Posted by Claire Bonilla
Senior Director of Disaster Management

In recognition of World Humanitarian Day on August 19, Microsoft commends the thousands of aid workers who have devoted their lives to bringing assistance to others. The international humanitarian community is facing new challenges spawned by climate change, chronic poverty, food crisis, water and energy scarcity, migration, population growth, urbanization, pandemics, and natural disasters. While much has been achieved, the challenges faced by many millions of people around the world are still daunting and the need for effective humanitarian action is greater than ever.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) is leading the UN’s efforts around the world commemorating World Humanitarian Day. Microsoft has been working with UNOCHA to develop OneResponse, a collaborative inter-agency web portal which has been used to enhance humanitarian coordination during disasters like the devastating Haiti earthquake and recent floods in Pakistan.

Personally, I would like to pay tribute to the humanitarian community which has improved the capability to respond rapidly and effectively beyond all recognition in the last 20 years. This is largely due to the dedication of all who have worked tirelessly and contributed their ideas and actions to support the people in need.

As a technology leader, Microsoft is committed to helping humanitarian workers and agencies with the important work they do around the world by providing technology that makes collaboration and communication easier, faster and more efficient. We believe technology has and will continue to transform the way organizations operate to help in the world both in times of disaster and in ongoing humanitarian and development work.

We are honored to partner with NGOs like NetHope, which was founded on the idea that international nonprofits could solve the connection problem they faced better, faster, and cheaper if they worked together. Today NetHope is a consortium of 31 international NGOs that specialize in bringing information technology solutions to developing countries and areas affected by disaster.

I saw first-hand the many challenges faced by the people in Haiti during my trip to the country following the earthquake. While the destruction in its magnitude was overwhelming, the outpouring of humanitarian assistance overwhelmed me emotionally both in its magnitude and its intention. With an estimated 10,000 NGO’s currently operating in Haiti, the positive impact the humanitarian spirit was having on the people and the nation was visible. The destruction easily set the country back 70 years, and in 5 short months the collaboration of people, local and global humanitarian workers, rapidly regained and rebuilt aspects of what was lost, an amount of work that equated to years of efforts.  Temporary houses and schools are being put in place, skills building and work programs are beginning – resiliency is coming through and sustainability is in the forefront of Haiti focused efforts.

With funding from Microsoft, NetHope and its members were able to put up a combination of VSAT satellite dishes and Wi-Fi wireless networks to establish internet connectivity to help humanitarian agencies in Haiti coordinate the delivery and distribution of aid.

The organization also recently announced the NetHope IT Academy Haiti Internship Program that will provide university students and recent grads with the opportunity to gain IT skills that will allow them to participate in the humanitarian efforts and reconstruction of their communities and increase their economic opportunities. These skills will be developed through real-world experience working in the IT field, professionally led Microsoft and Cisco training, access to online training, connections to local IT professionals, and a network of global IT professionals.

To help bring healthcare to the poorest areas around the world, NetHope member CARE is working to address the needs of various mobile health programs by focusing on the potential of applying affordable mobile phones with cloud computing and efficient data usage. In many developing countries, most people don’t have access to computers, but more and more do have access to cell phones. Microsoft is designing the mobile technology that will allow several back-end applications to run simultaneously on an affordable cell phone. This technology will greatly benefit both the NGOs and patients by providing documentation and immediate services while reducing caregiver workload, giving them more time to devote to their patients. Additional information can be found in this video.   

In Haiti, Microsoft is also working with international organization partners to support the recovery and reconstruction efforts. In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, Microsoft worked with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) to facilitate information sharing and coordination of efforts between organizations via technology.  In addition, we are working closely with the Inter-American Development Bank and our technology partner Infusion Development to support reconstruction through the development of the Haiti Integrated Government Platform (HIGP) which will host critical information systems and recover databases lost in the earthquake.

Microsoft has a long history of partnering with leading humanitarian and disaster response organizations and community involvement.  As a company we’re honored to provide NGOs and inter-governmental agencies like the UN with access to stable and secure technology that will enable them to make the greatest impact on the people they are serving.  We greatly appreciate the work of the international humanitarian community and tremendous support of our employees who provide the technical expertise and ingenuity to support humanitarian relief around the world.