Islamic Relief Canada increases its impact by 75% with Asana

Islamic Relief Canada
  • Islamic Relief Canada logo
  • Headquarters
    • Burlington, Ontario
  • Organization size
    • 50 employees in Canada, 3,500 employees in global organization
  • People served annually
    • Over 2 million in 2019

Asana impact

  • Provides emergency aid and relief 75% faster because of improved collaboration and communication across teams
  • Grew the organization's impact by 75% by breaking down information silos and increasing transparency
  • Cut emergency response times from eight to two hours using Asana.

On September 24, 2019, a 5.8-magnitude earthquake struck Pakistan. Since 2015, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled Myanmar to escape ongoing ethnic cleansing in the country. In Syria, millions have either died or fled the civil conflict, resulting in one of the worst humanitarian crises of our time.

Islamic Relief Canada (IRC) provides aid for these crises and engages Canadians to make donations to help those affected by these emergencies. With over two hundred projects in flight and more than three million direct beneficiaries, IRC works with communities to strengthen their resilience to calamities and provides vital emergency aid when disasters occur. They also provide access to basic services like education, water and sanitation, and healthcare.

As part of a global organization with over 3500 employees across thirty-five countries, IRC serves Canada with a team of fifty. Because their reach is so broad and their team so lean, everyone wears multiple hats and they operate like a startup. Yusra Rizwan and Usama Khan are two members of the Ontario-based team and oversee HR and Volunteer Programs, and Finance, Technology, and Operations, respectively. Their work helps the organization engage with and activate Canadian donors, helping to grow their fundraising revenue from $1 million to $60 million since 2007.

IRC support initiatives

This growth means increased impact through their relief and aid work, but as their team has grown and programs evolved, they came up against several challenges that led them to look for a new tool for managing their work:

  • Compliance and regulatory requirements: Usama’s financial work requires a paper trail for all overseas transactions, which the team was unable to provide with existing tools.
  • Siloed workflows and lack of visibility: Because they relied on technology more appropriate for a small company, the systems they were using didn’t connect to one another. This led to limited visibility and siloed workflows, and, ultimately, blocked them from effectively achieving their ambitious goals.
  • Low employee engagement: IRC’s recent engagement surveys consistently showed that people were dissatisfied with information sharing and communication across the organization. Not having one source of truth led employees to feel frustrated with their work.
  • Slower processes and slower aid delivery: IRC’s ability to distribute aid and support was affected by slowdowns in work. Without quick ways to activate programs to deliver aid, they weren’t achieving their mission as effectively as they could.

“One theme that kept coming up in our employee engagement surveys was that we could improve information sharing and communication across the organization, so we looked for a way to do that.” - Usama Khan, Director of Finance

From leadership buy-in to team-wide adoption

As the team evaluated possible solutions, they looked for one that would improve information sharing and communication, enable cross-departmental collaboration, provide a paper trail for financial transactions, and scale with their growing team. IRC’s CEO, Zaid Al-Rawni, had heard about Asana from his network and decided to try it with his team.

They gradually rolled out Asana to the organization, identifying early adopters like Yusra and Usama and inviting them to run team-wide training sessions. They reviewed Asana basics in the training and encouraged managers to move their projects into Asana to get their teams on board. By starting with organization-wide projects, such as meeting agendas, and then delving into more team-focused projects, they were able to master the basics quickly and implement more complex workflows.

“Using Asana is all about knowledge sharing. The more features we discovered and introduced to different teams, the more everyone saw the value of using the tool and began using it.” - Usama Khan, Director of Finance

One crucial aspect of their adoption success was leadership buy-in. The senior team adopted Asana first and promoted it to managers and leaders across the organization. By encouraging teams and setting an example for all employees, the leadership team accelerated adoption for all of IRC. And as everyone discovered how to make their work more efficient using Asana, soon the entire organization was on board.

Working more effectively to achieve their mission

Today, IRC uses Asana to manage all of their work, from running meetings to tracking their objectives and goals. With Asana, they’re able to:

  • Stay compliant with regulations and keep a paper trail: By using Asana to manage financial information and processes, Usama and his team now have a paper trail for auditing purposes and reduce waste by not using paper receipts. Everyone knows what stage a payment is in and Asana’s privacy features ensure that sensitive information is safe and accessible only to those who need it.
  • Keep volunteers engaged: By managing their volunteer programs with Asana, Yusra’s entire team has visibility into their numerous initiatives. They’ve also standardized program elements like volunteer communications, events, and recruitment using templatized tasks and projects.
  • Connect the whole organization: Through the IRC Bulletin, a project that every employee has access to, they share useful information and discuss questions that arise across the organization, like lessons learned, technology hacks, or the company flight approval process.
  • Reduce meetings: Using Asana to manage meeting agendas saves time, provides a handy reference, and reduces the need for follow-up meetings and check-ins.
  • Align the mission to daily work: IRC tracks its goals and key performance indicators in Asana, so everyone is on the same page as the organization grows and they work on more initiatives. Their goals are tracked all the way from senior management down to teams and individual employees, letting everyone see how their work connects back to their mission and goals.

IRC project

Beyond achieving efficiency, compliance, and organizational clarity with Asana, IRC maintains an accurate and useful institutional memory through it, too. From teammate transitions or recurring work like fundraising events, they always have the context and information they need to work faster and more confidently.

“We saw the results of our streamlined collaboration process for emergencies immediately after the earthquake in Pakistan. Asana played a huge role in helping us communicate and collaborate 75% faster with teams on the ground so we could respond to as many people as possible.” - Yusra Rizwan, Human Resources Manager

With this strong institutional memory, IRC can focus on furthering its mission to provide vital emergency aid. The marketing, fundraising, Donor relations and Programs teams can now quickly connect the dots in their shared Asana projects when an emergency arises so they can respond faster. After the recent earthquake that struck Pakistan, they tested their new process in Asana and were able to launch relief and awareness campaigns 75% faster. Yusra’s volunteers are able to engage more quickly, and Usama can track donations that go overseas to assist in relief operations.

Engaging donors to do more

In the months to come, IRC isn’t stopping at responding faster to emergencies or growing their overall impact. Yusra, Usama, and their team are beginning to use Asana to manage their donations process, automating steps like donor follow-ups so they can reach—and activate—even more Canadians to encourage action and help more people impacted by crises.

IRC service work