Building technology that accelerates school-based humanitarian aid for refugee children
Pitch us on your solution
The delivery of humanitarian aid to children living in refugee camps is critically delayed by environmental constraints and inefficiencies that impede the work of aid workers providing basic human services, resulting in detrimental effects to children’s well-being.
RISE is offering a technologically advanced software platform that is optimized to function in low-infrastructure environments that accelerates the work and extends the reach of aid agencies delivering critical services.
With a focus on education and school meals programs, our app increases the transparency, efficiency, and effectiveness of aid delivered in refugee camp schools, which are central locations for providing food, clean water, sanitation, and protection; all components that further support education.
When scaled globally, our platform allows the precise tracking of aid delivery down to each individual child. Such unprecedented capability paves the way to accelerate the delivery of services to the nearly 4 million school-age refugee children living in camps worldwide.
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What is the problem you are solving?
Education programs are an important part of humanitarian aid provided to refugee children in camps set up in response to a migration crisis. In these situations, refugee schools are locations where children are able to access multiple life-saving services such as food, clean water, sanitation, and protection.
However, it’s estimated that only half of the approximately 4 million school-age refugee children living in camps globally attend school on a regular basis. Agencies providing education and school-based services are working hard to counteract these trends, but they are limited by the absence of technologically advanced tools designed specifically for emergency contexts that can help incentivize and support regular school attendance.
In refugee camp schools around the world, aid agencies rely on pen and paper systems to facilitate their work delivering humanitarian and emergency services to children in remote locations. In addition to making it difficult to consistently coordinate vital services, the use of these analog systems also makes it impossible to account for every child in school and evaluate the effect program strategies have on efforts to increase attendance, gender parity, and incentives such as the school meals program.
Who are you serving?
Our primary beneficiaries are refugee children and our customers are aid agencies. Aid workers using our app will see a reduction in the amount of time spent filing reports for all children served. Managers will receive increasingly detailed reports from camps allowing them to better communicate value to their funders, limit opportunities for fraudulent activity and reallocate resources that would otherwise be spent on time-consuming reporting processes.
In the past year during our field tests at the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, RISE conducted more than 50 interviews with beneficiaries and customers. We built our innovation based directly on the feedback we gathered from our design research and we will continue to prioritize the community in the development of our innovation.
Our platform has significant implications for vulnerable populations. Currently, there is no way to efficiently measure the correlation of program services and their effect on subsets of students such as girls, ethnic or religious minorities, or students with special needs. Our app empowers aid workers to expedite services for vulnerable populations through information. This capability allows programs to radically improve aid delivery and be more inclusive to address the immediate needs of all refugee children.
What is your solution?
RISE is building an enterprise-level B2B multi-sided platform in the form of a progressive web app that supports education and nutrition for refugee children. We’ve built the technology from the ground up - ensuring that only required features were included in the product roadmap. We did this to ensure that the final product is as lightweight as possible and optimized for operation in a refugee camp context. Additionally, our Application Programming Interface (API) is strategically built to manage distribution data and analytics in ways that bolster performance for the user.
Our app was built using a user-centric design. Our engineering team collaborates extensively with users in the field to ensure that the system dynamics of the aid ecosystem are reflected in our design and verified to be effective with our users.
The product we are offering allows multiple users to access data collection and reporting tools. For example, teachers use the mobile app to take attendance. Cooks access the mobile app to prepare school meals based on the data teachers collect. Administrators access the metrics tool to have a detailed view of the entire operation. Stakeholders overseeing the entire operation also have the opportunity to identify bottlenecks in service flow in real-time and deploy resources to resolve identified challenges.
The use of our app will allow schools to replace 75% of their paper systems, increase access to vital information on program outcomes, and make it possible to easily generate and share reports. This innovation will allow partnering agencies to more easily collaborate on education and nutrition goals, increase the transparency of the work being done throughout all stages of program implementation, and simplify processes of reporting in the field thereby increasing instruction time for students in the classroom.
Our platform has the potential to transform and modernize the delivery of humanitarian aid. We are creating technology that makes it possible to automatically account for every student’s educational and nutritional needs and generate reports in real-time. These new pipelines of information from the field to the office provide detailed monitoring and evaluation features that accelerate work at all levels of program implementation. The result is that education is supported and children’s nutritional needs are met at higher rates.
