Category Archives: Humanitarian Innovation

Humanitarian Blockchain Summit: Joining Together to Shape the Future of Blockchain For Humanity

November 16, 2017, New York City  —  Blockchain technology is already driving innovation in the finance and public sectors globally. Now humanitarian and technology leaders are exploring how the technology could revolutionize humanitarian response to global complex emergencies.

This transformation was explored at the Humanitarian Blockchain Summit on November 10 hosted by the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs at Fordham University in partnership with the Centre for Innovation at Leiden University, Center of International Humanitarian Cooperation, University of Northampton, United Nations Office of Information and Communications Technology, and Civic Hall.

More than 250 humanitarian workers, United Nations officials, governmental and public sector representatives, technology experts, and academics convened at the Summit to explore the vast potential of blockchain technology and grapple with the challenges.

Blockchain — a distributed ledger technology —  could be used to solve those challenges, such as storing identification, educational and professional qualifications of displaced persons; implementing direct cash transfer programs via cryptocurrencies; or managing contracts for migrant workers.

“Blockchain can have a role in not only serving the people endangered in these crises, perhaps in refugee camps or disaster response, but also in finding new ways that allow people to be more self-reliant, long term humanitarian projects to be more inclusive, and protection to be more central to long term humanitarian response.

As always the interest of humanitarians must go beyond the financial and fulfil the ultimate humanitarian principle of do no harm. The most essential objective we believe is to ensure transparency, data protection, and participation of beneficiaries by utilizing the blockchain through facilitating user centered design and ensuring their autonomy in the process,” said Brendan Cahill, IIHA Executive Director.

Through panels, speeches, breakout sessions, and workshops attendees discussed topics such as humanitarian financing, ethical frameworks, smart contracts, gender empowerment, and sustainable development goals (SDGs) in relation to blockchain technology.

Rahul Chandran, Director of the Global Alliance for Humanitarian Innovation, closed the Summit with three practical actions for humanitarians and technologists:

  • Put the good energy of the Summit to use by applying the technology to concrete real world problems;
  • Manage risks by having upfront conversations about ethics and governance; and
  • Ground change and impact in evidence and open ourselves up to scrutiny.

“We need collective effort and that does not just happen spontaneously. It takes the private sector, blockchain companies, coming to governments and actually saying we want standards, we want ethical codes…It takes an exchange of ideas, because we’re still so early in this process,” said Chandran who encouraged participants to continue engagement on the subject.

Following the Blockchain Summit, the IIHA is launching the Blockchain for Humanity Initiative alongside the Centre for Innovation at Leiden University, University of Northampton, and University of Groningen. The Blockchain for Humanity Initiative will provide ongoing actions for further discussion and engagement with like-minded institutions and practitioners concerning the application of blockchain technology for humanitarian action.

The first opportunities for engagement include:

The Humanitarian Blockchain Summit was made possible with the generous support of  Fordham Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Consensys and Centre for Citizenship, Enterprise and Governance.

Photos from the Humanitarian Blockchain Summit

Humanitarian Blockchain Summit

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Humanitarian Innovation Rooted in Local Context

New York City, May 5, 2017 – From mobile cash transfers to drones, solar-powered water pump to prosthetic limbs, the democratization of technology has the possibility to revolutionize humanitarian response.

International organizations have recently forged the way for such innovative ventures by joining forces with tech companies from the private sector, piloting new and impressive solutions that can save lives during emergencies, and supporting visionary ideas for the future of humanitarianism. Many of these efforts, however, are unknown to the general public, and have rarely trickled down to local communities confronting humanitarian challenges.

Instead, what if local organizations and leaders on the ground – churches, schools, and community based organizations – were prepared to use, adapt, and design impactful technologies for disaster response? What if the humanitarian sector embraced risk, and possibly failure, as a modus operandi in order to develop the most refined and contextual solutions possible? What if private companies used humanitarian indicators to measure the impact of their engagement with local communities? Can we imagine a future where existing technologies are not just used, but actually introduced by local communities to save lives?

These questions are at the core of the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs Innovation Hub (IIHA InnoHub), recently launched by IIHA Humanitarian Innovation Fellow and founder of High Tech Humanitarians, Giulio Coppi.

