Chapter 2: The urgency of speed

By Enrica Porcari, WFP Chief Information Officer and Director of Technology, and Dominik Heinrich, Director of Innovation and Knowledge Management

An amphibious SHERP vehicle in action (Photo: WFP/Hugh Rutherford)

There’s an old saying that rings true for humanitarians racing against the clock to reach those in need: Speed is of the essence. That’s as true today as it ever was.

Because time waits for no one, WFP has a long tradition of embracing innovation, technology and partnerships to find the best ways of quickly delivering life-saving assistance, reconnecting affected communities or moving personnel. The sheer scale and complexity of humanitarian responses can seem daunting, but bolstered by the ingenuity and generosity of partners, WFP is constantly improving its ability to win back precious minutes and hours before, during and after disaster strikes.

That’s why WFP develops and deploys innovative transport to reach those furthest behind during an emergency, when speed matters, but airdrops are not an option. For example, WFP’s amphibious monster-truck, the SHERP, has already tackled some of the world’s most difficult terrain in Mozambique and South Sudan, making remote places closer than ever before.

Streamlined, digital efficiency is crucial to building and maintaining our momentum. The online Emergency Service Marketplace has enabled 100 organizations to send over 90,000 cubic meters of vital health and humanitarian cargo to 159 countries, allowing hundreds of partners to rapidly access goods and services with one simple click. And the Humanitarian Booking Hub provides fast, easy access to accommodation, travel and medical services, transporting over 20,000 workers and supporting 384 organizations since the beginning of the pandemic — at one point even turning WFP into the world’s largest airline.

WFP-led Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC) personnel and partners land in the Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian, September 2019 (Photo: WFP/Elio Rujano)

Such close cooperation is a reminder that quick, reliable communication is critical for delivering humanitarian assistance, maintaining livelihoods, conveying lifesaving information and keeping loved ones close. For many years, this understanding has driven the work of WFP’s Fast IT and Technology Emergency Support Team (FITTEST) and the WFP-led Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC) of 29 partners, which deploy within 48 hours to support local response efforts, restore networks and reconnect communities.

So, while the examples may be as diverse as the people WFP serves, they all demonstrate that innovation, technology and partnerships are not just about working faster, but also about working smarter; not just saving lives, but ultimately changing them for the better.

More information on the themes explored in this series is available on a new WFP platform, which not only offers a glimpse of some of the innovation and technology behind the scenes of a 2020 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, but also suggests practical ways that companies, entrepreneurs and individuals can work with us to achieve even more. Visit wfp.org/enablers.

Sourcing, supporting and scaling high-impact innovations to disrupt hunger.