Which dimension do mobile technology, apps and ICT4D have in humanitarian aid?

Humanitarian aid is everywhere in the world, even closer to us than we even think. So are mobile technology and digitalism. Aid work happens in global organisations, it happens literally at home, in families, through networking, at universities, institutions and much more. Aid workers are recruited by organisations like Save the Children, Oxfam and EU aid volunteers to mention but a few. Consequencially, ICT (Information and Communication Technology) and ICT4D (Information and Communication Technologies for Development) have become hugely important for many aid workers in crisis management in their work environment, as well for many NGOs the world over. This has in some perspectives reshaped the landscapes and socities for many countries, economically as well as politically.

Many giant institutions like the World Bank (http://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/ict) are involved with the expansion of ICT and also some objectives of the UN 2030 Agenda and its 17 new Sustainable Development Goals (http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/development-agenda). Even if ICT4D doesn’t hit the exact goals, there are still six targets under Goals 4, 5, 9 and 17 “that refer to ICTs and technology”.

Within these 17 goals, the UN tries to explain how digital services can support people getting out of poverty with help of ICTs (http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2015/10/icts-for-a-sustainable-world/). However, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development also recognizes that “the spread of information and communication technology and global interconnectedness has great potential to accelerate human progress, to bridge the digital divide and to develop knowledge societies” http://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Statistics/Pages/intlcoop/sdgs/default.aspx

Integration of smartphones in one’s everyday life

Since the smartphones started to get integrated to many people’s life, it has been an enormous development in the areas of digitalism, social media platforms and other communication channels. For instance in 2014, as the Nepal Earthquake took place and especially in 2016 in some European countries like Greece and Italy when many refugees arrived, “social media played a big role with tweets and hashtags to share information where aid is needed” (O’Keffee, 2016, p. 83). But also in other crisis situations, many experts can now measure the levels of earthquakes in advance and save many lives in form of analyzing the data in advance. They can also evaluate it.

According to development researchers, Tobias Denskus and Andrea S. Papan, blogging has become an “active engagement with social media [and] an important feature for communication and feedback on development issues and practices” (Denskus, Papan, 2013, p. 438). Nonetheless, it is important for development bloggers to share information and “have a dialogue with their readers” and to link work practices througout blogging and international debates (ibid). The bloggers need to communicate the challenges in their work.

Apps developed by gamers

The app MapSwipe was developed in 2016 by gamers and organisations like Doctors without Borders (MSF), the British Red Cross, Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team and American Red Cross.

It is helping aid workers to find locations and locate communities in order of using the app. Users can for example “view and swipe through satellite images of remote areas to identify features such as settlements, roads and rivers”.2 The app was created for aid workers to help them building maps and is a part of the project “Missing Maps“. Another similar map is the ngoaidmap.org, which also supports featured maps.

The refugeeaidapp.com helps to coordinate refugees and aid workers. It shows for both parts where the nearest services are located on a map. It can find important information and guides many NGO’s to support them in their job and to help the refugees to search for necessary resources. Now some of the largest aid organisations in the world are using this app, which I think is great.

Blog series, aid work and apps in the field work

In this blog series, I will talk about aid workers and other employees in NGOs and institutions to explore their connectivity and the use of mobile apps in humanitarian aid in context of mobile technology and ICT (Europe). The purpose is to see how the digitalism is expanding in the daily work environment and representation in the blogs. Do the apps help or rather mislead them in terms of security? Are they useful? And how can ICTs and mobile technology take place to support the aid workers in crisis management? I will try to follow these questions and see if the apps and blogging are reaching the recognition, which is needed.



Denskus, Tobias. Papan, Andrea S. (2013) Reflexive engagements: the international blogging evolution and its challenges. Development in practice. Vol. 23. No. 4. 435-447, http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09614524.2013.790940

2030 Agenda for Sustainable development, ITU-D-ICT Statistics, Retrived February 1th, 2017, from: http://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Statistics/Pages/intlcoop/sdgs/default.aspx.

Information and communication technologes for development, Retrieved, February 4th, 2017 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information_and_communication_technologies_for_development

UN.org Sustainable Development, development agenda, Retrieved February 3rd, 2017 from: http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/development-agenda

Information and communication technologies, last updated Sep. 23, 2016. Retrieved February 3rd, 2017 from: http://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/ict


  1. Lisa Smyth

    Interesting post Stella – I am looking forward to seeing how you will address each of these technologies (smartphones, apps, blogs) in the rest of your posts. You might find the ‘techno-centrism’ concerns raised by various development theorists and practitioners an interesting lens to review these technologies, especially in relation to the Sustainable Development Goals – Pieterse’s article – Digital Capitalism and Development: The Unbearable Lightness of ICT4D – is a great reference to consider: https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1057%2F9780230299047_50

    • Stella

      Hi Lisa!
      Thank you for the nice input. I will check the text from Pieterse and techno-centrism, even if the text is from year 2010. We will see how I address all these things, it´s kind of a challenge though. 🙂

  2. Rudelene Nanette

    Thanks for this post, Stella. It is very interesting and helpful. I’m looking forward to see how the post will develop. This will help me think about the issues the small, local, non-profit organisations are facing in using social media. This post and the coming posts will help me think deeper on what is out there in terms of mobile apps that will support their work.

  3. Pingback: Mind the gap: Data security in aid work through ICT4D – Creating Connections

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