26Jun

Conversation Starter

Feedback loops – we’re all talking about them in the ICT and Humanitarian spaces. What about globally? What about truly implementing these? The World Humanitarian Summit collective network outputs (reports, reviews and critiques) all point to this. The Sustainable Development Goals include goal 17 “Partnerships”. For a few years, I have been saying that we need to go to more coffee shops and community centers to get to the heart of the matter. Listening and conversation have become too abstract in the impact world. The strain on programmes becomes more and more evident. This is pervasive.

The global sway this weekend really caught many off guard, myself included. I’ve been devouring articles left, right and center. But have I? Living in the middle east gives me a unique filter for news from Europe and North America. For this I am thankful. There is a constant level of hard news about life in MENA and wartorn regions. Plus, every day I see workers outside in the heat or a train of staff walking behind people with arms full of babies or packages. Migration and the ebb of globalization is very much in the forefront of life in Qatar. Am I really listening? Are you?
coffee cup by Clockwise (noun project) noun_162033_cc

Lately I have been reading Chris Voss’s book on negotiation (Never Split the Difference). He writes clear crisp examples about why listening is key to affecting change for complex situations. The sense of humility and humanity in his words ring in my mind while all the other articles marinate. Including some of the latest articles by Umair Haque:

“We do not even love one another enough anymore to invest in simple things like transport, education, and healthcare. We deny one another the basics of life, and in that lack of compassion, respect, dignity, can only be found a profound chasm of love.” (Umair Haque, Love at the Edge of Time)

Well, I would say that there is a larger theme to address – we fail to actually have conversations anymore. For my age group, some call it the Facebook affect. We are talking past each other. Maybe it is the Pax (Serenity reference). This is part of why we are not getting things done. While this article is about building business networks, it speaks volumes about the state of play.

“If you want funders [Ed.note: insert stakeholder group] to go down the road with you, you need to make them feel: 1) smart, and 2) comfortable. Make that your mantra. Make it easy for them to grasp what you’re up to, and master your own anxiety so you don’t trigger it in them. We are talking about an encounter between good people who want the same things. A pitch turns it into an ordeal; a conversation makes it real. Choose the conversation.”
(Kevin Starr, The Pitch Is Dead. Long Live the Conversation.)

And, here is another spin on the same topic: “The War on Stupid“.

“We must stop glorifying intelligence and treating our society as a playground for the smart minority. We should instead begin shaping our economy, our schools, even our culture with an eye to the abilities and needs of the majority, and to the full range of human capacity. “

The world shifted just a bit more, but what are the next steps? If anything, this influences how I will work in my respective field. The silos we build are self-referential. Now, it is up to us to convince organizations, funders and other stakeholders that there is value in patience and really listening. Time for a cup of coffee with strangers.

(Image credit: Coffee cup by Clockwise (Noun Project))

7Jun

Innovation Matters…in the Hallways

The World Humanitarian Summit was a few weeks ago. People keep asking me for observations. My answer continues to be: Innovation matters in the hallways. There were side events, main delegate events and so many announcements. To me, the success of the event is more abstract. Yes, I agree with some of the observations and critiques that the Summit could have done more. But, really, some of this is up to us. One of the wins of the event was all the conversations between people who make things. It is the exposure to new ideas or new (old) ideas across so many disciplines.

innovation matters at WHS
(Photo: a snapshot of some of the Innovation Marketplace leaders.)

Consider this, what if we took all the vendors, researchers, innovators, creators and businesses in the Innovation Marketplace and Exhibition Marketplace and put them in the same room for 2 days or 4 months to make things? How many businesses would flourish? What would be the next steps? What if we could build things together irrespective of branding and funders? There are many partnerships, alliances and hubs being announced. This is the dream that some groups aim to build. Truly, I am excited about Humanity X, the Global Humanitarian Lab, the Global Alliance for Humanitarian Innovation, especially if they work closely with the Near Network.

Here are some other articles that perked my interest about the outcomes of the World Summit:

What matters most is that those who build and make things continue to go forward. Our pace must now be full speed in complimentary streams with the organizations and in consultation with communities. The success measurement comes from how we use what we observed and learned to build better. As much as success is qualitative and abstract, I think if we did an 1 year or 5 years later informal assessment of all the organizations and individuals who make things, we might get the math people seek. Until then, keep doing is our motto.

