Technology Has Come a Long Way

The Vodafone Foundation Advocates for How Much Farther it can go to Address Critical Humanitarian Problems

Solutions do not need to be complicated; simple text services can have a huge impact in sharing information and reconnecting families.

Andrew Dunnett, The Vodafone Foundation (from the report Mobile Technologies in Emergencies)

The Vodafone Foundation believes that information communication technologies (ICT) can address some of the world’s most pressing humanitarian challenges and improve people’s lives. It has invested in emergency response telecommunications since the 1990s, when technology was still a luxury. The Vodafone Foundation is driven to continue to push the larger development field to recognize the impact technology can have, from enabling those affected by conflict and disaster to reconnect with family and friends, to better coordinating relief efforts.

Well before ICT, including mobile technology, became ever-present, a group of humanitarian workers realized that in addition to water, food, shelter, and health, there was a real need for telecommunications in emergency response efforts. Throughout various missions, they were often approached by displaced people asking to contact family members left behind to send news. In July 1998, the group of humanitarian workers invested in their first satellite phone and created Télécoms Sans Frontières (TSF), to provide access to communication to those affected by conflict and disaster. Once operational, the French-based non-governmental organization (NGO) quickly realized that relief workers were also impacted by lack of communication, which resulted in poor coordination. TSF opened its first Centre Télécoms (telecommunications center) in 2001 in northern Afghanistan to support humanitarian efforts.

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Mobile Technology for Education

Instant Network Schools

The Vodafone Foundation supports a program in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) called Instant Network Schools. This was a pilot project in 2013 to provide equipment, training and connectivity to schools in refugee and displacement settings. In Goma, the foundation set up its first Instant Network Classroom in a school of almost 2,000 children, the Don Bosco Ngangi Youth Center. The Center is operated by the Italian NGO VIS, a member organization of the Don Bosco Network of Salesian development NGOs.

The Don Bosco Ngangi Youth Center is an orphanage and boarding school for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), orphans, street children, and other vulnerable youth. The Vodafone Foundation refurbished a classroom and provided internet connectivity, solar power, 40 tablets, and mobile educational content, in addition to training teachers on the tablets and content. Displaced and orphaned children affected by the ongoing conflict have little to no access to quality education and are at high risk of never going back to school. Many services for displaced children suffer from underinvestment resulting in children missing out on several years of education. An Instant Network School is a solar powered center with tablets where children and teachers can access internet and digital educational content.

The Vodafone Foundation has since expanded a similar concept to the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya and camps in South Sudan, in partnership with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). So far 16 Instant Network Schools have been deployed in these three countries, benefiting 26,402 children and 500 teachers. In 2015/2016, the foundation will also expand to Équateur province in northwest DRC to camps housing refugees from the Central African Republic. The foundation is closely monitoring the 2015 political uprising in Burundi and the influx of Burundian refugees into Tanzania to possibly deploy an Instant Network School in response to this crisis as well.

A major philanthropic trend that requires mobile technology is the use of text message campaigns for fundraising.

Oisin Walton, Instant Network Programme