During the last one and a half years A Drop in the Ocean has sent approximately 3,000 volunteers from 35 countries to Greece to aid refugees. In this sea of volunteers we have an inexhaustible source of experiences and skills that daily improves our organization and how we work. Recently, two volunteers created The Drop App, an app that has revolutionized the way we organize warehousing and distribution in the refugee camp Nea Kavala.
Maarten Hunink became part of A Drop in the Ocean when he volunteered in Athens in June 2016. In November he returned to the camp Nea Kavala in the north of Greece, and was made responsible for A Drop in the Oceans market, which distributes food, clothing and other necessities to the residents of the camp. It was organized with an excel sheet, tells Maarten, but we thought it was messy and we were unsure if it was sustainable when new volunteers would take over. Maarten contacted a former colleague, Bart Driessen, in the Netherlands and requested if they could make something to solve that problem. And with that the development of the drop currency and The Drop App had begun.
Today, this new app is an integral part of the daily lives of volunteers and residents in Nea Kavala. It works so that each family is assigned a fixed time each week to visit A Drop in the Oceans market. There, they are assigned a “drop card” with the number of the container they live in, the family’s name and how many drops they have in their account. After receiving their drop card, families can do as they do in a regular store. Try different clothes and take the time to choose what they want before they go to the register, where a volunteer from A Drop in the Ocean registers the goods and deduct drops from their card. The process has become more streamlined, says Bart, and the registration into the system gives us a great overview of the items and sizes residents want.
Retrospectively The Drop App uses the data collected in the market to create statistics and diagrams that we in A Drop in the Ocean can use to, follow the trends and needs of the camp residents from day to day. We can therefore on the basis of bar diagrams see that winter is nearing its end and that fewer and fewer wants winter jackets, that sales of underwear and socks stays high, and that the need for sweatpants with elastic bands at the ankle is insatiable.
The introduction of the drop currency made work easier for the volunteers in the market, but in the warehouse the situation was different. The boxes were marked with numbers that told what was inside them, photographed and then registered in The Drop App, but things move fast in a warehouse. Evenings were spent going through blurry images of where the boxes were placed at the end of the day, decipher the numbering and update the location in the database. When Bart was going home after three weeks it was clear to both him and Maarten that the system needed an improvement.
The solution came when Barts plane was delayed for six hours at the airport. I sat down in the airport cafe and began tinkering with a logistics solution for the warehouse. I believe 90% of what was to become the QR system was built while I sat there. Both Bart and Maarten felt at first that the system Bart had built was over engineered for its purpose, but in retrospect they learned that the other volunteers understood it quickly, that it removed the need for evening work, and that it reduced the possibility of human error considerably. Now, there are no blurry images and everything is a lot faster. We just put a QR-code sticker on the box when we know what is in it, scan the code with our mobile and register the location and content into the app, says Maarten, before adding that the most important advantage is that it is much easier to train new volunteers in this system than in the former. (See video of how the app works under the article).
Bart and Maarten now travel around Greece to implement all or part of The Drop App in the other camps we work in, something we as an organization are going to benefit from. A Drop in the Ocean daily experience that volunteers have expertise from their “past lives”, which benefits us and the refugees residing in Greece greatly, this makes us a better organization and we are eternally grateful to volunteers like Bart and Maarten who share their knowledge, enthusiasm and ingenuity with us.