How Bridging A ‘Digital Divide’ Can Help Save Lives

The following is a post from Edward Happ, Global CIO, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Today marks an important milestone for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and Microsoft as we enter into a new partnership to address the digital divide across our Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies around the globe that touch the lives of more than 150 million people each year.

We are a leading humanitarian organization focused on addressing some of the world’s biggest challenges, including human suffering, disaster relief and preparedness, health, social inclusion and building a culture of peace around the world. We also work to strengthen the capacity of communities through our work in key focus areas such as: promoting human values, disaster preparedness, and health and community care.

Through the partnership, we will look to overcome the challenge of fostering stronger Red Cross Red Crescent National Societies through the use of technology and innovation. Our organization has an internal digital divide where National Societies in poorer countries do not have the same technology tools and access as others. With the support of Microsoft’s cloud computing and other technologies, we can provide universality, which we describe as equal tools and access globally across our organizations. Further, technology will help us to better connect with our stakeholders no matter where they are and improve the process of delivering new programs.

In addition, technology helps to improve outcomes in our emergency response work. Technology helps our team to more quickly assess an emergency situation, share updates easily with large audiences and communicate better with our network of Red Cross Red Crescent volunteers and workers as they provide goods and services and respond to disasters. Through technology we are able to accomplish more tasks at a faster pace after a disaster, meaning we can save more lives.

I’ve seen many experiences in the field where technology made an impact. One was when I was working with an organization in Bangladesh on a food security program. Women and children would walk for hours to stand in line to fill out paperwork to receive food. Due to the long paper and pencil process, many families were turned away and asked to come back the following day. To overcome this challenge, we brought in phone-based technology that could replace the paperwork. This change increased the number of people we could help by 20 per cent and provided a more complete picture of the data, making it easier to organize. That’s a concrete example of the life-saving contribution that technology makes.

Our partnership with Microsoft reflects a change in our technology strategy. Currently, we spend over two-thirds of our IT budgets and time maintaining business applications and technology infrastructure, what we call ‘lights on business’. These use traditional data centers that consume huge amounts of time and money in our organizations. Through our partnership, Microsoft will provide us with access to the latest cloud based technologies, including email through Office365, as well as online training for employees and premises licenses for under-resourced countries. This means we are able to hand over some of our ‘lights on business’ to Microsoft, which specializes in running and managing data centers. Then, we can shift gears into what I call the ‘mission-moving business,’ which emphasizes spending more of our technology time and funds on improving the technology that directly helps beneficiaries and those in the field, who are working with the most vulnerable people in the world. That is a more strategic use of our technology, saving us time and money, and making us more effective.

Overall, our partnership agreement provides a framework that says that we have a relationship with Microsoft around the world and in the countries where we work, providing more opportunities for conversation around technology and innovation. We look forward to working with Microsoft, which shares our mission, passion and excitement in making a real impact for a better world.

See case studies of the American and Danish Red Cross Societies’ adoption of Office 365.

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