What would you do if you had to leave your home at a moment’s notice? If you woke up to find three tons of mud in your living room? Or if you woke up in a place that wasn’t your home at all, but a temporary shelter or refugee camp?
As 2017 comes to a close, many of us are asking these questions. If you’re like me, you’ve been unable to turn away from the images of devastation that have flooded the airwaves, news wires, and social media feeds. Images of disasters, both natural and manmade, sudden and prolonged, from places both near and far.
Ferocious storms swept through the Caribbean. Millions of refugees, from South Sudan to Myanmar, fled civil unrest, and for those of us who live in the United States, disaster hit closer to home. Hurricanes left a path of destruction across Texas, Louisiana, and Puerto Rico, and fires consumed homes in California and other regions. I saw the photos of the wreckage, and also, of the people left to pick up the pieces. And I ask myself: What would I do?
At NetHope, after a disaster, we also ask ourselves these questions: What could we do better? How can we better support our 53 members, and the broader global nonprofit sector? How can we improve the lives of communities that are recovering from disaster, and, better yet, provide affected communities the tools they need to rebuild their lives?
The answer: Information. I’ve said it before, and it bears repeating: Information is aid, just as much as food, water, and shelter. Information tells you where to find food, water, and shelter. It helps governments marshal resources to people in distress, and it helps aid agencies distribute lifesaving supplies to those who need it most. This video, created by Cisco, a close partner of NetHope’s, illustrates perfectly the need for information following a disaster.
But without connectivity, there is no information. And without information, emergency response is hampered – sometimes critically. We learned this firsthand during the Ebola Crisis of 2014, where, without connectivity, we couldn’t figure out where we could be most effective. And in Puerto Rico, where we are still, over three months after Hurricane Maria, not entirely sure how much of the island remains without power.
In times of crisis, accurate information is particularly precious, and that’s what drives our crisis informatics work at NetHope. Crisis informatics provides action-driven information management, analytics, and visualizations to improve data- and information-sharing among response organizations during disasters and humanitarian crises. Without that information, humanitarian organizations run the risk of duplicating efforts, or never reaching communities where aid is needed most.
Crisis informatics is just one example of NetHope’s commitment to discovering opportunities for nonprofits to use technology more effectively. Part of this equation involves helping nonprofits build capacity and accelerate their progress, and to do this we have enlisted the help of our committed technology partners in creating The Center for the Digital Nonprofit.
To address crises that have such a devastating effect on communities, there can be nothing more important than bringing together the expertise of committed nonprofits and the innovation of our technology partners. As NetHope builds The Center for the Digital Nonprofit in 2018, I look forward to collaborating and innovating to answer the central question of our work: What could we do better?
Happy holidays, and best wishes for a peaceful 2018.