Innovation in humanitarian relief

In the wake of natural disasters and acts of terror, several tech companies are making an effort to improve traditional responses effort. Brian Hecht, our resident serial entrepreneur, and advisor to many startups and digital teams including our own joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the innovation in humanitarian relief.


In the wake of natural disasters and acts of terror, several tech companies are making an effort to improve upon traditional response efforts.

Here to talk about innovation in humanitarian relief is Brian Hecht, our resident serial entrepreneur.

He's an adviser to many startups and digital teams, including our own.

So it's always one of the saddest parts of it is when you start to see people that are interested in helping after a disaster.

They just don't have the right vehicle to get their resources to the people who need them.

That's right.

It goes far beyond just having the right vehicle.

It's knowing what to give.

It's knowing what are the right organizations to work through.

There are so many ways that technology can help, and it's been lagging a little bit behind, frankly, so this is the next generation of companies that I think are aiming to solve little slices of that.


One of them you want to talk about is NeedsList.

What does it do?


NeedsList, think of it as a wedding registry for humanitarian giving.

So I think we've all seen pictures on the news of when there's an earthquake or a refugee crisis, there's all these crates sitting there that are unused, and it looks like a tragedy, and the problem is very often that the things that are being given are things that the victims don't need.

Likewise, if you are a donor, a lot of people don't like to just write a check to even a reputable organization.

You don't know where it's going.

They prefer to actually give something.



But you to give the right things.

Maybe the refugees don't need candied yams, and so it's incredibly important to have an efficient marketplace that matches the wishes of the donors with the needs of the recipients.


Another one called Guardian Circle?


Guardian Circle, what they say is that they are crowdsourcing security.

So this has international implications for humanitarian relief, but it started with a very personal story.

The founder's girlfriend had what she thought or appeared to be a stroke in the garage, and she couldn't text her friends, so he developed effectively, like, a panic button, which had been around for a long time, but it's different in that it opens up a group chat window with location-based ID for a group of designated people.

So it might be that the neighbor is the best person to help because they're nearby, but the mother doesn't know who the neighbor is, so they can all jump in a group chat.

Now, what does that have to do with global relief?

It's now being deployed in India, where there's a huge problem with women being preyed upon for all sorts of terrible reasons, and this is going to crowdsource the response to a woman in trouble with strangers who are qualified locally but who she may not yet know.

So it might be the guy with an ambulance or, you know, a family of people with a house nearby that can take her in, so it's very, very interesting the way that it's being used, you know, the connection between a personal problem and an international issue.


Another one called One Concern.

One Concern, I have to say, when I spoke to the founder of this company, I was very personally moved.

He was in his native Kashmir, and he noticed that 85 percent of the country was destroyed and displaced by floods, and he's an earthquake engineer, and he decided to put his skills to use when he was back in California.

So this is a system that's being used by San Francisco and LA right now that actually allows you to more efficiently plan both where to reinforce structures and allocate resources when planning for natural disasters and maybe more importantly how to allocate resources once a disaster occurs.

So if you think about an earthquake, let's say, you say, okay, well, there's, you know, crazy confusion, and 911 dispatches to whoever calls, and 911 goes down.

He has algorithms that will help you realize not just where the most lives can be saved, where to send your emergency response vehicles, but things like resilience.

So there might be an underprivileged area that would have particular trouble getting access to food if it's in a food desert, or there might be someplace that has a high concentration of senior citizens, so it identifies socioeconomic factors, not just architecture and civil engineering, which to me is just very, very moving.

All right.

Brian Hecht, thanks so much.

Thank you.