Do-more Disrupters: The People Behind the Stories

[Cross-posted from MediaShift: Idea Lab]

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.

Ushahidi gives us a window into many varying disruptive movements, large or small: community members, from Syrian Tracker to Moroccan Elections Elections to Open Nuclear Iran mappers to Maps4aid.

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.

Olga Werby, Mapster and President of Pipspeak Productions.

Software Centre, the Morocco-based team led by Tarik Nesh-Nash, started with election monitoring with Marsad.ma and is now mapping corruption. Boyan Yurukov created the Bulgarian award-winning 2011 crime.bg. He also developed and installed Fairelections.eu election mapping, which was moderated by the Institute for Public Environment Development.

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

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!


Kenny Rogers at the Nakumatt

Kenny Rogers is huge in Kenya. I’m back in the land of smiles to co-work with my Ushahidi colleagues. It is Saturday and the Internet was down at the cafe. So, what else to do? Go to the grocery store after reading my book. The Best of Kenny Rogers was blaring at the Nakumatt. During my previous visit, it was all about Dolly Parton at the Ostrich farm. It warms my prairie girl heart to entertain my family with comparisons between Kenya and Saskatchewan: Music and warmer demeanor (for the most part.) Even if I am not a fan of country music, I still smile at the quirky country music fans who push their carts and hum along.

Last night the neighbour was blaring the best of the 1980s from Janet Jackson to Dire Straits interspersed with African sounding dance music. It made me smile. This is not as much fun as the Spanish soap operas dubbed in English that seem to be playing everywhere you go. Ah, Kenya, you amuse me.

I’m not sleeping much as usual. The upside of this is that I appreciate the 4am loud birds singing alarm. They sound unlike most that I have ever heard. I almost want to download a bird app to identify the cheerful lot. But, the cost is a touch prohibitive compared to asking someone, once they awake. Sadly, around the same time of the morning the mosquitoes come in for a big bite.

Coffee is a food group…

My suitcase will be full of Pete’s Coffee and tea when I return as well as Tropical Heat’s Tea Masala mix.

Cassava and Tree Tomatoes

I finally tried Tree Tomatoes and am hooked. It is somewhere between a tomato and a tart plum. Even though it is summer here, all the other tomatoes were green. These will be hard to find in Toronto, but I will try to find the juice somewhere. I’m also hooked on Cassava chips. They are better for you than the super yummy, salty potato chips and are full of calcium and gluten-free. My coworkers will mock me, but these are so going in my avocado, red pepper, and hummus sandwiches. Oddly enough, the cassava chips have the same pattern as the counter. Food camouflage!

Walking Security

Hanging out Walking around in Nairobi is possible, but not recommended with a bag full of tech on a hot day. So, the alternative is to take taxis everywhere. The costs are relatively cheap for this. Nothing replaces freedom of exercise and movement. Tomorrow I may ditch my bags, cover my hair and go for small walk in my neighbourhood. It is a very safe area, but I am hopeful that my hosts will advise that it is ok. As for security, it is everywhere. I went to a shopping mall today to run errands. The place was a bit of a fortress. Guards search the internal of the car and under it, every shop has a guard and the mall is full of guards. Then, there are the guards at the entrances of all the apartment building complexes and restaurants. There are walls, gates, and high wires around each of the complexes. It makes me very aware of every movement. Maybe I won’t walk and just do in-house yoga.

Bell vs. Safaricom


When people talk about tech in Kenya, I often highlight the sweet phones and mobile apps. The challenge: compare the telco service received from Bell versus Safaricom.

On Tuesday, I spent two valuable hours on the phone with Bell Canada and was sent to four different departments only to be hung up on by the Loyalty department. Sure one of the Bell reps was helpful, but the other three that I was transferred to and from due to their separation of departments (internet and mobile) were not so customer-oriented. All the trouble stems from the fact that Bell has archaic billing systems and inane processes. And, while I use both services, they could not talk with me as one customer who has been loyal for over 12 years. The change I wanted to make could take up to 3 months to be effective. I asked if they would like me to walk the paperwork between the departments. The billing problem was still not resolved and they have not called back. I’ve been their customer for over 12 years and have spent $1000.00s on services. I gave up and decided to deal with Bell when I returned home and likely switch providers. Their disdain for money leaves me with few other choices. And, just to add to my shock, Bell SMSed me a customer service survey. I responded to the five SMS questions how dissatisfied I was and why. Brief, but to the point. They still have not called me back.

Arriving in Nairobi I found that my sweet Ideos Android did not activate data, could not receive SMS or make outbound calls. So, instead of calling I went to the Safaricom Care Center. And, boy did they care. Three helpers tested the phone, reactivated my SIM card, added $2.00 CDN/$200 KSH, and more. I have a phone data balance of a mere $10.00 CDN or $821 KSH which should last me the next three weeks. The HuaWei rep (Anges) was on site. It turns out that since I had not used the phone in 6 months that they deactivated the account temporarily. Only after they fixed the phone within 30 minutes did I tell them about my Canadian Telco customer service experience. I told them how amazed I was that they were giving me such attentive service for merely billing change of $200 KSH. Anges responded that for Kenyan companies every dollar matters.

