October 7th marked a seismic shift for Israel as it grappled with the aftermath of Hamas's invasion into its southern communities, leaving hundreds of thousands displaced, injured, or worse. Despite a delay in mobilization of Israel’s systems and resources, the Israeli public responded with remarkable agility, taking the matter into their own hands. Mothers and fathers put on their uniforms for reserve duty, hi-tech workers redirected their focus to establish command centers and donation sites, and restaurants transformed their kitchens to provide meals for reservists and evacuated families from the south and north.
Another notable trend during this crisis was the swift and confident pivot by Israel's private sector. With hundreds of thousands going to mandatory reserve duty, evacuated from their homes, and directly impacted by the tragedy, the private sector’s actions and redirection of resources are not a given. Rural Senses is a perfect example of a company that did just that. Rural Senses is a UK/Israeli-based Social Enterprise that originates from 7 years of research conducted at the University of Cambridge. Rural Senses helps nonprofits and community leaders to build more targeted projects, increase project adoption and raise more funding. Their AI-powered tools are used to collect, analyze and visualize data about the changing priorities and perceptions of community members and give the users tools for rapid needs assessment.
Given their expertise in needs assessment, Rural Senses was quickly connected to Israel’s Ministry of Welfare (MoW) through Moked Arava. The MoW was deep in situation assessment mode, trying to identify the most pressing needs across the country in order to accurately and effectively respond. In the unique landscape of this emergency, where every corner of the country felt the impact, the challenge lay in identifying the most urgent needs. Within a week of the war’s onset, Rural Senses began leveraging their innovative AI-driven technology, scanning public social media platforms. They filtered and analyzed relevant posts, extracting vital information about affected communities—details such as location, age, and the challenges they faced—ultimately aiding in targeted response efforts. Simultaneously, together with several volunteers who joined the project, Rural Senses designed a complete dashboard for the MoW, with data highlighting locations, stakeholders, key words, and more.
One of the biggest challenges during this time is the constant changing and shifting of needs from one thing to the next, and the difficulty of organizations to stay in the loop with what is needed and what is not. Maayan Rooks (pictured on the right), Senior Project Manager at Rural Senses shared, “We saw people who at first needed somewhere to evacuate to, and once they were evacuated, a new need emerged of not having enough clothes or not being able to bring their pet to their temporary housing. The needs came one after the other, sometimes one because of the other, and we were able to help the MoW to stay informed as these needs changed, allowing them to allocate resources with the data’s guidance”. This aspect of the project was notably distinctive, given that RuraSenses typically assesses changes over extended time frames. In this instance, where the war affected multiple areas of the country in various ways, Rural Senses observed a rapid and drastic shift in the population's needs. The ability of Rural Senses's technology to facilitate the MoW's real-time response to collective community needs truly marked it as a game-changer.
In the first five weeks after Rural Senses launched their project with the MoW, they reviewed over 100,000 posts, extracting critical information from close to 15,000 of them. Within this emergency response period, they categorized and identified the most frequent needs into the following five categories:
Shelter, including for those with damaged houses from the October 7 attack, those in communities on the northern and southern borders with mandatory evacuation orders, those close to but not falling within the required evacuation areas, families wanting to be near hospitals where loved ones are being treated, etc.
Animal care, including help for organizations based in evacuated areas near southern/northern borders, lost pets from the October 7 attack on southern Israel, care for pets whose owners left Israel as a result of the war, care for pets who were unable to be evacuated with their families, etc.
Availability of goods & equipment, namely for evacuated individuals (clothes, food, electronics, sanitary supplies) and for the military, due to the unprecedented number of reservists being called to duty in a period of 24 hours (a mix between protective gear, food supplies, and accommodations for sleeping and sanitation).
Employment opportunities, both those searching for work and those seeking workers, particularly in the agricultural sector which was affected by foreign workers leaving Israel, and others from the Palestinian territories prohibited from entering under security protocol.
Home maintenance, including safe-room improvements, repairs from damage created by the war, power outages, etc.
These categories encapsulate the communal needs most frequently shared on social media. For the MoW, this information was important in directing their response efforts, but what was even more critical was the continuous change in the urgency of needs over time. Looking at this graph below, the change of needs can be seen in every case of the top 5 needs, comparing the frequency from week 2 (October 15) to week 7 of the crisis.
Other needs identified by Rural Senses that were less frequent but still prevalent included mental health support, education, elderly care, disability support, and religious practices. Some of these needs also fluctuated between week 2-7, as pictured in the above graph.
Insights and conclusions
After identifying and extracting these needs from social media platforms, Rural Senses began their analysis in an effort to help the MoW become more aware of the changing needs, and therefore help them allocate resources accordingly. Below are excerpts of different analyses conducted by Rural Senses, showing trends and changing frequency of needs falling into several of the aforementioned categories, specifically between week 2 to week 7 of the war.
To date, Rural Senses has scanned close to 120,000 social media posts, abstracting critical information from close to 20,000 of them. As the war continues months later, they will continue to provide Israel’s MoW with updates, insights, and analyses using their AI-driven tools. In the face of unprecedented adversity, Rural Senses emerged as a beacon of innovation and support during Israel's challenging times. Their collaboration with the Ministry of Welfare showcased the power of technology in real-time needs assessment, providing a dynamic response to the evolving crisis. As the needs of the affected communities shifted rapidly, Rural Senses' AI-driven tools became instrumental in helping the MoW stay informed and allocate resources efficiently. Through their dedication and adaptability, Rural Senses played a pivotal role in bringing accurate relief to those affected and exemplified the resilience of collective efforts in times of adversity.
Rural Senses is an alumni startup of Pears Challenge IV, the flagship program of Pears Program for Global Innovation. Rural Senses is an end-2-end needs assessment and impact monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL) solution for organisations working with vulnerable communities. They have offices in Kampala, Uganda, Nairobi Kenya, Tel-Aviv, Israel and Oxford, UK; and operations in Sub-Saharan Africa (Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Nigeria), East Asia (India, Nepal and Bangladesh), East Europe (Romania), the Middle East (Israel) and Latin America (Ecuador).
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