Last week, more than 200 leaders from dozens of technology companies and international humanitarian and conservation organizations came together at the NetHope Global Member Summit on our San Jose, California campus. Experts in humanitarian relief, emergency response, and conservation from around the world participated in nearly 30 brainstorming sessions, and I was fortunate enough to attend a few and speak with some of the summit’s most innovative leaders.

NetHope is a collaboration of 41 leading international nonprofit nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that provide humanitarian development, emergency response, disaster relief, and conservation programs. Cisco helped found NetHope in 2001, bringing together Chief Information Officers (CIOs) to better serve the developing world through smarter use of technology.

Today, Cisco supports NetHope members like the American Red Cross by responding to disasters with employee giving campaigns. In Dadaab, Kenya, Cisco and NetHope helped build a long-distance wireless network that reduced costs from up to $1000 per megabyte of data to a standard rate of $260 per megabyte. This improved access and dramatically reduced expenses for aid agencies that support 500,000 people living in the world’s largest refugee camp.

At a time when the Ebola outbreak and natural disasters are flooding news feeds, the NetHope Summit is more important than ever – not only does it bring humanitarian organizations together, but it brings best practices together to give members of  the network the knowledge and tools to innovate the way they are impacting the world.

“Technology is a game-changer in the way we operate,” said NetHope CEO Lauren Woodman. “Our ability for our organizations to use technology and share best practices between one another wouldn’t happen without the ability to use technology.”

One of the sessions I attended, “Data Visualization in Practice,” emphasized the importance of big data in today’s economy and how we can use the data we collect to make better, informed decisions in our humanitarian efforts around the world.

Two of our NetHope partners, Oxfam International and CARE International, are task team members of the Humanitarian Early Warning Service (HEWSweb). The project aims to establish a common platform for humanitarian early warnings and forecasts for natural hazards. HEWSweb gives nonprofits and humanitarian organizations faster, easier access to warning information through the use of graphics, maps, and simple language. The maps, which are updated in real-time, give organizations the ability to respond as soon as a hurricane strikes or a volcano erupts.

Another session, “Open Data, Data Standards, and Why They Matter to You,” focused on how data standards can help members structure project data, publicize data, and engage with potential partners and funders. Open data is data that can be freely used, reused, and redistributed by anyone, including NetHope partners.

Many members of NetHope report to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), which is a voluntary program that seeks to improve the transparency of aid and the development of humanitarian resources by making information about aid spending easier to access, use, and understand.

“No single organization can solve every problem in a given community,” Woodman said. “For NGOs to be able to communicate with one another about what they’re seeing helps each one of these organizations be more effective in their own programs.”

Collaboration is at the heart of the NetHope Summit, and I witnessed CIOs and CTOs from some of the world’s most recognized nonprofits sharing tools, demonstrating their best practices, and receiving feedback to improve the way they do business. The summit became a quality loop for organizations, who spent the week networking and talking about innovative technologies at new levels.

I was honored to share the room with NetHope’s technology and nonprofit partners and learn how they’re collaborating to impact the world, and I encourage you to read more about Cisco and NetHope at csr.cisco.com.


Khanh Russo

Lead the critical human needs investment portfolio

Cisco Foundation