"Because we are always on the road, we rely on technology to gather information and communicate efficiently with our colleagues. Microsoft Office 365 really helps us a lot. We can send attachments up to 25 MB, and this proved to be very useful when we had to scan 2,400 birth certificates from children who just enrolled in the program."

— Diana Stoica, online communication and fundraising manager

Harnessing Office 365 to Send Every Child to Preschool

How It All Began: Helping Poor Kids Attend School

OvidiuRo’s mission is to help today's disadvantaged children get much further in school than their parents did by providing a rich early educational environment. This will give the children a skill set at age 6 similar to that of other, better-off children. They will thereby be more likely to keep up with their peers and to stay in school longer.

Fiecare Copil in Gradinita (Every Child in Preschool and Kindergarten, FCG) incentivizes poor parents to send their 3-to-5-year-old children to preschool and kindergarten (gradinita). FCGtargets the very poorest children — those who live in overcrowded, inadequate housing in isolated areas and who lack normal access to potable water, heating, and health care. In the winter, the unemployment rate in these areas is close to 100 percent because of the low need for unskilled labor and the low education level of the adults.

Through FCG, these families receive €12 a month in food coupons if they take their child to gradinita every day. In Romania, the monthly child allowance, which is unconditional, is €10, so this significantly increases the amount a destitute family has for food. The program's remarkable results have led OvidiuRo to advocate for making parent incentives for gradinita attendance available to all impoverished children in Romania.

OvidiuRo's story began in 2001, when Maria Gheorghiu and Leslie Hawke were helping poor women from the ghettos of Bacau, a small city in Romania. Thanks to a USAID grant, the two were able to start helping poor kids attend school and meanwhile support their mothers in getting jobs so they wouldn’t be forced to beg.

After 10 years of work, it was clear that investing in early education was the most efficient method. The children who had access to education from an early stage of life had the best results. Their school dropout rate decreased in comparison with the national statistics. As a result, OvidiuRo decided to focus on helping preschool children through early education.

That led to the creation of the Fiecare Copil in Gradinita (FCG) or Every Child in Preschool and Kindergarten, which in four years successfully doubled poor children’s preschool attendance from 43 percent to 81 percent. Moreover, thanks to FCG, 98 percent of the beneficiaries that attended kindergarten went on to primary school, and 65 percent of those continued to have good or excellent attendance in primary school.

Since 2001, OvidiuRo’s team has grown from 8 people to 20 members and 404 volunteers in local teams. With this drastic expansion, keeping track of kids’ daily attendance in kindergarten can be a challenge. Using a mobile application, teachers take note of those who attend the program and those who don’t. They connect the team in Bucharest to this information in real time with the mobile app.

Office 365 — Increasing Productivity with the Cloud

Last year the NGO accessed Office 365 for nonprofits with the help of TechSoup Romania. Now instead of using Outlook,WeTransfer, Dropbox, or Skype, the organization is using Office 365 for all of its needs.

Office 365 allows OvidiuRo to communicate more easily with colleagues in the field through email and Lync video conferences. It also helps coordinate huge volunteer efforts through a shared calendar feature. More than anything though, it helps give the organization more credibility by providing it with a unique and uniform “@ovid.ro” that people recognize. The added storage capability of OneDrive also is essential since it allows the organization to send large files securely. If they were to sum up what they like in using Office 365, the first thing would be the integrated solutions, the option to send large attachments, the integrated calendar, and the large storage space on One Drive.

This story originally appeared on the TechSoup Blog. It was a winner in TechSoup's global case studies contest highlighting the very best impact stories from TechSoup's network of 63 partners serving 121 countries.