Tag Archives: Giulio Coppi

IIHA Announces Humanitarian Blockchain Summit

The Humanitarian Blockchain Summit will bring technology experts, scholars, and humanitarian practitioners together for dynamic discussions about the future of blockchain technology in humanitarian operations and in pursuit of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Blockchain technology holds great potential for improving these operations—whether it’s used to transfer cash to disaster victims, coordinate the delivery of supplies, streamline humanitarian financing, or make humanitarian projects more gender-inclusive.

The summit is designed for those interested in using blockchain for tangible humanitarian impact. Breakout sessions will focus on overcoming challenges to using blockchain, as well as identifying the best ways to develop humanitarian-friendly blockchain platforms, among other topics. The sessions will also include collaborative exercises and presentations about how some organizations are using blockchain.

The goal of the event is for participants to recommend policies for using blockchain in specific humanitarian interventions.

Objectives

  • Highlight a range of piloted and pioneered blockchain initiatives for humanitarian action;
  • Facilitate the ethical adoption of humanitarian blockchain solutions in response to technical, legal, and governance challenges facing the humanitarian sector;
  • Bring together people from across sectors to foster new partnerships, encourage technical collaboration, and explore nontraditional funding sources;
  • Curate existing open-source tools used in humanitarian blockchain services; and
  • Build a digital community of developers interested in impacting humanitarian assistance.

Program

Plenary sessions will highlight the work of major humanitarian agencies—both intergovernmental and nongovernmental— testing blockchain to address child protection, gender equity, cash and food assistance, and other humanitarian challenges. Special announcements will also happen in this context.

Breakout sessions and workshops will introduce specific field-tested prototypes or pilot projects for blockchain technology in humanitarian settings. Topical examples include humanitarian financing; data responsibility and protection; identity management in crises; and micro-contracts. Working sessions will focus on tackling specific issues that hinders a broader adoption of these systems in the humanitarian sector.

Speakers and participants will be encouraged to provide feedback on ongoing projects and propose new ideas for scale and replication.

A more comprehensive agenda is coming soon.

Pre-Summit Events

Blockchain Day: What is “The Blockchain” and why it matters to the UN and Member States? – August 17, 2017 at United Nations Secretariat

Organized by the Office of Information and Communications Technology.

Missed this event? Check out the live recording.

Government Blockchain Professionals Group: International Case Studies – September 18, 2017 at Fordham University Lincoln Center

Organized by the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs and Government Blockchain Association.

Missed this event? Check out the live recording.

Artificial Intelligence: Opportunities and Risks in Operations of Governmental Institutions – September 29, 2017 from 10 to 10:30 AM at Fordham University Lincoln Center 140W 62nd Street, Room 212

Hosted by the Institute of International of Humanitarian Affairs in partnership with Office of Information and Communications Technology, Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Studies, and United Nations Department of Field Support.

Blockchain for the United Nations: humanitarian and other applications – November 9, 2017 from 3 to 5:30 PM at United Nations Secretariat

This pre-summit event will increase participants’ knowledge of blockchain technology through demonstrations of innovative blockchain tools and projects for humanitarian action.

In partnership with the Office of Information and Communications Technology.

Summit Partners

The Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs is hosting the Humanitarian Blockchain Summit in partnership with innovative academics and humanitarians from:

Stay Informed

Please sign up here and we’ll keep you posted as more information becomes available.

Contact Information

For media inquiries: contact Angela Wells, IIHA Communications Officer
To partner with us: contact Giulio Coppi, IIHA Innovation Fellow

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Normalizing the data revolution

This article was written by Giulio Coppi, Innovation Fellow at the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs at Fordham University, and originally published by Tech’s Good, a new digital publication critically evaluating the social impact of technology.

Violations of humanitarian law and human rights, displacement, human trafficking, conflict, and the forces that drive such abuses pose some of the most critical justice issues of our time. Simultaneously, technology and data have never had a more important role to play in ending and responding to crisis.

“The data, I think, will save us on many levels,” said Ms. Atefeh Riazi, Chief Information and Technology Officer of the United Nations, to a group of humanitarian workers enrolled in Fordham University’s Data and Innovation Management in Humanitarian Action course this July in New York City.

