By Kristin Kalning
Isaac Kwamy came to NetHope at the beginning of 2016 because he wanted to use his skills in humanitarian operations to make an impact.
“I wanted to play a role in the humanitarian sector to position access to information as a basic need, on par with food, water, shelter and health,” he says. “I joined NetHope because NetHope provides a unique opportunity for collaboration, and plays a huge role in the sector by scaling up technologies for greater impact in the humanitarian sector.”
Before joining NetHope earlier this year as the Global Programs Director of Humanitarian Operations, Kwamy was the secondary representative from member organization World Vision. “We saw a lot of benefits of being a part of NetHope,” he says, including discounts and reaching out to technology partners. “And when emergencies happened, and we were struggling to get things into the country – especially satellites or Cisco equipment – NetHope was always one of my points of entry.”
Though Kwamy says he isn’t a tech person, he has a long history of using technology to aid in humanitarian operations, first in the IT department at World Vision UK, and then as the Director of Humanitarian Technologies for Disaster Management with World Vision International. That position, which he held until coming to NetHope, had him working between programs and technology, focusing mainly on how to use technology to enable more efficient relief operations. In addition, Kwamy held various positions in the humanitarian sector and has a deep and practical understanding of humanitarian operations over a vast number of contexts.
He recalls working with NetHope during the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake in 2010. World Vision had a presence in the country prior to the disaster, and had adequate connectivity for communications. But other NGOs were totally without internet and mobile access. Kwamy donated five megabits for a month – about half of World Vision’s bandwidth – to NetHope to distribute to other nonprofits working within the country.
“The work NetHope did in Haiti was amazing, in trying to aggregate connectivity to NGOs who were struggling, and trying to get the best deal through local internet service providers,” he recalls.
Kwamy played a key role in the birth of the NGO Emergency Telecommunication Cluster (ETC) Coordinator. He convinced the ETC to fund a dedicated ETC NGO Coordinator position to reach out to every NGO in Haiti and assess their technology and connectivity needs. “To date, that has become the standard for the ETC in any large-scale emergency an NGO ETC Coordinator is often deployed,” he says.
He was also instrumental in the creation of the NetHope Academy in Haiti. Kwamy remembers sitting down with Frank Schott, NetHope’s Vice President of Global Programs, and asking him: “How will we leave this place? And is there a way we can come up with a plan that will ensure that the work we’ve started here can be carried forward when we leave?”
Shortly thereafter, the two hammered out a plan for the NetHope Academy, which focused on in-country capacity-building through IT skills. Of the 22 NetHope Academy students, Kwamy took 12 on board as trainees, and by the end of the sixth month, World Vision offered all of them jobs. “When we deploy as an international organization in an emergency response, we should strive to build local capacity that will be able to contribute and take over after the transition [which is aligned with the Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs in Disaster Relief],” he says. “The NetHope Academy was a good example of that.”
The source of Kwamy’ s passion for humanitarian operations is that he himself was the product of humanitarian operations. His father was a missionary, living and working in the east Democratic Republic of Congo and western Uganda. “Life was tough,” Kwamy says simply.
In his 18 years in the humanitarian sector, Kwamy has deployed to over 24 countries and responded to countless emergency (disaster) situations. To him, the person who is affected by the disaster should always be at the center of relief efforts. “They matter,” he says. “And I guarantee that no amount of money will ever give you the fulfillment of seeing that twinkle in someone’s eye when they know that they’re not alone, and that you’re a part of bringing them hope.”