By Jeanett Sandmo, Senior Advisor Startup Division at Innovation Norway and
Kristina Hallvik, Intern at Royal Norwegian Consulate General in San Francisco
Last week several friends of The Nordic Innovation House, among them angel investors, Impact investors, tech experts, and entrepreneurs, met with Norwegian Refugee Counsil at Nordic Innovation House to discuss how technology can help humanitarian aid
The Secretary General in NRC, Jan Egeland shared with the group some of the challenges they are facing daily in NRC’s humanitarian work and stories from the lives of displaced ones in Syria, Congo South Sudan, and Yemen among many countries. He also shared some of the biggest challenges where NRC believes there is existing technology today that can both help them help more people and help solve challenges they still don’t have solutions to.
Long term solutions
Egeland pointed out how aid work must also take into account the long-term needs. For example, it is important with educational training in refugee camps so that refugees can return to their respective homes with new knowledge. This is important because previous professions are no longer relevant in war-hardened areas, where large lands have been destroyed and people's needs have changed. On the other hand, there is often a huge need for professions like engineers and doctors.
If we can contribute with education through technology in refugee camps, refugees and displaced people will be able to contribute to society when the refugee status ends. The Dadaab camp in Kenya was drawn as an example, where former farmers and shepherds from Somalia left the camp as computer engineers. Refugees must qualify for new occupations before returning, and here, Impact Investors and entrepreneurs with innovative solutions could be a huge asset.
Technology for better communication
The Internet is available in large parts of the Middle East, but not in all countries in Africa, such as South Sudan and Congo. Egeland discussed with some of the guests how the internet could be made available to several, which is important both for refugee aid to communicate better both internally and externally. And to be able to communicate with the displaced, and to understand what their actual needs are, instead of assuming.
"We are no longer there that we pretend we know what a Somali mother-in-law with five children needs. We must ask her. "
- Jan Egeland (26.10.17)
Technology and identification
Finally, technology for electronic ID cards and identification of refugees was discussed. The Founder and CTO of the Norwegian company ForgeRock, Lasse Andresen stressed that the technology already exists for face detection and fingerprints.
Use of such technology, such as immigration authorities, will eliminate the potential for ID theft. Together with use of "big data", technology can secure information about education, past work and criminal background etc. This is not unproblematic in terms of forgery of documents and ownership of personal information, but the technology for better solutions exists.
Engaging a larger ecosystem
During his days in the valley, Mr. Egeland also engaged the academic side with a key note at Stanford’s Handa Center on the topic “Global Displacement: Conditions inside Syria for those who have been left behind”. In this talk, by Jan Egeland and Dr. Farida (last OB/GYN in Aleppo) the focus was on conditions inside of Syria for the millions who have been internally displaced and whose narratives haven’t been addressed in the media. It was also discussed areas in which Stanford could intervene to help alleviate the global displacement crisis.
Nordic Innovation House and Team Norway are honored to be involved and will continue to give input as to how technology and our network can be leveraged to find better solutions so support NRC in their very important work.