As an organization based in a crisis zone, Souktel has provided mobile solutions for emergency response right from its start: In 2007, a year after it opened its doors, Souktel and the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA) partnered to launch an SMS incident reporting system for aid workers in Palestine. Barely a year later, with the flare-up of hostilities in Gaza, Souktel rolled out a first-ever data collection platform for UN World Food Program contractors.
Earlier this month, the UN called on Souktel again--this time to share its latest innovations at an annual high-level summit in Geneva. The event provided a key opportunity to reflect on past work--and to test new technology in front of a live audience.
From July 15 to 17, the UN Economic and Social Council's annual humanitarian affairs meeting focused on tackling challenges in the development sector using new and creative solutions. Foremost among these was mobile technology--with its potential to reach millions of crisis-affected community members at low cost. Yazeed Sheqem, Souktel's director of business development for the Middle East and Africa, took part in a panel dubbed “Humanitarianism in the Network Age”, sharing Souktel’s experience in mobile-based emergency response from Somalia to Iraq.
To demonstrate mobile tech’s power to convey information during crises, Souktel also ran a pair of live SMS polls for hundreds of attendees at panels chaired by UN-OCHA director Valerie Amos, the UN’s Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief.
The first poll, projected onto a large screen for all the delegates to see, asked them to cite the greatest benefit of a risk management-based approach to delivering aid. There were four possible answers to choose from, and the results appeared in the form of an easy-to-read pie chart as participants shared their views via text message.
In her remarks to the panel, Amos praised Souktel’s work, and noted the importance of such mobile tools in bridging "the digital divide--that gap between communities that have access to information and communications technology and those who don't". In crisis zones, she added, the results of Souktel’s SMS surveys “give agencies up-to-the-minute information so that they can take quick and informed decisions about what to do”--a crucial advantage when time is limited and resources are scarce.
Commenting on the polling, Souktel’s Sheqem noted how the small-scale tech demo in Geneva shows the larger-scale applicability of mobile solutions for crisis response: “It let [UN staff] get a feel for how citizens use our technology on the ground, in an actual crisis situation, and how it helps aid workers gather information as quickly and simply as possible."