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Summer Davos: Meeting of Minds in Dalian, China

Humanitarian organizations are continuously looking for new ways to reach more communities and to provide broader access to services in challenging environments.

September 15, 2011

This week, I will be among the dignitaries and global leaders attending the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting of the New Champions in Dalian, China. This is a meeting of minds, an opportunity for global leaders to interact, share insight and collaborate. Coined "Summer Davos," this year's event will focus on "Mastering Quality Growth" by looking at how economic-, industry- and technological developments are influencing consumer behavior, business models and financial markets around the globe.

At NetHope we've witnessed first-hand the transformative power of technology and connectivity in the developing world, especially in rural and isolated areas to help provide access to education, employment opportunities, financial services and to protect people from natural and man-made disasters. There is ample evidence of the need and potential impact of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in developing countries. The benefits and advantages of ICT are realized when organizations, corporations, governments and communities collaborate and innovate to new create solutions.

Humanitarian organizations are continuously looking for new ways to reach more communities and to provide broader access to services in challenging environments. I see the future guided by three core tenets: connectivity and access, mobile applications and access to education via academies.

Facilitating Connectivity and Access

In 2010 ITU and UNESCO's Broadband Commission said, "affordable, ubiquitous broadband networks will be as critical to social and economic prosperity as networks like transport, water and power." NetHope has been working to meet this connectivity need since the organization was founded; it is at the heart of its mission. In the early days, NetHope used Very Small Aperture Terminals (VSATs) as the default solution to extend connectivity to rural Africa and Asia. Today, the technology has improved ten-fold. As part of the East Africa Connectivity Project, NetHope is currently working with USAID, local government and the private telecom sector to deliver connectivity to South Sudan and Kenya via undersea fiber-optic cables, long-distance WiFi access points and existing VSATs, which will be used as a back-up resource for communications. NetHope will continue to evaluate new ways of delivering connectivity to rural populations. As mobile networks continue to grow in coverage, 3G networks will be able to deliver the high-speed Internet to rural areas that are currently served by VSATs and fiber-optic cables.

Building Mobile Applications

According to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), though 55 percent of the world's population live in rural areas and 1.4 billion of those 3.1 billion people live on less than $1.25 day, 68 percent of citizens in developing nations own a mobile phone. This fact is critical. Mobile phones are a proven tool to help empower individuals and grow local economies and mobile applications are the future of how humanitarian organizations can best serve their local citizens, youth and farmers among others in the developing world. The opportunity has been born out of the proliferation of mobile phones and access services. NetHope is currently working on the NetHope Humanitarian and Development Assistance Cloud initiative; this effort will encourage the development community to share and re-use proven cloud services through an applications marketplace. With help from supporters like Cisco, Accenture and HP, this cloud initiative will accelerate the use of key services across all development sectors -- from agency collaboration and mapping to agriculture, healthcare and education -- and also encourage organizations to increasingly use ICT in their work.

Empowering Individuals With Education

ICT cannot be optimized in rural communities without the support of trained, knowledgeable and technically savvy IT professionals. Education is critical to empower communities and individuals to support their communities and ensure the technologies are maintained, put to best use. The NetHope Academy provides computer science students with in-classroom training as well as hands-on experience working as IT interns with a host of humanitarian organizations in the field. In 2010 the NetHope Academy in Haiti was launched just months after the devastating earthquake hit Port-au-Prince, and its surrounding areas. The inaugural class consisted of 39 students, who all graduated the Academy and went on to be fully employed with an average local salary of $15,000 a year. The NetHope Academy Haiti was so successful with the help of supporters like Accenture, Cisco, Microsoft and Voilà Foundation as well as member organizations -- a fantastic example of collaboration in action.

I believe that NetHope and the other organizations, individuals and commissions dedicated to improving the lives of those in the developing world will be able to make great strides for our collective cause if ICT is used to share access, create scalable, impactful applications and teach and empower youth. This is our call to collaborate!

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