This course brought together leading experts from humanitarian, technology and design sectors as part of a bigger effort to put data science at the center of humanitarian action. This and other initiatives — like the upcoming Summer School on Big Data at the Centre for Innovation at Leiden University or the opening of the new Centre for Humanitarian Data — are nothing short of a declaration of unified support for smarter and more ethical uses of data for social good.

The full exploitation of humanitarian data sources has the potential to improve the way crises are forecasted, monitored and addressed. Proper management of data could drastically increase the impact and timeliness of humanitarian assistance and protection activities, such as identifying the needs of affected populations or distributing life-saving resources. But the path ahead is rocky and complex.

Challenges in policycapacity and implementation are many and sometimes disheartening, considering the high stakes and potentially dangerous consequences. All this, however, should not come as a surprise.

Three years ago, while speaking in front of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination, Ban Ki-moon defined the “rapid access to reliable, comprehensive and accurate data” as a critical component to the activities of the United Nations and its partners.

Similarly, in 2014, while recognizing the important advancements made in this field, a report of the Independent Expert Advisory Group on the Data Revolution for Sustainable Development published the report A World That Counts to highlight the gaps that hinder UN agencies from harnessing the full power of data.

In response to the report, Director of UNDP Human Development Report Office, Selim Jahan, urged the international community to “make sure that the coming revolution leads to the world having the right information, at the right time, to build accountability and make good decisions and so improve lives.”

Historically, however, revolutions that evolved into something lasting and stable did so in less than three years. An endless state of revolution can hardly be considered an ideal situation to aspire to, especially in the humanitarian sector.

Three years since the day the then-UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon drew his “ambitious and achievable mission” to leverage the Data Revolution to shape what we now call the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), humanitarians seem more worshipers of an abstract utopia, rather than victors of a revolution.

For many humanitarians, the tech world seems removed and disconnected from their own. Despite growing evidence, some still question that classic humanitarian activities like response coordination or ensuring protection of highly vulnerable populations could benefit from a more intensely data-based approach. Meanwhile, the humanitarian sector has yet to produce the policy, strategies and governance change that the data buzz has promised. Few organizations have truly embraced and incorporated data at the core of their programming or professional development activities. Even less have adopted or developed the adequate tools that would allow data (or Big Data) management to become daily routine.

The humanitarian sector, though, is hungry for projects centered on smart humanitarian data management. The frustration with the limited capacity for data-driven aid delivery is palpable. Those who are ready to evolve and take up the challenge to harness the power of data often feel their good intentions are ignored or downplayed because of institutional incapacity to adapt and internally innovate.

Moving forward, humanitarians, as community, need to tackle some core issues to truly progress in normalizing data-based humanitarianism. Potentially useful steps, though not exhaustive, include:

  1. Adopting data governance systems that can produce lasting and relevant change in internal organization management;
  2. Supporting a common language apparatus based on shared data strategies and protocols that can bridge the gap between data for humanitarian action and development (such as the HDX and HXL Standard);
  3. Ensuring that internal strategies consider Data and Innovationinterdependent;
  4. Advocating for more ethical data protection, responsibility, and management frameworks, and extending their application to public and private partners;
  5. Adopting Open Source and Open Data as mandatory approaches for all humanitarian data projects, allowing all humanitarians — but especially local actors — to access and own the most innovative tools for aid delivery and life-saving solutions;
  6. Developing shared corporate engagement strategies that can allow organic and structured innovation and cross-collaboration, beyond the current public-private partnership model.

In upcoming posts on the IIHA blog, I will further expand these points, also integrating the lessons learned on the way as we progress on new projects such as the HumanityX Summer School on Big Data for Peace and Justice hosted by the Centre for Innovation at Leiden University, and the hosting of the Humanitarian Blockchain Summit on November 10, 2017.

Note: The ideas expressed in this piece are the result of personal and professional experiences as field manager, researcher and teacher, and they do not represent anything more than a proposal for discussion. Special thanks to Angela Wells and Jorn Poldermans for their valuable intellectual contribution in the development and edit process of this piece.

