Mapmaking for Good in Qatar

Maps are critical for logistics in humanitarian response. We are excited to invite you to the second Digital Humanitarians in Qatar event on Sunday, November 29, 2015. In this session, we will talk about the power of maps and location data using examples from various Humanitarian Emergencies. We will introduce you some basic components of mapping share how you can even add social media data to maps. Qatar Computing Research and Qatar Red Crescent are co-hosts of this event. Our special guest is Sajjad Anwar of Mapbox and the OpenStreetMap community.

To learn more and register, click here Event is Sunday, November 29, 2015.

map of qatar

Event Details

Dates and times: November 29, 2015 16:30 – 18:30pm AST
Location: Qatar Red Crescent Headquarters, 1st floor, Al Salata (Doha)
(Parking is near the old Movenpick Hotel)

Digital Humanitarians and CrisisMapping Agenda
  • How Qatar Red Crescent uses Maps – Qatar Red Crescent
  • Introduction to Map tools and Remote Mapping – Heather Leson, QCRI
  • Overview of Mapbox and OSM – Sajjad Anwar, Mapbox
  • Introduction to MicroMappers and Leaflet – Ji Lucas, QCRI
  • Map exercises (in Arabic and English)

QRC-QCRI Co Branded Logo


Global Enterpreneurship Week: Free Technical Courses

Time to dig into learning! Global Entrepreneurship Week is November 16 – 22, 2015. Qatar will join over 125 other countries in this week long event. Qatar Computing Research Institute (HBKU) and Qatar Science and Technology Park are pleased to invite you to two workshops on Tuesday, November 17, 2015: Introduction to Big Data and Introduction to Machine Learning. Our goal is to help you learn some basics to help your startup or business.

Global Entrepreneurship Week logo

Register for the Workshops

These workshops will be held on Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at the Qatar Science and Technology Park. Registration is now open for two separate free technical training courses. QCRI has a mandate to share with the local entrepreneurship community. Research scientists have tailored the workshops for you. Keep in mind that you will need some technical skill to make the most out of the content.

REGISTER: Introduction to Big Data (16:30 – 18:30 AST)

REGISTER: Introduction to Machine Learning (19:00 – 21:00 AST)

Other Global Entrepreneurship Week Events:

Qatar Development Bank will be hosting events on November 15- 16, 2015. Register here for these activities. There will be other events listed leading up to the events.

This amounts to a very busy week of learning and networking! Let’s do this.


How will Qatar prepare for Information Overload?

We are neighbours, no matter where we live. Being a new resident to Doha, I am grappling with a number of questions. These stem from working with humanitarian and crisis information for a number of years. Plus, it is part of my mandate at Qatar Computing Research Institute to help apply research and software to support local needs. We have learned much globally about emergencies. I’d like to learn more about how to help locally and who is keen to collaborate.

How will Doha and Qatar prepare for the upcoming information overload? What are the communications plans during an emergency? How will the public use or not use social media or new technology during an emergency? What are the information and technology needs in the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council)? How does preparedness compare to other regions? How can citizens and communities prepare? How can Digital Humanitarians be of service? How would Digital Humanitarian community in Qatar differ? What are the training and technology needs of digital humanitarians locally? How can the local Digital Humanitarian community get more involved in the global community? How would Qatar Computing Research Institute’s work apply or not apply for emergencies in the region? What other types of research and/or software would serve the local responders and communities?

Gcc Government Social Media Summit

In September I attended the GCC Government Social Media Summit in Dubai. There were a number of presentations about preparedness and communications. I was interested to learn that in Dubai, every neighbourhood has a #hashtag. It is used for community activities but my colleague Ali Rebaie advised that this practice is also used for emergencies or resilience. This is something that happens around the world. Neighbours online are networks and information ambassadors locally (offline). This is invaluable. How can we apply this to Doha? Maybe because we are a smaller city and country, we organize primarily around #Doha or #Qatar. There should be tags for all social media platforms in multiple languages by districts and cities. By doing this, we can plan and share for communications.

The Qatar Red Crescent Disaster Management Camp in April 2015 provided great insights into how communication flows among responders. My observations found that people use WhatsApp to organize but are keen to investigate how social media might also be a communications channel. This participation has provided an impetus and goal to host a local social media and emergency meetups. Bringing responders and local enterpreneurs into the same space has started with the joint QCRI and Qatar Red Crescent Digital Humanitarian workshops. But, we do need to talk more about how social media will or won’t be a factor in Doha. How will people communicate during an emergency? How will responders work with them? At minimum, there needs to be local ‘information ambassador’ programme setup on WhatsApp. The more training the more ready we are for emergencies. The Qatar Red Crescent has been doing preparedness and resilience training in communities and with schools. Businesses may be thinking about text messages (SMS) during emergencies. But as a new resident working in these spaces, I do see opportunities to help.

CIvil Defense Exhibition and Conference

Civil Defense Exhibition and Conference
is hosting preworkshops on preparedness, community risk reduction, evacuation and infrastructure planning. All week for 5 hours a night I have joined about 60 people to learn from experts in the field. Participants are from across emergency response, civil defense, business and research. Questions have been fascinating. The earnestness to plan for all the stakeholders is very evident. While the mandate was not about ‘how communities will communicate’, it is very much on the minds of organizers and participants. All of this highlights the need for a more research on how will responders and communities work together.