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Where is your solution team headquartered?San Francisco, CA, USA
Our solution's stage of development:
Select one of the below:
New application of an existing technology
Describe what makes your solution innovative.
Our innovation is unique because we provide powerful functionality for users across all levels of program implementation anywhere in the camp. Alternative to current technologies available, RISE is not limited in functionality or scope. Some generic data collection tools on the market allow aid workers to design surveys for data collection offline. However, users are constrained to general questionnaires that must be manually imported to their system and re-organized to fit their needs.
Some agencies fund contract engineers to create apps to simplify specific tasks. These apps address the needs of a subset of workers within an agency, but the impact of their product is limited by the parameters of the engineer’s assignment. This rarely leads to a scalable or adaptable resource for users beyond the intended recipients.
Our approach shifts the trend away from small investments for tools with a narrow impact to a technologically advanced system that benefits multiple user types. Rather than automating a single task to benefit one agency or creating an overly simplistic tool, we have built a platform to address common needs of aid workers along all stages of service delivery.
Our innovation will save time and resources for users providing last mile services, and translate that time savings into faster humanitarian aid delivery. By bridging the interests of different user groups and making it possible to integrate with existing systems, RISE can help agencies cut costs on one-off innovation efforts, amplify collaboration, and accelerate program impact for refugee aid agencies everywhere.
Describe the core technology that your solution utilizes.
Our software is a progressive web app platform that provides intuitive user experiences (UX) for teachers, cooks and administrators. The user interface (UI) allows aid agency staff to collect student information, attendance records and food distribution data and automate reporting. Everything is performed straight from a mobile phone, which is the only ubiquitous device in camps.
The app utilizes Google service worker technology to cache static files and store user requests when the user is offline. This enables staff to maintain full functionality of the app when cellular data service is intermittent and/or unavailable. Refugee camps do not have WiFi and are not wired which makes this offline capability a requirement to operate in this context.
All reports are designed based on research conducted in primary schools in the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. Our designs were verified through pilot tests in Kakuma to confirm relevance and their parallel to actual workflows.
Our Application Programming Interface (API) handles client requests and houses the logic for supplying analytics to staff. These metrics populate dashboards for viewing and can be downloaded in .csv format for easy transferal to external systems.
Our client and server-side application and databases are managed through Microsoft Azure and we strategically choose server locations nearest to our field operations. As well, we built the backend software architecture to allow us to scale the platform globally. These product choices allow us to easily deploy our app to global locations, maintain high levels of data security and scale with ease.
Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:
Why do you expect your solution to address the problem?
Our theory of change asserts that technologically advanced tools in the hands of aid workers will improve program outcomes for children living in refugee camps. Our intended impact is to improve service delivery outputs for education and meals programs in refugee schools. To measure this, we will evaluate the rate of improvement of program outcomes via metrics that agencies use to evaluate their impact. In our pathway to scale, we will send a team prior to the rollout of our app to collect baseline data and performance metrics for future impact evaluations at the school and camp level in a pre/post evaluation process.
Our approach relies upon System Dynamics models where each school using our app is measured as a single operational unit in the camp-wide school system made up by all school units. We will evaluate the impact of our app on a school-by-school basis and aggregate as roll-out continues. As more units are added, additional scopes of impact can be measured. Once all the schools in a camp are using the app, the metrics collected by the schools will inform program evaluation and implementation strategy at a camp level.
When service delivery is optimized and measured, more children receive aid more efficiently and their attendance and receipt of school meals improves. This positively impacts their childhood development outcomes overall. Documenting our impact over time will validate our theory of change and our social impact value proposition.
Select the key characteristics of the population your solution serves.
In which countries do you currently operate?
In which countries will you be operating within the next year?
How many people are you currently serving with your solution? How many will you be serving in one year? How about in five years?
RISE is currently impacting 2,000 refugee children and 25 aid workers at a single school in the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. We are developing and testing our attendance and school meals innovation there to build the common core of the platform and to hone functionality.
