By Mitch Hulse

In graduate seminars, I am constantly reminded by professors and seasoned policy veterans of the intrinsic value behind collaboration in solving the myriad challenges faced by practitioners within international development. Alongside my peers, I usually point to the power of technology to facilitate the kind of collaborative innovation that can contribute to solving these complex challenges.

Yet, technology itself is only a small part of the story. Whatever the issue or social impact agenda, it can only do so much and ultimately, technology is only as effective as the people behind it.

Organizations like NetHope and the programs that it supports—be it disaster response efforts in Puerto Rico or refugee education programs in Syria—strive to empower practitioners to use technology sustainably through their work in improving the livelihoods of marginalized communities.

A core part of understanding how the diffusion of technology can be improved is galvanizing the right organizations to tackle these shared systemic challenges in a critical—yet realistic—fashion.

Data Privacy and Security
One of the primary themes at this year’s NetHope Summit is “Information Security and Data Protection.”

This theme could not be more necessary to address.

Recently, I completed a fellowship at the Digital Impact Alliance—an initiative hosted by the United Nations Foundation that advocates for digital inclusion. During this three-month program, I had the opportunity to speak with practitioners on how they are improving organizational practices with more stringent data protection protocols and technical literacy.

My research and interviews ultimately led me to discover NetHope’s efforts to drive public- and private-sector organizations to understand the varied crucial issues faced by the sector—including data privacy and security.

Protecting personal identifiable information and other sensitive data is paramount for NGOs that want to continue humanitarian response and development activities in a safe, responsible, and legitimate manner.

At this year’s Summit, I hope that experts from both nonprofit and private-sector technology organizations can share their own concerns and best practices with each other and in so doing, ensure that members rightly prioritize protection of sensitive information in the field.

An Inclusive and Responsive Digital Community
Outside of learning how organizations are improving their technical literacy and sharing concerns around data privacy, I am looking forward to hearing how private-sector technology firms are evolving their corporate social responsibility programs in the wake of increased global connectivity infrastructure.

Today, an estimated three billion people have internet access. By 2020, more than four billion people will be online—a majority of this growth will happen in developing countries and communities that are increasingly at-risk from shocks borne out of natural disasters or population displacement.

I am excited to learn about how teams within companies like Microsoft and Cisco can leverage technical expertise and improve the impact of their nonprofit and public-sector partners—particularly in reinforcing digital skill-building programs for refugees and bolstering connectivity tools during disaster response operations.

As an organization, NetHope stands as a bridge between veteran nonprofit staff and private-sector technology firms. This year’s Summit is an excellent opportunity for experts from both nonprofit and private-sector technology environments to share their own ideas, concerns, and contexts to anticipate certain problems that apply across the sector and to reconcile such issues as data protection with digital inclusion.

Empowering communities through technology can no doubt mitigate the myriad challenges that the NetHope community encounters as it implements sustainable goals for development. Next week, this sense of empowerment will be galvanized as individuals candidly discuss their ongoing progress with other passionate members, who all share an ultimate mission of using technology to craft a better, safer, and more sustainable world.

Mitch Hulse is a graduate student in the Public Policy & Global Affairs Program at the University of British Columbia. His studies focus on economic development policy, information communication technology, and principles for digital development. You can follow him on Twitter @mitchhulse.

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