“(In development) it’s considered impossible to start a project without a community-based strategy behind it, while in the humanitarian sector it’s still considered normal by some actors to arrive, bring your solution, turn your back, and be gone leaving nothing behind you. We are trying to move away from this,” Giulio said in a recent Terms of Reference Podcast by Aidpreneur.

Open source potential. Giulio first realized the glaring gap in innovation for humanitarian action while working in Afghanistan and Cote D’Ivoire where he monitored the security situation for his teams using common tools like Twitter or by creating his own dynamic maps to track the movement of people and conflicts. Relying on these very basic information structures while knowing more effective options existed on the open source market was frustrating at best.

“There is a need for open source solutions to the current problems affecting humanity…This is important because in most patents or licenses are either too expensive or are not protecting technology.  Local markets are either not interesting for logistic distributors…or the items are just out of reach for most organizations and communities in the field.”

The IIHA InnoHub and High Tech Humanitarians seek to fill this gap by congregating as many open source technological tools as possible, adapting them to humanitarian contexts, and sharing them with diverse humanitarian actors through an online “toolbox.”

To be included in the toolbox, the technologies must be open source, ethically in line with humanitarian principles, and adapted for humanitarian action. They could include software, 3D printing, prosthetic manufacturing, excavators, water pumps, drones, or even small satellites.

“Each tool you find in the toolbox has its own history, its own community, its own people who believed in this idea and brought it forward. Some of these communities are still supporting the tools so you can get in touch and ask them for support. Some of those aren’t so they’ll need you to engage with the tool and find people to modify, adapt, and evolve it.”

Local solutions is the future. The World Humanitarian Summit, Giulio said, was an indicator that the sector is moving toward more innovation-centered response, but there is a long way to go until innovation is embraced as priority in the sector and reaches local communities best placed to utilize them.

“There is a need for localizing innovation processes instead of centralizing them…to provide local organizations and local humanitarian actors…with the tools.”

The IIHA InnoHub hopes to help bridge this gap by involving crisis-affected communities in the development of technological tools that mitigate complex emergency situations.

“We don’t need a perfect product. We need to empower communities and humanitarians to be contributors, to be those who provide the solution.”

In addition to sponsoring research on this topic, the IIHA InnoHub will conduct trainings and workshops on innovation for humanitarian action.

The first IIHA InnoHub course in Data and Innovation Management in Humanitarian Action will be offered  from July 6 to 10 in New York City.

To learn more follow us on Twitter at @iiha_fordham

Angela Wells, IIHA Communications Officer

 

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Featured Humanitarian Open Tool: Bamboo House

Bamboo HouseThe research conducted in advance and throughout the development of the CSEB / Bamboo House Prototype seeks to develop improvements to earthen architecture practices with a focus on shelter disaster risk reduction in areas that are subject to an array of water related concerns. The work aims to investigate the efficiency of earthen solutions exploring the opportunity to use earth appropriately within low-income housing and offering construction improvements. The intention is not to provide new alternatives but offer low-cost improvements based on successful existing practices that can be adopted by individuals and families with limited assets. Learn more about the CSEB / Bamboo Prototype and view the Report!

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Humanitarian Innovation Corner – October 2016

Autumn is ripe with opportunities and news for the humanitarian innovation world! This October, IIHA Innovation and High Tech Humanitarians (HTH) attended the European Maker Faire event in Rome, where makers, innovators and social changers from all over the Old Continent met to show their best projects. It was an excellent opportunity to meet with current and future partners, and explore the potential for more collaboration with sectors such as fabrication, eHealth, and Biomedical tech. While we can’t announce all the projects planned for 2017 just yet, we can start mentioning our support to the start up phase of Prosper, a broad initiative aimed at centralizing refugee crisis initiatives. Stay tuned to learn more!

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Humanitarian Newsletter: September 22, 2016

IDHA 49 NepalRead the Humanitarian Newsletter for IIHA news, humanitarian resources, the latest in innovation from High Tech Humanitarians, and upcoming trainings and events! This edition shares exciting news about the next two IDHA courses (hint: Nepal and #50), highlights the IIHA’s partnership with the Network on Humanitarian Action (NOHA) International Association of Universities to host its second cohort of students at Fordham University, and proudly announces the IIHA’s second MIHA graduate, Gianluigi Lopes!