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IIHA and Centre for Innovation Partner to Strengthen Innovation for Humanity

August 3, 2017, New York – The Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs (IIHA) at Fordham University is proud to announce a formal partnership with the Centre for Innovation (CFI) at Leiden University. This partnership will allow both organizations to broaden their exploration of technology and innovation from the humanitarian perspective.  Dedicated to advancing the methods and framework by which humanitarian workers operate, Fordham University’s Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs in New York City continually strives to find practical and efficient responses to global crises. In this effort, the IIHA stimulates new strategies for the development of technology and inclusion of tech and private sectors in humanitarian action.

The Centre for Innovation at Leiden University located in The Hague, the Netherlands is a university do-tank that explores and creates projects at the intersection of education, technology, and society. Aiming to leverage the Data Revolution for the benefit of humanity, one of the Centre’s flagship projects is HumanityX. HumanityX is a multidisciplinary support team for pioneers in the peace, justice and humanitarian sector who want to spearhead digital innovations to tackle global challenges from a people’s perspective.

The partnership between the two organizations is strengthened by their shared commitment to education and technology that promotes social good and ethical humanitarian response through research, training, prototype development and events. Both institutions will further incorporate lessons and trainings in data, technology and innovation to their humanitarian curricula and projects with partners.

“The partnership with Leiden is a clear example of how by working together – by combining our intellectual resources and our wide range of contacts both within and outside the humanitarian sector – Fordham and Leiden will be able to do great things. Ultimately, what we both want is simple – to make humanitarian assistance as simple and as effective as possible,” said Brendan Cahill, IIHA Executive Director.

“Structural collaboration between organizations like ours is critical so that we may align our efforts better, and make sure we can strengthen the humanitarian and educational ecosystem we are part of,” said Jorn Poldermans, Innovation Manager at Leiden University’s CFI.

The first initiative brought forth by the partnership was the first course in Data and Innovation Management in Humanitarian Action hosted at Fordham University in New York City where humanitarian workers learned from leading data, technology and innovation experts from all over the world.

Upcoming collaborations include the annual summer school entitled Big Data for Peace and Justice hosted at Leiden University in August and a blockchain summit in conjunction with the Centre for Citizenship, Enterprise & Governance in New York City on November 10, 2017.

Furthermore, IIHA Innovation Fellow, Giulio Coppi, and CFI Innovation Manager, Jorn Poldermans, will collaborate to produce joint research on technological trends within the humanitarian space and design prototypes for humanitarian practitioners.

Ultimately, both organizations hope to contribute to humanitarian interventions that build on the most impactful technological advances of the century for the benefit of crisis-affected populations they aim to serve.

Join the 4th Annual Summer School Big Data for Peace & Justice in The Hague and expand knowledge and skills in data-driven innovations in the peace, justice, and humanitarian sector.

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Press contact
Angela Wells
Communications Officer
Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs
+718-817-5303

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Blockchain for Humanity: Announcing Fordham IIHA and CCEG Partnership

                           

Fordham University’s Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs and the Centre for Citizenship, Enterprise & Governance Partner to Design Technological Solutions for Humanitarian Challenges

July 10, 2017, New York – The Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs (IIHA) at Fordham University and the Centre for Citizenship, Enterprise & Governance  are pleased to announce a formal partnership. The academic partnership will allow for the continuation and further development of both institutions’ growing focus on innovation and technology for humanitarian action and social good.

Grounded in social justice and humanitarian ethics, the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs endeavors to make the global response to humanitarian crises sustainable, effective, and dignified. In pursuit of this mission, the IIHA Innovation Lab facilitates the development of new solutions to complex humanitarian challenges surrounding data and technological advancement.

The Centre for Citizenship, Enterprise & Governance (CCEG), has been working since 2011, growing a research hub “concerned with the development and use of impact metrics  as a measure to promote a just, prosperous and sustainably secure global society.” Since early 2016, CCEG has moved from capturing non-financial and intangible value to transacting it through the Seratio distributed ledger technology.

The Memorandum of Understanding signed by both organizations will further strengthen the cooperation which began two months ago on the role and potential of blockchain technology in humanitarian action.

