Innovative prototypes that improve aid during major disasters

An app for victims of a disaster to anonymously report abuse even when there is a lack of connectivity. And an application with which aid organisations can collect data from social media about disaster areas where there is a shortage of food. Together with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Google, University of Leiden, and United Nations organisations UNHCR and UNOCHA, PwC wants to further develop these ideas.

These ideas resulted from a hackathon that was organized by PwC during the weekend of February 11 and 12. The event focussed on innovation in humanitarian aid. The purpose was to find solutions for a better ‘need assessment’ in disaster areas in the world by giving people in crisis situations a voice and generate information directly from the people affected. PwC partner Anton Koonstra was one of the driving forces behind the hackathon. He is delighted about the results of the event. ‘We developed working prototypes that soon will improve the way people in disaster areas will get humanitarian aid.’

Reliable data

‘We do a lot of work for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’, says Koonstra’s colleague Sanne Maas. She noticed how international aid organisations like UNHCR struggle with the collecting of reliable data that can help to determine the exact need of people in crisis areas. ‘Apparently it is complicated to assess what people need after a disaster and in what quantities.’

Collecting and processing data

In essence it is a question of generating and collecting the right data and the correct processing of these data, Koonstra explains. ‘We concluded that for these problems, data collection and specific analytical techniques could help to force a breakthrough. That is how we arrived at the idea for a hackathon since this is an excellent way to quickly lay the foundation for new ideas and solutions.’

Social responsibility

PwC organised the hackathon and provided the Amsterdam office as the location for the event. The project fits the social objectives of PwC, says Koonstra. ‘We feel a project like this is very important. Not because of some commercial gain, but because the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the aid organisations of the United Nations (UN) will be able to improve their aid. At PwC we see it as our social duty to help. We want to build trust in society and solve important problems in the world. Also this project ties in with our global core values, such as care and integrity.’

Developing prototypes

The hackathon started off on Saturday morning with seventy participants from all over the world. UN organisations UNHCR and UNOCHA, the World Food Program and other aid organisations presented the challenges they are facing when working in the field. Following these briefings the participants worked day and night to develop functioning prototypes with which people in need can report what aid they require. The best idea would be awarded the ‘Hacking Aid Award’. Koonstra: ‘Such an app or program is an application whereby data generated by the affected people, for example with their smart phones, is combined with the datasets from other systems, such as the databases of the Humanitarian Data Exchange Platform of UNOCHA.

Two winners Hacking Aid Award

Koonstra: ‘The jury consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, UNHCR and PwC. Finally the jury decided to grant the award to two teams. They received their award from Jelte van Wieren, director Humanitarian Aid of the ministry. One of the winners developed the ‘Dream Catcher’, an app with which victims of a disaster in areas without connectivity can anonymously report abuse. The reports are sent encrypted to UNHCR by using mobile appliances of other people.’

‘The second team received the award for their app ‘Seeing Hunger’. With this app aid organisations can collect data about disaster areas where there is a shortage of food. During the coming months the ideas of both teams will be integrated into one solution. PwC and the other partners in the project will offer their support. The teams will also get the opportunity to present their prototype to the board of directors of the UNHCR in Geneva. The partners in the project will cover all expenses of the further development of the prototype and of the pitch. Also they will cover all costs of the trip to Geneva and the stay there.’

Would you like to know more? Please contact Anton Koonstra or Sanne Maas.