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How Goal uses technology to help vulnerable communities

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From drones that detect landslides to prepay tech for water pumps, Goal Global’s CTO talks about how tech is deployed to advance humanitarian efforts around the world.

Janet Humphreys is the chief technology officer of international humanitarian response agency Goal Global.

Having started her career in finance and treasury roles in the private sector with Xerox, Humphreys moved to the humanitarian sector in 2008. She has worked in overseas and finance management roles, gaining significant experience in operations, financial management and training.

She became a member of Goal’s leadership team in 2018 and is currently responsible for the company’s technology, risk and compliance, and logistics and procurement functions.

‘The digitalisation of cash is a game changer for the humanitarian and development sector’

Describe your role and your responsibilities in driving tech strategy. 

As Goal’s chief technology officer, I lead a dedicated team working hard to ensure that the 2,500 employees in our 14 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Latin America have the technical infrastructure and skills needed to support implementation of our programmes.

We currently have more than 110 programmes being rolled out across health, nutrition, livelihoods and emergency response. The integration of technology is vital in allowing us to be agile, efficient and accountable.

Are you spearheading any major product or IT initiatives you can tell us about? 

We have some exciting technology initiatives which are impacting on our work. In Uganda, Goal is piloting a new pre-payment technology, Susteq, which is being applied to handpumps in rural villages.

This allows community members to pay a small amount proportional to the water they use before they collect it. In this way there is money in the account if the handpump breaks down for quick repairs. Without a fresh water supply, people are in danger of picking up diseases and infections.

In Zimbabwe, we are partnering with UNICEF and mobile marketing company Promobile to provide communities with Wi-Fi access from vans. This enables people to download videos and information on better nutrition and recipes using locally available foods. Messages on Covid-19 preventions are also available to download.

In Honduras, we are using drones to do surveys of landslide-prone areas in the capital, Tegucigalpa. Drone surveys are also used to assess mangrove coverage along the north coast of Honduras to calculate carbon stock.

And in Ethiopia, where more than 11m households depend on livestock for economic and food security, we are using AfriScout, a tool developed by our US partners PCI, to help farmers get intelligence on disease, conflict, forbidden grazing, predators and water issues.

We need to ensure we optimise technology so global teams stay connected and safe. This is not straightforward given the infrastructure and connectivity challenges we face in the remote locations we operate in, and with increased remote working due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

We have a comprehensive programme of work underway in these areas, which includes upgrading infrastructure, strengthening cybersecurity resilience, cloud migration and digital skills training for our staff.

How big is your team?

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As a charity, we are always conscious of ensuring we are as lean as possible and to focus on expenditure that will impact on beneficiaries. So, we are a relatively small team – but highly effective! We have a core team of nine in our HQ in Dublin, Ireland, working on the service desk, infrastructure, solutions and business analysis.

Globally, each Goal country has an IT helpdesk and staff to support the programmes relative to the size of the operation. We are also very fortunate to work with some fantastic external partners including Dell, Microsoft and Dimagi, our technology advisory board. These connections provide a great opportunity to learn from experts and to share best practice.

As members of NetHope, a consortium of international NGOs, we are also harnessing our global impact, working closely with major technology companies on productive collaboration, innovation and problem-solving to reimagine how technology can improve our world.

What are your thoughts on digital transformation and how are you addressing it? 

Embracing digital transformation is core to our business and to allowing us to improve our impact and the numbers of people we reach every day. We are integrating digital technology into all areas of our operations and this will fundamentally change how we operate and deliver value to the vulnerable communities we support.

Digital transformation also involves a cultural change, and this requires us continually training and supporting our staff. As an organisation, we are approaching this together. It is not an IT responsibility, but it is the responsibility of all from the top management down. We need to think digital and embed it in our strategy.

What big tech trends do you believe are changing the world and your industry specifically? 

The digitalisation of cash is a game changer for the humanitarian and development sector. This transformation will not just be from an administrative perspective but will provide more accountability and security.

In north-west Syria, where Goal has its biggest programme supporting more than 1m displaced people every year, we have introduced an electronic voucher system to increase food security. In 2021, 52,000 extremely vulnerable households will be transitioned to this e-voucher system, which has many benefits when compared to paper-based vouchers.

It is more secure, as lost vouchers can be deactivated and replaced. And the e-cards can be topped up remotely. This is a distinct advantage when working in fragile and Covid-19 affected contexts.

In general in the countries we work, 5G networks will be transformational in enabling people to engage with technology – be it at home or work. Trends that might not seem major in Ireland have huge impact in the countries we work. For example, the use of mobile messaging.

In terms of security, what are your thoughts on how we can better protect data? 