13Apr

Crowdsourcing with Digital Responders

Crowdsourcing Global Week is in full swing in London, UK. Every aspect of Crowdsourcing is up for discussion. London is apparently one of the global leaders in Crowd Economy entrepreneurships. As I consider how we can reshape aid and really make a difference with digital humanitarians/digital responders, the lessons of those who have successful scaled communities and social entrepreneurship really resonate. When I consider their efforts to talk about the “5 Ps of the Crowd Economy”, I see that for our work in humanitarian and ICT we should simply replace “Platform” with “Programs & Partnerships” or “Project & Partnerships”.
4 P of crowd economy cswglobal16

There is so much potential to get people involved in their world using digital skills for good. As we observe those talking about the “crowd economy” and the “sharing economy”, we do need to consider how we can apply the lessons of our friends in the larger Crowdsourcing World. Today I will talk about what I think we need to build to connect global crowdsourcing and digital volunteers to existing programmes and communities. Volunteering is a gift and if we are going to scale Digital Responders then now is the time to link the various worlds. (There are extensive notes and resources in the slide notes.)

28Mar

Earth Observation Summer School

You can go to space….school! As 1 of 60 students at Earth Observation Summer School in Frascati (Rome), Italy, you will enjoy 2 weeks of learning and sharing.

The European Space Agency (ESA) is inviting young researchers to join leading experts in Earth Observation, Modelling and Data Assimilation for keynote lectures, hands-on computing practical and poster sessions on the occasion of the 8th ESA EO Summer School. I’m delighted to share about crowdsourcing, microtasking and building research programmes.

ESA Summer School

Applications are open until APRIL 6th, 2016.

The two-week course, held in ESA/ESRIN (near Rome, Italy) during August aims to provide students with an integrated end-to-end perspective going from measurement techniques to end-user applications. Courses include lectures covering issues related to Remote Sensing, Earth System Modelling and Data Assimilation as well as hands-on computing exercises on the processing of EO data. Students have the opportunity to present their work during a poster session. The three best posters will receive an award from the European Meteorological Society (EMS). Keynote lectures on global change issues are also given to discuss the current state of the science of global change and its relationship to society in order to help students appreciate how their specific field fits into a broader scientific and political context. For more information, please see previous programme, news or video.

Hope to see you there!

18Mar

Baking soda for your Social Entrepreneurship

[Ed. note: this blog post includes content for my talk at Reach out to Asia Empower 2016 panel with UNDP "Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship for the Sustainable Development Goals”, March 18, 2016]

When I started my career in internet technologies, I was confronted with a frequent bit of advice: “If you want to be successful, you need to move to Silicon Valley.” And, while I have visited San Francisco and the various amazing organizations this concept always struck me as confusing. Sure, there is much talent and opportunity, but isn’t there a world beyond? My journey for social impact has included working with and meeting many social entrepreneurs from around the world. They are my teachers. My role is really like “baking soda” for recipes. Successful programs require mentorship, well-defined problems and plans for long-term growth. Just think how much potential is around the world and why youth matters:


Take a moment to consider this: the majority of the world’s population is your age group (16 – 26) and there is also a high concentration of mobile internet use (see the GSMA 2015 report).

Fishless at ROTA March 2016
(Fishless is at Research to Asia Empower 2016)

Do hard things

Brck is a social entrepreneurship based in Nairobi, Kenya. One of their projects is to bring tablets to classrooms for learning. Their motto is “We do hard things”. Here in Doha at Reach out to Asia Empower 2016, I encourage the audience to also consider how we can have social impact aimed at the Sustainable Development Goals. This means focusing on an issue or topic that inspires you.

Be curious and meet allies

Your power is your curiousity. All around the world there are people creating social innovations and social entrepreneurship projects/businesses. This is your learning space – wide and full of potential. Who is doing a similar topic in a region that you could remix in your area? What tools and tactics are they using? What are some of the gaps and opportunities in your area? In the social entrepreneur space, if you do your homework there are many people who will answer questions and support you. We all have a common mission to do some good. Once you have an idea, then consider implementation in small, medium and large ways.

Pardon me, if this already exists, but one regular activity that think could be an outcome from Empower 2016 is to consider how to keep in touch with each other. Your power is with each other. Have you set up a WhatsApp group for the the topic that inspires you? Can you host a regular meetup (majlis) for coffee (karak) to brainstorm and co-create?

Empower main stage

Research and Technology communities can help

Many of you mind wonder what is Qatar Computing Research Institute doing for social entrepreneurship. We are a resource for this region. Staff have widespread experience in social computing research and technologies plus we are part of the local entrepreneur ecosystem.

