Save the Children International is calling on the worldâ€™s largest tech firms to provide expertise to help fight the worst child crisis in decades.
The head of the charity, Janti Soeripto, is pushing the IT industry to help combat child poverty and inequality, during her visit to the World Economic Forum.
She believes existing technology could be repurposed to create new services to help the millions of children left homeless, or without an education, by conflict and climate change.
â€œTech firms have a lot of money, and they have a huge innovative capacity. And I say to these guys: â€˜I want you to run a hackathon for us, where I give you a problem and you think through a number of ways to resolve it,â€ Soeripto said.
Hackathons are used by many organisations, including the Guardian, to create new programmes and digital services, with coders brainstorming ideas that will then rapidly be turned into reality.
Soeripto admits the development sector is â€œvery tech-unsavvyâ€, and struggling with legacy systems at a time when the refugee crisis is straining services. Save the Children is running temporary spaces for education in natural disaster zones, in Greece and Serbia for migrants, and now even in Germany and Sweden too.
Technology can clearly play a huge part. â€œDuring the Ebola crisis, schools were closed for nine or 10 months so they ran educational programmes over radio. And thatâ€™s where modern technology can absolutely play much more of a role. We havenâ€™t tapped into that enough, and neither have others,â€ Soeripto said.
One challenge is keeping track of children as they travel across Europe from the Middle East, with no opportunity for stable schooling.
Refugees from the Syria conflict have had their education badly disrupted, which will make it even harder for them to find employment, given the way automation is reshaping the jobs market.
â€œTodayâ€™s inequality of education is tomorrowâ€™s inequality of wealth. And that concerns us because there we see a widening of the gap. Driven by conflict and crisis, people are on the move,â€ Soeripto says.
There are 60 million children out of school who should be in school, and a further 250m will leave education unable to read or write. In Europe, it is estimated there are more than 25,000 unaccompanied children from the Middle East, which charities are trying to help.
And thatâ€™s where Soeriptoâ€™s vision of a hackathon comes in.
â€œThere are definitely applications available that we havenâ€™t necessarily used for some of our problems.For example, basic messaging services are applications that we could repurpose – either for our staff in the field or to set up groups for specific groups of children that you still want to reach out to even though you donâ€™t know where they are.â€
This would build on existing partnerships with the educational firm Pearson and accountancy group Accenture, among others.
While a large tech giant such as Google would clearly have expertise to share, Save the Children is also looking for help from smaller firms, particularly in cyber-security given the data protection challenges that working with young people poses.
Other opportunities include file-sharing in the field, or simply guaranteeing consistent access to data. Apps for online learning, or for family tracing, would also prove hugely valuable.
Another problem is that many records are still kept on paper – which is insecure, hard to share quickly, or search. For a sector that is always trying to do too much without enough funds, thatâ€™s hard to fix, especially as it wrestles with providing help to children in besieged towns, or in areas which rapidly change hands between warring groups.
And instead of honing their mathematics and literature skills, many young refugees end up as child labour, or in under-age marriages.
A report last month, from the World Bank and the UN, found that 90% of the 1.7 million Syrian refugees registered in Jordan and Lebanon are living in poverty. More than half were women and children.
On Thursday, former UK prime minister Gordon Brown warned that Syriaâ€™s children will become a â€˜lost generationâ€™. He says another $250m of funding needs to be raised within the next couple of weeks, to fund school places for those affected by the civil war.
This yearâ€™s Davos has been focused on the refugee crisis from Syria, but the scale of the problem goes much further. There are 60 million displaced people worldwide, more than half are children, and a million people stateless in Asia.
â€œThe global South is on the move, to the global North,â€ says Soeripto.
â€œPlus there are climate-change driven natural disasters, disproportionally affecting children. And we are also facing pandemics like Ebola, which can really set a country back.â€
And in Ethiopia, barely mentioned at Davos this year, 6 million children are at risk of severe malnutrition. â€œThatâ€™s almost the population of Sweden, and no-oneâ€™s talking about it here.â€