24Aug

In their own words via Kasra

Nawaf Felemban
What does it take to be a successful local startup? If Nawaf Felemban, CEO of Kasra, is any measure the components are niche concept, vision, humility, technical acumen, mentorship and grit. Tonight Nawaf will be sharing some lessons at Doha Tweetups for their event feature on startups.

Kasra
is a user-driven content site and community network focused on a myriad of topics ranging from fashion to technology. All the articles are created by a growing community of writers for each other in their own voice. Translation for non-arabic speakers like me: Kasra is the accent symbol in the Arabic language and means “break”. This speaks to their mission – get people comfortable and, dare I say, enthusiastic with sharing a wide range of community and user-driven content in Arabic. It is a “break” from the formal use of Arabic infusing every day people’s content of their own interest and own voice. All the content is in pan-Arabic neutral language to serve all the various dialects across the region.
Kasra-250x250

What’s Under the Hood

Kasra was spun up with a minimal viable product (MVP) with a launch in May 2014. The goal to test out the idea was proven viable from the outset with 1000 Facebook followers within hours. Now their imprint is a over 1 million unique views per month (metric over 6 months). Add to this: They are the fastest growing website in the Arabic speaking world. Considering that the online market segment is 150 million people, they are in front of some serious opportunity to grow.

For technology, they started out with a WordPress site, but are currently building out the next version. The newer shiny Kasra is being built with node.js, react.js, Mongo db. They choose this platform for the (java script framework, optimized for asynconryous and scaleability )

A strong plan about social analytics and engagement are to their ongoing success. They have a number of tools and tactics in their toolkit. Nawaf suggests that startups use, at minimum, Twitter insights and Facebook Analytics. These engagement As Nawaf points out, basic tools like these plus big data tools for your customer usage tools will help measure reach and reveal strategic next steps.

Growing Talent

Kasra is growing talent within the community. By fostering a space to create compelling content, they are encouraging their contributors to become great writers and share best practices. They want to inspire the next generation of writers to share articles (even long form version) across the Arabic-speaking world.

Nawaf is building a strong team ethos by encouraging staff to take a leadership role in the industry while inspiring others around them to learn. Their strategy is two-fold: attract top talent and foster local talent. He said there is a gap with technical skills so while they focus on building their technical skills, they want to give back to others. Mentorship and community are core to the Kasra backbone. There is a gap of mentorship in the region. While he has located this for himself, 90 % of local entrepreneurs need the help. They need mentorship from people with actual entrepreneurship experience not just theoretical.

Here’s to seeing more startups learning from each other. Thanks Kasra for sharing your story about making it happen step by step.

19Aug

Digital Humanitarians in Qatar

It is World Humanitarian Day today! Humanitarians make a huge difference in the lives of many people around the world. On this day that we honour these amazing people, we are starting a local Digital Humanitarian Community to support their efforts.

Doha skyline

Digital Humanitarians are a growing global network of people aiming to use their technology and social media skills to support humanitarians and affected communities. There are many communities within the Digital Humanitarian Network. Our goal is to encourage more participation from Qatar and the GCC. We will host local community events, training and support. Qatar has a high youth and very technical capable population. It is our hope that more people from Qatar will join and lead within the various communities.

We’ve created a mailing list to help you connect. (digitalhumanitarians-qatar@googlegroups.com ) Join us and stay tuned for more details. Please introduce yourself – your interests and why you are keen to learn.

This community is for you. We will provide spaces for technical and non-technical participation. Getting involved in your world is your journey. Digital Skills learned from Digital Humanitarian activities are directly applicable to your learning and your potential career. Plus, you will meet others from around the world who seek to make a digital difference.

There are a number of active Digital Humanitarians at Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI) (based in Doha Qatar). We created Artificial Intelligence for Disaster Response (AIDR) and MicroMappers to help people get involved in the world. Training and events will include data, maps, verification and software techniques. We will invite our local and global friends to help support your learning journey.

Upcoming Events

World Humanitarian Youth Summit

Our first big activity will be joining the World Humanitarian Summit – Global Youth Consultation to be held in Doha on September 1 – 2, 2015. The Reach out to Asia team has been working hard to bring over 450 young people from around the world. There will also be many participants from Qatar. Our team will host a booth at HBKU to share details about our work at QCRI and share how you can be a Digital Humanitarian. Please stop by and visit to learn more!

18Aug

Recap: Virtual Reality at Google Developer Group – Doha

As I child, I loved to play with kaleidoscopes. It seemed like pure magic to put a box to your face and see colour and light design and change before your eyes. A sense of play in technology can lead to new startups and creative research science.