The agreement starts a series of exchanges in research and education and anticipates the launch of joint events and projects that will aim to facilitate the development of blockchain-based humanitarian solutions.

Together we will investigate the potential and challenges of ‘smart’ humanitarian services, particularly surrounding the circular economy and humanitarian financing. CCEG will bring its expertise in intangible impact measurement, and collaborate in developing policies, metrics and indicators to be used on blockchain platforms to bring to the light the effective value of  classic but hard to measure humanitarian interventions, such as protection or prevention,” said Giulio Coppi, IIHA Innovation Fellow.

Visioning the partnership outcomes, Professor Olinga Ta’eed said “This is one of the most exciting collaborations we have ever secured, leveraging the internationally recognised expertise and authority of Fordham’s IIHA to bring sustainable and scalable solutions to the world’s most difficult intractable problems through blended HumTech and SocialTech instruments.”

The two organizations previously held a joint-event in May 2017, entitled Measuring and Delivering Intangible Impact through Blockchain. Professor Coppi joined CCEG Director Olinga Ta’eed and Barbara Mellish, President of Blockchain Alliance for Good, for the roundtable discussion on multi-sector approaches of blockchain for social good.

The partnership between the two institutions will facilitate further opportunities to co-host events, co-develop concrete technological tools for humanitarian action, and launch joint initiatives on blockchain and emerging technologies.  

The next initiative will be a Blockchain for Humanity Summit hosted in New York City at Fordham University in October of 2017.

##ENDS##

Press contact

Angela Wells

Communications Officer

Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs

+718-817-5303

awells14@fordham.edu

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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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Tackling the Complexity of the Yemeni Crisis

Learn more at our upcoming event at Fordham University.

New York City, April 10, 2017 – Two years after the onset of conflict in Yemen, the country is facing one of the worst humanitarian crises of our time. Despite the two million Yemenis internally displaced, seven million at risk of famine and 18.8 million in need of humanitarian aid, less than 10 percent of the United Nations two billion dollar humanitarian appeal has been met by donor nations and nations party to the conflict have done little to cease hostilities.

Giulio Coppi, Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs Innovation Fellow, recently embarked on a fact-finding mission to Oman and Djibouti to study the impact of the crisis and subsequent forced migration in the region. He sat down with the IIHA Communications Officer, Angela Wells, to recount his findings.

What was the goal of your recent research trip on the Yemeni crisis?

This recent research trip led me to study the regional impact of the Yemeni crisis, with a special focus on migration and health. I traveled through Oman and Djibouti, meeting local actors and visiting refugee and migrant communities. I also tried – unsuccessfully – to enter Yemen to meet people and local organizations. I really focused on understanding what lies beneath the surface of the most banal crises in the current media landscape.

 

How would you explain the Yemeni crisis to someone unfamiliar with what lies beneath the surface of the crisis?

To an outsider with little background, Yemen could look like just another case of civil war due to bad governance and political instability, or maybe another country engulfed in sectarian and religious violence. The truth is much more complicated than that: Yemen is being intentionally strangled economically, militarily and politically by internal and international actors involved in a conflict with profound historical and geopolitical roots.

Yemen was recently listed as one of four of the most serious humanitarian crises of our time. Can you explain the situation provoking people to flee the country and the complexities humanitarian workers are dealing with within Yemen?

The inclusion of Yemen as one of four of the most serious humanitarian crises of our time comes right after its definition as a forgotten crisis. The country passed from oblivion to full spotlight in a matter of days. This is mostly due to the adoption by some organizations and UN agencies of the keyword “famine”, that immediately made it to the headlines.

Unfortunately, this leads to yet another oversimplification. It generates the false impression that all is needed is to fund agencies that deliver food. This action alone would be shortsighted and ineffective, as the situation requires a much bolder response. Humanitarians are faced with a daunting task: replacing the whole public and private sector that has been wiped away by sanctions, embargoes, violence, and corruption. Overstretched and exposed, humanitarians increase their risk of being perceived as non-neutral, or partial, and becoming a target for further violence.

We know that mixed migration flows to and from Yemen are very complex with migrants from the Horn of Africa fleeing to Yemen and Yemenis fleeing to the Horn. Can you explain this in more detail?

