Mastercard and USAID aim to turn refugee camps into digital communities

Source: Mastercard

Mastercard and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) today announced the launch of a public-private coalition that will bring together technology, solutions and experience from multiple sectors to transform refugee settlements into digitally-connected communities.

This commitment delivers on a vision laid out in research conducted last year by Mastercard to better understand the critical needs of the over seven million refugees living in camps or settlements today.

The coalition, led by Mastercard and USAID’s Power Africa initiative, will launch pilot programs during the first half of 2018 to address some of the biggest barriers to development. For example, mobile phone and internet access is as critical to refugees’ safety and security as food, shelter and water. The organizations will work together to introduce internet and mobile connectivity, access to clean, efficient energy, and digital financial tools for communities in Kenya and Uganda, with plans to scale to other refugee-hosting countries around the world.

In addition to Mastercard and Power Africa, organizations participating in the coalition include: Accenture, Acumen, BRCK, Danish Refugee Council, Energy Peace Partners, Fenix International, GSMA, The Innovation Village, Lutheran World Federation, Mercy Corps, Microsoft, Moving Energy Initiative, NetHope, Norwegian Refugee Council, Off-Grid Electric, Pawame, PowerGen Renewable Energy, SolarKiosk, Tent Foundation, USAID Global Development Lab, U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, Vecna Cares Charitable Trusts, and World Vision.

“We’ve spent the past several years testing and learning with our partners to take what we do well as a technology company and apply it to help solve this humanitarian crisis,” said Tara Nathan, Executive Vice President, Public Private Partnerships, Mastercard. “Our payments technology has helped to reduce inefficiencies and expenses, add transparency, empower refugees, and stimulate local markets. Now we’re also acting as a force multiplier by combining our strengths with those of the coalition members to make an even bigger impact.”

Today, approximately 31 percent of the world’s refugees live in refugee camps or settlements. They are men, women and children who have fled from countries ravaged by war, political unrest and natural disasters, in hopes of a better life. But they spend an average of 10 years in exile, most often residing in low-and middle-income countries that are already under significant economic strain.

Uganda and Kenya are among the ten countries with the largest refugee populations. Uganda hosts 1.4 million refugees and is home to Bidi Bidi, currently the largest refugee settlement in the world. Kenya hosts approximately 490,000 refugees in settlements, including Kalobeyei, which was established in 2015 to improve the conditions of refugees and host communities through an economically integrated approach.

Mastercard recently published a recommendation for a new integrated model for refugee camps following a year of extensive research in the Kakuma and Kalobeyei camps in Kenya. The insights from the study helped identify the three key areas on which coalition members will focus:

Connectivity - Coalition members will work together to create accessible and resilient connectivity platforms that deliver vital information to refugees and host communities and enable efficient management of settlement operations.

Digital tools - Whether providing cash-based assistance or conducting outreach to refugees and host community members, agencies increasingly rely upon technology to effectively address needs. The coalition will work to design and implement an integrated set of identity, payment, and data tools that improve the delivery of essential services.

Energy access - Power is not provided in settlements as a service, so refugees often rely upon donated solar lanterns for basic light, and poor quality, expensive diesel generators for small businesses. The coalition members will implement solutions for providing energy access to refugees and host communities in a more efficient and low-cost way.

This coalition complements the UN General Assembly endorsed Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) and the Global Compact on Refugees, which seeks to ease pressure on host countries and enhance refugee self-reliance. UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency and lead for the CRRF, welcomes innovative private-public approaches to longstanding refugee situations that advance the sustainable development agenda and the CRRF.

The Tent Foundation’s Partnership for Refugees will host the Smart Communities Coalition website, enabling additional companies to join the effort to tailor their services to meet refugee and host community needs, a focus area for Tent. Mastercard joined the Tent Partnership in 2016, and this coalition is an extension of its pledge to explore better ways to integrate refugees in host communities.

PARTNER QUOTE SHEET

Read why coalition participants support these efforts to transform refugee settlements into digitally-connected communities.

Louise James, Managing Director, Accenture Development Partnerships:

“Accenture is proud to be a coalition member and to support the mission of this group. Our main goal is to help refugees have the connectivity they require through access to mobile phones and the internet. Connectivity will expand refugees’ access to critical vocational, health and safety information and services.”

Rebecca Weissburg, Director, Global Partnerships, BRCK:

“BRCK is thrilled to be partnering with Mastercard and Power Africa to provide connectivity coupled with offline digital solutions to refugees living and working in our own backyard.”