Last night Qatar Computing Research Institute hosted the Google Developer Group – Doha team for the Virtual Reality session. The night included an introduction to Virtual Reality, Google Cardboard and then a hands-on session with creating VR with Unity. Hadij Hicham and Sachin Kumar lead the training and are founders of GDG Doha. As always, it is a pleasure to have technical guests at QCRI to collaborate and learn.

Get involved:

GDG Doha
G+
Twitter

The next event is to be scheduled, so watch those spaces for more details.

Some photos from the night:

Google Cardboard at GDG

Sachin at GDG August 2015

Sachin and soliders

Sofiane and Ingmar with VR

Hicham on Google Cardboard

Sofiane testing Tech gdg

Yasine's son trying out Google Cardboard

Chen with the VR

Waqas Ajaz at GDG

Yacines son testing vr

Mufeed and Google Cardboard

Sachin and Hicham at GDG

Note:

There were 6 women in attendance too, I just missing getting a good action photo of their brilliance. All photos are CCBY.

17Aug

Checking into the next stage of Digital Humanitarians

What does NEXT look like? Often as digital humanitarians, we are in the weeds of tasks. Many of us are still writing about the Nepal Earthquake Response and pondering how to improve and learn. With Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, I have my hands full with the Executive Director hiring process. And, at Qatar Computing Research Institute, we are testing a MicroMappers microtasking translation clicker with our friends over at Translators without Borders.

Last week Aspiration’s Willow Brugh held a casual Digital Humanitarian Checkin. In the conversation, each of the participants provided an update about themselves, their research, their technology and/or their digital humanitarian community. This checkin was special on a few fronts. First, many of us connect during times of crisis when we are super busy leading activations and onboarding new volunteers.

laptop


See the notes from our chats.
Some of the big themes were:

  1. Cross-community collaboration processes and tools
  2. Contributor Training and On-boarding
  3. Potential global meet-up for Digital Humanitarians

We need more regular activities to connect outside of emergencies. Thanks Willow for being the connector.

MicroMappers Global Map - Nepal Earthquake May 5, 2015
(Source: MicroMappers Global Nepal Earthquake response, June 2015. Created by Ji Lucas with Cartodb)

Digital Humanitarians in Qatar

I see blank spots on the map as a need to shift training and engagement. This is already happening, but for the next months, I am going to try to build a program in Doha. There are so many talented digital folks in Doha. I’d like to see them join the Digital communities. Certainly in speaking with some of them, I found a strong interest to learn.

World Humanitarian Youth Summit

If someone has the base digital skills, then they will remix it for local language, culture and needs. Plus, everything you learn is directly applicable to success in your career. Employees want digital savvy staff.

There is a buzz of activity in Qatar leading up the the World Humanitarian Youth Summit to be held in Doha on September 1 – 2, 2015. I’m hatching plans for digital activities to encourage more participation from Qatar residents and hopefully the GCC/MENA regions. Stay tuned.

10Aug

Virtual Reality – Doha Google Developer Group

SciFi dreams come alive with research and technology tinkering! Doha’s Google Developer Group (GDG) and Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI) are hosting a Virtual Reality event on Monday, August 17, 2015. Tickets are going fast, so we hope you can join us.

It is exciting to see this technology find roots in Doha. Qatar University has a Virtual Reality Lab and QCRI’s team is doing some deep computer vision work with 3D and 4D. Our hope is that this event will help you get an understanding of how the technology works and how you might be able to make things.

About GDG:

Google Developer Groups (GDGs) are for developers who are interested in Google’s developer technology; everything from the Android, Chrome, Drive, and Google Cloud platforms, to product APIs like the Cast API, Maps API, and YouTube API.

DETAILS

Who Should Attend: The GDG is for your learning. We invite entrepreneurs, students, technologists and the curious.
When: Monday, August 17, 2015 17:00 – 20:00
Where: QCRI offices, 18th floor, Tornado Tower

How to Prepare:

Download these tools before you arrive and bring your laptop. Also, if you have some VR items or tips on resources, please do share. DOWNLOAD:

Registration

Please CLICK HERE to register in advance as there are limited spots available. Also, if you can’t attend, please let us know so that we can open up a spot.

Lastly, what is virtual reality anyway? Always turn to XKCD if confused.

XKCD Depth Perception

(Image: XKCD CCBY NC2.5)

31Jul

Is there a Civic Tech Community in Qatar?

