Third Hometown Club (shthc.com) is a non-profit organization founded in Shanghai. Every member donate annual tuition and lunch meal fee. We aim for funding the students in poverty to finish their elementary education and have a chance to obtain higher studies. Over 150 students have received financial support from us.
I have been a volunteer for 10 years, designing and developing the system to better manage student profile, membership and financial account, maintaining the website and doing database and server administration alone in my spare time.
The charity was kept small and private on purpose. However, at the time I joined in the club, how the club should operate was not really clear. The club had run for two years. All contents were posted in a forum in different sections. I had to browse every post to find out student profile. Financial status was maintained and published in an Excel file. After being a student profile manager for another 2 years, maintaining students info became quite time consuming and inefficient.
With my background, I simply wanted to do something I could to make it better. So my initial goal was pretty clear. Let me design a system which can organize all information. I talked with other managers who were responsible for different functions, we discussed the several key steps for management and the feature modules we need.
I then draw information map and site architecture. The system design was not difficult. Being familiar with everything, we can reach an agreement quickly and I had fully flexibilities about how I wanted to build the system because no one was expecting me doing anything.
After I made a nice specification document, carefully annotated the feature requirements, I started to look for developer. Unfortunately, I could not find any developer volunteer. Our budget was very limited yet the system was not cheap to build. That was the most awkward situation.
Nevertheless, I learned PHP programming at my spare time, used my limited knowledge to start something small in 2008. After that, thanks to my working experience, I obtained all knowledge I need. It was equivalent. I rebuilt the THC website with a Chinese forum engine, added custom modules to turn that into fully functional system.
Such functions seem very basic for an engineer, yet, not easy for me as a designer. Anyhow, the needle was moved and I successfully completed my commitment. It is not only to build a system but to shape the way we operate. Every new member was amazed about how transparent a private NGO can be.
Such transparency impressed a company manager and they decided it was our organization to receive their 170K donation, the biggest amount we have ever received. That transformed to computer labs in several schools in Shandong and a public bathhouse in an elementary school in Guizhou.
It is not a story about how technology changes life, but how it impacts credibility and human trust.