It's no simple task to get all the right pieces working together while ensuring information is readily available and easily accessible. While this seems like a common problem for all workers, for the humanitarian aid worker, that's where technology can make the biggest impact.
Organizations like the International Rescue Committee, a global humanitarian aid and refugee resettlement organization, know that boosting their capabilities through cloud-based innovation and mobility will only help to better serve the 24 million lives the IRC touches per year.
Daniel Coughlin, Director of ICT for Programs at IRC, works right in the intersection of tech and relief programs to bring the right innovations, tools and apps to employees and volunteers — as well as the refugees they seek to help.
"Technology impacts our work daily. It's how we reach directly into lives, getting information out so they can recover from disaster or conflict."
— Daniel Coughlin
It's all about the user experience
In the future of humanitarian relief, Coughlin thinks it's going to be a "very mobile world, maybe even exclusively mobile" where we'll be "connected 90% of time." Workers will be tech-fluent and used to good mobile experiences in their personal life, so their work tech needs to match that.
"They are used to iPhones, Androids, very high-functioning consumer web applications," Coughlin admits. "So when they are in field they are looking for the tech that works best for them in order to do their job as quickly as possible."
A mobile-first focus not only provides a better IRC worker's experience, it can also advance the way humanitarian aid is provided to those in need. Mobile devices and apps can play a huge role in bolstering refugees' independence and autonomy in a new land.
"We're seeing more and more interest in creating mobile infrastructure," explains Coughlin.
For example, the use of cash in relief programs is a growing trend — and where tech is consistently making an impact. IRC partners with banks, credit card companies and other financial institutions to create payment systems that integrate into current financial infrastructure and provide cash- or voucher-based assistance.
By placing the power of purchase in the refugees' hands, they are preserving dignity and autonomy that wasn't previously possible. They preserve the local market infrastructure, while also benefiting the community supporting the refugees.
Access to information opens borders
Coughlin sees access to information and cross-organizational collaboration as a strong trend in the future landscape of humanitarian aid.
IRC uses the latest cloud content management technology to make these information portals a reality. IRC's portal, Refugee.info, stores crucial information for refugees in the Middle East and Europe seeking to start their new lives abroad. It provides a 'digital helping hand' to get them on their feet faster once they arrive.
"People who don't have access to various information, [the portal] tells them immediate information to help them navigate into their new life more easily," Coughlin says.
From a refugee's perspective, knowing more about the country where you're arriving can be life-saving. By providing everything from critical information like health, legal and immigration laws to everyday information like transportation, schools and local customs, refugees can resettle more immediately and efficiently.
IRC also collaborates with other humanitarian aid and relief organizations to share information and technological advances, as well as to overcome roadblocks and constraints to common problems. In fact, Coughlin believes that's where the real future of the 21st-century humanitarian lies.
"I see the revolutionary potential as conveners. To get us together to talk and share ideas about the future and see how our cultures can merge and learn from each other."
— Daniel Coughlin
The blueprint for innovation with information
- The future is mobile: plan for a device-driven, mobile-first world and plan information delivery accordingly.
- Acknowledge the consumerization of IT and the high expectations of users for their work tools.
- Leverage the cloud for efficient collaboration with agencies and partners to make the maximum impact.
About Daniel Coughlin
Daniel Coughlin is the Director of ICT at the International Rescue Committee. By working at the intersection of tech, programs and fundraising, he hopes to improve the lives of those in need. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is a humanitarian aid and resettlement organization that helps refugees regain control over their lives after disaster and conflict, with programs that focus on health, legal protection, education and the resettlement of refugees in United States.