Aid organisations dodge cloud for technology that works

There were two reasons I wanted to write about software used by international aid organisations. The first reason was that there were lots of great projects to write about. Where commercial mappers failed, Missing Maps volunteers using OpenStreetMap and aerial images had 23,500 square kilometres of the Democratic Republic of the Congo hit by Ebola mapped in a fortnight, helping Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to tackle the outbreak.

The second reason was that aid organisations need technology that works in all environments. Among other things, this often means avoiding cloud computing. MSF physically flew its new maps to the Congo, first on paper then on a small server, to save bandwidth to its facilities there. Those with staff working mainly in the field, such as Oxfam and World Vision, make sure their software works offline. It demonstrates why cloud is not the answer everywhere, even if mobile coverage in Britain are usually better than in central Africa.

Aid organisations choose technology that works in tough environments, rather than what is fashionable. Oxfam prefers well-designed commercial software to harder-to-use open source tools, as this saves money on training and repairs. World Vision has commercialised its Last Mile Mobile Solution suite for managing beneficiaries, selling it to Oxfam among others. Others could learn from their pragmatism.

NB. It’s not one I am running (I will be attending as I can always learn more), however I recommend NUJ London Freelance Branch’s ‘Let’s role play better deals! How freelancers can make more money’ on 28 November. The trainers, Phil Sutcliffe and Humphrey Evans, are masters of freelance bargaining. At just £5.98 for NUJ members and £11.37 for non-members, it’s a bargain itself. Book here.

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