Our goal for the end of year 1 is to fully deploy the app at this same school, supporting all attendance-taking and food distribution activities, and managing the school meals program. Our goal is to operate the platform over the course of 1 year in a continuous product development cycle where we identify new challenges, build new features, and make a better product that is positioned for scaling.
In year two, our app will expand to two more schools - reaching 4,000 additional children and 50 more users. During year three we will add more schools to reach full integration in one camp. The average camp size is 25,000 with approximately five schools per camp each averaging 2,000 students and 25 staff for a total of 10,000 children and 125 users per camp. We will then accelerate our scaling process over years four and five to reach an additional four camps.
At that stage, RISE will be immersed in scaling our technology and we will have successfully integrated our platform in five refugee camps. By the end of five years, we plan to have impacted approximately 50,650 people - 50,000 children and 650 aid agency users.
What are your goals within the next year and within the next five years?
App Development: RISE engineers are building features and the capacity of the app to prepare for deployment and scaling.
Deployment Preparation: Manage logistics for team deployment to Kakuma, Kenya.
Rollout and Testing: Deploy a team to Kakuma to train partner agency staff using the app, monitor adoption, and track performance impacts.
Operational Scaling: Initial focus on preparing the app for active use, expanding our team, training staff, and scaling organizationally for deployment.
Diverse Location Rollout and Testings: Deploy a team to a school at a second camp location to test for universal applicability; test, make adjustments; rollout to two more schools at this camp location.
School Rollouts to Full Integration: Training, adoption, and impact monitoring during rollout to additional schools until full integration reached.
This point will mark our transition to scale to more camps. We will continue testing in schools and prepare for an accelerated rollout schedule.
Year Four & Five
Scaling Stage One: Add two more camps - reach full integration at each.
Scaling Stage Two: Add two more camps - reach full integration at each.
By the end of year five, app fully deployed and functioning optimally in five refugee camps.
Year Six & Beyond
Upon completion of our pathway to scale, we will continue to deploy our app to more camps.
There is a pathway to deploy our innovation globally, in partnership with the UN, governments, corporations, NGOs and Academia to impact the lives of 4 million refugee children.
What are the barriers that currently exist for you to accomplish your goals for the next year and for the next five years?
Funding: Before our sustainable funding model is established, we must secure financing for the development, testing, trialing and scaling of our innovation. To do this, we must balance the division of time and resources between fund development and the development of our app.
Recognition: Building trust with current and future customers is an important challenge for us. We expect to face hesitation from potential partners until they have seen a strong track record of our success implementing our innovation.
Design Verification: Our design is built for universal utility. Until we have proven our innovation under various environments and user types, we will not have a complete picture of potential variations of user needs.
Integration: Our design allows the app to integrate with existing platforms being used by agencies in the aid sector. However, every system has unique data formats for the information that can be imported into them, demanding continual technical customization.
Data Protection: We work with protected and confidential data pertaining to vulnerable populations. We must guarantee the highest standards of data protection and privacy throughout all stages of the development of the app.
Global Partnerships: A barrier to global deployment of our innovation is securing UN, governmental, and NGO multilateral and multipartite operating agreements.
How are you planning to overcome these barriers?
Funding: We are currently seeking multi-year international development grants and donations to allow for longer periods of time between funding application cycles so that maximum effort can be directed towards further developing our technology.
Recognition: We will accrue experience with our current testing partners before expanding to additional partners. Incremental, sustainable growth will be key to build rapport with our current partners.
Design Verification: We plan to integrate the platform in multiple camps, to verify that our design addresses the common needs of refugee aid agencies.
Integration: We have proven the ability to integrate with existing platforms in our current projects. Moving forward, we will budget time and resources to customize this feature for each new integration.
Data Protection: RISE places the highest priority on safeguarding all information collected through our app. We maintain strict rules to enforce security throughout the app and prohibit the release of any data to individuals or agencies without the explicit permission from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Global Partnerships: RISE has secured multilateral agreements before, but to secure cooperative agreements at a larger international level, we will need to work diligently to promote our humanitarian mission to leverage support.
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If you selected Other for the organization question, please explain here.
How many people work on your solution team?
