Lyra in Africa (Lyra) is a UK-registered charity, with a sister charity in Tanzania, established in 2012. It builds eco-friendly hostels where girls have a safe space to live, study and complete their education. Lyra’s founder, Maria Spink, began the charity after witnessing widespread sexual exploitation of young girls and the subsequent high prevalence of teenage pregnancies in local communities.
“We all know that every child deserves access to education as a basic human right,” said Maria.
“It’s at the core of what we do and underpins our three enabler programmes around the themes of gender equality, climate resilience and digitisation. We encourage strong government and stakeholder partnerships and are currently formalising a regional memorandum of understanding (MOU) built on our previous work in the Iringa districts.”
Since its inception, Lyra has helped more than 3000 girls complete their education and works towards achieving systemic change in rural communities. It’s built 13 hostels and is currently building the 14th, as well as broadening its activities to include six digital learning labs supported by a skilled mentor. Since 2018, it has added coding clubs to the programme to encourage a broader understanding of how digital technologies can be harnessed for social change.
Recognising that education is a pathway out of poverty, its Imarika Kijana (Strong Youth) entrepreneurship programme provides opportunities for 15- to 28-year-old educational drop-outs to build their skills and confidence. And to ensure a long-lasting legacy of financial independence, Lyra has also established a Voluntary Savings and Loan programme to help communities better manage their finances.
- Education charity with 14 hostels in Tanzania delivering a range of community initiatives
- Encourages digital learning and entrepreneurship
- Provides a Voluntary Savings and Loans programme to encourage financial independence
Like many smaller charities, Lyra faced multiple challenges when it came to encouraging donations, administering back-office functions, and gaining access to up-to-date technologies to support its website and activities. In 2021 it issued a ‘cry for help’ through Matchable, a B2B platform that matches companies and their teams to innovative charity projects.
That call was answered by Softcat’s Debbie Johnson, a Senior IT Leader who specialises in organisational change through DevOps. Debbie spoke to Katy Sklan, Lyra’s Chief Operating Officer, to learn more about how her skills, contacts and Softcat’s wide-ranging capabilities could help. It marked the beginning of a productive and ultimately rewarding relationship that has since gone from strength to strength.
Critical success factors
- Take advantage of Matchable’s B2B volunteering network
- Identify a technology partner to support ongoing charitable activities
- Access the skills, technologies, and capabilities of a high-profile technology provider
“It’s no exaggeration to say that Softcat’s contribution to Lyra has been absolutely transformational,” said Katy. “Debbie immediately identified where Softcat could make the most impact and reached out to its partners to get the help needed to drive the charity forward.”
“Our initial discussions centred around Lyra’s most pressing needs,” said Debbie. “Improving its website and donations platform was a clear priority, so we concentrated on seeking a cost-effective, scalable and operationally efficient solution.” Working alongside AWS, we established a completely cloud native (PaaS) payment platform leveraging S3 (serve static content and store reports), Cognito (manage authentication), X-Ray (trace and debug Lambda functions as well as overall application performance), API Gateway (request routing), Lambda (donations processing), DynamoDB (store an audit trail of donations) and SQS (manage/queue simultaneous donations). Collectively the platform was built entirely from code (AWS CloudFormation), with an automated delivery pipeline (GitHub Actions) and integrated security (Inspec, SonarCloud). And operationally managed via AWS Config (configuration and drift management), AWS CloudWatch & AWS CloudTrail (monitoring and logging) and AWS Backup (reliability and recovery). With overall integration to Stripe, a world-leading provider of integrated payment functionality.
Malcolm North, AWS Solutions Architect at Softcat, said. “As a smaller charity with limited resources, we understood just how huge an undertaking establishing a fit-for-purpose IT platform would be if Lyra were to try and do it on its own. We’ve created serverless tech to help minimise costs and added in reporting functionality to improve data capture and reporting. It will help Lyra more easily manage the platform as a whole and enable the introduction of automated functions for critical elements, such as clearing Gift Aid, moving forward.”
“Everyone at Softcat has gone above and beyond to provide technologies capable of delivering long-term benefits for Lyra,” said Katy. “There’s no way we could have done it on our own. We had neither the funds or the technical knowledge in house, yet thanks to their hard work, we can now confidently manage the platform, bring in more donations and face the future with confidence.
“The Softcat team has genuinely taken Lyra to heart. They’ve worked weekends to solve issues, given their own time outside of their allotted charity hours and shown an incredible commitment to the cause. What Softcat has done has been amazing and unprecedented.”
“It’s been the most enjoyable project to be a part of,” said Debbie. “Softcat will continue to monitor Lyra’s platform to ensure it can be modernised and identify opportunities to leverage AWS credits for charities. My colleagues and the wider Softcat team have shown incredible dedication and the way our technology partners have stepped up to the plate has been exemplary. It’s amazing what can be achieved when you have that commitment.”
- AWS-based donations platform leveraging Stripe payment functionality
- Serverless and automated technologies to help simplify platform management and reduce ongoing costs
- Huge commitment from Softcat team and partner organisations
“In essence, working with Softcat has opened up access to an army of proactive, committed individuals. They really get it and are fully aligned with what we’re hoping to achieve,” said Katy. “Softcat and its partners have provided the technology and expertise to create a platform that’s comparable with those run by larger, better resourced charities. It’s made it easier to attract donations, a great example of this being the recent launch of a Lyra Finland, supported by a Finnish language website and donation facility that will help us grow and expand the work we do.”
“We created a ‘no ops’ platform that requires minimal technical support and reduces cost when it isn’t being used,” said Malcom. “This will enable Lyra to concentrate on wider initiatives while confident that its main source of funding is fit for purpose. It provides scope for further improvement and development. We’re working on delivering enhanced data reporting functionality to provide a clearer view of activity and plan to develop an app to help contributors to keep track of the work their donations are helping to fund.”
“Working with Lyra has been truly inspirational,” said Debbie. “We’ve already seen how our involvement is driving the charity forward, but it’s only the start. We have plans to accelerate our activities over the next 18 months, build a more structured relationship and deliver even more. We’ll work to evolve the website and ramp up Lyra’s social media presence. Our technology partners have donated a 40-foot container full of IT equipment to help support Lyra’s digital education initiatives. We’re also working with AWS Re/Start to provide free cloud career training and have managed to secure access to UK curriculum materials to boost learning potential.”
“With Softcat’s support, we’ve already implemented radical change that will help grow the charity,” said Katy. “Softcat’s involvement genuinely has made a massive difference and we’ve recently learned it intends to do even more. We’re delighted to learn that Softcat will announce Lyra as its official International Charity Partner in late November 2022. It will host a Charity Ball with all monies raised going towards providing another eco-friendly hostel, as well as the IT equipment and support team to develop and run a solar-powered digital lab. Working with Softcat has genuinely transformed what we’re able to achieve and Lyra wouldn’t be where it is today without it.”
Benefits at a Glance
- Enhanced donation platform, website, and social media presence
- Cost-effective ‘no-ops’ IT platform requiring minimal ongoing support
- Provision of IT equipment, expertise and enhanced educational / digital training resources
“It’s hard to express just how amazing this project has been for Lyra,” said Katy. “Working with Softcat has been a truly collaborative experience and the speed with which Debbie, her team and their technology partners have delivered truly life changing technologies and expertise is nothing short of remarkable. It’s opened up opportunities we would never have had before, and it’s been a fantastic experience.”