With the Digital Humanitarian Network now live, several colleagues have been asking about the origins of the idea. So we thought a short blog post on this would be helpful. Perhaps the first seed was planted during a conference at the University of Berkeley in April 2011. I was speaking with Jennifer Chan about the various directions that the Standby Volunteer Task Force (SBTF) could take following the Libya Crisis Map partnership with UN-OCHA. She suggested looking at the SBTF more as an incubator of spin-off networks rather than try and have the SBTF be everything to everyone. This was a brilliant point.
Two months later, OCHA’s Andrej Verity organized an important day-long in New York with Volunteer & Technical Communities (V&TCs) to review lessons learned from Libya. Participants at the meeting recommended the creation of nine thematic Communities of Interest (COIs) to help move such collaborations forward in the future. One of the COI’s proposed at the meeting was a Humanitarian Standby Task Force (H-SBTF), i.e., a spin-off network of volunteers directly dedicated to support humanitarian organizations. (The SBTF has a broader mandate not limited to humanitarian partners). Original members of the H-SBTF COI included OCHA, UNV’s Online Volunteer Service, MapAction, iMMAP, GISCorps and the SBTF.
Following several conference calls and an in-person meeting of all COI Leaders at the International Conference of Crisis Mappers (ICCM) in November 2011, the group decided that another roster of volunteers was not needed - rather a network of existing networks that could be brought together to help solve requests, outlined by traditional responding entities, would sever a better and hopefully more fruitful purpose. During the in-person meeting, Andrej Verity, as the meeting organizer and facilitator, suggested that we move forward full steam ahead with the launch of the H-SBTF COI. Luckily, however, he came up with a far, far better name for the initiative--thus was born the Digital Humanitarian Network.
Andrej and I have since been working closely to formulate the goals and design of Digital Humanitarians. The concept has certainly evolved since the idea was first crafted at the June 2011 OCHA meeting and will continue to evolve as we learn by doing and integrate feedback from members and the wider community. Stay tuned for an upcoming post on the next steps we’re planning to take. In the meantime, feel free to contact us should you have any questions or suggestions: