As we observe World Refugee Day today, NetHope’s mission comes into sharp focus: To improve the human condition.
When NetHope considers the 65.6 million people around the world forcibly displaced from their homes—more than 22.5 million refugees, half of whom are children—there is urgency to this mission. We are reminded of what we all have in common. On the most basic level, these individuals have the same aspirations we all have for ourselves and our families: to live a safe, fulfilling life.
Yet, they confront serious obstacles to this. Conflict, famine, disaster, and economic hardships are a few of the situations causing so many to seek refuge outside their homelands. Refugees are vulnerable to a spectrum of abuses, exposing refugees and migrants to a variety of human rights violations, violence, famine, and lack of opportunities.
Today, NetHope would like to recognize the countless individuals and organizations that are dedicated to improving the lives of refugees.The worldwide network which constitutes the NetHope community puts our mission of improving the human condition into action by providing connectivity, devices, and information to enable aid responders and to empower aid recipients.
This is collective effort is fueled by the committed NetHope board, leadership, staff, fellows, 56 global nonprofit members, more than 60 tech partners, and funders. Our network extends to government agencies, telecom providers, and non-member global nonprofits. We are all united in our shared belief that digital technology is an essential tool that can improve the human condition.
Uganda Demand Aggregation: building connection through collaboration
One of the most prominent and recent examples of the NetHope community’s work to support refugees comes from an ongoing collaboration in the West Nile district of Northern Uganda. In that region, the Bidi Bidi settlement hosts more than 274,000 people and represents one of a complex of austere camps (including Rhino Camp, Imvepi and Palorinya) containing 3.5 million South Sudanese. Representing a multitude equivalent to one-quarter of the South Sudanese population, these refugees have been forced to flee their homes and homeland since wartime broke out in December 2013. These massive migration flows have exerted enormous pressures on the region as various institutions strive to put refugee support systems in place.
NetHope members—including Plan International, Danish Refugee Council, Mercy Corps, CARE, Medical Teams International, International Rescue Committee, Save the Children, World Vision, and Norwegian Refugee Council—are a few of the global nonprofits addressing the initial needs in the West Nile region. These organizations are implementing a variety of projects, from food distribution to medical aid, to assist the camp residents—all designed to respond to the hardships that these refugees currently face.
Connectivity is a power line for aid responders
As these programs were established, it became increasingly clear that telecommunications connectivity would become a critical factor in delivering coordinated, efficient, and scalable services. To respond, NetHope and an ecosystem of technology and development partners formed an action plan that relied on identifying nodes of critical demand for connectivity services, aggregating that demand and working with the network provider and other tech partners to develop creative and cost-saving solutions.
The Uganda Demand Aggregation effort is being carried out with major backing from USAID, and some of the greatest gains have come about through collaboration. For example:
Based on the common needs of the NGO community as identified in the effort, Airtel, a major Mobile Network Operator in Uganda, agreed to significantly discounted internet access rates for facilities associated with NetHope and USAID-affiliated NGO partners; Longtime NetHope partner Cisco provided valuable hardware and site integration services for both communications and renewable solar energy components to power a communal Wi-Fi hub within one of the refugee camps.
Connectivity is a lifeline for refugees
While the emphasis of the initial phases of the effort is on connecting NGO facilities and offices, it enables these organizations to offer information-based services directly benefiting the refugees themselves, giving them access to information, educational resources, news, and training, and connection to friends and family through digital technology.
The gains in helping to connect the underserved and isolated refugee communities in Northern Uganda represent an encouraging sign that collective effort, careful organization, and creative partnerships can lead to improved connectivity and better overall development outcomes. Going forward, NetHope will continue to work with public, private, national, and transnational actors in the regional government to drive overall efficiency and to build on the successes to date.
Through this access to the larger world of information, the NetHope community of global humanitarian NGOs, combined with the expertise and generosity of private sector tech partners, is creating a future of hope for refugees. This is true not only in West Nile Region in Northern Uganda, but for refugees residing in dozens of other places around the world.
Whether the NetHope community is providing connectivity and cell and smartphones to Syrian refugees in Greece, online job and language skills training for refugees resettling in Germany through Project Reconnect, encouraging involvement in the arts for refugee and conflict-affected youth around the world through the No Lost Generation initiative, or re-imagining how refugee aid is delivered through The Center for the Digital Nonprofit and its Dream Sessions, NetHope is a comprehensive network of dedicated organizations with a common purpose and shared goals—to improve the human condition.
In the final analysis, we build a platform of hope for those who receive aid, and those who deliver it, in this case for refugees and the organizations that support them.