IIEES (iran earthquake data)

(Map presented by the Professor Zare of the International Institute of Earthquake Engineering and Seismology, IIEES (Tehran, Iran))

There is a large multilingual and high-volume mobile telephone penetration. I’ve found some success in building informal alliances and finding allies. In talking with many stakeholders, there is an enthusiasm to build more plans around communications and citizen engagement for preparedness. Who should I talk with who is interested in communications and emergencies in Doha, Qatar or the GCC?


The Next Stage of Digital Humanitarians

The World Humanitarian Youth Summit is in Doha, Qatar this week (September 1 – 2, 2015). Students and young people under the age of 30 joined from over 80 countries around the world. They are here to consult on a number of key issues creating an outcome document with key recommendations. Last night the drafting team was up until 5am AST working to compile all the brilliant ideas. This work will be submitted as part of the larger global consultations to Reshape Aid.

It was my honour to join the Transformation through Innovation panel to share some thoughts on how people could get involved as Digital Humanitarians and how they could learn and lead with these skills. During my talk, I share some thoughts on how we could challenge the future to get young people more involved all around the world. See my slides and detailed notes for more information.


Thank you to Reach out to Asia, the World Humanitarian Youth Summit, and the Children and Youth Major group for welcoming me in their conversations. Also thank you to Chad Bevins, Mark Iliffe, Kathmandu Living Labs, Yantisa Akhadi, and Stace Maples for their photos about Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team and OpenStreetMap activities around the world.


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

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


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


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.


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:


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)


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 (, 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.


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.

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


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.


Doha brewing Smart City activities

Driving into the Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP), one is struck with the sweeping architecture reflecting a fast-paced ambition to evolve. There are moments in Doha where you can see the future. Places like QSTP very much demonstrate the active efforts of many to change a city and country. It is only fitting that such a place would host the Smart Cities: Dreams to Reality Tech Talk.

Smart Cities TechTalk panel May252015

(Photo: Dr.Thomas Groegler, Waleed Al Saadi, Mansoor Al-Khater and Abdulaziz Ahmed Al-Khal)

The event opened with Mansoor Al-Khater: Chief Strategy Officer of Ooredoo Qatar (a national telco) asking: How can use the huge amount of data to push economic development? Building on his wide-angle lens vision of Smart Cities, he set that tone outlining the potential of smart city technologies. Examples included using smart city technology to change traffic flows to divert from accidents/volume or notify citizens in case of emergencies. But, he emphasized that Smart cities are not just about the technology. It is a shift in culture and how we interact with our cities.

Mr. Abdulaziz Ahmed Al-Khal, Chief Commercial Officer at Qatar Mobility Innovations Center (QMIC) highlighted some points about why smart cities will matter to the citizens. He asked us how startups can spark from organic ideas to full technical platforms. QMIC is a partner of Qatar Computing Research Institute. In my time at QCRI, I’ve had a chance to meet a number of the staff and review their platforms. There are over 300 sensors on the various streets and roads around Doha. These sensors stream to real-time maps and provide large data insights into traffic flow. This is one of the growing issues as the city population expands faster than the infrastructure build. While QMIC is seeking to build businesses and foster data-driven startups, QCRI is along on this journey to use our data analytics brainpower and ponder how social computing (how humans interact and provide data via social media.).

Doha is a mix of old city and new city, but Qatar is building Lusail from scratch as a Smart City. This is really a long tail plan. You can read about it on the Lusail website. Having driven by this city, I really am more curious now the city in the making will evolve. Engineer Waleed Al Saadi invited people to explore the Lusail progress. I’ll add it to the list right after visiting the Msherieb enrichment centre. This part of Doha is set to be the most wired and sustainable area.

Lastly Dr. Thomas Groegler, Head of the Innovation Center of Siemens, reminded us that with all this technology and dreaming, we need to deeply consider and address how the smart city work will increase the digital divide, improve or decrease accessibility and, most importantly, effect all parts of physical and digital security. Points taken. Truly, it is with these realities that we must be mindful of our decisions and engage citizens.

How does this relate to our work at QCRI?

At QCRI Social Computing, we have two research and development streams that directly intersect with smart city activities: Social Media in Disaster and Resilient Cities. It is exciting to consider how our work can support and measure the national goals. As a digital humanitarian, I see how a network of Digital Qatar could support this emergency chart. While the formal organizations will use sensors and SMS, there is still a need to consider how social media in Qatar would be used during an emergency. This is about preparedness and an engaged citizenery.
Ooredoo on Smart City Emergency Response

Doha has a way to go to improve as we journey down the Smart City Path. Listed as #41 on the Sustainable City Index, there are standards and programmes to build to engage citizens in what they need from their city as well to foster the brightest entrepreneurs to use data to grow businesses to support the needs of various communities. Smart City Doha needs to keep building a civic tech community. There are pockets of amazing social entrepreneurship and technology groups. These just need to be activated more.

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