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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’
– JANET HUMPHREYS

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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2021 iPhone photography awards – in pictures | Technology

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The 14th annual iPhone photography awards offer glimpses of beauty, hope and the endurance of the human spirit. Out of thousands of submissions, photojournalist Istvan Kerekes of Hungary was named the grand prize winner for his image Transylvanian Shepherds. In it, two rugged shepherds traverse an equally rugged industrial landscape, bearing a pair of lambs in their arms.

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With Alphabet’s legendary commitment to products, we can’t wait to see what its robotics biz Intrinsic achieves • The Register

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Alphabet today launched its latest tech startup, Intrinsic, which aims to build commercial software that will power industrial robots.

Intrinsic will focus on developing software control tools for industrial robots used in manufacturing, we’re told. Its pitch is that the days of humans having to manually program and adjust a robot’s every move are over, and that mechanical bots should be more autonomous and smart, thanks to advances in artificial intelligence and leaps in training techniques.

This could make robots easier to direct – give them a task, and they’ll figure out the specifics – and more efficient – the AI can work out the best way to achieve its goal.

“Over the last few years, our team has been exploring how to give industrial robots the ability to sense, learn, and automatically make adjustments as they’re completing tasks, so they work in a wider range of settings and applications,” said CEO Wendy Tan White.

“Working in collaboration with teams across Alphabet, and with our partners in real-world manufacturing settings, we’ve been testing software that uses techniques like automated perception, deep learning, reinforcement learning, motion planning, simulation, and force control.”

Tan White – a British entrepreneur and investor who was made an MBE by the Queen in 2016 for her services to the tech industry – will leave her role as vice president of X, Alphabet’s moonshot R&D lab, to concentrate on Intrinsic.

She earlier co-founded and was CEO of website-building biz Moonfruit, and helped multiple early-stage companies get up and running as a general partner at Entrepreneur First, a tech accelerator. She is also a board trustee of the UK’s Alan Turing Institute, and member of Blighty’s Digital Economic Council.

“I loved the role I played in creating platforms that inspired the imagination and entrepreneurship of people all over the world, and I’ve recently stepped into a similar opportunity: I’m delighted to share that I’m now leading Intrinsic, a new Alphabet company,” she said.

The new outfit is another venture to emerge from Google-parent Alphabet’s X labs, along with Waymo, the self-driving car startup; and Verily, a biotech biz. ®

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Charles River to create 90 new jobs at Ballina biologics site

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Charles River is expanding its testing capabilities in Ballina as part of its partnership with Covid-19 vaccine manufacturer AstraZeneca.

Contract research organisation Charles River Laboratories is planning an €8m site expansion in Ballina to facilitate batch release testing for Covid-19 vaccines from AstraZeneca.

The expansion at the Mayo site will create an additional 1,500 sq m of lab space and 90 highly skilled jobs in the area over the next three years.

Click here to check out the top sci-tech employers hiring right now.

The company provides longstanding partners AstraZeneca with outsourced regulated safety and development support on a range of treatments and vaccines, including testing and facilitating the deployment of Vaxzevria for Covid-19 and Fluenz for seasonal infleunza.

The latest investment follows earlier expansions at the Ballina site and Charles River recently announced plans to establish a dedicated laboratory space to handle testing of SARS-CoV-2 and other similar pathogens that cause human disease.

“We are incredibly proud of the transformational changes we have implemented on site and the role that Charles River has played in supporting the safe and timely roll-out of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine,” said Liam McHale, site director for Charles River Ballina.

“Throughout the pandemic, our site remained fully operational while keeping our employees safe and having a positive impact on human health. Our expanded facility will provide us with the increased capacity needed to continue the essential services we provide to our clients.”

Charles River acquired the Ballina facility, which focuses on biologics testing, in 2002. The company employs 230 people at its two facilities in Ireland, including the Mayo site and a site in Dublin, established in 2017, which serves as the EMEA and APAC headquarters for the company’s microbial solutions division.

IDA Ireland is supporting the expansion. Mary Buckley, executive director of the agency, said Charles River is an “employer of long standing” in Co Mayo.

“The enhancement of its product lines and the development of additional capability at the Ballina facility is most welcome,” she added. “Today’s announcement is strongly aligned to IDA Ireland’s regional pillar and its continued commitment to winning jobs and investment in regional locations.”

Dan Wygal, country president for AstraZeneca Ireland, added: “Our Covid-19 vaccine, Vaxzevria, undergoes extremely robust safety and quality testing prior to becoming available for patients. We are committed to bringing safe, effective vaccines to Ireland and other markets as quickly as possible, and Charles River will continue to be an important partner in this regard.”

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