When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many countries shut down their borders in an effort to stem the spread. That unfortunately left many people’s travel and vacation plans grounded, but it had more dire consequences for the local economies of tourism-dependent destinations.
On the Caribbean islands of Aruba, Curacao, and Saint Maarten communities were hard hit by the collapse of international tourism due to travel restrictions.
510 supported the local branches of the Red Cross on these islands in expanding their communication tools to have the most impact and reach. In doing so, they turned to Twilio.
510 global is an initiative of The Netherlands Red Cross, using data and digital technology to support aid workers and decision makers with helping people affected before, during and after a disaster or crisis.
“510 refers to the world’s surface in square kilometers, which is how we view our work and mission,” explained founder and strategic lead Maarten van der Veen. “We want our products and solutions to be globally applicable, or ‘510.’ Scalability is key to what we do.”
The team needed a scalable solution in order to reach thousands of people affected across several Caribbean islands. One of the first challenges the local Red Cross teams faced when attempting to set up a COVID helpline in March 2020 was how to share up-to-date advice and information on the support initiatives providing food assistance in the communities’ native languages. The 510 team needed the ability to rapidly send thousands of messages in a variety of languages, so choosing the right communications channels was essential.
“Not being able to send messages today means people in need won’t get food vouchers, and won’t have access to food tomorrow,” van der Veen said.
Twilio proved to be the partner needed to accelerate the timeline to support communities in need on their preferred channel and in their native languages.
Not being able to send messages today means people in need won’t get food vouchers, and won’t have access to food tomorrow.
In just two days, the team was able to build a crisis communications solution to send messages to people affected on three Caribbean islands. At first, the team sent information via Twilio Programmable Messaging, about how they could get food vouchers.
It quickly became obvious, though, that SMS wasn’t the ideal channel for most of the people they were trying to reach. The individuals there either weren’t receiving or reading their messages. The team looked at a recent survey conducted by the Red Cross branches on the islands that showed strong affinity for WhatsApp, so they switched to that channel using the Twilio WhatsApp Business API.
The Red Cross was now able to reach those previously-unreachable people in their native language, with relevant and timely information about emergency food access.
Since launching, the Red Cross has sent more than 124,000 messages in four different languages, helping 20,000 households to access much-needed support during challenging times.
“Seeing the American Red Cross working with Twilio helped me to start exploring Twilio as a trusted connection,” van der Veen said. “510’s mission is to use technology to reach more people, and the Twilio platform is perfect for nerds like us who want to build solutions at scale.”
510’s mission is to use technology to reach more people, and the Twilio platform is perfect for nerds like us who want to build solutions at scale.