Connecting people in a crisis
NetHope began as a mechanism to aggregate demand for bandwidth among several large NGOs, thereby lowering costs. Over the past two decades, this simple economic model has evolved into a clearinghouse for practices and tools that enable more digital operations in the nonprofit sector. Today, NetHope responds to disasters ranging from health crises (like the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa) to sudden-onset emergencies (like the Nepal earthquake of 2015). The connectivity NetHope provides — and specifically, the data generated about the networks themselves — creates a window into the needs of the affected population.
As John Crowley, director of information management and crisis informatics, says, “Our work is primarily focused on making sense of disasters faster to help our member NGOs more efficiently provide the services that let people put their lives back together.”
A good example is the response to hurricanes Maria and Irma in Puerto Rico. The 2017 storms wiped out more than 90% of the island’s power and communications grid. NetHope installed Internet connectivity and WiFi at 90 locations, helping both the relief agencies and vulnerable residents on this island of 3.2 million people. The network became a significant source of timely, credible information for the devastated island.
In Syria, more than 11 million citizens have been displaced over the past eight years. NetHope has teamed with more than 20 international development organizations in Greece, Slovenia and Serbia to identify such needs as cell phone connectivity and device charging, and to create a central information portal for refugees to learn about their options and provide e-learning for their children (especially where education options are limited). The NetHope-led Syrian Refugee Connectivity Alliance has installed internet and charging stations in 76 refugee camps, helping an estimated half-million users.