We were among the over 300 attendees convened in Washington, D.C. for the Aid & International Development Forum’s Global Disaster Relief Summit to discuss the latest trends & lessons learned in disaster relief work worldwide. Here are our takeaways:
1. Affected communities know their own needs best.
This may seem obvious, but when disasters strike, the voices of those most affected are not always heard. One way funders can help is by supporting local organizations with long-standing ties in affected regions. Investing in these groups not only addresses immediate needs on the ground after disasters but can also help ensure that communities have systems in place for future disasters. Intermediary organizations like Global Giving can help connect donors to such community-based nonprofits and grassroots initiatives around the world.
2. Innovation doesn’t work without local control & context.
There were many technological innovations discussed at the conference, including solar-powered phone chargers, mobile apps for aiding refugees, and flying robots for canvasing terrain after disasters. While technology can play an important role in disaster relief, speakers and attendees alike emphasized the importance of not being distracted by “the latest new and shiny thing.” Instead, technological innovations are most effective when they incorporate existing best practices in disaster relief, such as local control. For example, in Nepal, WeRobotics partnered with Kathmandu University to assess earthquake damage using drones. After WeRobotics trained locals and “let go of control,” local Nepalese working for the Kathmandu Flying Labs successfully completed the aerial surveys and conducted additional 3-D modelling to assist in recovery efforts. By combining the drone technology with the principle of local control, WeRobotics effectively partnered with the affected community beyond just short-term relief.
3. Internet connectivity is a form of aid that’s often overlooked.
For example, according to one speaker, Syrian refugees often arrive at their host country asking two things: “Where can I buy food and water?” and “Where can I get wi-fi?” For those displaced, connecting with friends and family back home or in other host countries is often a rare and emotional event. One speaker told the story of a refugee who hadn’t spoken to his daughter in 2 years. Once he was able to access wi-fi, he video-called her, and the two spent the first few minutes of their conversation just crying. Speakers used this story to encourage attendees to consider connectivity and access to information as a basic human need. Even if they have smart phones, refugees have difficulty accessing wi-fi to contact loved ones, access news from their home countries, and get paperwork for host countries. Organizations such as NetHope are working to address the connectivity needs of refugees by creating wi-fi hotspots and charging stations in refugee camps. Such organizations play an especially important role when refugees cannot purchase SIM cards in their host countries, and therefore rely on free wi-fi for their connectivity needs.
Thank you to the Aid & international Development Forum for hosting! For more disaster relief guidance, click here. And be on the lookout for our special section on disaster relief in the 2016 Annual High-Impact Giving Guide, coming in November 2016.
by Rebecca Hobble, Analyst, Center for High Impact Philanthropy