The Code for All Summit is in full swing in NYC this weekend. Civic technology friends and allies are meeting to brainstorm and create. Inspiring. Since I moved to Doha, I’ve been contemplating the role of citizen engagement, open source, digital humanitarianism and civic tech within Qatar. Qatar Computing Research Institute has a mandate to support the Qatar Foundation mission of a knowledge economy. Some of the programs I am creating include fostering and investigating social computing and ‘civic tech’ within the research ecosystem. In order to do this, I spent months as a participant observer asking myself: Is there a civic tech community in Doha? What exists and what is needed? If yes, what can I do to foster it?

web speaker by Mazil (Noun project) noun_108827_cc

Participating in local technology community found allies like Qatar Living, Doha Tweetups, Qatar Mobility Innovation Center (QMIC), Mada Qatar (Qatar Assistive Technology Cente) I Love Qatar, or the Google Developer Group. We have Drupal and Creative Commons meetups. There are entrepreneur spaces like ictQatar (Digital Incubation Center), Qatar Business Innovation Center and Qatar Science and Technology Park.
Some recent examples of Civic Tech like activities include:Media in Canvas – Al Jazeera and Challenge 22 . People are creating technology that could be deemed civic tech-like. But what of a Civic Tech Community?

Qatar is a relationship-based culture. There is a wealth of civic tech items to tackle: everything from lack of decent city maps, accessibility, traffic/pedestrian navigation and environmental issues. There are the beginnings of local engagement programmes like Tamm Volunteer Network:

Tamm, which means “consider it done” in Arabic, brings together the currently existing volunteer programs and initiatives in Qatar into one comprehensive online database. Through the Tamm portal (www.tamm.qa), young people can search for the volunteer opportunities of most interest to them, understand what they can expect from their volunteer experience, and learn about the many benefits that can be gained through volunteering.

During the Eid break, I enjoyed reading some new civic tech books: A Lever and Place to Stand: How Civic Tech can Move the World and The Internet is my Religion. Plus, I finally read the seminal book Startup Rising: The Entrepreneurial Revolution Remaking the Middle East. Each of these provide some insight in how to analyze and inspire civic technology. In the coming weeks, I will write more about what I think is happening in Doha and whether it fits into the ‘civic tech’ models. Thankfully Micah Sifry’s chapter“In Search of a Common Language” has some interesting methodology for this type of analysis.

Local techies that I meet speak warmly about how these social and civic tech events inspired them to solve real citizen issues. I believe that my mandate to foster social innovation research in Qatar starts with writing these types of bright spots.

29Jul

Teaching Global Goals

Summer is in full swing in the northern hemisphere. Some of us are building lesson and program plans for the fall season. Perhaps you are starting to think about your own: “Back to School” mantra. This means priorities, activities, goals and objectives. Well, you are not alone. The United Nations will convene to review the Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs). The new goals will replace the Millennial Development Goals (MDGs) with the aim to reach more people with impact.

global goals

The UN Foundation is in Doha this week hosting a media training event for reporters from around the world. The goal is to encourage hyper-local storytelling focused on the SDGs. If the SDGs are going to really reach people, then media needs to be informed and included in the journey. It was great that Ooredoo is one of the hosts.

Aaron Sherinian and UN Foundation


So, as you plan your social good activities, take a moment to consider how you will action the SDGs? How will you activate these stories as digital humanitarians? And, how will you teach people in your communities? How will it influence your programmes? It really starts with us.

Sidenote: How did I not know about the Global Daily before? Seriously, news that matters.

http://globaldaily.com/

But the UN is leaving no teaching unturned. In fact, they also are targeting children with the great big lesson.

28Jul

Matter – A Reflection on Volunteering

Motivation and matter: topics that drive me. (I’ve written about Heart and Fractual Matter before.) At Qatar Computing Research Institute, I’m creating programs to make it easier for MENA, GCC and Qatari folks to get involved in Digital Volunteering. The World Humanitarian Youth Summit is coming to Doha, so opportunity is knocking. I’ve also been thinking more about sustainable care-taking of “matter-ness” within the digital communities.