Due to its strategic position, Yemen has always been a crossroad of nations and people. The escalation of the conflict in 2015 resulted in a temporary suspension of the migratory movements of people from the Horn of Africa, most notably Ethiopia and Somalia, towards the Arab Gulf countries.

It is counterintuitive, but with the conflict, these figures have actually increased. Some migrants do not know about the conflict, but others actually hope the collapse of internal governance could facilitate their journey. Unfortunately, this is far from the truth. Saudi Arabia and Oman have sealed and militarized their borders, and militias control most areas of Yemen, who kidnap for ransom and often abuse migrants.

On the other side, Yemenis fleeing to the Horn of Africa has actually dwindled. I found that Yemenis prefer to seek asylum in countries more culturally similar and with more economic opportunities. Most of the refugees who sought safe haven in Djibouti tried to move on as quickly as possible, once they realized the hardship of living as a migrant in the country.

What is the reality for Yemenis fleeing to nearby countries like Djibouti and Oman?

 For most Yemenis arriving in Djibouti, one of the poorest countries in the world, they are really shocked at the conditions in the camps. Markazi camp, where they are hosted, is a camp in the middle of a desolate desert. The closest city, Obock, is a provincial town without markets or livelihood opportunities. Food and other goods arrive from the capital city from time to time, while many items are still being brought in from Yemen. In summer, the camp is swept by the khamsin (dust storms with wind speeds as high as forty miles an hour), and temperatures can reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Refugees endure these conditions in tents, huts or in containers with no electricity and really meager food provisions.

In Oman and Saudi Arabia, conditions are much better for those who manage to enter and stay. In contrast to Djibouti, which grants all Yemenis prima facie refugee status, Arab Gulf States are not parties to refugee treaties and only grant standard visas. While initially they made a display of generosity towards their neighbors, that attitude quickly changed as it became clear the conflict would not be a short one. Today, those under official visas – like medical or study visas – are granted the same services as local nationals. Those who are not so lucky face exclusion from any assistance, and a constant risk of deportation.

Where else are Yemenis seeking refuge and what are they experiencing in these reception countries?

Today, the majority of Yemenis are not hosted by their next door neighbors, but have rather continued on their journey to seek asylum in Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon, while some have been able to make their way to Europe or the United States. Yemen has a vast diaspora, and very often families have at least one member with a foreign citizenship allowing some refugees a chance of reunification with their community abroad, be it in Djibouti, Oman, Lebanon or Germany. Those who are able to join their communities abroad have a better chance for smooth integration and acceptance by local populations. However, coexistence isn’t always easy, especially when their expanded presence puts a strain on limited land and resources, which can destabilize local demographics and add further strain to existing public services.

Recently, a boat of Somali migrants was bombed 30 miles off the coast of Yemen by Saudi-backed forces. Do you see this as a worrying trend for the future or an isolated incident and why?

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident and I do not think it will be the last. The Bab-el-Mandeb strait, a vital commercial route, was already heavily militarized before the conflict and even more so today. Furthermore, this attack is representative of a worrying trend on the access of safe routes for forced migrants globally. We see around the world how increasingly innocent civilians trying to escape the perils of war are being directly and purposefully attacked in systemic and horrifying ways. This is not only in violation of international laws, but is a deeply worrying indication that humanitarian channels and national values for unfettered humanitarian access is more compromised than every before.

 Is there anything else you’d like to add?

In these times when all the attention is focused on Syria and the horrible tragedy in Syria, it is also important to remind everyone of the words of Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC): “Yemen after five months looked like Syria after five years.”

The level and extent of the destruction in Yemen is unparalleled for intensity and impact. What is worse, very little efforts have been made by the UN Security Council to call for safe humanitarian access, cross-border protection, or cessation of hostilities in Yemen. It is about time the UN Security Council, and involved parties to the conflict, adopt a more proactive role to end this conflict, before Yemen and its population reach the point of no return.

Non-Fordham guests must register in advance for the upcoming event Tackling the Complexity of the Yemeni Crisis.

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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 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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Humanitarian Innovation Corner – June 2016

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IIHA Innovation was present at the Innovation Marketplace of the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), to participate as founding members in the launch of the Global Alliance for Humanitarian Innovation (GAHI) and to witness the opening of the Global Humanitarian Lab (GHL).