And that‘s not all.. after a long summer, this edition is full of IDHA alumni updates from IDHA reunions around the world to new positions to recently published articles! Read now, and stay tuned for more!

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Featured Humanitarian Open Tool: Outernet

outernetOuternet – Free access to content from the web!
Outernet is a filecast service provider, providing global file distribution over the L-band satellite stream. It provides information without censorship for educational and emergency purposes and information about “news, civic information, commodity prices, weather, construction plans for open source farm machinery” and other types of information. In addition, it will be providing access to “courseware,” which includes textbooks, videos, and software and Outernet will be available also when access to regular Internet connection is down for any reason.

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Humanitarian Innovation Corner – September 2016

HTH Logo

This Summer at HTH, we skipped the beach and the mountains in order to continue developing new projects and fostering new partnerships. We garnered support from Benetech, CodeAlliance, Keiron, SWITxBOARD and Prosper Community, and we found common ground for cooperation with the E-Nable community and The Things Network. We engaged our many interlocutors in the U.S. and abroad, reaching out to humanitarian innovation hubs as far as Nepal. Our fields of intervention are currently focused on blockchain technology for resilient public health systems and humanitarian financing, and Internet of Things hardware for early warning in flood-prone areas.

Do you want to know more? Feel like engaging directly, or involving your organization? Drop us a line!

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Featured Resources (WBG): Cash Transfers in Humanitarian Contexts

Upon request of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Principals, the World Bank agreed to coordinate a process of reviewing key issues and options for significantly scaling up the use of multipurpose cash transfers (MPCTs; including digital cash and vouchers) in the humanitarian space. The Strategic Note document, “Cash Transfers in Humanitarian Contexts,” lays out the main findings and options emerging from the process. The main text is complemented by a set of seven appendixes, detailing the process and feedback received, as well as presenting a thorough review of the evidence and evidence gaps in the comparative effectiveness of cash and in-kind programs across humanitarian objectives. This note synthesizes main issues and findings from the process, including defining overarching issues (section 2), setting out the overall context in which a wider use of cash should be considered (section 3), and identifying the specific areas to help unleash a wider use of cash transfers when and where appropriate (section 4).  

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Humanitarian Innovation Corner – July 2016

Following on from the IIHA and HTH’s recent participation in HumTech2016 alongside representatives from OCHA, Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, Microsoft, and MIT Boston, IIHA Innovation was invited to another series of plenaries in high level events throughout the month of June.

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Representing the IIHA and HTH at the 2016 Academic Council on the United Nations System (ACUNS) Annual Meeting at Fordham University in New York, Giulio Coppi joined H.E. Oh Joon, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Republic of Korea to the UN and President of ECOSOC; Stephen Browne, Co-Director, Future UN Development System (FUNDS) Project; and Lesley Bourns, Policy Analysis and Innovation Section, OCHA, in the final plenary discussion about the Takeaways from the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS).

IIHA Innovation also accepted the opportunity to join the American Red Cross and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in a session for the 48th International Diploma in Humanitarian Assistance (IDHA) dedicated to humanitarian technology. Over the next few months, High Tech Humanitarians (HTH) will be implementing a series of activities and projects, and is currently gathering applications from groups of volunteers worldwide to help shape the Humanitarian Labs of the future on the HTH platform during a Summer of Open Design. Connect with gcoppi@fordham.edu if you want to know more!

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Featured Humanitarian Open Tool: Martus

Screen Shot 2016-07-12 at 5.31.51 PM

Individuals and groups who protect human rights and civil liberties work in environments where resources are scarce and adversaries often have the upper hand. Martus is a free, open source, secure information collection and management tool that empowers these rights activists to be stronger in their fight against injustice and abuse.

The Martus Project is a Human Rights initiative of Benetech®, a leading Silicon Valley-based nonprofit technology company founded by Jim Fruchterman, a MacArthur Award-winning social entrepreneur and former rocket scientist. Benetech uses technology to address pressing social needs.

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