UNHCR Audit 2017/18 + other cautionary tales

Operating aid to displaced populations, stateless people and refugees around the world is a complex task.  Innovative advances in technology are one way that organisations such as UNHCR have attempted to improve aid effectiveness.

Critical is making sure 

A) that the process and application of technology is fit for purpose first and foremost according to those on the ground applying that technology and being effected by both the technology and the aid

B) that aid has an integrated protocol for near realtime feedback (MR&E) which is immutable to both transparently monitor impacts being achieved or problems occurring,  as well as to help make sure the aid is always being reviewed for improvement and damage limitation is never delayed.

Registering refugees

In 2017, refugee figures for Uganda had a newly established IT and biometrics system registering refugees. It has been suggested that $14.6 million was paid for that particular refugee registration platform. Despite this investment, it failed and required a further $11 million to be invested to ‘restore donor confidence’.IRIN 

Possibly not the best idea for restoring donor confidence, as the ‘re-registration process counted 24 per cent fewer refugees than reported by the Ugandan government, a reduction from about 1.4 million to 1.154 million. IRIN  How did a $14.6 million refugee registration platform fail and then receive an additional $11 million to register refugees?

Despite an appreciation for how challenging it is to operate aid to displaced populations, stateless people and refugees around the world, how do we know that the Ugandan re-registration process figures are even accurate? The failure in the IT and biometrics system directly impacts on peoples trust in its data. Concerns like this are a disaster for aid organisations and can lead to misinformation which directly affects the lives of vulnerable populations such as refugees. The investment made in the IT and biometrics system by UNHCR is reminiscent of the Irish government’s €54m investment in e-voting machines which were later scrapped for €9 each. After they were found not to be fit for purpose.

Technology & innovation

When we think past our experience of unintelligible instructions to create a contemporary piece of furniture, we may consider how innovative Ikea are as a company. As one of the worlds largest retailers, they have carefully crafted a superlative experiential retail experience.

In order for Ikea to enhance customer experience, they have developed a deep understanding of their customers. Incorporating innovative advances in technology as part of their strategy to meet the evolving needs of their customers. Understanding people allows them to roll out personalised experiences successfully. An example would be the way Ikea incorporated augmented reality into their customer experience. Achieved through an App that allows users to incorporate an item into their home and see how it might look. After all, technology advances through how people use it. 

Innovative Ikea has also developed a partnership with White Nile farmers in support of the cultivation of coffee in the region. This project helps to raise awareness of the fact that Uganda is the biggest coffee exporting country in Africa. In addition to being one of the worlds largest retailers, they have been actively supporting refugees on a local community level through educational projects. Valuing the ability to empower refugees to gain valuable work experience. Ikea recently trained staff from the Inspector General’s Office (IGO) in an ‘IKEA workshop on organisational culture, values and ethics, a conference on preventing fraud and corruption in international and nonprofit organisations IGO

What is the Inspector General’s Office?

IGO provides the high commissioner for refugees with what is considered independent assurance and an oversight of UNHCR’s activities and operations around the world.The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), is a global organisation working to protect the rights and lives of displaced populations, stateless people and refugees since 1950.  

In Uganda, UNHCR has shared numerous success stories such as how in 2017, 265,620 refugee children enrolled in primary school, 187,450 families received core relief items, and 134,590 people were provided with land for establishing homes and potentiality livelihoods with agricultural activities.

Unfortunately, due to recent reports, we can now wonder if more than 265,620 refugee children could have enrolled in primary school?

Could more than 187,450 families have received core relief items?

Could more families have benefited in addition to the proposed 134,590 people that were provided with land for establishing homes and potentiality livelihoods with agricultural activities? After all, it was a year that saw UNHCR’s expenditure in Uganda increase ‘from $125 million in 2016 to $205 million in 2017’ IRIN


Why do we need accurate migration data?

A recent International Forum on Migration Statistics emphasised how Capacity building and international cooperation are necessary for improving migration data. Essentially the effective communication of data is necessary for overcoming public misperceptions of migration. The forum valued how big data and other innovative approaches can help fill data gaps.

