In 1999, 35 Microsoft employees from nine countries created software to track and reunite refugees from the crisis in Kosovo–and then traveled there to register 13,000 people. The same concept was put into action after September 11.
Microsoft H.E.A.R.T. Team
FROM THE TEAM’S ORIGINAL ENTRY:
What specific issue are you trying to address?
The need of relief organizations to develop a better tracking system for displaced/missing persons during crises. Typically, relief organizations such as the American Red Cross and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), utilized rudimentary tracking tools in their relief efforts. Although current tools provided a basic database of information, it did not provide the robust functionality needed to sort large numbers of individuals for the purposes of tracking large numbers of displaced/missing individuals, accounting for individuals whom they’ve assisted, and provide a central resource to help impacted families locate loved ones. This innovative registration effort was first implemented by Microsoft and (UNHCR) during the 1999 Kosovo refugee exodus (the largest refugee exodus in Europe since the Bosnia war). More recently, this concept was put into action following the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center. The application developed filled a critical need of The American Red Cross to register displaced persons and reunite families during this time of crisis.
What business principle applied?
When Microsoft employees became aware of the need for something more efficient, they quickly organized other volunteers and sought company support. They contacted the UNHCR and The American Red Cross to volunteer their expertise in computer technology to positively impact the way these agencies conduct relief efforts related to reuniting families separated by conflict. The new systems that were developed provided relief agencies with a mission critical tool for quickly registering people and reuniting families displaced by crises such as the Kosovo refugee exodus, where more than 400,000 Kosovars were stripped of all identification, and again during the recent September 11th attacks on the United States.
How did you put it into practice?
To provide context of the significance of this business tool, during the Kosovo crisis, the UNHCR faced one of the largest and fastest population shifts in its history. Responding to the emergency was one of the “most complex humanitarian operations in modern history,” according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Mrs. Sadako Ogata. Microsoft volunteers (35 from nine countries) implemented these databases and went to the refugee camps to register approximately 13,000 displaced people and train the workers UNHCR relief workers on how to use the database long-term. According to a UNHCR briefing, “Microsoft volunteers worked in the field under difficult, demanding and fast-changing conditions.”
How have you seen results?
During the Kosovo refugee crisis approximately 5,500 identification cards were issued in the Yugoslav Republic Macedonia and 7,400 in Albania. Soon after the Kosovo crisis, Microsoft and UNHCR adapted the system to be used in diverse refugee situations around the world. Version two of the kit, the Refugee Registration Kit 2000 was launched in West Africa and has been used all across that continent and in India. The resulting American Red Cross Family Registration Web at http://www.redcross.org/ lets people in the affected areas self-register with the Red Cross, allowing the organization to match those names with thousands of inquiries received from family and friends within days after the attacks. “This is the first time in the United States that people registered online that they’re okay,” (Vince Costello, an officer in the Family Well Being Inquiry Office of the Red Cross in Brooklyn, Washington Post 10/9/01).