The UAE is at the forefront of technological advances in humanitarian aid in the region after Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, launched earlier this summer one of the Arab world’s first initiatives in the field.
The Humanitarian Accelerators aim to use advanced technology, such as artificial intelligence, to improve the delivery of aid to those in need.
“We are striving to accelerate the process of giving, consolidating efficiency and leapfrogging conventional technology approaches in humanitarian work,” Sheikh Mohammed said at the time.
“We wish to increase the efficiency of humanitarian organisations so that, in the name of the UAE, we can help more people around the world. The goal is to harness the potential of advanced technology to improve the lives of others. We are facing many humanitarian challenges and must think innovatively to accelerate philanthropic work and achieve high results – this cannot wait.”
Launched in collaboration with the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiative and Dubai Future Accelerators, the project will address the issue of access to quality education for all children in the region by providing e-learning tools and access to clean water in developing countries.
It will also focus on finding electronic solutions to poverty and develop a platform for e-business for refugees to leverage their skills.
“Looking at this year and how technology is changing our lives, it makes sense to look at ways at how technology can help ensure education to refugees, whether in the Zaatari camp in Jordan, a resident in Fujairah or Ras Al Khaimah or rural Uganda or Tanzania, where facilities and infrastructure are very few,” said Toby Harward, head of UNHCR Abu Dhabi. “So electronic platforms are only one part but you need infrastructure, good quality teachers and curricula in place. These platforms can start addressing how we can deal with education.”
He said there were similar e-business programmes for refugees in Europe.
“Small companies try to help skilled refugees with services to sell or match-make refugees with companies as it makes it easier for them to get a visa and physically enter the country,” Mr Harward said. “This gives them opportunities to market themselves and to find companies that may be interested in employing them. There’s a lot to be explored, so if we could somehow transpose that and build something bigger here in the Middle East, that could provide more opportunities for regional refugees.”
According to Karla Green, from Abu Dhabi think tank The Delma Institute, humanitarian accelerators are important in harnessing technological innovation to solve global development issues.
“When it comes to urgent humanitarian concerns, such as the Syrian refugee crisis, technological solutions can complement, and sometimes leapfrog, more conventional forms of aid and development,” she said.
“Those existing avenues of humanitarian assistance are often criticised for being inefficient and unsustainable, and for creating dependence. Tech-based solutions, often borrowed from the private sector, can address issues of water and sanitation, healthcare and shelter.
“There are even cases of Syrian refugees learning to code to 3D print artificial limbs, not to mention Karim, an artificial intelligence programme that provides psychological support to traumatised refugees.”
Ms Green said Dubai's project could help highlight the role of humanitarian innovation in creating new solutions to the refugee crisis, particularly at the grassroots level. “Think tech solutions by refugees for refugees,” she said.