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Drones in Isolation - Ahead of the Game

Proactive interventions in isolated PNG village communities that redress education, health and SME needs.

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Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

Isolation itself can be a generator of poverty, conflict and environmental degradation. Physical isolation combined with lack of access to information and communication can be a causal factor in the disempowerment of communities in achieving their education, health and small business goals. Our idea revolves around interacting with isolated communities in Papua New Guinea to support the delivery of government services by using drones to provide regular access to high speed internet. Our thinking suggests that issues of conflict, poverty and environmental degradation are more likely to occur when communities have low levels of education, health and access to information. Quite often these communities have token government services (buildings and staff) and budding small businesses but these are largely operating at low levels due to the difficulty in communicating with the outside world. We propose a mobile "wireless hot spot" - carried by a drone - and connected to the internet via satellite link could be utlised in many ways to enhance local services and support. For example - local schools could download resources and departmental materials and upload school administration data (meaning teachers did not have to leave posts to deliver the same information), aid post staff could consult with doctors in provincial hospitals and order medicines and report on patients, local businesses could access mobile money services as well as information on their products, communication with clients and suppliers and access information on their products. The communities we have in mind are those without road access. Often these are not large distances from towns "as the crow flies" but mountainous terrain means land travel can take many arduous days. Our concepts would provide opportunities at village level and helps reverse urban drift. Depending on the size of drone utilised, other support may also be incorporated such as delivery of medicine.

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

Our beneficiaries are isolated communities in Papua New Guinea who have an existing aid post and school as well as potential agriculture or adventure tourism activities but, due to their isolation, receive very little support during the calendar year in terms of line agency interaction and outreach/extension services. We feel issues experienced in these communities in terms of poverty, conflict and ignorance of environmental concerns are largely symptoms of problems caused by their isolation. By enhancing education and health services as well as small business support we feel many of these issues may not eventuate with a well-planned activity designed to help people help themselves. The power dynamic is unfairly balanced towards people with access to services in PNG - mainly in towns and cities. We can help shift this power imbalance by connecting isolated communities to services through clever use of drone and mobile hot spot technology.

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

As far as we know, this idea is completely unique in the Papua New Guinea environment. Drones are utilised for mapping and other purposes, but not for connecting communities to the outside world. The communities we have in mind will never have access to mobile phone towers and suchlike due to the shadow effect of mountainous regions and scattered populations. In this regard these people are "forgotten" and will likely never have access without innovative solutions. The end result of this situation will be they will leave their land and add to the problems of overcrowding in the cities and towns and the dissipation of strong cultural groups.

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Initial Design: I am exploring the idea, gathering the inspiration and information I need to test it with real users.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)

Library For All is a non-profit working in the Pacific region. Our goal is to make knowledge accessible everywhere to everyone through innovative means. We are experiencing much success addressing the lack of homegrown literature in developing countries via e-book and tablet technologies and are developing expertise in understanding other issues and potential solutions in the communities we interact with. Our website is:

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

Our founder - Rebecca MacDonald - was moved by the plight of Haitians after the earthquake there some years ago. Rebecca moved to Haiti with her husband and together they assisted in relief efforts. Rebecca quickly saw the need to rebuild library collections devastated by the earthquake and sought innovative ways to achieve this. Rebecca has since moved back to Australia and is now devoting herself to finding ways that incorporate technology in solving current community issues in the Pacific.

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

PNG has some of the most arable land and spectacular scenery in the world. The potential for agricultural and tourism ventures is untold. Papua New Guineans have a strong attachment to the land but too often use inefficient gardening methods and destructive agricultural processes due to a lack of access to information and guidance on sustainable techniques and options for development. This leads to unsuccessful, unsustainable business practices which both impacts on the planet and on poverty and causes conflict between individual families and communities. Existing support is available to these communities but access is the problem. We plan to help solve that. The support to SME provided by our idea, together with the support for schools and aid posts will help achieve the government goals of a "healthy, wealthy and wise" population. We believe much of the conflict, poverty and environmental issues experienced are symptoms of isolation.

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

Our extensive experience in PNG has helped us identify many communities who would benefit from such an initiative. We are reluctant at this stage to approach communities with the idea as the risk of raising unreasonable expectations would be high. Our partners will be local government agricultural, tourism, health and education authorities, as well as the communities themselves.

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

The strengths of these communities are many. Self-sufficiency and resourcefulness are two key ones. Communities own their land and that land can potentially support a diverse number of small industries. There is a strong cultural identity and PNG is one of the most culturally diverse places on the planet with over 800 distinct language groups. This, in itself, is worth preserving by helping communities sustain themselves and keep their cultures alive.

Geographic Focus

Papua New Guinea - Pacific

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

24 months

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • No


Join the conversation:

Photo of Simon

Hi Ashley and thanks very much for the question.

I guess this idea is a result of already having worked in PNG for over 20 years and being a part of various activities that attempted to overcome the rugged terrain to help provide services to isolated communities.
For example, a few years a go I managed a program that aimed to deliver school materials and collect various data from over 3000 school around PNG. The challenges in reaching these schools accounted for much of the funding and it was a hugely expensive and complex operation. One thing we noticed during this exercise was that next to schools in these locations there were normally health facilities and in these communities there were also micro business such as agriculture and tourism - all struggling in a range of areas but most noticeably in the areas of communication and access to information with the outside world.
Teachers and health workers often leave their posts to travel long distances to deliver paperwork or chase up their pays or collect resources. SME's stuggle to collect orders, be aware of prices for their products and other empowering information.
This led to thinking such as "there must be a better way" to maintain contact with these communities and with advances in technology it does seem possible.
Our organisation, Library For All, is currently involved in a successful program using tablets instead of traditional books to provide reading materials to schools in PNG. Our Challenge idea is an extension of what we are learning. The communities are quickly adopting new technologies and we believe that a mobile hot spot carried by a drone that visited these communities regularly could help all the sub groups mentioned with them downloading and uploading relevant info including teaching and learning materials, health data and requests, medical consultations, guest house bookings, mobile banking etc. This would address a lot of issues currently being faced by these communities. Of course, as drones become larger, eventually they could be used to deliver medicines, spare parts and other goods.
If our idea was successful we would start small by selecting communities that reflect the needs outlined above and then add services as they adopt the technology. Local health and education authorities would be key partners as well as other NGO's and community groups.
Hope the above helps!
Thanks Ashley.

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