Sherwin Das, Managing Director, Energy Peace Partners:

“Energy Peace Partners is pleased to be part of the Smart Communities Coalition and excited to leverage our Peace Renewable Energy Credit (PREC) instrument to drive new renewable energy investment in some of the world’s most fragile settings.”

Lyndsay Handler, CEO, Fenix International:

“Fenix is committed to providing affordable energy products and inclusive financing to the hundreds of millions of people in Africa living without access to the grid. We are proud to partner with the Smart Communities Coalition to find innovative technology and customer experience solutions to overcome the barriers of delivering clean energy and other life-changing products to this population.”

Lennart Hernander, Program Representative, Lutheran World Federation:

“LWF is proud to work with so many dedicated and professional partners in the ‘Smart Communities Coalition’. LWF has supported refugees in Kakuma for more than 25 years. We were among the first few partners present on the ground when the ‘Lost Boys’ from Sudan started to arrive. We see the ‘Smart Communities Coalition’ as a major step towards a future-looking and integrated solution for refugees and local communities, which through connectivity and renewable energy will provide new opportunities for all. The Smart Communities Coalition approach empowers communities in a dignified and accountable manner, this is at the very core of LWFs vision and objectives globally.”

Neal Keny-Guyer, CEO, Mercy Corps:

“At Mercy Corps, we have long held the belief that to solve complex problems, we need to work together across sectors - public, private and nonprofit - to bring to bear our collective knowledge to design bold solutions. We’re thrilled to be a founding member of the Smart Communities Coalition and hopeful about the possibility to bring needed technology and other services to refugee settlements.”

Ben Good, Project Director, Moving Energy Initiative and CEO, Energy 4 Impact:

“The Moving Energy Initiative believes that a paradigm shift in the way humanitarian sector “does energy”, including new types of partnership with the private sector, can create major benefits for the environment, for the agencies and for displaced persons. And, as it is with energy access, so it is with connectivity and the digital economy. We are therefore delighted to be partnering with the Smart Communities Coalition.”

Lauren Woodman, CEO, NetHope:

“Internet connectivity is a lifeline that connects refugees to information, resources, and opportunities. Put simply: Information is aid.”

Neil Turner, Kenya Country Director, Norwegian Refugee Council:

“Offering refugees increasing livelihood opportunities, unleashing their entrepreneurial skills, and creating environmentally friendly, energy efficient ways of doing this, is at the heart of the NRC’s work in Kenya.”

Xavier Helgesen, CEO & Co-Founder, Off-Grid Electric:

“We have long been a proud partner of Power Africa, and are thrilled by the opportunity to use our technology and experience in Africa to serve refugee communities with affordable & reliable power.”

Maurice Parets, CEO, Pawame:

“Pawame is a social enterprise distributing solar home systems in Turkana County, where Kakuma refugee camp is located. We launched our operations in September 2017 and Pawame is committed to creating jobs by distributing its solar home system, empowering the lives of refugees and reducing the carbon footprint. Through our solar home systems, which provide lighting, phone charging and television, we will empower refugees with increased energy access.”

Andreas Spiess, CEO and co-founder, SolarKiosk:

“SOLARKIOSK is thrilled to be one of the founding members of the Smart Communities Coalition. We look forward to enabling our solar powered infrastructure, the E-HUBB, to become an integral part of the Coalition’s mission to bring renewable energy and economic generating opportunities to refugee and host communities. With a network of over 200 E-HUBBs across Africa and Asia, experience with refugee and host communities in the Middle East and over five years of know-how in providing retail products and energy services to underserved markets, SOLARKIOSK can greatly contribute to the transformation led by the Coalition.”

Paul Amendola, Executive Director, VecnaCares:

“VecnaCares is excited to be a member of the coalition. Our goal is to develop and deploy an electronic medical records system and CliniPAK to help close the information gaps between patients, caregivers, and decision-makers. Digital patient-centered data in real-time will impact and improve patient health, clinical treatment, and medical resources for refugees.”

Kevin Jenkins, President and CEO, World Vision International:

“The Smart Communities Coalition represents the positive shift in how private and public partners are working together to address growing humanitarian needs, especially in refugee settings. As part of the Smart Communities Coalition, World Vision will work with our partners to identify technologies and approaches that will expedite the delivery of services to reduce the vulnerabilities of children and build self-reliance for their families, particularly in fragile and conflict contexts.”

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