Why disaster tech in Asia holds great potential – and how to scale the field

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A person who lives in the Asia-Pacific region is five times more likely to suffer from natural disasters than anywhere else in the world. Indeed, the ruin from natural disasters is catastrophic: over 500,000 lives have been lost and 1.4 billion people have been affected since 2005, causing US$900 billion in economic losses.

Relevant Sustainable Development Goals

Living in Singapore, I have fortunately been spared from the countless natural disasters that happen in increasing frequency and intensity to our neighbors in the Asia-Pacific region, but it is a topic that I wish could be dealt with more urgently.

Funding gaps in disaster tech

Despite increasing sophistication in delivering response, relief and recovery efforts, solutions on the ground are far from reaching their full potential. In assessing funding strategies into disaster assistance, the Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP) and Candid found that only a mere 2% of dollars were allocated for building resilience with 4% going towards disaster preparedness in 2018. This is largely because the tangible benefits of supporting preparedness and preventive solutions are not as immediately evident as with relief or recovery efforts.

To fill the funding gap in Asia, Prudence Foundation created and funded the Safe Steps D-Tech (Disaster Tech) Awards to find, fund and support innovative technology solutions that can save lives in natural disaster events.

I have been working with Prudence Foundation over the last two years to catalyze a community of funders and accelerators to identify and grow disaster technology solutions, while creating interest and awareness around this under-supported impact field. However, funding alone is not sufficient to tackle all the systemic challenges this nascent field faces.

Four challenges for entrepreneurs, and how funders can help

In my conversations with entrepreneurs, I see four common challenges they face and identify a few areas of support that are needed.

  1. Always be pitch-ready. As with any product or solution, it is important that entrepreneurs can clearly articulate how their product or solution addresses the problem at hand. I have seen entrepreneurs adapt or retrofit their existing technology to apply for the Awards, but have been unable to concretely demonstrate its theory of change and impact outcomes to investors. To help the entrants of the Safe Steps D-Tech Awards articulate themselves better, the Awards’ strategic partner Tech for Impact will be coaching the semi-finalists on story-telling and being media-ready.

  2. Find opportunities to scale up. Technology has the potential to create transformational change, but it needs to be delivered at scale to deliver impact.Many corporates are now looking beyond ad-hoc corporate social responsibility programmes by providing long-term support to technology innovators. Through mentorship and technology consultancy, the Awards’ technology partner Lenovo will provide finalists with hardware, services and consultancy to help them scale up their technology. The Awards will also bring other appropriate partners to help finalists build scale where appropriate.

  3. Reach the next level of leadership and performance. Behind every startup is a leader with a vision for good. However, while they do not lack passion, they may lack experience in running a business! Venture capital companies come in as excellent coaches, given their breadth of experience and can well advise entrepreneurs on building a sound business model, developing a compelling pitch, navigating client dynamics, and more. I am excited to have two venture capital partners, Antler and Jubilee Capital Management, to provide one-on-one coaching to the Awards’ finalists to address the identified needs.

  4. Forge meaningful partnerships. No single solution can address the complexities of today’s socio-environmental challenges alone. Even with a brilliant solution, an organization needs to forge cross-sector partnerships to scale and sustain its impact.This is where humanitarian partner IFRC will provide insight from working on natural disaster events on the ground while ecosystem builders – including networks, incubators, and accelerators – will help identify and navigate such partnerships. Finalists of the Safe Steps D-Tech Awards will also be featured on AVPN’s Deal Share Platform so they can be showcased to grant-makers, investors, think-tanks, policymakers and more. Capital providers and resource providers who show interest in these solutions can then step forward to partner with them.

Do you know any entrepreneurs who are tackling natural disaster-related challenges in Asia, or who have plans to expand to the region? The Safe Steps D-Tech Awards is accepting applications from now until 19 February.

Winners stand a chance to win grants from a pool of US$200,000 and have opportunities to engage with experts and potential investors in the field. Go to www.safesteps.com/d-tech or write to dtech@avpn.asia to find out more.

A version of this article first appeared in Alliance Magazine.

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Natasha Rynjah

Capital Mobilisation Manager, AVPN

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