HTiL have previously discussed how migrants and refugees move through diplomatically and economically sensitive situations as do the figures associated with them.  To combat misinformation the Global Migration Data Analysis Center (GMDAC) was created by the IOM in Berlin in 2015. The aims of GMDAC are to share and communicate data on economic migrants and refugees in more effective ways. One of the ways they aim to achieve this is through their data portal. A function that gathers and analyses various data on economic migrants and refugees into one place

Detecting issues in time

Realtime data, has enormous value both to organisations such as UNHCR, IOM and in Uganda’s case the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM). In addition to the 68.5million forcibly displaced people worldwide that can benefit from dedicated software as a service solutions such as the MyInform platform. This technology can play an invaluable role in ensuring that issues like the UNHCR have faced never happen again.


MyInform embodies big data information management through human-centric design. It can be used collaboratively to create productive outcomes not just for issues such as migration and integration but for organisations providing aid and support. A digital solution that UNHCR and OPM could utilise to show the global audience that they are transparent and innovatively harnessing the power of tech to deliver near real-time monitoring of feedback and impact assessment for every dollar that is budgeted.

Essentially, the MyInform service is a solution that not only refers refugees accurately for support to meet their needs, but for the organisations who are challenged to meet them as quickly as possible.  

‘A persistent challenge in the Uganda aid operations was accurately counting the number of refugees.’IRIN

This needs to happen in near real-time, rather than waiting for an audit to reveal discrepancies months or years after the fact, which has already adversely impacted the lives of vulnerable people. 66% of South Sudanese refugees currently hosted in Uganda are childrenOrganisations such as UNHCR, and government offices such as OPM should proactively engage and w work together with digital humanitarian initiatives such as HTiL to Increase their transparency, to collaboratively engage and produce more productive outcomes for the issues around migration and integration and do so faster and for a fraction of the money that is being currently wasted.

Transparency in real-time can combat the need for an internal watchdog to investigate “corruption by government officials relating to, among others, irregularities in land allocation to refugees, bridge construction, theft of food and non-food items and fuel mismanagement.”UNHCR In addition to investigating corruption, several investigators were ‘ heavily engaged in responding to increasing reporting requirements by donors and multiple requests for information by the media, undertaking outreach activities and a variety of policy initiatives, and participating in task forces.’ UNHCR

Why consider Myinform? 

MyInform Logo 56kb
Facilitating positive, collaborative engagement + productive outcomes for issues around migration and integration, embodying big data information management through human-centric design

Because it is a technology that can deliver for the refugees themselves via direct referrals to precisely what refugees define themselves they need, while at the same time providing IM for projects and programmes available on the ground and reliable, independent, transparent MR&E data to subscribing aid agencies and support providers.

The recent report on activities of the Inspector General’s Office clarified how valuable collaboration can be with stakeholders. 

 ‘The Uganda investigations also demonstrated the importance of collaboration with United Nations agencies, government authorities, operational partners and donors. The Inspector General, together with her counterpart from WFP, travelled on a joint mission to Uganda and attended meetings together with government authorities, donors and partners, allowing for a harmonized approach, better information-sharing and more efficient investigations.’IGO

The Community Development Centre, as a case study for getting technology and transparency right

Each MyInform pilot will be tailored, to account for the many variables on the ground for which it will be developed. The Community Development Centre (CDC) is the MyInform service’s lead local refugee partner in Arua District settlements, Uganda (including Imvepi, Omogo and Rhino refugee camps).

CDC will use the MyInform service to help with their current work obtaining feedback from refugees in the camp while broadening the awareness of support, projects and programmes available. One important objective CDC see in using MyInform is to ensure that data visualisations can be defined in advance by the CDC and their international subscribing partners.  These will then be delivered in near real-time on the MyInform Hub; effectively allowing MyInform to be a uniquely effective tool for Monitoring, Reporting and Evaluation (MR&E) as well as Information Management (IM).

The imperative for complete independence of tech behind MR&E as well as IM

HTiL will always remain entirely independent partnering only (as the current pilot in Uganda) directly with volunteer refugee led organisations coordinating on the ground in camps + networking only to bring independent professional expertise and programmes and resources directly to those camps via those independent refugee led partners.

Read More:

IGO report

IRIN- Audit finds a UN agency mismanaged funds

IKEA -People & Places

The Community Development Centre (CDC)

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