UN On The Pulse of Innovation

Ed note. This is a special guest post from Adele Waugaman, who is attending Social Media Week in New York City*

In Sudan, a woman in a camp for internally displaced persons used her mobile phone to text message an aid organizer, asking for better services.  And today in Egypt, many are using social networking sites to share information about and coordinate during the continuing protests.

Around the world, open, social and real-time technologies are changing relationships between people and institutions.  The UN, with its frontline humanitarian, development and disaster relief work, is no stranger to this transition.

As part of Social Media Week underway in New York City, UN Global Pulse, a project of the UN Secretary-General’s office, lead two days of discussion on this topic. Panelists, including author Clay Shirky and UN Assistant Secretary-General Robert Orr, tackled the big questions this paradigm shift presents, including:

-What is the role of crowds with humanitarian institutions, and what must institutions do to engage crowds?

-How are these technologies changing operations on the ground, and what are the operational challenges and opportunities?

-What does the future of institutions look like in a global, social and real-time world?

In a keynote address, Global Pulse Director Robert Kirkpatrick laid out the challenge:

“It is now possible to imagine a world in which institutions with a mandate to respond emergencies engage openly, and in real time with both affected communities and communities of practice around the world who are eager to help.  Governments and institutions such as the UN are now immersed in discussions over what kinds of tools, policies, processes, and organizational structures will be needed to enable them to join forces effectively with a self-organizing swarm of volunteers.”

The outcome of a number of these discussions will be captured in the forthcoming ‘Disaster Relief 2.0’ report, that will launch next month through a collaboration between the United Nations Foundation and Vodafone Foundation Technology Partnership that I manage, with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative.

For more about Check the UN Global Pulse website for links to video from the event, or use the hashtag #OpenUN to pull related tweets on Twitter.

* Adele Waugaman is senior director of the Technology Partnership between the UN Foundation and Vodafone Foundation