United Methodist Communications: Technology plus human networks help to combat Ebola

Source: Wed, 19 Nov 2014 05:23 PM
Photo by Neelley Hicks, UMNS
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In this blog post, Neelley Hicks, the director of United Methodist Communications’ ICT4D Church Initiatives tells us about the work that the organisation is doing around engaging in two-way dialogue with communities when responding to a range of disasters and crises using emerging and traditional technologies.

Let me introduce myself. I am Neelley Hicks, the director of United Methodist Communications’ ICT4D Church Initiatives. United Methodist Communications is the global communications agency of The United Methodist Church. The focus of ICT4D Church Initiatives is to equip the church in low-resource parts of the world with the tools they need to:

1) stay connected with the global church (with over 13 million members, schools, universities, medical clinics and hospitals); 

2) inform and inspire the communities where the church resides; and

3) respond in critical times by using emerging and traditional technologies.

Most recently, the Ebola crisis has placed a very real and urgent demand before the church in West Africa, and we’ve responded in the following ways:

  • Text messaging to clergy and church leaders in Liberia and Sierra Leone, providing messages of health and inspiration
  • Development of SMS content from WHO approved Ebola messaging which is then contextualized for religious practices. Psycho-social messaging is developed from United Methodist prayer books and Scriptures
  • Distribution of Freeplay Energy Assist Radios to help keep pastors informed and cellphones charged
  • Support for local UMC radio in Monrovia, Liberia to repair untimely breakages and begin two-way SMS messaging
  • $10k Grants in both Sierra Leone and Liberia for traditional communications (print, banners, radio, data bundles, etc.)
  • Production of an Ebola animation in collaboration with Chocolate Moose Media and iheed

Just over one year ago, United Methodist Communications responded to Typhoon Haiyan in a very different way. Partnering with Inveneo, we sent a communications relief team (two local representatives and two U.S. based) into the affected areas. Together, they provided engineering support for the restoration of connectivity, distribution of solar cellphone chargers and lights, and tools and training for responders.

Always unique, sometimes similar, each disaster is its own – yet the Ebola crisis is perhaps unlike any other. Thus, we’ve not been able to fall back on any past efforts. Having the CDAC Network to walk alongside United Methodist Communication’s crisis communications response has been key – ensuring that we are not duplicating efforts but instead leveraging our greatest strength – a trusted human network – to aid in this global fight.

Key Ebola Response CDAC Network Collaborations:

  • Partnering with Social Impact Lab, United Methodist Communications has utilized their products (FrontlineSMS and FrontlineCloud); produced a guide to using FrontlineSMS as an early warning system; implemented the system, and is currently working on expansion through a United Methodist radio station in Monrovia, Liberia. The recommendation for Freeplay Energy’s Assist Radios came through this connection.
  • Utilizing CDAC Network’s aggregated resources, we have been able to provide potentially lifesaving information to church leaders and communities in West Africa. Information is sent directly to Radio Station Manager Edward Massaquoi in Monrovia, where he reads news on-air, and editing of news into text-message-size goes directly to leaders via mobiles.
  • Working with BBC Media Action, church communicator Phileas Jusu in Sierra Leone has been supported – learning how to interpret medical information for community knowledge. BBC MA’s ongoing trainings will bring other church communicators into the mix, so they can combat misinformation in the many communities throughout West Africa where the church resides.
  • Collaborating with Internews, United Methodist Communications has begun to understand the information ecosystem of affected countries, so we can build an effective preparedness network among all church related entities throughout West Africa.

For more information on United Methodist Communications ICT4D Church Initiatives, contact Neelley Hicks at nhicks@umcom.org, or go to www.umcom.org/global.

For full coverage of The United Methodist Church’s response to the Ebola crisis go to www.umc.org/ebola.

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The CDAC Network is a growing platform of more than 30 humanitarian, media development, social innovation, technology, and telecommunication organisations, dedicated to saving lives and making aid more effective through communication, information exchange and community engagement.

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