Local Aid Workers in the Digital Humanitarian Project

Between "Second Class Citizens" and "Entrepreneurial Survivors"

Author: Jonathan Ong and Pamela Combinido


This paper examines the experiences of Filipino workers recruited for technology and communications work by international aid agencies involved in the Typhoon Haiyan response. Filipino workers, many of whom were personally coping with the social and economic impact of this disaster, were hired on short-term contracts to test and implement various digital humanitarian innovations such as feedback and hazard mapping technological platforms. These workers were doubly marginalized: first, as tech workers whose work was viewed by aid officers on the ground as less substantial than that of food or shelter programs; and second, as local voices often drowned out by national and international colleagues. Moving beyond the usual figure of the cosmopolitan and adventure-seeking Western humanitarian acting on distant suffering, this paper draws attention to local aid workers' aspirations for personal and professional mobility as they seize novel opportunities opened up by the digital humanitarian agenda. It outlines how the digital humanitarian project's ambition to facilitate the inclusion of disaster-affected communities is fundamentally undermined by labor arrangements that doubly marginalize local aid workers.

Countries: Philippines

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© E.D. Starin