So, What Exactly is SMART AID?

Sep 25, 2016 · 4 min read

by Ioanna Theodorou

More than a year after the attention of the world was fixed on Greece and the refugee crisis, the situation continues to be difficult with real challenges every day. Over that time, more than 800,000 people have arrived and passed through Greece. Nearly 60,000 of them remain stranded in the country. Welcoming them, have been volunteers, locals, community groups, small NGOs and people from all around the world.


This is a tireless group of people that have been at work on the ground, finding solutions every day. They might be small, but they have power that some times not even they can imagine. More than 50 nationalities, thousands of volunteers working an average of 2–3 weeks each across Greece, hundreds volunteering and coordinating remotely from abroad, dozens of warehouses filled on the islands and mainland with donations. Just as a small example of what civil society can do:

On just one crowdfunding website,, volunteer projects for refugees have raised more than $2 million. That’s more than the Kickstarter campaign of the UNHCR backed by Obama!


As a volunteer, a sometimes “remote coordinator” and observer, I have been inspired by their passion and tenacity. But, more importantly, among them, I have seen examples of creativity and efficient solutions that deserve to be recognised for their innovation and impact. These are the projects we at Campfire Innovation call “SMART AID”.

Previously, the term has been used to define “smart” use of money and donation choices. But effective aid needs to be more than that. So, we are reclaiming the term.

For us, this is more than a buzzword (although it sure sounds cool!). It is a recognition of the ability of grassroots teams to adapt, to come up with solutions that make sense, to create systems that truly help people. Because when MarhaCar runs all its service on Whatsapp to accommodate volunteers, when Dirty Girls pin socks in pairs to help people find them more easily, when RefuComm provides audio files for those who cannot read asylum advice…That. Is. SMART.

It is the kind of smart that only small, flexible teams, with a strong presence on the ground, open collaboration and genuine understanding of what is needed can come up with.

Looking across dozens of examples, we have noted 5 key characteristics that appear in these grassroots projects.

EFFECTIVE: Responding to a specific challenge identified on the ground in an efficient way that is clearly organised.

DIGNITY: Providing dignity and empowerment to refugees through quality solutions, services that take their needs into consideration

COLLABORATION: Collaborating within the team, avoiding bottlenecks and working faster. Collaborating with other teams to create chains of support and cover multiple pieces of the puzzle.

TECHNOLOGY: Using technology as a tool to be more impactful. This can be low tech, open source, social media, software or hardware. The key is to only use tech when it is necessary. Not all of them do.

SCALABLE: Creating a system that can be described and reproduced in another location or by another team. This makes training people easier too!

This is SMART AID.

If you want to be inspired by some of these projects and supported them, you can see them here!


Grassroots smart aid projects deserve to be showcased and supported. They have done so much for thousands of refugees in Greece and beyond it and they continue every day. There are outstanding examples in the Middle East too, where the refugee issue is one with a long track record. There is a 3D printer right now in Jordan printing a prosthetic limb for a child with the their favourite cartoon hero’s colour on it! Just look at ROW to find out more.

There is also a bigger picture here: at a time when innovation is the key word across the humanitarian sector, we need to shine a light on this type of innovation too. It is innovation born of “making things work”, of experimentation and getting things wrong, picking themselves up and trying again, of limited resources and of lucky moments. Humanitarian aid as a whole can be inspired and enriched from the creativity of these teams.

Campfire Innovation’s pledge is to showcase and support these teams, advocate for them, shine a light on their work. It is our honour and privilege to do so.

So, to you asking what SMART AID is…here is our answer. Smart aid is an efficient and creative way of providing relief. Smart aid teams are flexible, imaginative and dedicated to their work. They find effective ways of caring for thousands. More than anything, smart aid is flipping the script on the refugee crisis, not accepting that migration and being a refugee should be about bad living conditions and hardship.

Smart aid is about solutions that work, day in day out, for those that need them the most.

Check out our website or follow us on Facebook for more thoughts on smart solutions for the refugee crisis!

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