By Ivy Shamu
The second ICT4D Partnership Conference took place from 25-27 January to gather global actors involved in digital development and information communications technology (ICT) use for humanitarian response to share best practices, opportunities, and challenges when collaborating with others.
WeRobotics was invited to participate in the discussion on “Developing a digital competency framework for local partners.” The session’s host, Jesus Melendez Vicente of IREX, was particularly interested in the Flying Labs Network, co-created by WeRobotics, which he referred to as a fantastic example of how something can be simultaneously global and local. In addition to Zimbabwe Flying Labs’ Managing Director Tawanda Chihambakwe and WeRobotics’ Co-Founder Sonja Betschart, the session panel included Senior Director of ICT4D at CRS Nora Lindstrom and Praekelt CEO Debbie Rogers.
Sonja and Tawanda started the session with a case study on the Flying Labs Network. Sonja built on the critical concepts of ownership, leadership, sustainability, and ecosystems—part of Jesus’ previous introduction of the session topic and the background that led to this session. She also shared the fundamental principles of the Flying Labs Network model and how this “inclusive network model” is different from other localization efforts.
Tawanda shared his experience of joining the network, which began with a cyclone disaster in Zimbabwe in 2019. Tawanda was previously involved in the technology sector using drones but had never used them for humanitarian aid. He and his team still tried to assist but soon realized they needed to be better equipped with information, knowledge, and experience. This is what led them to research organizations that were already in this space. He then came across the Flying Labs network and saw use cases for drones in disasters from Flying Labs, such as Nepal. Zimbabwe Flying Labs has been preparing since the 2019 cyclone disaster.
They contribute to policy development, data acquisition, and analysis and have also taken advantage of the Flying Labs Network’s knowledge to guide them.
Sonja’s and Tawanda’s introduction laid the ground for a vibrant discussion around technology and localization, partnership, and the needed shift of behaviors, norms, and policies, in many ways accelerated by the pandemic. Session participants shared their questions through an open Q&A, contributing to the discussion and the fact that 60 minutes was much too short of a timespan to debate this burning topic openly.