2020 was a year like no other. Amid ongoing violent conflict, rising hunger, and other humanitarian crises, COVID-19 compounded what was already a tenuous situation for more than 80 million people who have been displaced due to violence and persecution worldwide.
These crises have carried into 2021, bringing with them new challenges in providing humanitarian support. Global travel restrictions, shelter-in-place ordinances, and other safety measures such as social distancing have prevented organizations from delivering aid in the traditional face-to-face format.
In response, organizations are pivoting to more digital services in order to continue providing healthcare, education, housing, legal assistance, counseling, food, and employment resources.
The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) is an independent humanitarian organization that provides emergency and long-term assistance to millions of people every year in the Middle East, Central America, Asia and Africa. Last year, NRC joined forces with Twilio to enable the digital transformation of its services across the globe and to accelerate the delivery of humanitarian aid through the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
In partnership with cloud-first professional services company Zing, the NRC team has developed the Digital Community Hub (DCH), an innovative omni-channel community engagement solution, and using Flex, has built more than 10 contact centers over the course of 12 months. Leaning on Flex for development and customization has enabled them to scale operations rapidly and centrally manage communications across WhatsApp and webchat channels, expanding the reach of humanitarian response beyond in-person contact.
Today, NRC has contact centers in 11 countries, including Libya, Lebanon, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Kenya, Venezuela, Uganda, Yemen, Palentine, Colombia, and Ecuador. By fiscal year-end, contact centers in Mali, Sudan, Honduras, and Jordan will also go live.
With the new contact centers, NRC has been able to reestablish communication and assistance services to displaced people in countries such as Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Myanmar and Libya, whose difficulties were further exacerbated by the pandemic. The implementation of cloud-based communications allowed NRC to deliver on its mission to provide help to those displaced by conflict in some of the hardest to reach communities.
And the results exceeded the NRC’s initial expectations: in Libya, they had expected the newly built contact center to manage 400 calls a week. That number was quickly surpassed, however, when it received more than 20,000 calls in its first two weeks of operation.
Currently, NRC’s contact center in Lebanon is supporting 30,000 interactions each week.
In addition to expanding its network of Digital Community Hubs to reach more locations, NRC is focused on enhancing its program with a range of social, legal, and educational services that will be delivered via the contact center. NRC’s Hub in Libya supports refugees and asylum seekers facing great risk of abuse, exploitation, trafficking and serious harm—allowing them to access legal information and asylum claim assistance all in one place.
“Our goal was to ensure that those whose need for help was even greater during the pandemic crisis could continue to get assistance,” said Paul Cornu, emergency response adviser at NRC. “Working with Twilio, NRC has been able to achieve this by taking advantage of digital communications to reach more people faster and with greater efficiency. We are incredibly proud of this result and expect the relationship with Twilio to provide NRC with the foundations to transform aid so that it can be connected to people rapidly and in a way that suits them.”
NRC has reached 3 million projected monthly interactions through its contact centers
NRC’s work to build and implement refugee crisis lines puts them at the forefront of the digital transformation of humanitarian services, a change that is vital to providing aid through the duration of the pandemic and beyond.
Now supporting 500,000 distinct engagements with vulnerable people per month, the organization continues to scale and add features to its platforms, like multilingual IVR and message recording.
“The pandemic has tested us all, not least the way we communicate with and assist the world´s most vulnerable,” Cornu said. “NRC is now able to reach more people faster and with greater efficiency through the digital transformation of humanitarian services. We are delighted that working with Twilio provides NRC with the tools to transform aid so that we can connect with people rapidly in a way that is safe and successful.”