Some recent research examples include: climate change (sentiment in Qatar), what your apps say about you, and aerial imagery for disasters/environmental action.

What does this mean for social entrepreneurs? Well, my former colleague Patrick Meier has set up a business with other experts called We Robotics. This group aims to use new technology for good with field training and big data analysis. One of the first projects they explored was with a university in Nepal. They will collaborate with FlyLabs around the world. The Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team together with partners like Ramani Huria combining maps, urban planning and student power to make a difference in Dar es Salaam. Students and youth are instrumental in these projects. Combining digital and in person programmes, research can be a guiding force to help you review ideas, prototype and consider critical lessons for success.

It is true, I am often bias to technology solutions since this is my passion and field of expertise. However, I encourage you to create first without technology – nothing replaces the power of in person conversations, pen and paper. In today’s workshop, we will consider digital skills for good and how it can apply to your social entrepreneur efforts.

Your Data Journey for the SDGs

Qatar Dugong Club
(Grade 10 students from Albayan Secondary School, Doha Qatar. Photo with permission to publish)

Data is core to excellent storytelling and convincing programmes or businesses. Let’s take Fishless, for example, they are using art and design to convey a message: We are creating a world that will soon be fishless. What is the data behind that? In Canada, there is a ban on fishing cod in the Atlantic. This government policy was instituted after scientists and activists did the math. The fishery industry and many communities changed for this new reality. It is hard to consider a world with out fish. What are the data sources available in Qatar, for example, on fish resources. Another group here at Reach out to Asia is #QatarDugongs. This club aims to protect the dugongs. Their campaign to raise awareness is important. The partnership is fantastic. Students from Albayan Secondary School have a club #QatarDugongs. The partnership of Qatar University, Texas A & M and Exxon Mobil are working on a youth outreach program while conducting a dugong census project. This research data and community support will be invaluable for Qatar to meet goal 14 – Life below Water.

I created this list of resources and ways to get started on your data driven exploration. Consider using some of these tools and techniques to take aim the SDG that is your focus:

17Mar

Empower Digital Skills & Literacy via Social Entrepreneurship

Hamad Bin Khalifa University is buzzing with creative ideas from young energetic social entrepreneurs. Reach out to Asia’s 8th Annual Empower event includes over 450 participants from around the region for workshops, talks aimed at fostering leadership and youth social entrepreneurship. Together with my colleagues from Qatar Computing Research Institute, Social Computing and Arabic Language Technology teams, we are here to share about research, innovation and entrepreneurship.

Empower logo

Empower 2016 Workshops

Global Goals

Workshop 1: Digital Skills for Good

How can you learn digital skills for social good and humanitarian response? This skill-based workshop bridges three themes: social communications, social innovation and crowdsourcing. We partnered with the United Nations Development Programme to focus on Global Goals as guidance for social entrepreneurship activities.

We will conduct some exercises to explore data collection (keywords), online strategies, verification and visualization. Participants will be given resources to keep on learning after the workshop. We will focus on the global goals for climate action (#goal13), good health & well-being (#goal3) and affordable and clean energy (#goal7)

This workshop will be presented jointly by Heather Leson, Ji Kim Lucas, Irina Temnikova (QCRI) and Jennifer Colville (UNDP)

Workshop 2: Social Entrepreneurship: Improving Literacy in the Arab World through Ebooks for Children

In the workshop, participants will be introduced to the problem of improving literacy in the Arab world by bringing more interesting books into the hands of children. Using the newly developed Jalees Ebooks reader it will be demonstrated how technology opens the doors to new types of multimedia and interactive books. The participants will then enter a discussion on how social entrepreneurship could be applied to develop a library of interesting Arabic children books.

This workshop will be presented jointly by Wajdi Zaghouani, CMU-Q, and Stephan Vogel, QCRI. This topic falls under a number of Sustainable Development Goals, but Reduced Inequalities appears to be a good match. (#goal10)

Connecting youth to Social Impact, Entrepreneurship and Research

It is a true passion to help youth make a difference in their world on topics that matter. All around the Empower event there are great ideas from accessible parking spots with bar code alarms to Fishless (an intervention for Goal 14: Life Below Water), to Top Shabab (iread, Greenuse), to Education initiatives. Many of these programmes are youth driven. Our team at QCRI has been directly involved in capacity building and education for many years. We are here to share our knowledge and offer support to the flourishing community trying to make a difference in the world. And, who knows, maybe someday they will join the path of research for social impact. Thanks to the whole Reach out to Asia team for including us in this great event.

