Rio+Social – How Technology Is Speeding Up Humanitarian Response



Rio+Social is a one-day event, co-hosted by Mashable in Rio de Janeiro. It will explore how social media and technology can play a pivotal role in creating sustainable solutions for the future of the planet. The day will be an opportunity to push the conversations of government leaders being held at Rio+20 beyond the UN conference to a digitally connected audience around the world.

RIO DE JANEIRO — Amid discussions Tuesday of ways social media can be used to ensure a sustainable future for the planet, one Rio+Social conversation emphasized how technology is accelerating and improving humanitarian relief.

Antonia Guterres, U.N. high commissioner for refugees, Hans Vestberg, CEO of Ericsson, and Ertharin Cousin, executive director of the World Food Programme discussed how their respective organizations use technology to address the world’s challenges, in a panel moderated by Robb Skinner, associate director of the U.N. Foundation.

“We need to use technology to deliver because we are overwhelmed by the humanitarian problems in the world,” Guterres said. “If you have solar lamps you can allow young people to study at night in refugee camps. If you have solar lamps in the streets, you can have less women being raped at night in refugee camps.”

For Cousin, whose response to humanitarian crises comes from the lens of food security, technology can have a different affect on sustainable development.

“Technology will ensure we can create a more sustainable world that’s less damaging to our environments and will move us all forward together,” she said. “Technology gives us the ability to create more resistant seeds, which will lead to more nutrient-rich diets.”

Ericsson views technology’s role in humanitarian issues to be about access to information. The company has found that in the next five years 85% of the world will have broadband Internet connection on mobile.

“We believe so firmly that telecommunications and connectivity can have a huge impact,” Vestberg said. “Broadband is what’s going to bring everything all together.”


Here are five ways mobile is being used to ensure a sustainable future for our planet.

Disease Response
During the past year, HP, along with partners Positive Innovation for the Next Generation (PING) and the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI), have introduced a mobile solution to disease outbreaks in two African countries: Botswana and Kenya.

HP trained health workers to respond to the symptoms of malaria by reporting potential outbreaks via text message to authorities, which takes about three minutes. The method of disease response, before the introduction of mobile, could take three to four weeks from remote regions.

“Mobile phones in the health space feels like the Internet and ecommerce in 1994 and 1995,” says Paul Ellingstad, HP’s director of global heath. “Right now, we know it’s a connection point, since 5.7 billion people have access to a mobile phone. With that sort of pervasiveness, you can provide health information, education and prevention to millions at risk of death.”

Education Through Gamification
Gaming for good is a concept many westerners are familiar with: Some social and mobile games feature informational content about global issues.

Games for Change has taken the idea an important step forward, by creating three educational games for women in the developing world for the Half the Sky movement, started by Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Feature phone users, without high-speed Internet connection, can take part in three mobile experiences, which teach them about deworming, maternal health, family planning, life cycle events and gender equality.

“We saw that there is an emerging market in developing world, so why not go and make change that will reach the people most effected by the issues,” says Asi Burak, Games for Change co-president. “This is an amazing opportunity for people who don’t have a computer, for whom mobile phones are their only tool.”


Monitoring Government Accountability
Though healthcare is officially a right for all citizens of India, according to the country’s government, many remote regions lack access to treatment due to healthcare worker absenteeism.

The Indo-Deutch Project Management Society (IDPMS) introduced a solution through technology, using mobile phones to report absences in the state of Karnataka. Anyone who owns a phone can now report to authorities that his needs are not being met. Through the use of mobile phones for monitoring, citizens can gain access to their rights for the first time.

“Information used to be spread by the country or the state,” says Oscar Abello, senior program associate at the Results for Development Institute. “People can now start from the ground level to create a feedback loop, so the government can finally be held accountable.”

Preserving the Rainforest
Brazil’s Surui tribe, a group native to the Amazon Rainforest, has been subject to the devestating effects of logging on its ancestral lands. Google helped the Surui devise a solution, through the use of Android phones, to monitor one of the land’s most valuable resources, its carbon stock.

Carbon offsets are sold to companies to counterbalance the negative toll their manufacturing, transportation or electricity are having on the globe.

While it may seem antithetical to use smartphones to help preserve the tribe’s traditional culture and lands, the Surui’s leader, Chief Almir, believes technology is a tool with great power to do good. As a testament to his work with Google, he hopes to open a center for technology and culture on the tribe’s ancestral lands.

Disaster Response
Last week, the American Red Cross released a first aid app, which provides resources for responding to emergency medical situations and general must-know information. The first aid app is the first in a series on preparedness apps the Red Cross will release this year.

Though the app has just been released for the U.S., it reveals to the power of mobile in disaster relief efforts and emergency medical response around the world. People living in remote locations can access safety procedures and how-tos when there is no medical professional around.

“We’ve reached a new paradigm of communicating and sharing information, and we think we’re going to see a very measurable impact,” says Jack McMaster, Red Cross president for preparedness and health and safety services. “The tricky part is, if you bring information to people well in advance, they don’t pay attention to it. The book format is left at home on a shelf.”

Social media and technology hold a unique position when it comes to shaping sustainable solutions for the future or our planet.





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