In September last year, three powerful hurricanes hit the Caribbean, causing numerous casualties and widespread devastation across the region. To prepare the affected populations, UNICEF launched its boldest social media messaging Disaster Risk Reduction exercise to date, and partnered with Facebook, Viber and teams of UN Online Volunteers to get life-saving messages out to the communities living in Hurricane Irma’s path.
Using its U-Report messaging platform – originally developed to send polls and alerts to young people– UNICEF uploaded pre-approved emergency preparedness advice, offering important information on how to prepare for the hurricane. But with over 25,000 people accessing that information, not all questions from a frightened and vulnerable population could be addressed. This is when UNICEF requested the services of UN Online Volunteers, who were selected and trained within 30 hours to respond to incoming questions.
“The great thing about onlinevolunteering.org was the speed with which we could engage the volunteers and the high quality of their work,” says James Powell, Global U-Report Lead from the UNICEF Global Innovation Centre, who coordinated the online volunteer teams. Over the course of 21 days, working in shifts to ensure 24-hour coverage, and frequently forced to juggle their own commitments, the online volunteers responded to over 8,000 messages, using up-to-minute information provided by UNICEF.
According to Paula Alejandra Ballesteros Campos, UN Online Volunteer from Colombia, “we had great communication within the group. We would contact each other over Skype to address concerns and distribute tasks, working in pairs using the online tool to respond to the questions.”
“This is an example of how the UN can work effectively across agencies and alongside the private sector. The volunteers deserve the award for sheer dedication. They worked hard, consciously, sensitively, collaboratively and performed under pressure to get much needed information to those in a frightening situation. We could not have done it without them, they completely over-delivered any expectations we had,” James Powell affirms.