After several delays, the humanitarian community is finally going big on innovation: GAHI is more focused on developing consistent and more effective policies and standards for improving humanitarian action, innovating humanitarian technologies in a systematic way; the Global Humanitarian Lab (GHL) is more concentrated on unleashing innovation worldwide, creating a global network of makers and innovators that could produce local humanitarian tools and solutions that could be used to facilitate responses by humanitarian actors. IIHA, through its own Innovation initiatives, will be an active member of the GAHI, while exploring potential cooperation with the GHL for the future.

In the aftermath of the WHS, IIHA was invited by the IPI to take part in a Q&A on the takeaways form the summit, and featured a contribution by the Institute’s very own Humanitarian Innovation Fellow, Giulio Coppi, on the IIHA blog, which includes more in-depth analysis on some measures proposed in Istanbul, and their complicated application to conflict-related situations. More recently, IIHA Innovation was also selected to present its activities and projects including the High Tech Humanitarians (HTH) initiative during the Humanitarian Technology Conference in Boston, where, alongside representatives from the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, OCHA and Microsoft, Giulio took part as a plenary speaker in a session dedicated to the post-WHS humanitarian innovation landscape.

The next events for IIHA Innovation include the plenary session of the 2016 Academic Council of the United Nations System (ACUNS) Annual Meeting in New York, and a special session at the International Diploma in Humanitarian Assistance (IDHA) dedicated to the importance of humanitarian technology, that will take place on the 27th of June in cooperation with the American Red Cross and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent.

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Giulio Coppi Reflects on WHS: “A good Humanitarian Summit, but for peacetime”

The High-Level Leaders’ Roundtable on “Changing People’s Lives: From Delivering Aid to Ending Need” at the World Humanitarian summit in Istanbul

The High-Level Leaders’ Roundtable on “Changing People’s Lives: From Delivering Aid to Ending Need” at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul (CC BY-ND, WHS)

Those of you at the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) who were brave (or lucky) enough to make your way from the plenary building to the side events area, and through a maze of tunnels to the Exhibition Fair to then defy four flights of stairs up to the Innovation Marketplace, may probably have already met me. As Humanitarian Innovation Fellow at the IIHA and Manager of the High Tech Humanitarians project, I had the pleasure and privilege to participate in the WHS in Istanbul last week to present our activities and take part in the launch of the Global Alliance for Humanitarian Innovation (GAHI), of which IIHA is a founding member.

Many well-qualified and well-credentialed attendees have already produced a broad spectrum of opinions on the takeaways from the WHS. Their conclusions range from the downright critical, to the relieved, to the mildly enthusiastic, but there are still a few conclusions worth noting.

War, more so than the G7, was the biggest absence at the WHS. 

Apart from a few blessed events dedicated to specific categories of vulnerable populations, the theme ‘protection of civilians in times of armed conflict’ was barely visible in the overall agenda. Discussions in this sense remained vague, and were mostly limited to recalling what is already well rooted in international law. Considering that around 80 percent of the humanitarian crises are due to conflicts, this basically means that for two days the humanitarian community discussed how to improve about 20 percent of its work.

Some could object that I’m being provocative – that, even without explicit mention of “times of armed conflict,” assistance as discussed also applies to situations of armed conflict – and they would be right. However, the reality is that some of the key measures finalized at the WHS as final global commitments to reform humanitarian assistance often do not apply in times of violence.

This is the case, for example, for cash programming and localisation. In times of conflict, the localisation of humanitarian assistance would be far from easy. Even those local NGOs who are not impeded from receiving international funds and grants for having ties with an armed or political faction very rarely have the capacity to absorb, manage, use and report on funds that, in order to be effective, easily reach the five to six digit range.

This is of course not the fault of local actors. As noted in a recent report, funding strategies are often the main threat to humanitarian neutrality, impartiality and independence, as donors discourage programming in opposition-held territories, or in areas out of government control, leading to a de facto politicization of humanitarian response.