Volunteer motivation reasons frequently narrow down to “Matter” or “Inspired” or “Do Something” or “Knowing I can do something“. Today I got the “matter shivers” again. Tracy Glenn of SIDRA spoke at the Humanitarians of SIDRA event. Sidra is a Doha-based Medical and Research Center.

humanitarians of sidra

Tracy volunteered as a nurse in a Post Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU) in Rwanda and Palestine. During her time, she assessed and made recommendations to improve processes in the PACU. Her talk incorporated stories and photos from her experience in Jenin (Palestine) with the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund. Helping the vulnerable and train local capacity is a gift. Her honest integrity showed in every sentence and photo. By telling little snippets of life in the medical facility, she gave us a window in the healthcare needs in Jenin and the lives of the people she served. Listening to Tracy reminded me of all the other humanitarians in my life who have shared such heartfelt inspiration to volunteer with their skills. I hope that you get hear all their stories more. Healthcare professionals truly have this hardwired in their processes and networks. What can we learn from them? I certainly learned today from Tracy. (Thank you).

********

We’re all here coz we care

Jemilah Mahmoud on WHSummit (July 28, 2015)

Returning to my desk, I started to reflect on how to sustain motivation in a healthy way. As Digital Humanitarians, we go through phases of on/off. With every large response, I am seeing the wear on digital volunteers. Some of the people who gave their digital skills during the Haiti or Christchurch response contacted me just after the Nepal Earthquake and said sorry that they took a break but were ready to do something. Warmly I told each person how happy I was to hear from them.

We are so connected but disconnected some times in how we talk about volunteering. Every interaction is a gift. The human-ness of giving and volunteering is beautiful. We need to keep walking forward in cycles of sustainable patterns. And, when I say sustainable patterns, I mean – our own pace, taking care of ourselves, those we love and those who are allies. The saturation of energy during a response often takes weeks to months to recoup the cicada rhythms of spirit. Each digital organization needs this in their fabric.

The World Humanitarian Summit tweets via #ReShapeAid are a daily read for me. I try to read all the reports. And, I have had the pleasure to review and add some comments on how digital training needs to be part of the youth engagement strategy. But as we build programs and software to really ACTION the feedback of #ReShapeAid, how can we keep that pure sense of “motivation” and “matter” without burning out people. The intense purpose needs sunshine and a hug. I’m not trying to make light of the real focus we need to have. But with joy, the spaces (online and offline) that we create need to have human check-ins and keep humanity. This means inclusive, respectful, locally driven and with a spirit of “Matter” that does not crush the spirit or the action required. I think that digital spaces need to #Reshape too.

***

Dr. Mahmoud’s comment above on the same day as Tracy’s talk got me thinking. There are videos, photos and audio clips all around the internet. Many organizations have this as part of their use case narrative. But, what if there was a massive aggregator of videos, audio and photos on Why Humanitarian Volunteering Matters? Maybe we should start creating these items in all our digital spaces to honour the upcoming
World Humanitarian Day on August 19th this year.

18Jul

Visualizing flux: Time travel, torque, and temporal maps

[Cross-posted from Opensource.com. The original article was published July 17, 2015 as part of the OSCON Interview Series.]

Mapping communities in the open source space are growing as more and more people use maps for business and social change. Leaders like Aure Moser are providing spaces for people to learn and be inspired. Prior to her OSCON session and in the middle of a busy travel schedule, she shared some insights into the communities and her experiences.Aure Moser

Aure is a developer and curious cartographer building communities around code at CartoDB. Her background blends science and scripting, and includes a cocktail of conservation chemistry, eco-enthusiasm, education, and egalitarian tech activism.

Previously of Ushahidi and Internews Kenya, she’s been working in the open tech and nonprofit journalism space for a few years, and recent projects have had her working with mapping sensor data to support agricultural security and sustainable apis ecosystems in the Global South.

Q & A


You’re an active member of the OpenStreetMap Community, most recently volunteering at the State of the Map US 2015. What inspires you about this project?

I love OpenStreetMap, and am a happy recipient of a scholarship to speak at State of the Map in Buenos Aires (2014). It is the democratization of information that the OSM community embodies, and as a former librarian I have always loved the idea of open source web architects as intellectual social workers. We have such a beautiful opportunity as software engineers to learn from the iterative requirements and pace of open source and open data initiatives, and crowdsourced efforts to break from the exclusivity of proprietary platforms have a special place in my heart.

CartoDB has been a great support of open source, open data and open mapping. Can you share some examples about how you and your team incorporate this into your work?

Open source is so important to our mission to make maps more accessible, and it’s been essential for our stack development as we progressively learn from community requests and contributions. Our software is engineered for ease-of-use, and our GUI Editor interface is an effort to make mapping projects more accessible to non-GIS experts. Everyone should be able to map found, open, and personal data, easily. At the same time, we have almost all of the functionality accessibility in our editor, available via our open source libraries and APIs. We have Carto.js for making maps, Torque.js for time-series data mapping, Odyssey.js for building chapterized narratives on maps, Vecnik.js for vector rendering, as well as our Import, Map, and SQL APIs to facilitate easy and open map-building in code.

