Combine a truly global background, expert IT design skills, strategic thinking, compassion, and a huge vision for making humanitarian aid more successful —meet Atish Gonsalves, director of DisasterReady.org. Atish is adamant that this piece should not be about him, but without those qualities and his experience it probably would not be happening.
Now based in California’s “Silicon Beach,” Atish has first-hand field experience in the Syrian crisis, working for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in Switzerland, and for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Hungary. That only tells part of the story. Atish grew up in India and was educated and worked initially in Australia. Does that give a picture of someone ideally equipped to create and direct a venture to uplift the skills of aid workers, providing them with the means of sharing experience, expertise and needs while actually working in the field?
DisasterReady.org is a newcomer to the global aid effort, born out of the need to rapidly train aid workers being deployed to the Pakistan floods of 2010. Today, over 40,000 aid workers from 190 countries have accessed the DisasterReady.org learning portal to enhance their preparedness for whatever assignment comes next. They learn and are enabled to communicate across organizations, national boundaries, and fields of expertise to help one another in the vital task of helping swiftly, and with expertise, to alleviate the horrors stemming from natural disasters and human conflict, wherever it occurs.
So what is the portal? Hosted on the Cornerstone OnDemand.com platform, DisasterReady.org is a flagship project of the Cornerstone OnDemand Foundation, supported by an impressive community of major players in the humanitarian sector and eLearning industry. Its users come from across the spectrum of the world’s major aid agencies.
The vision behind DisasterReady.org is to leverage the power of technology, making learning accessible to aid workers at whatever level and wherever they are on a 24/7 basis, regardless of organizational affiliation, nationality, or personal expertise. A rapidly developing suite of courses, lightweight MOOCs, webinars, and other resources are available to anyone in the aid community, anywhere, free of charge. As the portal develops from its initial base in the Cornerstone OnDemand Learning Cloud, further capability is being switched on, currently through the Connect Cloud, providing aid workers with the opportunity to deepen learning gained through the shared experience of webinars. Increasingly those communities are becoming self-sustaining communities of practice supporting workers in the difficult field conditions of tented communities and relief camps.
The communication language is currently mostly English but materials are now also becoming available in French and Arabic.
“Where is it leading?” I asked Atish.
Atish said, “Successful aid delivery depends on rapid and accurate needs assessment followed by the application of focused expertise, often in situations that are entirely unique. Disasters can happen anywhere and by their nature are unpredictable. Disaster response needs workers who have technical and soft skills, are emotionally well-prepared, and responsive to situations they find. It is important that workers have the means to share, seek advice, and support one another regardless of their affiliations. The focus has to be on helping those affected by tragedy.”
“What we are seeing in these early stages of the platform is a growth in cross-fertilization between disciplines and organizations. Traditionally this has been a challenge, but, for example, using webinar speakers from a range of client organizations, and making the content available to everyone, is breaking down those barriers and encouraging collaboration and sharing. Cross-training between finance experts and medical staff is a good example of a coming together to help those in need get help.”
DisasterReady.org is young and developing rapidly. The immediate future will see a further expansion of the portal, opening up the Cornerstone OnDemand Performance and Recruitment Clouds. This will enable better matching of skills to disaster needs and will simultaneously give individual workers the confidence of badges and other certifications for learning achieved.
Wow! I asked Atish how many people work for DisasterReady.org? “Just three at the moment” was the astonishing reply! “However, we get enormous support from the Cornerstone OnDemand team. There are loads of volunteers helping us from the aid agencies themselves. It is an amazing community!”
So here is the challenge for us who read this exciting story. There is still time in our New Year plans to make a space to volunteer our skills to help ensure the next disaster is overcome better. Whether we are SMEs, course designers, IDs, learning managers, or whatever else in the learning community, Atish would love to hear from you that you can help in some way.
You can reach Atish Gonsalves at agonsalves@DisasterReady.org.