FrontlineAid takes part in BMZ and Kwf Virtual Conference on Digitalisation and Remote Management for Global Development Cooperation

By: Alessia Baker

From the 19th to the 21st of January the virtual international conference organized by BMZ and Kfw discussed how digitalisation and Remote Management, Monitoring, and Verification (RMMV) can help organisations and institutions to improve the impact in global development cooperation.

Under the title ‘Remote Beneficiary Involvement; can it work?’ FrontlineAid was invited to share their experience in using technology as a solution for localization of projects in the conflict-stricken city of Raqqa, Syria.

Ummul Choudbury, Co- Founder of FrontlineAid explained how the organisation first came to be: searching for a solution to improve the activities of local aid organisations after years of dealing with setbacks while managing the NGO Capoeira4Refugees in Damascus:

‘’Out of frustration we looked to find solutions for grassroots organisations competing for around 1% of all foreign aid – out of pot worth 147 billion dollars’’

‘’The Vision behind the technology platform FrontlineAid is to put the local community in the driving seat whilst meeting the needs of the aid system in fragile contexts, such as that in al Raqqa, Syria.

Ummul explained how local organisations are struggling to access funds because they lack the man-power and knowledge to comply with international monitoring and evaluation standards. Lack of transparency and visibility, due to their isolated and disadvantaged position, are also keeping them from receiving funding.  

Chamit Fernando, consultant and former Deputy-Head for UN Habitat Syria, provided a clear picture of the devastation and collapse of trust that the war brought to Raqqa and FrontlineAid’s intervention to support local communities.

Sanctions and restrictive financial  measures made transaction and communication impossible. Strongmen were being used for physical cash transfers, causing the diversion of funds and bad publicity in the eye of the international public opinion, leading to tightened donor restrictions. Decisive steps had to be taken to evaluate the situation and rebuild networks of trust in the area and with Western donors.

To this aim, a remapping and risk-assessment of the areas was carried out to comply with international requirements from the UN, the German government, and Kfw. 

FrontlineAid provided a platform fitted with a system that monitored progress made by following pre-agreed targets. Then, project managers close to the communities were trained to ensure that projects were in line with the needs of the beneficiaries and supported by them. Modules for the expression of community grievances were also introduced to better engage with the community and their requests.

Social media also plays a key bridging role: connecting images and information to the relevant projects and also allowing diasporic communities and individuals displaced by the war’s to recconnect.

Ummul provided a practical example of how the new platform can collect the voices of people on the ground: through its FrontlineAid changemakers node a group of 500 people in Syria (80% mums) was surveyed. They were asked what they most needed at that moment and which local initiatives were best placed to provide these services. By speaking in a language enabled phone the women expressed their need for safe spaces and activities for their kids. 

These points led to online and offline discussions among local board members who decided to fund the development of 10 schools, 4 parks, the planting of trees and city clean-ups, also establishing consortiums for collaboration between organisations.  

Ummul concluded by pointing out the modular nature of the FrontlineAid platform that can be customized to individual’s needs. Designed to meet the bottom-up needs of the grassroots, as well as the top- down needs of donors and project staff.

Workers on the ground will be able to manage and own their own data, uploading geo-tagged images and data in real time by using a smartphone, making it ‘as simple as doing a doodle on a napkin’ to collect and share information about ongoing projects.

‘The collection and upload of real time data, will allow field workers to continue to work without the weight of large amounts of paperwork and reporting, it will also make it possible to act and support communities immediately, on the basis of the information received’’.