As part of the Community Team at CartoDB, I’m also pretty passionate about our education and outreach initiatives beyond just the open libraries and APIs. Giving talks and workshops on our software has encouraged us to build remote learning opportunities for our users, so we host webinars and themed workshops to support our community. The Map Academy is a series of online lessons in all aspects of mapping (not restricted solely to the use of our software) that we maintain to help mapmakers learn about Javascript, PostgreSQL, PostGIS functions, and the mechanics of map design. Likewise, we document and publish our workshops and talks on a public mini-site that we invite our community of educators and active users to contribute to in the course of their curriculum development.

When you were with Ushahidi, you spent time in Kenya. Building map projects and training in the Global South has some incredible stories and insights. It would be great to hear what you learned about the open source communities working there. And if you can, provide some examples of mapping projects in the Global South.

The level of creativity and resourcefulness in developing technology with profound infrastructural challenges was incredibly impressive and inspiring throughout iHub (Kenya) and in other locations. There can be a general insensitivity to the persistent challenges that people face when technologists provide open source products that only operate under optimal conditions and high-bandwidth communities. Working within other cultures and under the creative constraints of poor connectivity or strained infrastructure makes you think about how limited the value of your product is when it fails in the face of easy deployment and reuse globally. Those experiences were valuable to challenging my assumptions of digital literacy, and my flexibility in designing products of greater utility. I really benefited from exposure to Ushahidi’s team, and the network of subcommunities that their products have engendered. I’ve always been impressed by what Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team and humanitarian teams globally were able to accomplish via crowdsourced efforts.

Having left Ushahidi, I’m still pretty involved with similar groups and had the opportunity to work with many journalists, especially at Internews-Kenya, on developing independent mapping projects. At Internews, I had the chance to collaborate on a map-interactive piece with Eva Constantaras and InfoAmazonia to explore narratives around mapping extractive industry in Kenya, called LandQuest. The project uses Jeo, a WordPress theme developed by InfoAmazonia out of Brazil, to make map mashups with blog-style publishing platforms, and the theming flexibility is pretty sweet. I’m also on the advisory board for an amazing group of technologists building toolkits for activists in the Global South called Beautiful Rising; among other resources, we support civic hacking and mapping projects to empower community builders and journalists.


How do you see the industry evolving over the next few years?

I think it’s safe to say that we will progressively collapse the distance between ourselves and our devices so “wearable” and “Internet of Things” futures are possible. I would say that we’re in a strange intermediary technology period now, where we’re pretty persistently developing products as an industry that provide a liaison to the future with a foothold in the past. In the same way that DVD/VCR combos were a short-lived intermediary before the obsolescence of the VHS player, we’re prototyping a lot of digital prosthetics that do things like put glasses on people who don’t need them or provide technical crutches to people otherwise unimpaired. I think there’s a great future in wearables and more fusion of physical technologies with software projects and dynamic mapping, and I’m pretty excited about it.

Since your talk is about time travel, where and when in time would you travel if you could?

Oh wow, such a great yet impossible question. There are a lot of historical events that I would naturally love to have witnessed if only for the Doctor Who/Quantum Leap opportunity to define what actually happened. I guess the less inventive and more egoistic part of me would love to have a Christmas Carol experience where I revisit or project potential outcomes in the Many Worlds possibilities of my future. So I’m pretty happy where I am, way beyond where I could be.

5Jul

Henna, Crafts and Art @ ECUnited Bazaar (Doha)

Imagine this world if we all lent a hand. EC United, a student collective from a number of the Education City (Qatar), is hosting a Bazaar on July 10th in Katara. All proceeds will go to the Qatar Red Crescent’s Nepal Response.

EC United hosts a number of fundraisers and events in support of humanitarian efforts. They started after the Haiti earthquake and tend to focus on sustainability and recovery efforts. It is great to see university students engaged in their world. They are our future of aid. With the World Humanitarian Youth Summit coming to Doha in September, Doha residents will be hearing more about how young people really make a difference.

EC United CharityBazaar_Ad

As a Digital Humanitarian, it is always heartwarming to meet other volunteers in person. The spirit and drive to make a difference in the lives of those around us is a gift. I hope that you will join me in supporting their initiative for a good cause.

© Copyright 2014, All Rights Reserved