Cybersecurity is a threat no matter where you work in the world. We have a phrase in our organisation that our data is only as secure as the weakest link – so we need to continue to ensure that we secure our networks and keep on talking to staff about the importance of cybersecurity and of taking responsibility in protecting data.

For my team, it is important to keep abreast of new trends on managing emerging risks, and we work with many partners to try and keep ahead of this threat and importantly to learn from the corporate sector.

Learning from others is important for us as an agency committed to continuous improvement. Ultimately, everything we do is about improving our world in meaningful ways and that is something worth driving hard to achieve every day.

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Rocket Lab setting up for first Moon mission • The Register

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Rocket Lab has taken delivery of NASA’s CAPSTONE spacecraft at its New Zealand launch pad ahead of a mission to the Moon.

It’s been quite a journey for CAPSTONE [Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment], which was originally supposed to launch from Rocket Lab’s US launchpad at Wallops Island in Virginia.

The pad, Launch Complex 2, has been completed for a while now. However, delays in certifying Rocket Lab’s Autonomous Flight Termination System (AFTS) pushed the move to Launch Complex 1 in Mahia, New Zealand.

The wet dress rehearsal for the launch was completed last night, prompting CEO Peter Beck to say: “Next stop…the Moon!”

“I always wanted to say that,” he added. Beck has long dreamed of sending his rockets beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and is planning a mission to Venus in 2023. However, the Moon is than the company has sent its rockets to date.

CAPSTONE is to be sent to a Near Rectilinear Halo Orbit (NRHO) around the Moon, a location planned for the NASA, ESA, and CSA Gateway. CAPSTONE’s primary mission is to verify simulations that the interaction gravity of the Earth and Moon will make for a stable orbit.

The milestone was hit as Rocket Lab announced its first quarter 2022 results. Overall, the company made a net loss of $26.7 million, down from the $15.9 million loss of the same period last year, but revenues jumped to $40.7 million from $18.2 million. Most interesting was the make-up of that revenue. Space Systems (the company’s Photon spacecraft and the components it sells) accounted for a whopping 84 percent of Q1 revenue. Actual Electron rockets fared less well; during a call with analysts, CFO Adam Spice said that launches contributed just $6.6 million.

Going forward, the company expects second quarter revenues to be between $51 million and $54 million. It is including three dedicated launches in that figure (of which CAPSTONE is one). Two have already happened, and there is potential for a fourth, but the company has opted to take a prudent path and not include it in the figures.

As for CAPSTONE, it will be integrated with the Electron rocket and Photon spacecraft bus ahead of the launch window opening on May 31. The Electron will launch the spacecraft into LEO and the Photon will take care of the ballistic lunar transfer via multiple orbit raisings. A final burn of Photon’s engine will occur on the sixth day, enough to escape Earth orbit and send CAPSTONE on a course for the Moon. ®

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Dublin’s UrbanVolt bags €36m for its solar energy business

Voice Of EU



A DCU Alpha spin-out, UrbanVolt says it sells power generated from solar energy at up to 30pc lower rates than traditional suppliers.

UrbanVolt, a Dublin-based clean energy company, has secured €36m in financing to expand its solar panel business in Ireland and the UK.

The funding includes a €30m asset-backed seven-year loan from Swedish credit fund PCP and €6m from existing funding partners, BVP and Beach Point Capital.

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Founded in 2015 by Kevin Maughan, Graham Deane and Declan Barrett, UrbanVolt finances and installs solar panels on the rooftops of commercial and industrial businesses, selling the solar electricity generated to the businesses at up to 30pc lower rate than traditional suppliers.

The company said it also guarantees the price for up to 30 years, protecting businesses against rising energy costs for decades to come, with no minimum amount payable or standing charges – meaning that customers pay proportionate to their consumption.

“This is a transformational deal, which will allow us to scale at pace to meet the significant demand in the market while also streamlining the process of installing solar panels for our customers’ benefit,” said Maughan, who is also the CEO of the DCU Alpha spin-out.

“This first funding facility from PCP will see our project output grow by 20x over the coming years.  It is also happening at a time when the demand for renewable energy is rising significantly given climate and geopolitical crises.”

The loan facility will be used to fund the installation of solar panels and related equipment on UrbanVolt’s primary target of commercial and industrial client sites in both Ireland and the UK.

It started supplying solar-generated electricity directly to businesses in Ireland last summer, since when it has agreed contracts with more than 60 companies and completed seven installations.

Maughan sad that there is “simply no compelling reason” for commercial and industrial operators to opt for traditional energy sources anymore, adding that UrbanVolt offers “unparalleled” price security and clean energy.

