Impact Stories | Civic Engagement

How Airtable Empowered Me.reka to Assist Our Frontliners

by
Sanidhya Mathur
,
September 7, 2021

How can we face the challenges of the future without changing our methods of the past?

Me.reka tackles this very notion everyday. As a social enterprise that focuses on innovative education through the pillars of sustainability and 21st century education, we nurture and prepare the communities that will lead our communal future. With over 2000 active participants engaged across 55 educational programs, our goal has always been to prepare our communities with necessary skills and resources to guide them into the future of work. Much like the majority of industries, Me.reka’s business activities such as our educational programs, corporate training and creative workshops were all suddenly pulled away. As an organisation whose driving purpose was to bring people together in the name of innovation and collaboration, a global pandemic that distanced us was a challenge to say the least. Amidst the struggles in the early months of international lockdowns, Malaysia began to notice a significant shortage of PPE equipment to support increasing demands. It was then that we were approached by a number of frontline organisations to help produce and supply Face Shields and other PPE equipment. While we didn’t have a background in the medical industry, our intimate connection to the maker community within Malaysia along with our extensive network of producers, suppliers and logistics partners best positioned us to fulfill this demand. It seemed fitting for us to get back to doing what we do best - helping our communities. Within days we began the production of face shield prototypes and shared our open source designs with other producers. With the influx of requests and the number of moving pieces involved, we knew we needed an infrastructure to manage incoming requests and pair them with available producers, suppliers and logistics providers.

“2020 was supposed to be the year we explored our own digitalization, and this plan was majorly expedited due to the pandemic. Exploring technological solutions to create business efficiencies within our organization has always been my primary effort. On this journey, I found Airtable and began playing with its bases, exploring ways it could provide structure to our content and communications strategy” - Gurpreet Singh | Me.reka CEO

The answer was already with us. Hidden as a simple content calendar at the time. The tables started filing themselves in Gurpreets head, and he soon realized that the solution to our decentralized initiative was a collaborative cloud database platform. This is when we really began exploring Airtable. We wanted a PPE request form? Done. We wanted a geographical display of all available producers and suppliers? Easy. We wanted to connect multiple sources of data with multiple stakeholders through automations and integrations? What’s next!

Order requests forms, request table, makers table, products table

One phone call became two, which then became a multitude of messages coming in from Whatsapp, Facebook, Instagram and the works. Consolidating the number of requests for PPE equipment like Face Shields, Aerochambers and PPE Gowns was critical in being able to map out all the frontliners in need and to efficiently connect them with the producers making the equipment. We built the Airtable database and filled out all the necessary tables that allowed us to quickly mobilize a PPE Request form. The form received 244 unique requests from frontlining organisations from across Malaysia, with over XXX units of PPE requested. Simultaneously, on another table, another form was collecting information on all the relevant producers who were willing to share their resources and machines in helping meet the demands from the frontlines. Through Airtable’s customizable columns, we linked data from various tables and filtered and connected the requests coming in from different frontline organizations in different locations to the producers within the community who had the capacity to complete these requests. “Products”, another table in our base, helped us champion our pedagogy open source sharing. With access to our 21st century Me.reka Makerspace, we were able to rapidly prototype several designs for the PPEs in need. Design specifications, product descriptions, materials, and methodologies for these PPEs were all onboarded to our products table. Through the gallery view and shareable links, we were able to share our designs to makers across the country.  This was no ordinary spreadsheet. Multiple tables, made possible only through Airtable’s automations and integrations, were interconnected. PPE requests were linked to relevant producers, who were then linked to the needed designs and suppliers. The intricate relationships created on Airtable fostered a beautiful decentralized community initiative, through which collaboration and communal social impact was made possible.

Airtable Page Designer App

As our initiative relied heavily on corporate and public donations and sponsorships, transparency was imperative. The “drag and drop” ease of the page designer app became our makeshift PPE Delivery verification and impact reporting tool. We set automated pages for delivery confirmation, corporate reporting and producer pledges. The relevant information was linked within the tables and columns. Every order request that came in meant that a new page was created and to be printed by the producers. The confirmation highlighted the designs used, the producers who made it and the sponsors who supplied the resources. Once delivery was made, the frontliners were able to complete a confirmation form, sending photos directly to the airtable base to be used for impact reporting. This became an efficient system to ensure all products were delivered to those in need and it allowed all parties involved to be held accountable. Corporates and prominent supply sponsors were also given views and pages that connected to relevant fields and showcased how much their contributions translated to and who they impacted. As social entrepreneurs, we often get lost in the impact and forget to highlight the journey and data. With Airtable, we were seamlessly creating impact whilst also accumulating, segmenting and disseminating data.

App extensions

Airtables' immense catalog of integrations and secondary apps continued to scale our internal processes and business activities. With miniExtensions, each maker was able to individually edit and update their production capacities and deliveries. We were able to see who made what, receive photos and updates of production and delivery, and uniquely link delivery confirmations with producers, suppliers, sponsors, and frontliners all in a collective effort to showcase the intricacies of the impact.

Calendar

Project planning all took place on Airtable. With fields matching relevant delivery dates, we were able to show our communities and corporate clients the timelines at which production was taking place. Airtables capabilities helped provide confidence to those who shared their resources in this micro-economy by showing them the real-time impact that was being made.  

Calculations:

At a time of maximum resource scarcity, we needed to efficiently match the available resources with the regional makers pledging to complete orders. On the Materials table, we built calculations to indicate the specific quantity PPE Gowns we could make from the rolls of fabrics we received from corporate sponsors. The potential of each roll was calculated, further strengthening the corporate confidence in our initiative. Airtables' powerful database modeling and architecture services, coupled with its cloud collaborations and intensive inter and intra platform integrations really propelled our COVID-19 relief initiative. Airtable allowed for designs, knowledge, resources, and expertise between groups to be shared. Within days, our COVID-19 relief initiative onboarded over 30 partners wanting to contribute in their own means. Producers and makers lacking supplies from different states were connected with a network of supply chains, frontliners in need of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) were able to make requests and have them filled by various partners. Airtable allowed everybody to tackle the same issue, communally and locally. We were effectively able to engage communal resources to maximise collective impact in aiding our brave frontliners in Malaysia. We are firm believers in the no code movement. With Airtable, we are able to ideate, manage and execute business objectives and community campaigns without being limited by technology, but rather by leveraging it to create more meaningful impact. The future of social impact is here, and it's powered by Airtable.

Sanidhya Mathur

Sanidhya Mathur is a content writer at Me.reka with a passion for producing content that reflects and communicates diverse experiences through a shared vision of social innovation.