What a Corporate Funder Is Doing to Meet Urgent Humanitarian Needs Through Technology

photo:  Chris Warham/shutterstock

photo:  Chris Warham/shutterstock

Delivering humanitarian aid can be enormously complex. It requires far-flung logistical efforts that involve moving, tracking and delivering huge amounts of material. And all this needs to happen quickly in places where infrastructure may be devastated—such as in Puerto Rico, right now—or distant regions mired in conflict.

The humanitarian aid supply chain has many moving parts and can easily break down. To keep the stream of critical supplies moving, humanitarian aid funders are often left to determine feasible workarounds. Sometimes, those workarounds are successful and other times supplies are left to languish on airport runways or in warehouses while those that need them continue to suffer.

But while virtually all humanitarian organizations are familiar with the frustrations of the aid supply chain, there are very few funders consistently seeking ways to improve cost-effective and adaptable aid delivery. The UPS Foundation is one major funder we've written about often that's a leader in this area. It's been working for years to improve methods to get critical supplies where they need to go and as quickly as possible. Another key player in this space is Cisco, the global IT and networking company. 

Cisco recently partnered with Mercy Corps to deliver humanitarian aid and assistance programming to people in need over the next five years. Cisco is providing $10 million in funding with the hope of helping some 11 million people. In addition to cash grants, Cisco is providing technology, services and expertise that will enable Mercy Corps to use its “advanced analytical tools to drive faster and more precise decisions, while helping ensure sensitive data is kept secure and private.” Other highlights of the initiative are digital solutions to manage beneficiary information, improving the speed and efficiency of aid delivery, and providing new and improved information channels so refugees and migrant populations can make better-informed decisions.

We've reported on a number of Cisco's previous high-tech humanitarian efforts. 

In 2015, the Refugee First Response Center (RFRC), a medical emergency response station using repurposed shipping containers, was equipped with Cisco technology. The pilot RFRC unit is now being operated by the University Medical Center of Hamburg-Eppendorf on location at the refugee reception center in Germany.

In 2016, when people fleeing violence in their homelands began taking to the European waterways to escape, Cisco staff responded quickly by organizing clothing drives in Germany, Greece and Hungary. They also volunteered at refugee camps and launched a fundraising campaign, which encouraged staff members to donate one day’s salary toward refugee assistance efforts.

Then there’s the Cisco Tactical Operations Team, or TacOps, which is well known for its disaster and crisis response work around the world. The TacOps Disaster Response Team, or DRT, is composed of employee volunteers who deploy to disaster-riddled regions of the world to establish tech-based communications and emergency networks for first responders and humanitarian relief organizations. The DRT has made deployments to install wi-fi networks and device charging stations at nearly 20 sites along the refugee migration route in Southern and Central Europe. Cisco paid for all of TacOps’ equipment needs and gave $200,000 in funding to Mercy Corps and NetHope to provide information services to refugees arriving and living at area camps. 

Cisco’s latest donation to Mercy Corps will fund teams working in over 40 countries around the world. As a result of this work, both organizations hope to deliver new high-tech solutions to some of the most difficult and deeply entrenched global humanitarian aid challenges.