Today at the World Economic Forum in Davos NetHope announced a partnership that will further expand our communications capacity building support for NetHope member NGOs and other response organizations in West Africa. The Ebola Response Connectivity Initiative (ECRI) will provide sustainable Internet connectivity solutions to support frontline response efforts and long-term recovery in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.
This effort is another step in NetHope’s response to the Ebola crisis and it builds off work — and wide-ranging support from donors — that began months ago in the early stages of the outbreak. That vital early support illustrates some important principles of funding emergency response.
When an emergency hits, particularly one as complex as the Ebola outbreak, response organizations face a steep challenge in the hours and first days following the emergency: we know the situation is bad, but we don’t know just how bad how bad it is. And in that information vacuum it’s virtually impossible to project what resources, equipment and expertise are needed and can be used effectively on the ground.
For donor-dependent organizations like NetHope that can also create a potential Catch-22: there’s no funding to get the answers you need to develop the detailed and precise funding proposals that many donors want.
NetHope plays a key role in emergencies – aggregating the needs of our member NGOs and other response organizations and coordinating among stakeholders to ensure the most effective and impactful deployment of resources. We do all this in close coordination with the UN’s Emergency Telecom Cluster, local actors (e.g. government, internet service providers, mobile network operators) and tech savvy donors.
The early stages of every response are dependent on the willingness of donors to take a leap of faith and understand that “we don’t know what we don’t know”. Fortunately, donors from all sectors stepped up to meet that need in the Ebola crisis.
- The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) provided funding for an assessment in Liberia, the central front in the early stages of outbreak. It’s rare that donors will fund assessments, but USAID recognized the complexity of the emergency and made it possible for NetHope to quickly engage response organizations and other stakeholders to determine the key challenges and needs on the ground.
- Microsoft and Google moved quickly to provide generous support with the simple guidance to “use it where you think it will have the greatest impact”. That might even seem ironic, coming from two technology leaders at the forefront of analytics and data-driven decision making. Yet, it also reflects the innovative spirit that’s gotten them to that position – sometimes you need to get moving quickly on a problem, despite imperfect information, and learn through trial and error. That kind of funding is critical in providing flexibility for responders to get to work and adjust as needed.
- The Patterson Foundation gave an initial seed grant with the goal of seeing how they could help with information management and catalyzing other donors in the crisis. That helped get a crisis informatics effort off the ground. With a follow on grant from the Foundation – and support from a wide-range of “digital volunteers” – that effort has produced accessible data and visualizations that have helped a wide-range of response organizations coordinate their work and deploy resources for maximum impact.
Subsequent support has been broad based, with dozens of companies and other donors stepping up to provide funding and in-kind donations for the response effort.
Most notably Facebook and the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation provided crucial funding to deploy near-term communication capacity and infrastructure to more than 170 locations to support NetHope member NGOs and other responders in West Africa. And they are now joining forces in the ERCI, along with NetHope, Cisco, EveryLayer and Inveneo, to expand the reach and impact of connectivity solutions in the region.
We are making progress in the Ebola fight and while infection rates are slowing, we remain committed until there are no new cases. And the recovery will be long and hard for impacted communities. Technology, including basic internet access, is foundational to both the near and long-term challenges. Through the support of our donors and collaboration with our member NGOs and other partners, we are helping those on the frontlines meet those challenges with more effective ICT.
None of that would be possible without those supporters who took the early leap of faith — who said we’ll support this critical work even when “you don’t know what you don’t know”.
Learn more about NetHope’s Ebola Response efforts in West Africa