Empower Digital Skills for the SDGs and Social Entrepreneurship

We’ve tailored our workshop, which will be held on Friday, March 18th to inspire children from ages 16-26 to create programmes and social entrepreneurship aimed at solving big global issues one step at a time. See our slides with extensive notes.

16Mar

Big Organizing for (Local to Global) Impact

“Volunteers are running complex teams, filling specialized work roles, just like professional organizers.”

Sound familiar? Micah Sifry’s interview of the core team of the Bernie Sander’s US election campaign truly resonated with me. The contributions to the campaign have already surpassed 2.5 million small and large volunteer activities. This includes Slack channels, special events, phone calls and online engagement. For years, many of us in the Digital Humanitarian/Digital Responder networks are at the cusp of growing from smaller boutique communities to wide spread growth. There were 1000s of us after the Haiti Earthquake growing to over 10, 000 after the Nepal Earthquake[1]. For those of us focused on big global change, the numbers of supporters and the volume of activities is massive. Yet, our collective digital activities can be even larger, more coordinated and more effective as we aim to focus and create solutions that matter.

Road by BraveBros. from the Noun Project noun_106568_cc

Each of the Digital Humanitarian communities are considering how to sustain growth, widen the circle to the next million, increase quality of activities, and be more inclusive (language, culture, region, and knowledge). Missing Maps is certainly a recipe for success with their regular mapathons, shared resources, partnerships, impact focus and large outreach networks. Since 2014, there have been 6,949 global-wide contributors to the OpenStreetMap based project. We also need to consider how to expand to meet all the global goals.

My primary career goal is to help people get involved in their world on things that matter. While there is not one formula or recipe, as an organizer and leader, I am super inspired by the Sander’s campaign playbook for how we can learn and grow the digital responder communities. As we consider the sustainable development goals and the outcomes of the World Humanitarian Summit, these examples can help us shape useful implementation plans for a network of networks.

We need the World’s Largest Lesson for how to get involved and create within digital responder networks. We need many great big implementation plans. But, this is only after we consider how address the right issues in a directed formulated plan. The Sanders US election campaign has a clear goal and the implementation pathway seems somewhat straightforward. The tactics they use are collaborative, detailed and powerful. They have activities for small interventions/actions up to very large participatory volunteer roles. Brilliant. How can we look at our goals in the digital responder space and really work with all the stakeholders to localize and have impact? Well, the humanitarians are organizing to innovate.

Guide to Developing a local DRN

The complimentary activity is happening in the Digital Responder space. The recently published Guidance for Developing a Local Digital Response Network [DRN][2] provides pathways for local communities to learn from others then remix. Andrej Verity’s blog post announcement on this launch highlights the opportunities. Now, we need are workshops around the world, curriculum in many languages and a grand implementation plan.

Big organizing and small incremental interventions are needed to make substantial change. An intersection of time, will and skill exists. Now it needs to be nurtured with big organizing for local to global impact.

[1] There was not an exact census after the Nepal Earthquake across the Digital Humanitarian Network. I did an informal survey of Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (over 8000), MicroMappers (about 2300) (QCRI), Standby Task Force (500) and then add all the other digital and local communities, including Kathmandu Living Labs.

[2] It was a pleasure to contribute input for the DRN guidance document. Congratulations to Jennie Phillips and Andrej Verity for this work.

[Image Credit: Road by BraveBros. from the Noun Project, ccby]

10Mar

Connecting a Data-Driven world to Entrepreneurs

Sitting in the audience at a myriad of events across topics of humanitarian action, social innovation or entrepreneurship, I often get twitchy. Truly I enjoy the engaging talks, learning new things/perspectives and networking. But in the back of my mind, I am always asking: “Nice policy, what does implementation look like?” The worlds of civic technology, digital literacy, humanitarian response, international development and entrepreneurship steadily connect. Yesterday I had the opportunity to talk with a room of entrepreneurs about how they could apply data-driven innovation to their startups. Increasingly, I am struck how applicable the skills and techniques I learned from Digital Humanitarian activities are for entrepreneurs and vice versa. This is becoming fairly standard in North American communities, but it is still new ground in MENA. If you look to UNICEF big ‘moonshot’ on investing $9 million dollars in open source entrepreneurship with the Unicef Innovation Fund. The types of digital and data literacy gaps differ some in the entrepreneur community from the civil society/civic tech circles. This comes down to purpose and goals. Yet, the curriculum stands the test of transfer as we consider how to build a civic and digitally engaged community.