“By incorporating an ‘as a service’ business model, our customers only pay for the energy they use without a standing charge, and the cost of our equipment and its maintenance is kept off their balance sheet.”

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$7.6bn of ‘stablecoin’ tether redeemed since start of crypto crisis | Cryptocurrencies

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Digital investors have withdrawn savings in the “stablecoin” tether worth $7.6bn (£6.2bn) since the cryptocurrency crisis began last week, suggesting the company has paid out a sum almost twice its total cash holdings to spooked depositors.

Stablecoins are supposed to have a fixed value matched to a real-world asset, in most cases $1 a token. However, faith in the concept was rocked last Tuesday when another big player, terra, broke its peg to the dollar. That has fuelled a wider sell-off across the crypto sector, which relies on stablecoins for much of its financial engineering.


What is a stablecoin?


A stablecoin, like the name suggests, is a type of cryptocurrency that is supposed to have a stable value, such as US$1 per token. How they achieve that varies: the largest, such as tether and USD Coin, are effectively banks. They hold large reserves in cash, liquid assets, and other investments, and simply use those reserves to maintain a stable price.

Others, known as “algorithmic stablecoins”, attempt to do the same thing but without any reserves. They have been criticised as effectively being backed by Ponzi schemes, since they require continuous inflows of cash to ensure they don’t collapse.

Stablecoins are an important part of the cryptocurrency ecosystem. They provide a safer place for investors to store capital without going through the hassle of cashing out entirely, and allow assets to be denominated in conventional currency, rather than other extremely volatile tokens.

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Tether, the third biggest cryptocurrency by “market cap”, experienced a short-lived crisis on Thursday when its value dropped from $1 to 95¢ as savers feared it would follow its fellow stablecoin terra and collapse. However, the token, which is controlled by a private company with close links to the crypto exchange Bitfinex, has since largely restored its dollar peg by honouring a promise to allow savers to always withdraw $1 for every tether they give back to the company.

The company only allows direct withdrawals of at least $100,000 for each request, and charges a fee of 0.1% on redemptions. Anyone with less tether than that minimum can only turn their money into dollars by finding someone to buy it from them – a disparity that fuelled the temporary collapse in value.

Despite the difficulties, according to public blockchain data, $7.6bn of tether has been reallocated in this way since Thursday. That is almost twice the cash that Tether had in its reserves at the end of last year, according to accounts published on its website.

Most of the rest of its reserves are held in “cash-like” assets, the majority of which are $35bn of US government debt and $25bn of corporate bonds. However, the company has refused to share any further details of the investments, with its chief technology officer, Paolo Ardoino, telling the Financial Times: “We don’t want to give our secret sauce.”

There have long been fears as to Tether’s ability to honour all redemptions. The company had once said it backed its currency with “US dollars”, a claim the New York attorney general said in 2021 “was a lie”. Now, it simply claims its currency is “backed 100% by Tether’s reserves”.

By contrast, terra was backed by a complex algorithm that required the value of a sister cryptocurrency, luna, to constantly rise in order to maintain the dollar peg. When the crash hit last week, the system went into a “death spiral”, automatically printing more luna, which crashed the price further, until luna lost 99.9995% of its value in a matter of days and terra was left languishing at $0.11.

The charismatic founder of the Terra project, Do Kwon, has said he wants to relaunch the currency. In a proposal posted to the project’s message board on Friday, he suggested wiping all ownership of luna, and redistributing 1bn new tokens, with most going to those who hold the stablecoin, or who held luna before last week’s crash.

“It is a hard balance – and no easy answers in redistributing value within the network,” Kwon wrote. “But value must be distributed to allow the ecosystem to survive, and in its current state it will not.”

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Kwon also faces questions about how the vast sums of bitcoin that his project had amassed to back terra were spent. According to a breakdown shared by the organisation, it sold more than 80,000 bitcoins, worth more than $2.4bn, to unnamed parties in exchange for terra valued at $1 – at a time when the public price of the currency was under 75¢.

The jitters around stablecoins have combined with a general slump in tech stocks and the wider US downturn to trigger a wider crisis of confidence across the crypto sector. Bitcoin and ethereum, the two biggest cryptocurrencies, are down more than 10% over the last seven days, with ethereum dropping 17% to less than $2,000. Smaller currencies have, as always, been more volatile, with dogecoin falling 26% over the week.

Even some of the most vocal backers of digital currencies are now querying the promises of the sector. The founder of the crypto exchange FTX, Sam Bankman-Fried, said in an interview with the Financial Times that bitcoin has no future as a payments network because of the inherent inefficiencies of its blockchain, the public digital register that records its transactions. Instead, he argued, it could only function as a gold-like store of long-term value.

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