UNHCR seeking Proposals on Safety of Forcibly Displaced People Online Challenge

Deadline: Ongoing

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Innovation Service has announced a call for proposals that provides targeted financial support to country operations interested in tackling specific challenges on Safety of forcibly displaced people online.
Digital literacy is vital to ensuring that individuals can safely, effectively and efficiently use technology. Lack of relevant digital skills and knowledge remains among the main barriers to accessing connectivity services worldwide. In an age where societies as a whole are digitising rapidly, and humanitarian assistance is increasingly being provided through remote digital channels, the importance of addressing this skills gap is vital in ensuring communities are able to navigate often new and unfamiliar digital engagements.

Furthermore, data literacy is specifically important as community members not only understand the systems and platforms they’re using, but what happens to the data they’re generating or providing, how this is processed and by whom. Critically, there are also different ways of addressing such challenges ranging from more top-down ‘campaigns’ to bottom-up community-driven approaches to enhancing understanding.

Risks do not end with a digitally and data literate population. Other possible risks span across a variety of areas such as:
  • Secure connections: The majority of connectivity accessed by refugees or forcibly displaced persons is provided through cellular connections operated by Mobile Network Operators. In certain contexts however connectivity is provided through WiFi hotspots, connected community centres and other local solutions. The specific nature of these connections can lead to risks: Is any content filtering in place? How long is data retained for when refugees are using hotspots? Are these local networks secure or vulnerable to attacks? How are such centres governed, and by whom? Simple measures can be taken to manage security risks to local network infrastructure.
  • Digital surveillance: How is personal information being used online – consciously or unconsciously? How might third parties monitor, record and use a population’s digital footprint and online behaviour? How aware are PoCs about this and how it could affect them in the future when seeking support or solutions?
  • Securing access: Online accounts and personal devices contain valuable personal information but often these are not protected adequately, for example passwords or account information being shared without necessarily understanding the risks. Being aware of how to manage passwords, security and privacy settings, and the broader implications of sharing access credentials for either connections or services is vital to minimise chance of illegitimate access.
  • Cybercrime: Can take various forms like online identity theft, financial fraud, stalking, bullying, hacking, email spoofing, information piracy and forgery and intellectual property.
  • Online abuse and sexual gender-based violence: Social media channels such as Facebook and Instagram have been used as a means of facilitating human trafficking, grooming and sexual exploitation (e.g., by connecting with potential victims through false job advertising or befriending children). In addition, the rampant use of digital technology has led to an increase in online harassment, or unsolicited sexual interactions particularly impacting women and girls.
  • The main objective of this challenge is to build on previous efforts by humanitarian and partner organisations in this space. To ensure sustainable access to connectivity to refugees and their hosting communities to address real and perceived digital risks and guarantee a safe, inclusive and responsible engagement online – considering specific risks and barriers faced by different groups based on age, gender or demographic.
  • The interventions proposed aim to address online risks faced by affected communities in a given operational context by enhancing their digital skills. Interventions will:
  • Raise awareness about the real and perceived online risks, including the most pertinent risks and targeted specific groups among refugees and other vulnerable populations in accessible formats;
  • Provide the tools for a safer engagement online, safeguarding individual’s identity, identifying key information to protect and sharing personal data in a responsible manner;
  • Develop protocols for staff, partners and persons of concern to be able to detect possible online threats and how to efficiently respond to those or refer appropriately.
  • Eligibility Criteria
  • Only UNHCR country operations are able to apply to the challenge and one submission is accepted per operation. This Expression of Interest should command the support of senior management within the operation.
Evaluation Criteria
For the Expression of Interests, awarding of funds will be based on the following criteria equally weighted:
  • Challenge: Framing of the Challenge and evidence / data to support it with a key focus on community engagement and feedback
  • Solution: Articulation of the potential of the initiative to address key aspects covered in this background note. Specific attention will be given to proposed levels of community engagement / meaningful participation
  • Impact: Potential Impact of the solution not only in terms of the number of community members supported, but also how the intervention would affect them in their daily lives and build broader community resilience
  • Feasibility: Based on the approach, administration and tentative budget, a determination on how viable the project will be and its level of sustainability
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