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Empowering Crisis-Affected Communities: Cisco’s Commitment to IRC Signpost


In times of crisis, armed conflict, or natural disasters, people are forced to adapt and make big, life-changing decisions under extreme pressure. Access to timely, accurate, and straightforward safety information is an invaluable resource for these communities as they relocate, search for critical services and struggle with complex problems. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) teamed up with Mercy Corps to provide durable solutions for people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster. Together, they created Signpost: a responsive, digital information service that leverages innovative software to respond to the informational needs of populations impacted by crises.

Partnering with IRC from the start

Cisco has supported the development of Signpost since its inception. Our partnership with IRC began through our work with Mercy Corps in 2015, when Cisco provided funding to develop “Refugee Info Hub,” the precursor to Signpost. At the time, Cisco’s Crisis Response team was deploying Wi-Fi connectivity to refugees in Greece—directing landing pages to Refugee Info Hub, signposting them to where they could get relevant help and support.

With the increased need for digital information services to reach particularly vulnerable populations during the pandemic, Cisco funded the launch of Signpost in three new countries and supported the development of additional features necessary to scale Signpost’s impact, including off-line functionality.

Cisco answers the call with a voice solution

In April 2022, in response to the invasion of Ukraine, Google.org, a long-time partner of IRC and Signpost, approached Cisco to collaborate on a contact center solution. IRC had partnered with United for Ukraine to provide critical information to those affected by the war, and Google.org was looking for a contact center specialist to help them create a responsive voice bot that could handle crisis caller-requests. Their request for expertise led them to Paul Tindall, the EMEA lead of Cisco’s contact center technical team. With his team’s dedicated efforts, Paul quickly turned around with a proposed solution.

“In the midst of a crisis, it’s a rare occurrence for someone
to ask if there’s a contact center specialist in the house.”

– Paul Tindall, EMEA Lead, Cisco Contact Center Technical Team

The proposed solution involved Signpost creating a call center equipped with local phone numbers, interactive voice response capabilities, and multi-lingual voice services (offering support in English, Ukrainian, and Russian). If the automated voice bot failed to meet the caller’s needs, they would have the option to connect to a local agent.

Challenges on the way to solutions

photo of a woman using IRC's Signpost app
Photo credit: Olivia Blinn (IRC)

However, the path to implementation was not without its hurdles. To set up a call center with local numbers, the solution required a partner with a public switched telephone network provider. Finding a provider capable of working quickly without incurring costs was a challenge that introduced some delays. Ultimately, Signpost received invaluable support from a Cisco partner, CallTower, who provided pro-bono service numbers in Romania, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Google played a critical role in supporting the IRC technology team with a robust fellowship program through Google.org that make the Ukraine program possible and generously supported staffing of the call center with personnel from their customer success division in Poland. While callers could now connect through these local numbers, the local agents responding to a call presented an additional challenge. These agents utilized a variety of devices, exposing unexpected security risks. Cisco’s dedicated team worked diligently to support agents by patching any platform and program vulnerabilities.

One of the most heartwarming aspects of encountering and overcoming these challenges was the incredible responsiveness of our partners once they grasped the profound significance of Signpost’s mission.

Signpost’s remarkable impact

Cisco continues to invest in Signpost, enabling the platform to scale to over 20 countries across 5 continents, impacting the lives of more than 12.8 million people in over 25 languages. This collaborative effort has proven that technology and shared commitment can make a tangible difference in the face of humanitarian crises, reaffirming the power of partnership and innovation.

 

Learn more about Cisco Partnering for Purpose Crisis Response and how you can get involved:

 

 


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