Since 2001, NetHope has brought together many of the world’s largest humanitarian organizations to better serve the developing world through the smarter use of technology. NetHope and its 43 member nonprofits represent more than $40 billion dollars of humanitarian development, emergency response and conservation programs in 180 countries. NetHope acts as a catalyst for nonprofits, enabling them to collaborate, innovate and leverage the full potential of information technology and communications, for example, setting up and managing interconnections between different organizations responding to a disaster.
We sat down with NetHope’s CEO, Lauren Woodman, to discuss the organization’s current and future plans to transform the ways nonprofits use technology. Woodman worked for Microsoft for 12 years helping the government sector make better use of technology before joining NetHope, which uses technology to assist those in need.
How did NetHope begin?
Woodman: It started in 2001 with a whitepaper written by seven large nonprofits and Cisco. The paper looked at how technology could solve some of the big problems that nonprofits have in common. Many nonprofits face real communications and connectivity challenges, especially during crises such as the Ebola outbreak or the recent Nepal earthquake.
How does NetHope support its members and other relief agencies?
Woodman: We help international nonprofits use technology more effectively. This is especially true during crises, when NetHope will work with the United Nation’s Emergency Telecom Cluster to identify areas for communications support and then coordinate the establishment of effective communications. This helps responding organizations be more effective, since they can better coordinate with one another, affected communities and their home offices. These communications are critical to recovery efforts.
How has NetHope used the Equinix Impact Grant Funds?
Woodman: The Ebola outbreak was unlike any crisis we’ve ever experienced in that it was a prolonged, slow-moving relief effort that required a sustained response. For the first time, it became crystal clear how vital data access and communications were to effectively respond to a crisis.
At one point, it was believed that infection rates were dropping because there were districts in Liberia that were not reporting new Ebola cases. But in reality, people could not get the information out of those districts to tell the world what was actually happening.
The generous support we received from Equinix and other companies to establish a communications network was absolutely critical. It gave the responding organizations the ability to share information on where infection rates were spreading. It also enabled us to determine where to provide communications and technology support to get an accurate reading of what was happening on the ground.
We’re also using funds from Equinix to establish connectivity for the Nepal earthquake relief efforts and improve communications among organizations there.
What are NetHope’s long-term goals and how are technology companies helping you meet them?
Woodman: We’re looking at developing a new model for how nonprofits can implement best practices in leveraging existing and new technologies. We’re also looking at ways to reimagine how we use technology. We need to identify, test and deploy new approaches and new technologies against some very old and intractable problems.
There are a handful of companies that think very deeply about the power of the technology they create, sell and deploy, and how that might improve the lives of people all around the world. We’d like to see what affect this level of technology leadership has on the nonprofit space.
We are very grateful for the support we have received from the corporate community. Companies like Equinix set the bar very high for other corporations to follow, and that is a real, differentiating factor.