If you are in Qatar and want to keep in touch with others interested in learning data-driven innovations, we set up a SLACK channel, simply just share your email with me.

My slides from the Data-Driven Startup talk include extensive notes and references. Thank you to School of Data, Data-Driven Innovation Mena, Open Data Institute, Aspiration Tech and the Digital Humanitarian Network for being so inspiring.

9Mar

Tonight: Hour of Code in Doha

My amazing colleagues at Qatar Computing Research Institute have teamed up with ArabWic to host the Hour of Code to help kids learn about coding and software. There are free sessions tonight (March 9th from 4 – 9pm AST).

Kids coding at qcri arab wic event

How to join

Venue: Katara, building no. 15

Target audience: School children ages 7 to 14

Sessions: School visits: 9am – 12 pm

- Public visits: 4pm to 9pm

Activity: https://code.org/learn, Hour of Code

Volunteers: From QCRI, Abdu, Meghna, Maryam Alhamadi and Eman, and a number of volunteers from AWiC

About iAspire:

The event aims to expose the younger generation to a variety of career options that will lead them to discover their interests and will inspire them to set goals for their future.

The exhibition will consist of booths for the initiatives and organizations focusing on a specific career that target the younger generation.

The event will happen next week on 8th and 9th of March.

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6Mar

What happens at a Research Institute?

Research institutes are vibrant and not always full dusty or abstract thoughts/activities. Every day can be a meander through brilliant ideas, prototypes and new science. March 2016 is gearing up to be research event month in Doha and for Qatar Computing Research Institute. We will be hosting and participating in a number of events. A few new papers are published which might perk interest. Plus, we have an open call for Summer Interns and Post-Docs to come learn with us. Consider this your window into the diversity of activities.

Book Plugged in Alex Tai noun_114556_cc

Upcoming Research Events

Most of these events are free. You just need to register in advance.

Annual Machine Learning and Data Analytics workshop (March 14 -15, 2016)

Empower: Reach out to Asia (March 17 – 19, 2016) Theme: Innovation and Youth Social Entrepreneurship (applications to attend are closed)
QCRI will host 3 workshops, have an exhibition booth and I am speaking.

MIT CSAIL QCRI workshop (March 20, 2016). Full day on research and a public lecture on Self-Driving Cars.

Qatar Foundation Annual Research Conference (March 22 – 23, 2016)

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Seeking Post-Docs – Come work with us

QCRI has a number of post-doc opportunities in the Social Computing Team. From health + mobile computing/social media to News Analytics to Online Gaming You can apply here.

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Be a Summer Intern

Are you a local student studying computer science? Every year QCRI hosts students on all kinds of projects. An example from Social Computing is exploring instagram food photos. Applications are due between March 13 – 20, 2016. To learn more, we are hosting an info session:

summer internship mentor QCRI 2016

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Explore some research

I work on the Social Computing team. This is a sample of some of the research from 2015.
Exploring Cyberbullying and Other Toxic Behavior in Team Competition Online Games

  • http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=2702529 (paper)
  • http://www.slideshare.net/haewoon/exploring-cyberbullying-and-other-toxic-behavior-in-team-competition-online-games (slide)

Twitter: A Digital Socioscope (book)

  • https://sites.google.com/site/twitterdigitalsocioscope/
  • http://www.cambridge.org/us/academic/subjects/computer-science/computing-and-society/twitter-digital-socioscope
  • http://www.amazon.com/Twitter-Digital-Socioscope-Michael-Macy/dp/1107102375

You Tweet What You Eat: Studying Food Consumption Through Twitter

  • http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=2702153
  • http://ingmarweber.de/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/You-Tweet-What-You-Eat-Studying-Food-Consumption-Through-Twitter.pdf

The Mesh of Civilizations in the Global Network of Digital Communication

  • http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0122543
  • https://sites.google.com/site/meshofcivilizations/

Processing Social Media Messages in Mass Emergency: A Survey

  • http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=2771588
  • http://mimran.me/papers/processing_social_media_messages_in_mass_emergency_survey.pdf


Surveillance & Modesty on Social Media: How Qataris Navigate Modernity and Maintain Tradition

(coming soon)

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We’ll try and sleep in April, but until then, time to keep exploring and learning.

[Credit: Book icon courtesy of Alex Tai, Noun Project]

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