This post was written by guest blogger Erin Connor, Portfolio Manager for Critical Human Needs, Cisco Corporate Affairs and Cisco Foundation
Today, an unprecedented 63.9 million people worldwide are forcibly displaced, and 21.3 million of those are refugees. From Syria to Afghanistan to Somalia, millions of men, women, and children are being forced to flee their homes because of conflict and persecution.
Often, they travel hundreds, even thousands of miles to settle in countries ill-equipped to handle the influx of those in need. The journey from Turkey to Greece, for example, is a treacherous one; refugees crossing the Mediterranean often travel in poorly-constructed rafts with little protection from the elements.
And when they arrive at their destinations, whether in Pakistan, Lebanon, or other countries, they’re often met with new challenges. In 2013, Lebanon’s population was 4.5 million, but the immigration of 1.1 million refugees increased the country’s population by a quarter. Turkey currently hosts 2.5 million refugees—the most of any country—but lacks many of the resources to cope with the added population.
The result? At least 40% of refugees in Lebanon live in inadequate accommodation, including makeshift shelters and informal settlements. Others face eviction or live in overcrowded apartments, unable to adapt to their new country’s standards of living. Many are unable to work due to local labor laws, while those in countries such as Greece are detained in camps where they wait hours in line for meals and can barely meet their most basic needs.
Fortunately, global problem solvers are coming together to make an impact in every corner of the globe. Cisco joins a growing list of companies and organizations applying digitization, collaboration, and innovation to solve what’s become one of the world’s most pressing issues.
At Cisco, we understand we must leverage core capability to achieve social impact. Since October 2015, we’ve taken a multi-pronged approach to our response, leveraging our people, products, and financial resources to provide over $4 million in support to the refugee crisis.
Our Tactical Operations engineers and Disaster Response team volunteers have carried out 10 two-week deployments in partnership with NetHope, and together, they’ve installed Meraki-based Wi-Fi networks across 75 sites—64 of which are currently active—in Greece and Slovenia and provided remote technical support and equipment for installations in Serbia.
The networks have connected over 600,000 unique devices, allowing refugees to reach more than two million friends and family members through high-speed Internet connections. Using our cloud security software, we block an average of 2,000 cyber threats per day, guaranteeing secure connections for all users. Cisco has granted all of the Meraki equipment needed for these installations to NetHope and provided a supplemental cash grant of $100,000 to support their crisis informatics work, which streamlines their installation efforts.
Cisco has also provided $350,000 to Mercy Corps to support the development and scaling of a mobile-enabled Refugee Information Hub. Currently available in three countries and in three different languages, the hub provides refugees with critical information such as legal options and instructions on seeking asylum, safety information, and available social services. Today, more than 30 NGOs use the tool, which is expected to grow this year to include seven new countries.
On a company level, we understand leadership support and employee engagement drives global action and innovation. A Cisco team of volunteers in Hamburg, Germany worked in close collaboration with a number of ecosystem partners to develop and implement the Refugee First Response Center (RFRC). This innovation transformed shipping containers into doctors’ offices, equipped with Cisco technology that enables access to the Internet and real-time translation services with 750 medically trained interpreters collectively speaking 50 languages.
The original unit, launched in Hamburg in October 2015, caught the attention of a local private donor, who funded $1 million for the production of 10 additional units that have been produced and deployed to Red Cross camps throughout Hamburg. The 10 units average about 30 consultations a day and have provided over 18,000 medical video-supported consultations to date. Two RFRCs have been shipped to Lebanon and Greece for replication.
The Cisco team in Lebanon is working with the Ministry of Health and local NGO Beyond Association to implement RFRC and will include virtual psychosocial services. The RFRC in Greece plans to offer telemedicine services for specialties not available at the hotspots, facilitate remote examinations, interpretation services and video communication for separated families.
Seeing the success of the shipping containers led other organizations to expand on that idea. Deutsche Bahn, the largest shipping and logistics company in Europe partnered with Charité Hospital in Berlin to transform a former passenger bus into a mobile medical clinic – known as the DB medibus.
Charité and Deutsche Bahn contacted Cisco, who volunteered to network the bus. Cisco outfitted it with secure wi-fi high-speed connectivity and video collaboration units to allow for translation services in 50 languages. Their first use case for the pilot phase is mass vaccinations to be delivered at refugee settlements in Berlin, and they have already provided 10,000 treatments since launching last fall.
We also recognize the critical importance of education and employment opportunities for refugees. Our Networking Academy in Germany has also committed to providing IT training to 35,000 refugees in Germany over the next three years, and are piloting projects with the International Labour Organization and local universities to train refugees in Turkey through Cisco’s Networking Academy.
Through our annual matching gift campaign in 2015, Cisco donated a total of $743,000 to more than 40 organizations aiding in the refugee crisis. As this crisis endures, Cisco Foundation continues to match employee donations to these organizations dollar for dollar. We know this is an issue close to the hearts of many employees, and viewing them as valuable partners in global problem solving has helped Cisco focus on how best to apply its technology expertise in the field.
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