Improving Disaster Communications through Technology

One backpack-sized device—the Network Relief Kit (NRK)—has altered the way NGOs communicate and collaborate during emergencies. The partnership between Cisco and NetHope, an information and communications (ICT) NGO consortium, has made this technology a true success story.

Cisco helped improve communications in disaster relief efforts by employing two key strategies: building a lasting relationship with its grantee; and demonstrating to peers that investing in NetHope is both a philanthropic and a business opportunity.

What began as a solution for one NGO evolved into a solution for the disaster management space.

Almost a decade ago, Save the Children asked Cisco for help with broadband access. Even as a leading humanitarian NGO, Save the Children could not effectively maintain internet connectivity to support its field workers following major disasters. As part of Cisco’s Leadership Fellowship Program, which provides senior-level employees the opportunity to work with nonprofit organizations, Cisco deployed a team of engineers to assist Save the Children.

But Save the Children was not the only NGO facing ICT challenges—other international humanitarian NGOs needed help, too. Cisco understood the value of solving common problems through partnerships, and granted several NGOs $100,000 in equipment to network 25 field locations with revolutionary communications technology. The success of this pilot project planted the seed for a broader IT-focused nonprofit collaborative, eventually leading to the creation of NetHope.

Ongoing partnership

Through Cisco’s continued partnership with NetHope, the Network Relief Kit became scalable and sustainable for the broader international humanitarian community. The NRK provides NGO field workers with on-the-fly broadband connectivity in remote regions so that when a catastrophic disaster like the Haiti earthquake hits, responding NGOs can restore internet access for responding organizations in a matter of days. This type of connectivity is critical for mobilizing resources, especially on an international scale. The easier it is for on-the-ground NGOs to communicate during disasters, the easier it is to reach those in need.

Cisco has maintained this partnership with NetHope, and continues to help build its IT capacity to serve its member organization. NetHope continues to provide a membership model that fosters collaboration, not competition.

Bridging the IT and NGO communities

Over the years, NetHope’s model has gained traction among the donor and corporate community and has fostered long-term relationships not just with Cisco, but also the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, Microsoft, HP, USAID, and many other foundations and corporations. However, the key driver to NetHope’s financial stability has been its mutually beneficial partnerships with technology companies. Cisco has helped demonstrate to other corporations that investing in a nonprofit organization like NetHope can yield philanthropic and market benefits. By providing communications services and expertise to NetHope member organizations, these companies can introduce their technologies in emerging markets and also bring wireless communications infrastructure to a disaster zone.

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