Digital Dilemmas Debate: Connectivity as Aid

I was delighted to take part in the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) DigitHarium series last month. DigitHarium is a global forum to discuss and debate digital transformation within the humanitarian sector, with a focus on humanitarian protection, policy, ethics and action. Every month, the DigitHarium discusses a new theme, examining the implications for humanitarian action and exploring solutions. These discussions occur through monthly Digital Dilemmas dialogues and debates, as well as regular blog articles and podcasts offering a range of perspectives.

The fifth month of this series focused on the theme of “Connectivity as Aid” and in the dialogue session ICRC’s President Peter Maurer stated that “powerful demand for digital transformation is coming from – first and foremost – affected populations.” This reinforces the fact that connectivity is not a nice to have, but increasingly a basic need and a human right.

In our work at the GSMA since 2015, our hypothesis has been that mobile connectivity is a lifeline for people affected by crises. However, digitising humanitarian assistance and connecting affected populations is by no means simple and comes with risks that must be understood and mitigated. I was invited to the “Connectivity as Aid” themed Digital Dilemmas Debate, a 60-minute roundtable with a panel of experts, practitioners and other stakeholder groups, to share the lessons from our GSMA Mobile for Humanitarian Innovation programme. Our insights come from the past five years of our work to accelerate the impact and delivery of digital humanitarian assistance in an inclusive, dignified and safe way.

The session was introduced by inspiring colleagues Mamadou Sow and Tatenda Mary Dhliwayo, who shared powerful examples of how ICRC is digitising humanitarian assistance for people affected by crises. Barnaby Willitts-King of ODI expertly moderated the panel and in discussion with co-panellists Martha Akello Otim from Refugee Law Project at Makerere University and Abdurahman Sharif from Internews, we explored the importance of connectivity for people living through emergencies, the barriers to setting it up and how we can collectively ensure that people use it equitably and safely.

You can watch the session below, and reach out to us with any comments or questions by emailing

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