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4 Innovations That Are Improving Humanitarian Aid

Humanitarian aid run by members of NGOs

Humanitarian aid is progressing by leaps and bounds these days. Although the COVID-19 crisis has taken much of the limelight over the last year, how NGOs, private companies, and sovereign states innovate in humanitarian aid is worth discussing. Here are five key innovations happening in the field of humanitarian aid.

1. Digital KYC Solutions

One of the biggest issues facing refugees in all parts of the world is their lack of identity documents. Often lost in the hurry of flight or during arduous journeys, identity documents represent a genuine key to accessing and benefiting from the humanitarian services offered by NGOs and numerous financial services usually available to citizens of sovereign states. Traditionally, countries harboring refugees are mandated to provide identity documents to them. However, when the host state’s available resources can’t cover the creation of official identity documents, the responsibility to do so falls on the UNHCR. Under the framework of the UNHCR PRIMES (Population Registration and Identity Management EcoSystem), the UN has successfully rolled out a centralized biometric system database accessible from anywhere in the world and supported on multiple platforms.

2. Smartphone technology

While smartphones may seem like a banality of the modern world to us, they can act as a lifeline to displaced persons. On the one hand, smartphones give access to media and content that has been shown to ease psychological distress among refugees. Moreover, some refugees have claimed that having a data plan was more urgent than healthcare or even better housing options. There are multiple reasons for this: location services allow displaced persons to locate refugee camps and plan their travel much more efficiently and independently than they would be able to otherwise. Additionally, making and receiving calls, texts, and general communications with their loved ones is essential to their well-being.

Furthermore, internet-connected smartphones allow refugees to send and get money in ways that were previously unavailable to them. Likewise, new e-learning and job-searching methods hinge on accessing a mobile-connected device. Smartphones have also been shown to help humanitarian workers have quicker and easier access to the data necessary for them to lead their jobs properly.

3. Involvement of the private sector

There has always been an unspoken divide between the private sector and public or non-profit organizations. This industry chiasm stems from the entrenched belief that non-profit organizations operate with entirely different objectives than their for-profit alternatives. While that may be true, the innovative powers of the private sector should be used to give a potentially lifesaving advantage to non-profits around the world rather than be demonized for its money-grabbing ambitions. There are many ways in which the private sector has contributed to the implementation and overall improvement of the global humanitarian situation. The EMPACT project from the World Food Program is a shining example of the latter. The project’s objectives lie in making refugees financially self-sufficient by teaching them key digital skills through vocational training. Financial independence has been shown countless times to be an essential component in the reintegration of refugees into working life.

To successfully administer vocational training to the refugees participating in their program, the WFP has called on leading global tech firms to provide the contents for the courses and better prepare the participants for working life. Thanks to the valuable insights of these leading tech firms in the digital jobs market, participants in the program were able to quickly gain access to employment opportunities and secure their finances independently. What’s more, this approach has also helped slash the gender and employment divide that has been historically present amongst displaced persons. EMPACT is just one of how public and private cooperation can improve the situation of individuals in and from crisis areas. In the field of digital payments, which has made huge strides thanks to the participation of the private sector and has been shown to drastically improve the situation of refugees, private/public cooperation follows a set of principles that limit imbalances of power or the intrusion of toxic incentives in the process.

4. Biotechnology applied to Humanitarian Aid

Last but not least, the use of innovative farming techniques borrowed from the biotechnology sector has astoundedly impacted the livelihood of refugees worldwide. Since most internally displaced persons live in arid areas, growing crops for food or cattle fodder sustainably can seem impossible. However, thanks to the intervention of NGOs like the World Food Program and their clever delivery of hydroponic technology to historically arid areas through the H2Grow program, the ability of refugees in arid areas to grow lifesaving crops has tremendously increased. Though still underdeveloped, the applications of biotech to humanitarian aid are a promising avenue for life-changing innovations.


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