Tag Archives: Technology

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.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Innovation, Stories from the Field

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

Leave a Comment

Filed under Partnerships

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

 

Leave a Comment

Filed under Humanitarian Innovation