Aidex Voices

Last weekend, the UN met in New York City to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals. Partnerships were a key issue on the agenda. While effective collaboration can present a myriad of challenges, it is essential to achieving results. We spoke with AidEx exhibitor SkyLIFE, an organisation which develops aerial humanitarian relief delivery systems, about how the SDGs will impact their work and collaboration with NGOs.

A key element for the SDGs is the importance of impact and impact measurement. Tell us about how you’ve collaborated with an NGO to tackle this issue?

By listening to our customers, who are primarily NGOs on the front lines of disaster relief efforts, we have been able to design more effective and efficient tools.

For example, NGOs struggle to distribute information to local communities over large distances. Relief packs often include leaflets containing important information about what to do in emergency situations. However, in areas with high levels of illiteracy this is rather ineffective. To tackle the issue, we developed the LiveLeaf Audio Card which can play back 90 seconds of audio recordings in any language or receive FM radio broadcasts. The messages can tell people where to go and what (or what NOT) to do in cases of emergency, or can simply explain how to use items included in the relief packs.

We also learned that the NGOs had trouble gathering reliable information about whether or not their deliveries had been collected as intended. We integrated this feedback into the design of our audio cards so that, as well as distributing information, the cards can also be programmed to record the date, time and location that the packs were delivered and even picked up. Essentially they turn data into a digital resource that NGOs can utilise to make operations more effective.

Going forward, it will be interesting to see how this data helps NGOs’ make decisions about where to establish relief centres and medical stations.

What does sustainable development mean to you?

One of the things we learned is that our relief efforts work best when local economies can take part in their own disaster preparedness and resilience efforts. As a result, SkyLIFE delegates the assembly, packing and loading of its relief packs  to the countries that will eventually made use of  them. By using local labour and local supply chains, we can ensure local economies are building resilient solutions. These supplies can then be prepositioned in prepared launch points for disaster relief missions.

This approach would be especially effective in the Philippines, which routinely experiences severe typhoons. The island geography means that it can benefit immensely from a system that supports a resilience plan whereby local people and resources can be used to prepare disaster packs. It also means that when disaster does hit, locals can mobilise and reach isolated populations without waiting for the international community to respond.

What are the challenges of working with local agencies and communities as well as organisations at national and international level?

We started off by going to the “front lines” and watching and listening to the concerns of international aid organisations. That is the only reliable way to properly understand the issues at hand.

Our Box Delivery System, which consists of custom engineered boxes and parachutes that safely deliver aid in larger quantities, was developed in response to the WFP describing a problem they were having delivering fragile cooking oil in South Sudan. Upon hearing the details of the problem our engineers were able to start developing a solution within three weeks. Now the “Undroppables” box can be dropped from aircraft, delivering fragile jugs of vegetable oil safely alongside other more robust relief supplies, such as maize or sorghum.

Change can sometimes be slow and it can be a challenge integrating innovative technology into the NGO’s existing workflows. However, in our experience, people recognise that these kind of common-sense solutions have huge benefits in the long run. That’s where real collaboration comes in – working together so that both sides can understand the other’s way of thinking.