An NRC staff member waits for the first families to arrive, to be registered on the new biometric system for food support in northern areas of Yemen.

Cybersecurity and summer jobs with a purpose

In an increasingly digital world, cybersecurity is becoming ever more important – even for the world’s most vulnerable. Watchcom and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) have joined forces to ensure safer delivery of emergency aid to displaced people, while also providing students with valuable work experience.

The partnership between the IT security company Watchcom and NRC first saw the light of day in 2020. In a nutshell, Watchcom employs IT students to work with cybersecurity at NRC. The students thus receive work experience and a meaningful summer job, while NRC improves the security of its management systems – free of charge.

“We are planning to work together again this summer,” says NRC’s chief information officer, Pietro Galli.

Secure storage of personal data is important to NRC and the people we work with
Govind Prashad, information security adviser with NRC

As more of NRC’s work takes place digitally, more and more information will need to be stored and processed by NRC and other organisations, including both information about NRC’s own employees and its work, and information about the displaced people who receive assistance.

Working in conflict or post-conflict environments, data about where people are, their needs and specific cases is not only confidential, but may also be directly related to their security and wellbeing. Given this, organisations like NRC bear a responsibility to do everything they can to safeguard the information of the people whose situation they work to improve.

“Partnering with professionals like Watchcom means we are more likely to do it right and succeed”, Galli adds.

“Secure storage of personal data is important to NRC and the people we work with,” says NRC’s information security adviser, Govind Prashad. “Naturally, we want to ensure that no information goes astray. The students from Watchcom contribute to this work.”

Read caption In Afghanistan, paper forms containing household assessments are digitised at the NRC office. Photo: Enayatullah Azad/NRC

“We go all-in”

Watchcom’s head of marketing, Tormod Fjellgård, is enthusiastic when he talks about the partnership.

“Watchcom’s slogan is: ‘We will contribute to a safer society’,” says Fjellgård. This is something that the company’s employees actively demand, and the NRC project is one for which they are often happy to sacrifice their evenings and free time.

“It helps a lot to give something back to a client who makes a difference. We want to be an employer that takes responsibility not only for our employees but also for society in general. We go ‘all-in’,” he says.

The whole company is behind it, which makes it extra rewarding
Tormod Fjellgård, head of marketing at Watchcom

Fjellgård explains that Watchcom’s strategy clearly states that they have the desire and the will to work with NRC, not only with the “summer intern project” but also on other projects supported by Watchcom and NRC. “The whole company is behind it, which makes it extra rewarding,” he says.

Fjellgård continues: “We see NRC as an organisation with a clear mission. They stand for a message and a worthy cause that our employees want to support, which is important to us.”

“A medium-sized company such as Watchcom has limited financial resources to contribute, which makes it especially meaningful to be able to contribute on a professional level with our cybersecurity expertise. We will try our best to give as much as possible to this project.”

IDP female headed households visit NRC's help desk to check their name in the data bank and get a confirmation card to collect assistance. One in five people we recently assisted, were the female headed households.

Some of the families have been separated from the male during the displacement and some have lost their men in fight and conflicts and some has gone for work either in the country or outside.
Photo: NRC/Enayatullah Azad
Read caption Women in Afghanistan queue up to check that their names are listed in the database so they can receive a card giving them access to assistance. Photo: Enayatullah Azad/NRC

Keen to involve young people

Fjellgård is focused on ensuring that new graduates are involved and given responsibility as early as possible. He thinks it is beneficial to make use of their knowledge and says that many have been teaching themselves on their own for years.

“Young people also often have ideas about how to do things in different ways,” he explains. “Often, senior employees are the ones who meet with clients, while junior employees work in the background. Now we see that they more often involve their younger and less experienced colleagues, to contribute with additional resources and build breadth.”

The students themselves have taken responsibility and run the project on their own – with guidance of course
Tormod Fjellgård, head of marketing at Watchcom

Watchcom pays the interns’ salaries, and Fjellgård says that they experience the students as a resource. “The students themselves have taken responsibility and run the project on their own – with guidance of course. It’s important to us that they feel they are getting something in return.”

The first draft of this year’s project has already been prepared, and Watchcom has the interns in place.

Prashad gets excited when he talks about the plans for the year, which he has long wanted to push forward. “One of the things we will be working on this year is a set of guidelines and procedures for how an organisation should store sensitive data, which is highly relevant in a time where many are working from home,” he says.

Some of the work from last year will be continued, and once again, the students themselves will be expected to lead the project.

“Students don’t learn to interact with clients through their studies, so it is good for them to gain experience in listening to the client and delivering things. We think it is important that they get a true taste of what it is like to work at Watchcom, and that they have the chance to be involved in a project from start to finish,” says Fjellgård.

NRC would be happy to embrace similar collaborations in the future, no matter where in the world our partners may be
Govind Prashad, information security adviser at NRC

Prashad agrees that everyone benefits from the exchange of experience. He thinks it’s exciting to learn from each other, try to identify issues and see what we need to consider in the future. He also thinks it is an advantage to be able to work directly with the students.

“The teamwork and cooperation are excellent, and we gain a good overview of any challenges we might face,” he explains. “It’s interesting to receive input on the systems we work with from experts in the field, and naturally, it’s a big plus to be able to utilise those resources without having to pay for them.

“Furthermore, the internship offers these students a window into a reality that they might only ever read about. Their contribution will not only serve as valuable work experience, but also provide a more meaningful cause than, say, working to secure a commercial for-profit application.”

Positive about future collaboration

The fact that much of today’s work takes place digitally offers more than just security concerns, it also offers many opportunities. In today’s working life, where many work from makeshift desks in a corner of their dining room, from a café chair or even from a bench in the park, it doesn’t matter where in the world people are actually located. “NRC would be happy to embrace similar collaborations in the future, in all parts of the organisation, and no matter where in the world our partners may be,” says Prashad.

“We welcome any potential partner.”

Fjellgård says that creating value for others is rewarding.

“The partnership between NRC and Watchcom provides an indefinable value that our clients and future employees notice and appreciate. It gives you a feeling of being involved and focusing attention on a good cause. It’s nice to live life with the knowledge that something we do creates extra value,” he concludes.