The continuous innovation that races through Silicon Valley affects lives on a global scale. But this mecca of tech that is constantly building and continuously growing has not always been accepted into the humanitarian aid community. Some critics say that there is a lack of empathy amongst these tech stars and question if the tech industry can genuinely innovate in a way that supports significant change within the humanitarian sector.
In the past few years, however, big hitters like Facebook and Google have been applying their resources and hearts to help solve some big problems in humanitarian aid. They’re bringing their A-games to aid and we’re pleased to share what they’ve been up to.
What gives with these Silicon Valley tech giants?
Google, Airbnb, and Facebook are delivering unique technologies and platforms that tremendously impact the humanitarian sector. Google is creating blimps to increase connectivity in telecommunication desserts. Airbnb has launched a humanitarian division within its design department. Facebook has created a service that connects people who get caught in natural disasters or crises to their families.
Google is the face of the Internet, and with such a heavyweight title to carry around, its entry into humanitarian aid relies on connectivity. Blimps and connectivity, to be exact. With the use of blimps, Google is trying to connect off-grid areas with the rest of the world. Blimps will be launched in hopes of providing better wireless connectivity to those living in a rural setting or for aid workers to have Internet access even when there’s a calamity. The service will provide a low-frequency technology for a low rate, encouraging those who might not otherwise be connected to the Internet to join.
Airbnb runs a disaster response program that gives those affected by a natural disaster a support network right on their block. It also provides homes for relief workers who are assisting in the disaster response. At the recent National VOAD conference, Denis Lemeshchenko of Airbnb said the company has set a goal to support hosts in opening their doors to 100,000 displaced people over the next five years.
During a catastrophe, Airbnb activates its network and taps Airbnb hosts willing to lend a helping hand. This idea was inspired by the chain of events that unfolded after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The Airbnb community in the Northeast activated on its own accord and welcomed Sandy’s survivors. To date, this innovative disaster response program has 3,100+ hosts participating, 65 instances where the service was activated, 3,590+ nights donated, and multiple collaborations with regional relief organizations, like International Rescue Committee, around the globe.
Post, share, connect. Facebook’s Safety Check is a service that expedites relief efforts if disaster strikes. It’s been used in the wake of a terrorist attack, as witnessed by London Bridge Attack survivors, as well as being activated during the Nepal Earthquake in 2015. The idea is that if enough people are posting about the event or it is a largely known disaster, Facebook will use an algorithm to launch this application. If a person is in the affected location during such an event, the user will be prompted to mark themselves as “Safe,” which is then shared with their Facebook friends. This Facebook application has been activated and used well over 15 times since it’s commencement in 2015.
The innovations and commitments coming from powerful tech companies out of the Valley are an encouraging sign for humanitarians, as well as global citizens. With their tremendous resources and knowledge, Silicon Valley companies are proving they can be part of the humanitarian solution. For survivors and relief workers, these new tools can be life-changing. The world is intricately connected in ways that were unforeseeable even several years ago as the bridge between Silicon Valley and the humanitarian sector continues to grow.