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Summit Day Three: 'People are complex, and technology is relatively simple'

Day 3 of the Summit was another rich day for all of us. Here are some of my takeaways. 

October 26, 2017

By Lauren Woodman

Day 3 of the Summit was another rich day for all of us. Here are some of my takeaways. 

Secretary General Jan Egeland, always compassionate and poignant, set the tone when he said, “It is a uniquely contradictory world.” Our world today is comprised of a growing minority that has never been worse off and a growing majority that has never been better off.

Jan challenged the NetHope family to find better ways in the future to help the 65 million and growing displaced people. He encouraged us to find “durable solutions” that go beyond basic forms of aid, that give recipients greater control and choice, and that integrate digital technology.

In talking about a young girl who is a refugee, he observed: “She doesn’t need another blanket. She needs protection … we are perfecting assistance, but we aren’t protecting people.”

Technology can be used to give aid recipients more choices. For instance, an e-voucher program where recipients can choose from a marketplace menu, shifts decision-making power to recipients.

When applied to refugee response, Jan noted there is great potential for digital transformation in delivering aid to and monitoring hard-to-access places, providing communications capabilities, conducting needs assessment, and protecting communities and nonprofit field staff. Examples are drones for small-scale aid delivery and monitoring/needs assessment and technological developments that have allowed precision airdrops of aid to dangerous locations.

"Togetherness is the magic of NetHope, and I look forward to the advances we can make together to better serve displaced people," he said. 

According to Anne Reichert, CEO and Co-Founder of the ReDI School for Digital Integration, integration starts when two people sit down and have a conversation. “Stop talking about refugees and start talking with refugees,” advised Anne. The ReDI school is a textbook example of what happens when you start with this proposition.

Over the past five years, Germany has accepted 723,000 refugees, but during that time, only 30 percent have found jobs. The ReDI School, located in Berlin, prepares refugees to fill open positions in technology, a “win-win-win,” said Anne, for the refugees, the tech companies looking to hire for hard-to-fill positions, and for Germany. The project is a collaboration between ReDI students (refugees) and  engaged tech partners (SAP, Facebook, Cisco, and Microsoft), and a second school is in the works in Munich.

Did I mention that Anne and her team accomplished this in under two years?

Leila Toplic, NetHope’s NLG Tech Task Force Lead, led a panel discussion that focused on how technology can help us improve our humanitarian response to refugees. Panelists included: Jane Messick with Microsoft Philanthropies, Rebecca Milner with International Medical Corps, Daniel Baker with Accenture, and Paul Frisoli with International Rescue Committee.

Positive trends in this response are the use of technology (devices, apps) to enable distance learning and how companies, large and small, are coming together to meet the urgent and ongoing needs of displaced children and adults. Panelists underscored the importance of cross-sector and cross-stakeholder work, and provided some good perspective. Jane advocated for openness and dialogue, a willingness to share what does and doesn’t work. Rebecca encouraged understanding the context in which we are operating. Daniel emphasized the importance of engaging tech partners through more than just a check, through their core business to achieve a richer partnership. Paul discussed the importance of social-emotional learning programs to support refugees in efforts to “survive, recover, and gain control of their future.”

The morning finished up with my lively conversation with Ronald Orrick, VP of Information Technology with Compassion International and Steve Schwartz, Public Affairs Manager of Tableau Software to explore collaboration opportunities for digital transformation. Much of this conversation centered on the importance of data to inform our actions and the importance of data protection as we use it. Ron helped us see how important people are to digital transformation -- “people are complex, and technology is relatively simple" --  and gave us a glimpse into his work on human engineering within his organization. Steve acknowledged that this work is really hard, that it involves change management to create an environment in which data is viewed as helpful versus adversarial. 

I look forward to hearing the reports from everyone who went on field trips to University of British Columbia, FlyOver Canada, or the British Columbia Sports Hall of Fame while we are toasting to a great Summit at the NetHope Community Celebration at the Vancouver Aquarium. My thanks to our sponsors, CDW and Qlik.

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