RISE currently benefits from the expertise and contribution of 3 full-time staff based in San Francisco and 1 part-time contractor based in Nairobi, Kenya. RISE also benefits from guidance and consultation from 10+ board members and advisors who hold positions at the UN and in Big Tech, NGOs, design firms, for-profit corporations and within the global social impact ecosystems.
For how many years have you been working on your solution?
Why are you and your team best-placed to deliver this solution?
Sergio Medina, CEO
Sergio has developed his child protection domain expertise through work at multiple international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) and UN agencies such as UNHCR and UNICEF. There, he focused on policy and crucial camp-based work in the field. He is an MBA candidate at MIT Sloan where he focuses on entrepreneurship in the developing world and scaling technologies for social impact. Sergio brings insight and direction to RISE along with experience in partnership development that ensures our innovations create meaningful impact.
Michael Lauran, COO
Michael has a background in international development with a record of leading global governance operations for INGOs. As a nonprofit management practitioner trained at Columbia University, he ensures RISE projects are well-executed, assessed for risk, and meet intended targets. Michael’s aptitude for system design and strategy aids his oversight of operations, fiscal and contract compliance, reporting, and monitoring and evaluation activities.
Necoline Hubner, Software Engineer
Necoline brings her experience from working as a software engineer at Google to direct product and software development at RISE. Her work with USAID, prior to her transition to tech, informs her approach to creating user-centric designs. She handles user experience, design, and engineering decisions and directs all technological components of the platform.
Gideon Kiongo Njoroge, Field Innovation Manager
Gideon is a child protection expert with experience aiding policy decisions, guiding field practice, and delivering educational and humanitarian aid services to children in refugee camps. Trained in statistics, Gideon brings great value to evaluating field operations and measuring program impact.
With what organizations are you currently partnering, if any? How are you working with them?
RISE is currently engaged with the Lutheran World Federation (LWF); UNHCR; and the World Food Programme (WFP), all of whom operate in Kakuma where we are testing and positioning for scale.
UNHCR is the lead agency overseeing camp management in partnership with the Government of Kenya (GoK). RISE received approval from UNHCR and the GoK for our two recent pilots and we have received in-principle approval to return to further test and rollout our innovation. UNHCR provides access and strategic guidance to RISE and they have expressed great interest in our innovation’s impact on education and the school meals program.
WFP is the UN agency responsible for the school meals program and they have verbally agreed to provide strategic guidance and program consultation for our work in Kenya. They have indicated that our platform would greatly improve their delivery of the school meals program.
LWF is UNHCR’s lead Implementing Partner in Kakuma and they are responsible for providing education, child protection services, and implementing the school meals program in the camp. Partnership with LWF has facilitated field research and software testing in schools and opens opportunities to expand our partnerships to other camps in which they operate.
What is your business model?
Our business model is based on creating socio-economic value through improved access to education for refugee children by optimizing the school meals program on a global scale.
Our impact value propositions are: improving education and associated childhood development outcomes for refugee children; improving nutritional and health outcomes by increasing food security; saving time, money and resources for international development funders by optimizing the work of aid workers, and; creating transparency to reduce fraud and maximize the impact of dollars invested. We are creating value by leveraging technology to improve humanitarian aid delivery in a way that has societal implications for refugees and the global aid community.
Our primary beneficiaries are refugee children and our customers are refugee aid agencies. Initially, we will secure public funding and private philanthropic investments to support the organization to build the core of the platform. Ultimately, organizations overseeing education and the school meals programs will pay a subscription fee for their users that will help offset the cost to develop and maintain the technology.
RISE is creating cost-effective solutions to elevate the transparency and effectiveness of humanitarian aid service delivery. Our product design makes our innovation universally applicable in refugee camps around the globe. As more agencies use our app, RISE will build features common to the most number of agencies. The more our app is deployed to additional locations, our impact will scale exponentially, positively impacting the lives of millions of refugee children.
What is your path to financial sustainability?
RISE utilizes a hybrid business model that begins with securing public and competition funding to support further deployment and testing of our technology’s core as we continue to develop our platform. Our first significant funder was the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and we have found that government aid departments see real value in our innovation. As such, we are currently fundraising with more public agencies such as the international development departments of the US, UK and Canada.
