enable that to happen well,” Patel told silicon.com.

Cloud computing and software as a service

Hosting is not the only piece of Amnesty’s technology that relies on the cloud. The organisation is using software-as-a-service tech from MessageLabs for email security and other services.

However, Patel said the organisation is yet to decide whether the financial and efficiency benefits are sufficient to move other inhouse systems to cloud-based technology.

“Because we’re a cost centre, essentially we need to ensure there’s either an efficiency saving or there is a benefit back to the organisation that takes away the need to have such a system inhouse,” Patel said.

“We’re constantly looking around, we’re always interested in what’s out there in terms of cloud computing and inadvertently we use cloud computing for various pieces of stuff – not very heavily, but we do, like virtually every organisation out there,” he said.

Cloud may be a consideration, but more traditional tech priorities are never far from Patel’s mind. “About a year and a half ago we completed our business continuity and disaster recovery plan which we continually test to make sure that no matter what the event is the organisation continues to run its critical systems and teams,” Patel said.

And while for most companies managing costs is a key area of focus, it’s an especially important one for a charitable organisation.

“Pretty much every month we’re looking at producing savings from every aspect of the organisation, whether it’s IT or marketing or campaigns, we’re always looking at making savings through various means,” Patel said.

“We have contracts going under tender, we look to push providers to provide more for either the same or less on an ongoing basis and we always question why there are increases. Those are the only real ways we can do it,” he added.