LIVE FROM GSMA MOBILE 360 SERIES – AFRICA, KIGALI: Panellists discussed the impact mobile technology is having on delivering humanitarian assistance, moving beyond its core role providing communication services.
“When you think about communication, mobile is a key tool to communicate back home; access to the internet allows social media to be used to communicate with the networks these individuals have,” Josh Ling, director of financial inclusion for Mercy Corps (pictured, second right), asserted.
Anna Turus, associate integrity officer with UNHCR (pictured, left), echoed this: “One of the needs we find, especially at the onset of a displacement crisis, is ensuring communications channels are available, they are of different types, and accessible to the widest population as possible. This means service providers should have the ability to communicate with people of concern at the moment they are responding to the emergency, so the population affected knows where to access services and what services are available to them.”
But once the key issues are resolved, and displaced communities become more settled, provision of additional services around mobile money, education and healthcare becomes more important.
Ling said that as refugee situations evolve over time, “they may look at opportunities for learning, so they are adapting to their new environment. They may be wanting to learn the language, they may be wanting to learn new skills in that environment, and start to create more of a livelihood for themselves at that point.”
Turus noted: “The fact that refugees or people affected by crisis can have access to remittances can really speed up their building-up of self-reliance, and their getting back to a sense of safety that really improves the way families and communities continue to live during the crisis”.
“What we see in protracted crisis, so in refugee camps that have been for example existing for more than 20 years, is we have many children who were born in the camp, and grew up in the camp, so for them displacement is all the experience they have of life. And of course with this kind of life experience, the importance they attach to education is extreme – they put a lot of hope in being able to go to university, or continuing to study when their secondary education is completed,” she continued.
Delivering such services can be challenging, however, due to the different needs of the various stakeholders involved.
Jacqueline Mebur, senior product officer of technology for development at Safaricom (pictured, second left), said: “A lot of our solutions are driven by what our partners require, and our partners would be people like UNHCR or the World Food Programme, depending on what challenges they are facing and where they feel technology can bridge the gap.”
She observed: “It is a challenge when the partners come in and they have a wish list of solutions. I think the one thing that is clear is that we have some really good shared value partnerships. So we see what they are trying to do, and first of all try to reduce this list of requirements to the simplest possible solution that can deliver the largest impact.”
SMS is still a powerful tool, due to the reach it offers. The executive cited earlier work with Ericsson, UNHCR and Vodacom called Refugees United, to reconnect people among displaced populations: “We have discovered that SMS is really powerful in delivering some really big impacts.”