We have an ambitious plan to fundraise through public channels to finish building our platform’s base. As well, we plan to secure private donor support that will complement our fund and public/private partnerships development. To create a robust and self-sustaining revenue model, and once our platform reaches the point of broad scalability, we will commercialize through sales of software licenses to aid agencies and governments based on their number of platform users.
Upon completion of our pathway to scale, we will continue to deploy our app to more camps. As additional agencies use our platform, network effects will drive economies of scale and we will build features that make it easier for many agencies to onboard and deploy the platform to their location. Overall, our sustainable funding model and continued investment in technology will propel the expansion of our app to camps around the world allowing us to effect change for millions of refugee children.
Why are you applying to Solve?
We are submitting our solution to MIT Solve because their platform leverages community involvement and makes solutions stronger and more impactful. RISE is addressing a global challenge as a small agency. With MIT Solve in our corner, we increase the chance that we reach our moonshot goal of improving the lives of almost 4 million refugee children. Acknowledgment by MIT Solve that our innovation has the potential to address a global challenge would go a long way in validating our pathway to scale.
Were we to be selected, we would benefit from networking, marketing, and fundraising opportunities through MIT Solve. For networking, we would like to increase awareness of our work by speaking at UN General Assembly Week and perhaps being featured on platforms like Fast Company or NPR. Facilitated meetings with representatives from Google and Save the Children would be a strong step in expanding our networks.
We would greatly benefit from training to refine our pitch and increase the quality of our media presence. With help from MIT Solve, we could create compelling content about our value proposition that will be essential to our success. In addition, we would like to connect with funders who have an interest in technology, child welfare,and refugee education. MIT Solve sits in an influential and central position in the investment ecosystem and we and our beneficiaries could greatly benefit from such access and support.
What types of connections and partnerships would be most catalytic for your solution?
If you selected Other, please explain here.
Since forming as an organization, RISE has relied strongly upon the expertise in our community of volunteers and pro bono consultants who have helped us to reach our current stage of development. Moving from a successful proof of concept to positioning to scale, we will need a much broader community of support.
We view partnerships at both the individual and organizational level. On the individual level, we match contributors to projects that capitalize on their expertise. For example, we’ll match technologists with GitHub development projects; MBAs with refining our business plan and pricing model; and public interest experts with our partnership development efforts. We are working on plans to scale this volunteer model and extend it to Corporate Social Responsibility programs at companies while maintaining this individual engagement strategy.
At an organizational level, we seek expertise from design firms such as IDEO, Frog and from consulting firms such as Deloitte, McKinsey, and the Boston Consulting Group. These agencies approach business and design challenges through lenses that balance creativity with execution and partnering with them could greatly amplify our impact.
With what organizations would you like to partner, and how would you like to partner with them?
We want to build upon the work being done at MIT Reap and leverage innovation-driven entrepreneurial ecosystems to create impact for refugees. We believe in MIT Reap’s proven model that to leverage entrepreneurial potential, you must involve Corporations, Government, Universities, and Risk Capital in the effort to solve intractable challenges.
Specifically, we want to establish partnerships with Google, Microsoft, and IBM to help us unlock the power of technology to drive social impact. We want to partner with foundations such as IKEA, OpenSociety, Hilton, Gates, Rockefeller, and Ford to help us build a better organization capable of global impact.
We hope to pull in international development agencies in Canada, UK, US, Netherlands, Sweden, and Australia to help us build the tools that facilitate their collective humanitarian mandates. We seek to expand our partnerships with UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP, and Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) to partner with them to deploy technology-driven humanitarian aid solutions at scale.
We also want to deepen our academic partnerships at MIT and Stanford and establish collaborations with Rice and Harvard to tap into the exuberance of students and faculty. We want to partner with other NGOs that provide direct services to refugees because they are our end-users delivering critical services to refugees on the ground.
To reach this vision we need advocates. MIT Solve can help put us on a stage where we can build a community of supporters to help us reach our potential.
If you would like to apply for the AI Innovations Prize, describe how you and your team will utilize the prize to advance your solution. If you are not already using AI in your solution, explain why it is necessary for your solution to be successful and how you plan to incorporate it.
If you would like to apply for the GM Prize on Community-Driven Innovation, describe how you and your team will utilize the prize to advance your solution.
