Aid agencies in the high-tech era: Still relevant?

Technology and real-time information can boost aid effectiveness. But it's no panacea, Devex readers say. Photo by: Benoit Matsha-Carpentier / IFRC

Through the use of modern technology, everyone has the potential to become an aid worker. As International Federation of the Red Cross Secretary-General Bekele Geleta noted last week in an exclusive guest editorial for Devex, some people are turning first to social media rather than TV news programs to find out about the latest disasters, volunteer online to manage crisis maps, and use apps to offer their services to those in need of help.

Does this mean technology will eventually make aid agencies obsolete? The answer from Devex readers has been a resounding “no.”

“Aid agencies will never be obsolete in every society,” Leng Fernando wrote on the Devex Facebook page. “They are always there to deliver with full subjectivity and humanness anything needed by mankind.”

Mon Martinez went further.

“Definitely NOT!” he wrote. “Development in science and technology automatically trigger transformational leadership in delivering humanitarian aid.”

Martinez argued that real-time information received by aid agencies will in fact make them more effective and efficient in providing aid.

The possibility of aid agencies becoming obsolete should be the least of anyone’s worries, since they “will always come [in] useful,” Richard Ramos noted. The bigger problem “is that their counterparts in Africa POCKET most of the funds. Namibia, for example.”

For Paul Conneally, what is becoming obsolete is the “old” aid model.

“Aid agencies need to rethink their added value,” he said, “such as perhaps enabling affordable access to mobile technologies that empower communities to define their own needs and solutions [including speaking out in their own interests]. Likewise, the growing importance of the role of technology (a driver of sectors and not just a sector in its own right) means inevitably that aid agencies need to rethink their relationship with the private sector and by this I mean more innovative and equitable partnerships, even at times being comfortable to support private sector leading aid action … Exciting times indeed, but if technology is not making a real difference to the lives of people who need it most and is not being used to put people first then its back to the drawing board!”

What do you think? Reread Geleta’s op-ed, join the debate and have your say!

Join the Devex community and gain access to more in-depth analysis, breaking news and business advice — and a host of other services — on international development, humanitarian aid and global health.

About the author

  • Eliza Villarino

    Eliza Villarino currently manages one of today’s leading publications on humanitarian aid, global health and international development, the weekly GDB. At Devex, she has helped grow a global newsroom, with talented journalists from major development hubs such as Washington, D.C, London and Brussels. She regularly writes about innovations in global development.