Refusing to fund overheads to local NGOs, donors can potentially curtail the sustainability of programs and undermine future development. This is especially true considering that in situations of armed conflict, local capacity is put under considerable strain as organizations and their staff try to face a dangerous crisis while having to balance their altruism with the need to ensure their own safety and that of their families.

While the WHS closed with a commitment for less paperwork and bureaucracy and more direct access to funding, these issues were not addressed in any concrete way, and the feeling is that donors will continue deciding on a case-by-case basis, mostly according to their own existing regulations and agendas.

Finally, it is broadly agreed that the attention-grabbing figure of only 0.2 to 1.6 percent of humanitarian aid going directly to local groups is misleading, to say the least. There is a reason why we constantly praise the role of local actors, and lament the shrinking access of international humanitarian agencies and INGOs: National NGOs deliver most of the assistance and thus manage a relevant part of the resources.

Humanitarian aid is much more than its monetary value. If it were just about the monetary value, then the humanitarian assistance decision-making process would be limited to fundraising, procurement and warehouse logistic phases. However, the networking, access, distribution and M&E processes are just as valuable as the rest: covering the last mile doesn’t necessarily mean being in a subsidiary position compared to those applying for grants.

Focusing on promoting partnership models that ensure increased participation of local partners in strategic humanitarian planning – and limiting the abused practice of sub-contracting – rather than enforcing arbitrary quotas in direct funding, could probably better ensure that INGOs and humanitarian agencies, with all their well-known bureaucracy and malfunctioning, will guarantee, monitor and protect their operations without bossing around local partners.

As for the massive switch to cash programming, humanitarians know better than anyone else that giving money to local actors and civilians who are on the front lines of widespread violence often means exposing them to increased risks, with little to zero hope for them to be able to use that money at all. According to some figures, offering people affected by crises cash instead of goods or services would be feasible in as many as 70 to 80 percent of all humanitarian contexts. The studies that I know of surely prove the need to increase the amount of cash transfers and assess their theoretical feasibility, but don’t perform a conflict-specific analysis to scientifically prove that the cash system is the best option in such an overwhelming amount of cases.

Very often where violence reigns, money has a much higher value for armed actors, who still have access to surviving markets, than it does for local populations. It is true that in some cases direct cash to households has shown a positive trend in decreasing involvement of civilians in hostilities, but further studies also prove an increase in the number of conflict-related casualties in the receiving community. Also, this system risks encroaching on the neutrality of humanitarian assistance, as it mainly relies on institutional channels which make it difficult or dangerous for communities in areas not under government control to receive the money. Another reason for concern is the fact that conflict crises are more and more protracted in time, with refugee camps existing for decades and violence erupting regularly for many years. There is a risk, which in some cases has already occurred, of humanitarians adopting a “shadow government” role delivering guaranteed minimum income-style aid – and eventually supporting non-cash assistance and related services – for unpredictable stretches of time.

These were among the reasons why, many years ago, cash programming in conflict areas was progressively abandoned in favor of other forms of assistance. This is also the reason why, now, figures for cash-based assistance are so low in humanitarian action: with 80 percent of current humanitarian crises being conflict situations, the use of cash is still extremely sensitive.

The move towards an increased use of cash-based solutions would be a wise one, especially considering that most of the emerging or low-resource economies are already pioneering forms of remote, digital or mobile payments for daily use, leapfrogging from traditional paper money to cryptocurrencies and paperless distributed systems. However, approaching this issue from the dogmatic perspective of imposing quotas to be fulfilled, means not only denying that the shortages of food and basic items as well as the collapse of market services and retail infrastructures are part of the common paradigm to most conflict contexts, but also that most of the current architecture of the humanitarian system is not yet prepared to deliver cash in the face of armed actors.

Rather than setting unattainable quotas to be reached in an arbitrary time-frame, it would be more feasible and realistic for the humanitarian community to commit to dedicating an appropriate amount of internal funds and resources to create global, measurable and standardized procedures to effectively use cash-based methods in war contexts, without increasing vulnerabilities or affecting local markets. A collective push to incorporate cash as a regular tool of response would also have the positive effect of shifting the language of cash transfers from “innovation” – a reference which almost allows cash interventions to remain in pilot phase or at a very small scale – to “standardization”, which would allow humanitarian actors, academic institutions and donors to evaluate the real impact of these measures in a transparent, comparative and evidence-based manner.

