Author: Kelly William Doley, October 28 2015 - The Ebola crisis revealed that a dearth of ICT [information and communication technology] capacity in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone prevented or greatly impeded access to and the exchange of information, real-time case management and contact tracing, outbreak mapping, community mobilization, supply and logistics management, and the day-to-day operations of relief organizations.
In May 2015, Inveneo, in partnership with Facebook, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, Cisco, EveryLayer, and NetHope, successfully completed its efforts to deliver 100 new high-speed Internet connections to government and non-governmental organizations in Sierra Leone and Liberia as part of the joint Ebola Response Connectivity Initiative (ERCI). The purpose of this article is to describe Inveneo’s approach to expanding Internet connectivity during emergencies using the ERCI project as a case study.
Expanding Connectivity in Disasters: Inveneo’s Approach
Inveneo’s model is based first and foremost on closely collaborating with local partners (usually IT companies and entrepreneurs) to build and expand in-country capacity. Whenever possible, we use the broadband and towers from in-country mobile network operators (MNOs) to reduce costs and expand existing infrastructure. For example, the ERCI project leveraged the towers and bandwidth of MNOs in Sierra Leone and Liberia to connect the 100 target sites. Moreover, we utilize unlicensed Ubiquiti Wi-Fi equipment that is affordable, durable, and has low power consumption.
- Inveneo’s Capacity Building Model: Inveneo’s Certified ICT Partners (ICIPs) TechAide in Ghana and Damsel in Sierra Leone and Liberia were crucial to ERCI’s success. In fact, we could not have implemented the project without them! (Damsel, with Inveneo support, connected the 100 target sites in Sierra Leone and Liberia while TechAide operated the Network Operations Center in Ghana that monitored the ERCI network.) The ERCI project confirmed the success of Inveneo’s existing capacity building model.
- 100 Sites Received Improved Internet Connectivity: In June 2015, Inveneo and EveryLayer conducted a survey of organizations using the ERCI network, and the responses were overwhelmingly positive. Frequently cited impacts of the service included the ability to communicate more effectively and quickly with regional, national, and global offices, as well as the capacity to better utilize web-based reporting and information tools.
- Facebook’s Data Analysis: Facebook’s Data Science Team played a crucial role in helping Inveneo and EveryLayer determine the line-of-site between eligible organizations and nearby MNO towers in Sierra Leone and Liberia. While the tools lacked the precision to identify all line-of-site obstructions (particularly trees), they were invaluable in helping the field teams select and prioritize organizations to connect.
- Data Coordination and Analysis: In collaboration with NetHope’s Crisis Informatics team, Inveneo set up a system and workflow to capture incoming data on newly eligible organizations for connectivity. This system enabled us to track the status of each organization and overall number of connected organizations.
- Regular Partner Coordination and Information Sharing: Inveneo, EveryLayer, and NetHope participated in bi-weekly calls modeled after UN inter-cluster coordination meetings to share information and sync ongoing efforts. This information sharing mechanism helped move the project forward and ensure project milestones were met.
Challenges and Lessons Learned
- MNO Transition Planning: Collaborating with MNOs has significant benefits, such as low bandwidth costs. However, a key lesson learned was the need to begin planning for the transition of the network to the MNOs as early as possible to ensure a smooth handover after the end of the installation phase.
- Embed M&E into the Budget: High-speed Internet is a key enabler during emergency response efforts; however, it is difficult to quantify the impact of enhanced connectivity and the ERCI project on the Ebola epidemiological curve. Moving forward, Inveneo plans to dedicate a portion of the project budget to monitoring and evaluation (M&E) to greater assess the impact of connectivity on relief efforts and to better capture lessons learned and feedback from beneficiary organizations.
- Internet Is Key to Stemming Outbreaks but Has Limitations: High-Speed Internet is key to stemming disease outbreaks but has limitations. For example, Internet alone cannot transform a health system or lead to behavior change. That said, it can and does help those organizations and individuals working to address the underlying problems and causes of the crisis.
Inveneo is extremely grateful to have been part of the ERCI project and to connect organizations that worked tirelessly and courageously to save lives in the emergency phase of the Ebola crisis, many of which are now working to enhance the health systems of affected countries in the recovery phase.
Note: This article represents the views and opinions of the author; it has not been reviewed or cleared by any other ERCI partner.
Written by Kelly William Doley, Inveneo’s Project Manager. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org