Two pods in one week! Valerie Sticher of ISN: International Relations and Security Network interviewed me for the ISN podcast on “Crowdsourcing for Change“. And, I’ll host a Podcamp Toronto 2012 session on Sunday, February 26, 2012 focused on “Dispatches of Disruption“.
“In today’s podcast, Ushahidi’s Heather Leson discusses her organization’s use of crisis mapping techniques and outlines how non-state actors are increasingly collaborating online to tackle issues traditionally managed by governments.”
Sunday morning early sessions at Podcamp Toronto are sometimes quiet. Here’s to having a good discussion about Digital Activism and the power of the Internet.
Date: Sunday, February 26, 2012 11:00 ET Location: Ryerson RCC203 (map)
Every day someone uses the power of the Internet to change their world. What does it mean to be a disrupter? an innovator? a volunteer? What lessons can you activate at home? at work?
I’ll share some examples of disruption aimed at corruption, elections, violence, potholes, agriculture, burgers, #futurewewant, and emergency response.
Some additional thoughts:
Digital activism from volunteering to hacking to mapping is changing institutions and governments.
We are just a mouse click away from change. Or, are we?
Hope you can join this chat. If you are only attending on Saturday, look for me at the registration desk.
YYZ to NBO: Why luring start-ups to Nairobi is a good thing. Josh Erratt’s article in Now Magazine focuses on how technical start-ups from Canada can connect with the Canadian Government and the SFO technical community.
For years I, too, yearned for the opportunity to work in Silicon Valley. Employed with Internet organizations since 2000 (backbone to registrar = OSI career), my first Internet access was via Carleton University’s Freenet in 1992 and I created my first website in 1995 at library school. SFO has been completely entrenched throughout my career as the tech golden bridge. When the Dot Com busted in 2001, I held on hope for a career in Internet and to someday work in SFO. With one foot in communications and one in technology as a Technical Incident Communications Lead, I began to apply to the big organizations who had their own data centers and technical crisis communication teams.
The 280 is a beautiful drive, dinner in Chinatown (amazing), gazing at the Bay Bridge is awesome and attending events with Internet leaders is thought-provoking. There is no doubt that SFO is worth visiting and, perhaps, heeding the call to move your start-up there. To be honest, how anyone gets work down with those views is beyond me!
Ihub photo by Erik Hersman
Now, these aspirations seem so myopic. The explosion of great technology worldwide shows that it is time to rethink “location plus Internet” start-ups and your career. Digital activism and volunteering after the Haiti earthquake took me on a journey into other global ecosystems. Random Hacks of Kindness (RHOK), a global hackathon which I have lead in a few cities, takes place in Internet hubs around the world. By participating, I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with Internet leaders and various start-ups. Learning about their technical communities is inspiring. But, one does not need to look only to hackathons to see where the pulse is. Read the economic reports about the rise of mobile and beyond the BRIC to emerging economies.
Nairobi, Kenya’s technical community is red-hot. Disclosure: I work for Ushahidi, a Nairobi-based start-up. The ihub is brimming with start-ups, events, bright savvy entrepreneurs and amazing ideas. Every time I go to the Ihub, I am overwhelmed by the pulse of start-ups, collaboration, and new technology.
The incubator opened in 2010 and now counts more than 6,000 members, with an average of 1,000 new applications a year. Most members are merely part of iHub’s online community, but more than 250 of them use the space. Some 40 companies have launched from iHub, and 10 have received seed funding from venture capitalists. The most successful so far is Kopo Kopo, which helps merchants manage payments from M-Pesa and similar services. One key to iHub’s growth is that Kenya’s IT infrastructure has improved significantly. The first Internet fiber connection landed at the Kenyan coast in 2009 (previous service had come through satellite dishes in the Rift Valley), and the country’s first truly mass-market Android smart phone went on sale in 2010, for $80. Safaricom now counts 600,000 smart phones of all kinds on its network and expects them to make up 80 percent of the market by 2014.
What if your Internet start-up ….
Some of the brightest Internet minds and start-ups are based in Toronto. I work for a global dispersed team and have one foot in Kenya and one in Canada. While I cannot speak directly to what it takes to be a start-up, I am left with more questions? Why not Toronto and why can’t the ecosystem be changed here to keep our best and brightest here?
Why recreate the beaten path to SFO? The technical spirit of “doing” and “innovation” is happening around the world. There are mountains of technical and start-ups hubs worldwide. I encourage you to think beyond SFO to build your start-up or your Internet career. Buy a plane ticket to NBO or Malaysia.
One spark and it happens: An individual or a team of people create a deployment using Ushahidi or Crowdmap. Their motivation and the inspiration are telling tales. These citizens, diaspora and a global community collaborate near and far to make change happen. Motivated often by the simple act of giving voice and building momentum for their ideas, most do so without payment.
Who are these deployers? One thing connects all of them irrespective of location or topic: They want to do more in their communities and world.
Even children are trying to activate change outside the traditional methods or institutional structures: Amrita of Bangalore, India (8.5 years old) is a Trusted Food Reporter for the Cost of Chicken Project; kids from around the world are collecting data on local food conditions, from grade 8 students in San Francisco to grade 3 students in India; students are mapping to learn and collaborate about food production and food sustainability.
These deployments are aimed at giving voice to fair democratic practices. Each of these deployers mentor new mappers sharing best practices or create additional tools, like Boyan’s Facebook app. By sharing their story, they’re beginning to inspire others to map elections or corruption.
Why Storytelling Matters
Persistent outreach and storytelling are key to successful deployments. The Syria Tracker team is a collective of partnerships and volunteers, including some of our friends within the Crisismapping Network and the Standby Task Force. Over the past 286 days, they’ve mapped more than 6,300 deaths.
Melissa Elliot, left, is the Reports Coordinator for the StandBy Task Force.
Shemeer Babu is one mapper in India focused on highlighting the issue of violence against women with Maps4Aid. His next project is building out Blogs4Aid. His plan will be focused on using SMS (short message service) and maybe IVR (interactive voice response) since 90% of rural women in India don’t have smartphones. Both @maps4aid and @syriatracker use Twitter on a daily basis to keep their map story alive and in the minds of their followers, using free online resources to augment their story.
Melissa Elliot is a core team member and reports coordinator of the StandBy Task Force. This week she attended a Canadian government event to share the story of Crisismapping and volunteers. Her constant drive to make a difference in the world inspired officials to consider their first-ever Crisismapping Simulation. As a leader in a growing community that often uses Ushahidi, she is one of over 750 volunteers who map information for emergencies.
We’re delighted that these talented volunteers often assist other Ushahidi community members with their non-crisis related maps.
How can you help?
Every day deployers need support to build their projects. For example, Open Nuclear Iran needs a banner for its Crowdmap; Shemeer needs a hand determining how to grow his local project to a larger sustainable Blogs4Aid initiative; the Corruption Tracker and the Harassmap teams are looking for more volunteers to support their long-term projects.
Requests for assistance can include help with storytelling, project management, technical assistance, design customization and security concerns.
These people often use Ushahidi’s software in their spare time with no to low funding. They are the so-called “do-more disrupters.” Mentoring and help matchmaking are core to these deployers’ ongoing efforts.
We’re launching a new wiki space to assist our existing Community Connect with people who may be able to help. To find out more about this, join our community site or follow our Ushahidi blog. Who knows how you will inspire and be inspired to actively do more in your community and the world!