If you would like to apply for the Innovation for Women Prize, describe how you and your team will utilize the prize to advance your solution.
Today, only 8 girls for every 10 boys attend school on a regular basis. Girls missing from school lose the opportunity to get an education, and they also miss a chance to access services and resources available at school such as protection, food and clean water. RISE built a software platform that leverages technology to increase inclusion of refugee girls in education. Our innovation accelerates teachers’ and aid workers’ efforts to improve gender parity and student retention in school. Our app achieves this by optimizing processes that have been proven as effective incentives for girls attendance and retention in school.
Our software platform tracks the distribution of school meals and the provision of sugar rations for high-attending and high-performing female students. The reporting and analytics our app provides to school administrators offers unprecedented views into the effectiveness of these programs that increase girls’ attendance. Through our technology, agencies are empowered to also view downward trends in gender parity and rapidly remove contributing barriers by deploying targeted resources.
Everything we do to promote girls’ educational participation is increasing the likelihood that their voices can be heard, and that they too can benefit from the power of education to improve their well-being. We know that education for girls is a catalytic force towards their economic empowerment, health and financial independence. By promoting the reliability of school meals and incentives, we are promoting education, and in doing so, we are empowering young girls to reach their potential.
If you would like to apply for the Prize for Innovation in Refugee Inclusion, describe how you and your team will utilize the prize to advance your solution.
Our mission is to improve the well-being of refugee children. Currently, we are building software that supports the coordination of humanitarian aid, focusing on education and school-based services in refugee camps to advance economic opportunities for all refugees.
Most teachers in refugee schools are refugees themselves. They work with host communities to provide educational services to refugee and local children. By building tech tools for teachers in schools, we are able to lift everyone in the process.
Last year, RISE deployed to Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya twice to interview more than 50 refugee teachers and aid workers. Their input has been fundamental to building process-improvements into our software.
RISE supports technical literacy for the refugee staff working with us and provides opportunities for them to engage in the design and testing process. This ensures that our design is meeting the needs of users and so that they have the chance to participate in user-centric design. These portable skills are valuable, whether they remain in Kenya, or safely return to their countries of origin to build opportunities back home.
RISE is introducing refugee workers to technology and sparking skills to unlock economic potential. Refugee teachers are building expertise in developing technological solutions to community challenges, and in doing so, are contributing to entrepreneurial ecosystems in a way that is refugee-led.
Support from the Andan Foundation would allow us to continue to empower refugee communities to design, build and lead efforts to solve challenges their communities experience.
If you would like to apply for the Innospark Ventures Prize, describe how you and your team will utilize the prize to advance your solution. If your solution utilizes data, describe how you will ensure that the data is sourced, maintained, and used ethically and responsibly.
If you would like to apply for the Morgridge Family Foundation Community-Driven Innovation Prize, describe how you and your team will utilize the prize to advance your solution.
RISE is a non-traditional outlier. We are led by two social workers turned tech entrepreneurs with backgrounds in international development. Our engineering efforts are led by a woman with a background in refugee education who broke into tech at Google.
RISE is elevating the role of education in refugee camps by providing cutting-edge technology tools for teachers and school administrators. Currently, school staff in refugee camps rely solely on pen and paper to do their work. We are putting technology in their hands in a way that greatly improves educational outcomes, increases food security, and improves gender parity for children.
In collaboration with refugees themselves and aid workers, we are transforming the way work is performed; creating entirely new pathways of information flow. In doing so, every child is accounted for, and their needs are logged and addressed.
Support from the Morgridge Family Foundation would be catalytic and help us amplify our unique approach. We are a small team partnering with large global NGOs. We build software that equips their aid workers worldwide with tools that expedite services for children. We involve their teams in the software design process and use volunteers to build a globally scalable platform.
The challenge of our day is that there are 70 million forcibly displaced individuals worldwide. Our innovation can positively impact the lives of at least 4 million refugee children by using creative and exacting approaches to this global challenge worthy of our greatest effort.
If you would like to apply for the Everytown for Gun Safety Prize, describe how you and your team will utilize the prize to advance your solution. If your solution utilizes data, describe how you will ensure that the data is sourced, maintained, and used ethically and responsibly.