So, did the WHS get it all wrong? Was it a smokescreen with red herrings for outcomes?

Absolutely not, at least in my opinion. As I said recently in an interview with the International Peace Institute’s Global Observatory, the WHS did what had to be done, in the given conditions: the humanitarian system may not be broke nor broken, but it surely needs a thorough revision. At the Summit, the humanitarian actors completed a long-overdue first step moving from soul-searching to re-shaping.

Some new actors emerged (new to the international conference scene, not to the field), especially from regions not traditionally known for exporting INGOs, while established actors agreed on the re-definition of operational boundaries among national and international NGOs, and on the need to update and improve humanitarian strategies.

The Grand Bargain addresses most of these issues, and promises to clear the table from some of the absurd earmarking and funding restrictions faced by potential implementing actors. All this had to be done, and as a result, the humanitarian system emerges stronger from this display of (almost) unity.

Many chastised the absence of the most important states, fearing the lack of engagement and commitment could anticipate a gap in political positioning. This fear seems superfluous: Indeed, states’ lack of engagement is by itself a political move. Refusing to engage in discussions about a stronger commitment to International Humanitarian Law (IHL), first at the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and then at the WHS, the international political structure is detaching itself from the humanitarian consequences of its actions.

The message is clear: a stronger and modern humanitarian system is welcome, as long as it doesn’t interfere with military and tactical priorities. As long as it keeps out of the war business, and keeps focusing only on doing its best to solace the victims, all is in order. But this system is not sustainable, nor just. As it has been said, one of the few conclusions that attracted broad consensus is that humanitarian problems can’t be solved only by assisting people and throwing money at problems.

Whatever will come after the WHS (implementing and follow-up mechanisms were not announced, which raised even more skepticism), the humanitarian system must prove itself able to reach real unity and demand to bring conflicts (and their victims) back to the center of the discussion.

Providing direct support to local actors is impossible if they are either identified as partial, or barred from receiving funds for political reasons under the blanket pretext of very loose anti-corruption, anti-terrorism and anti-violent extremism blacklists. National organizations cannot effectively implement relief operations if their staff is forced to flee with the civilian population because of the indiscriminate targeting of civilians and aid workers. Delivering cash is counterproductive and harmful if armed actors don’t respect the obligation to spare civilians and their belongings. The international NGOs and humanitarian agencies can and must reform their procedures to leave more space to local actors, but they all need an environment conducive to delivering and providing humanitarian assistance in order to operate together in harmony.

It has been said that for states, the alternative to respecting the rules of war is to pay the price. The humanitarian system still has the chance to rally and demand that the real final price isn’t paid by their staff and the civilian population. It is a good opportunity for the freshly motivated humanitarian world to cluster around the points proposed before and after the WHS, and lobby for a more positive discussions in the next international conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in 2017. Everyone will gain from a stronger IHL, be they national or international actors.

PS: If you just discovered reading this post that what you thought was the Innovation Marketplace was actually the Exhibition Fair and that there was a whole world just above your head and you missed it, you’re not alone. Realizing the limbo we were stuck in, with the innovation crowd decided to turn to Twitter to voice our cry for attention and visibility.

 

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Giulio Coppi has more than 8 years of humanitarian professional experience managing operations in South America, West and Central Africa, South and Central Asia. He earned his BA, MA and MAS in International Law with a specialization on Humanitarian Law and Human Rights in conflict. In his career, Giulio has cooperated with NGOs, Universities, the UN, the OECD and the ICRC. At the IIHA, Giulio oversees the Humanitarian Innovation program of the Institute, with a special focus on Open Source technology and community-based approaches, manages the joint initiative High Tech Humanitarians (HTH), and is IIHA’s focal point to the Global Alliance for Humanitarian Innovation launched during the WHS in Istanbul. To get in touch with him and contribute to the discussion, feel free to comment on this post or to email him at gcoppi@fordham.edu. A big thanks goes to Kasia Laskowski for invaluable brain-picking, feedback and editing support.

 

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