Interview: OneRelief, mobile technology for humanitarian aid

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The power of mobile apps in revolutionizing humanitarian response has been largely been reported on. Whenever disasters hit or crises erupt, calls for urgent aid and donations are disseminated by humanitarian organizations and through the media. But very often, the public is lost when it comes to: where to give? who to give? and who to trust?

OneRelief, a young startup and charitable donation platform collecting micro-donations for humanitarian relief aid. A social entrepreneur who’s worked on humanitarian response, he is trying to find a solution to reconcile the public’s eagerness to donate and humanitarian organizations’ urgent needs for support in times of crisis.

With 2.1 billion smartphone users and 135.7 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, the equation seemed rather simple: creating a mobile app that is easy to use, through which donations can be made rapidly and transparently (meaning only donating to certified humanitarian agencies) and not for profit. Currently in its incubation, OneRelief aims to launch crowdfunding campaigns within hours after a disaster has struck and forwards collected donations to certified humanitarian agencies on the ground. We talk to OneRelief’s CEO and Founder Peter Prix to learn more about this innovative ICT4D initiative:

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  • What’s OneRelief and why is it different than other apps?

OneRelief is solving the problem that when disasters strike (such as Hurricane Maria in September last year) there is no easy and reliable way for individuals to give small amounts. Research shows that more than 90% of people who feel empathy and want to give after a disaster has struck, end up not giving.

OneRelief is a mobile platform that allows users on social media to make micro-donations ($1-$5) to certified relief organizations on the ground with as few as 4 clicks. In recognition of their donation, donors receive a personalized visual post that they can share on social media, providing social recognition. OneRelief operates fully non-profit.

Different to existing donation platforms, OneRelief leverages the power of micro-donations, provides users with tangible social recognition, engages the donor through updates from the field, as well as ensures that donations support certified organizations with people on the ground that are able to respond to the emergency.

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  • Why do you think it’s important to reconnect the startup world with the humanitarian sector? And what is going to change?

The three largest forces on the planet – technology, globalization, and climate change – are all accelerating at incredible speed. Startup entrepreneurs are harnessing that power of innovation, globalization and cutting edge technology to advance their work and to create value. Bringing this value to the humanitarian sector creates tangible social impact by improving and enhancing disaster response, resilience and prevention.

Traditional humanitarian actors are beginning to understand the role and importance of innovation and globalization for their work and for the entire humanitarian sector and are starting to place more emphasis on and resources into innovation projects.

  • What is it like to be a “humanitarian start up developer”?

It is an incredibly rewarding experience to leverage cutting edge-technology and the power of social media networks to build a platform that allows to mobilize life-saving resources in the early hours after a disaster has struck, allowing for an immediate disaster response – significantly before bilateral and multilateral donations arrive often days and weeks later.


  • What are the biggest challenges you face? And opportunities?

The startup world and the humanitarian sector operate in very different environments, different ecosystems and following different value aspirations. Operating as a startup in both environments, and creating value by bringing the best of both ecosystem together has tremendous potential to create unique value but is equally challenging. The VC-driven startup ecosystem seeking financial high-return investment opportunities and the impact-driven humanitarian sector striving to achieve measurable social return – operate to a large extend very differently and are disconnected from each other.

This equally offers great opportunities. OneRelief operates in a small niche area of overlap of both ecosystems. OneRelief is applying startup tools such as the lean startup approach and combining them with tool to create and measure sustainable social impact. Tapping into resources from both ecosystems, such as applying a clearly defined growth-focused business model to the operation of the startup, or putting the user rather than the organization in focus, allow us to build a platform and tools that are of use to the humanitarian community and help those people whose lives are affected by natural or man-made disasters.

  • Do you have any recommendations or tips for someone who’d like to follow your path?

Starting a non-profit tech-startup is in many ways similar to a for-profit tech-startup. First of all, make sure that you have the required expertise in the field you are operating in. Then, start small and lean, validate your assumptions early in the process and ensure that there is a real need for the solution you develop. Ask for support, join humanitarian innovation networks (such as the Global Humanitarian Lab), as well as build and seek for support from a network of advisors, mentors, innovation incubators, accelerator programmes (such as the PeaceTech Accelerator which we are currently a part of) — and last but not least: get comfortable with the unknown. You will never know enough. You will always be forced to make a decision without fully understanding what is coming. As a founder, that is just something you have to get comfortable with.


What do you think about OneRelief and the role of mobile apps in supporting humanitarian response? Share your thoughts!