Published: 28 January 2011
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the world’s largest humanitarian organization, and Trilogy International Partners, a wireless telecommunications company specialized in emerging markets, have teamed up to form an exciting new partnership whose vision is to empower and improve the lives of people affected by disasters.
At its heart is a truly innovative and user-friendly mobile phone application - dubbed TERA (Trilogy Emergency Relief Application) that allows aid agencies and mobile phone users in disaster areas to interact and listen in real time. Unlike traditional SMS services, which require broadcast messages to be delivered to every subscriber on a carrier’s network, TERA allows the IFRC to specify the area – a particular region or even a neighborhood – to which text messages will be sent to mobile phones. By targeting recipients precisely, the IFRC can craft messages with highly topical and relevant information. Consequently, TERA text messages elicit exceptional response rates from mobile phone users in need of aid, giving them an effective voice on how assistance should be delivered.
Trilogy developed TERA for its Haitian subsidiary, Voilà, in response to a request from the IFRC immediately after the earthquake in Haiti in January 2010. It has transformed the IFRC’s ability to work with communities coping with a disaster. Now Trilogy is granting the IFRC a free license to deploy TERA throughout the world.
“Our joint vision is to capitalize on the widespread use of mobile devices and especially SMS (text messaging) around the world so the humanitarian community can better partner with people affected by disasters” says Bekele Geleta, Secretary General of IFRC. +
“What we are managing to achieve with Trilogy International empowers communities by delivering life-saving information into the hands of those who need it most. It is about enabling disaster-affected communities to fully participate and partner with aid agencies, thereby increasing the speed, relevance and effectiveness of aid.”
“The ‘appropriate technology’ aspect is key for us,” said Brad Horwitz, CEO of Trilogy International Partners. “The TERA system was not designed in a far-away lab – but part of a focused, collaborative partnership to pinpoint the right solution to meet the needs of the IFRC and people whose lives have been affected by natural disasters. We find it inspiring that this solution, which originated in the developing world, can have enormous benefits for the rest of the world. We look forward to working with the IFRC in its efforts to deploy TERA more broadly and will continue to partner with them to further develop its capabilities,” said Horwitz.
TERA enables messages that are more relevant, more action oriented and more effective and greatly reduces network congestion meaning messages are sent faster and more efficiently. The Haitian deployment also includes a Creole language hotline (provided by Trilogy’s local operator, Voilà) for people to receive information on essential services as well as to share feedback on the quality of aid received. The entire effort is supplemented with more traditional communication means such as a local Red Cross radio station, town hall meetings, focus groups and posters.
Although in its infancy the TERA system has already shown great results. It provided early warning last September and October to more than half a million people in the vulnerable areas on Haiti’s northeast coast. The hotline - operated by volunteers from the Haitian Red Cross - received an impressive 710,000 calls during that particular early warning operation. The SMS system is also being used for public health promotion campaigns and cholera prevention, reaching vast numbers of people who may otherwise not receive such critical information.
“Innovations created out of necessity to meet Haiti’s critical needs will soon be helping people in Pakistan and beyond. It is a very exciting moment and the potential is practically limitless,” says Geleta. “The next step is to roll this system out worldwide, prioritizing areas most vulnerable to natural disasters - it proved invaluable in disaster response in Haiti but we want it now to prove itself just as effective in prevention, information gathering, early warning systems and a host of other areas where we can contribute to improving the lives of the most vulnerable.”
Briefing note: What is beneficiary communication?
Issue brief: Beneficiary communications in Haiti 2010
For further information, or to set up interviews, please contact:
Paul Conneally, Head of media and public communications, Tel: +41 79 308 9809
Kim Olsson, Director Corporate Communications, Trilogy International Partners, Kim.Olsson@trilogy-international.com +1 425 458 5956