Mr. Fayiz Ali Al Ahmari, Vice President of the Saudi Red Crescent Authority, presented International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) Secretary General Bekele Geleta with a cheque for 1 million US dollars today as a contribution to the IFRC Digital Divide initiative. The initiative is designed to build a technologically integrated Red Cross Red Crescent community that better serves humanitarian needs
The donation will support the Digital Divide initiative, which was piloted in 2011 in 17 countries. The Government of Saudi Arabia is the largest non-Development Assistance Committee (DAC) donor worldwide, giving a total of 2.1 billion US dollars between 2000 and 2010 for humanitarian assistance. The Red Crescent is the primary organization through which the Saudi government implements and channels its humanitarian assistance. Representatives of the Saudi Mission in Geneva attended the ceremony, underscoring the country’s expanding role in international and regional affairs and the primary mission of the Saudi Red Crescent Authority in delivering humanitarian services.
The Digital Divide initiative aims to create agreements with 17 more National Societies over the next 12-18 months. Each agreement is tailored to the needs of the National Society and can include an information and communications technology (ICT) development plan, infrastructure review and stabilization, strengthening online communication, updating critical applications (such as volunteer mobilization, eLearning, websites and online fundraising), training for staff and access to technology discounts and equipment. The consultation and implementation can be conducted in partnership with other National Societies who send technology support staff and volunteers, as well as sharing best applications.
In business, the latest technology and equipment is essential to performance. The same is true within the humanitarian space, where the need for efficiency is perhaps even greater, since the goal is saving lives and supporting the most vulnerable. The Digital Divide initiative is designed to strengthen Red Cross Red Crescent capacity through three key areas: applying equipment, applications and training to improve member operations; discovering and harvesting solutions in a ’technology catalogue’; and building a global community of those managing technology in their humanitarian organizations. ICT innovations, which emerge and evolve at an incredible rate, enable humanitarian organizations to provide better, quicker service by strengthening internal operations and by connecting more effectively with beneficiaries. For example, the Haitian Red Cross was able to reach more than 2 million people with text messages about cholera prevention and other lifesaving tips at minimal cost.
Following a technology capability survey of National Societies worldwide, the IFRC and Accenture developed an ICT capacity index that identified significant digital divides in the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement. Often, poorer countries scored significantly lower on the ICT index, although there are some exceptions. The Zimbabwe Red Cross Society, serving one of the world’s poorest countries, has a regularly updated website for the public, connectivity between headquarters and branches through email and radio, computers for all staff who need one and a computer skills training programme for staff members and volunteers. There is still room to improve.
The vision for the Digital Divide initiative is to create an effective portfolio of technologies to address ICT challenges and to foster a worldwide technology community. Working with members, corporate leaders and other humanitarian actors, IFRC will establish a stable of applications and expertise. Within the technology community of practice, the organization will build a global training network based on the International Computer Driving License model and promote peer-to-peer support and knowledge sharing.
“With the right technology, the potential to expand Red Cross Red Crescent humanitarian reach is extraordinary,” said the IFRC’s Secretary General, Bekele Geleta. “The generous donation of the Saudi Red Crescent Authority represents a giant leap toward realizing that potential. The IFRC is delighted that the Saudi Red Crescent Authority is taking this leadership position in the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement that is an example for all larger societies to help those in greater need.”