And, that in a nutshell is the difference between Canadian and Kenyan Telcos. Sure, Safaricom probably has wrinkles. But, they want my business and work at it more. As they say in .ke: pole sana

Flowers for mom:




A wet morning welcomed me as I drizzled my way into the car for the journey to the Elephant Orphanage. It is only open from 11:00am – 12:00pm EAT. Work was crazy busy for the past week, so I was happy to have some quiet time to visit another of the Kenya wonders – Elephants.

The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust takes care of abandoned or wounded elephants. If I was not already choked to see such beautiful creatures up close, the stories got me. The giraffes were gorgeous and peaceful, but the Elephant Orphanage knows how to put on a show with storytelling and a call to action. I wanted to adopt one. We really have a responsibility to care take all the creatures, and, most of all, let them alone. The Orphanage website has amazing content about the fostering program, the milk they feed them and more. I like that they set them back into the wild in a park once the animals are of age.

Not my video, but at least it captures the elephant movements.

In one hour, we met two groups of Elephants of different ages. Plus, they told us much about their lives and the project:

I’ve posted all my unedited deck of photos on picassa (kenya or ke 1 – XX). I don’t have time to edit and label them right now, but if you are reading and want to get a sense of the life and the projects I am in Nairobi for, this is your window.



Mama Oliech: Piles of fish

Deep-fried fish…the whole fish. Two coworkers gleefully took us on a journey to Nairobi fish heaven. Dale wrote about Mama Oliech awhile back. Nairobi streets are a bit of a maze for me still, but the flowers are pretty which makes for a colourful walk on a warm Friday afternoon. It is winter here, so warm is about 22C with a bright, high elevation sun. I am so doomed when I return to NA.

This meal was a bit of a production and worth it.

Step 1: wash hands

Step 2: regard the plates of fish (we basically ordered the same thing)

Step 3: Name your fish. My what scary eyes you have. While I normally name things, like scary spiders in my apt “Henry”..

Meet my coworker, Henry, and Sharon

And, Dale and April

Step 4: Devour. Yummy fish fry, almost as good as my Dad’s. You are not given utensils so it is all about the bread and fingers.

Step 5: Then, see how they are made. Discovery channel needs to visit.

Step 6: Double, Boil and trouble.Um, grease is the word, but yumm


Tropical Heat

Every country I visit, I have to hit a supermarket. I’m fascinated by the food, marketing and the fun stuff you find. It is an hour to kill as a tourist and worth it for the humourous questions.

Tropical heat appears to be the brand of choice. It is on juice (tropical carrot), chips and spices. My one North American coworker asked me to locate Tropical Heat Chai tea. After a meeting with Mozilla Kenyan Rep, Alex, I asked him to take me through his supermarket and pick out his favourite snacks and tea.

I’m taking Fanta orders now:

What nots. Um, “I will eat…what not”.

Free or mostly free entertainment for the curious.



Maasai / Muthurwa Markets, Lunatic Rail and wanderings

On Sunday, I kidnapped Charl, my South African coworker, for some trains and then some.

First stop, the Lunatic line. Canada built the railway to populate the country. Kenya designated a country because of the railway.

I love the story of the official who decided to coax the lion into his carriage only to fall asleep. Anyway, we got to climb on steam engines and troll through the early century cars where dreams of romantic Kenyan adventures were baked in the sun.

After we got good and lost in our wanderings only to end up at the Muthurwa Market. Apparently, the number of people that we thought was many was 1/3 the actual street foot traffic of the neighbourhood. Our taxi driver told us that tourists don’t go to that hood. We were pleased. It was busy, but safe. The story of the market is actually fairly important to the city too.

Oh, earlier in the day at the Maasai market, situated close to a posh shopping mall, two men offered to pay me to touch my hair and one man gave me this in honour of it:

I bought a bracelet from Lou as thanks for this picture of her beadwork.


With necks like that who wouldn’t swoon

Giraffes. Of all the exotic creatures that traverse the lands of Africa, giraffes were top on my list. Beautiful graceful animals that seem to teach us a few things about calm demeanor, the swagger and patience. Yes, I hope to see more animals after the big work stuff is completed.

When I arrived at the Giraffe Center (such a tourist hub), The Giraffes were eating out of people’s hands. Then, they left just as I walked up the stairs. For 30 minutes, I wandered around the center and watched the giraffes way off in the distance.

Where are the Giraffes: (I expect my nieces and nephew to memorize this map.)

They took their sweet time, I mean, ate grass and napped.

With a pail-driven food racket, they returned.


After the giraffes, I tried to go to Kazuri beads to see the factory for my mom. They were closed. So, next week. Instead, I went to Karen Blizen’s estate. She was the author of Out of Africa. Many a female in my life swooned about Kenya and learned about the country’s colonial history via the Pollack movie. Apparently, the movie rubs off some of the true nature of the book and adds some “North American mainstream movie tone.” The grounds were beautiful.


Humanitarian Dinners and Lizards

Nairobi: two worlds.

Last night I had dinner with a few NGO and Tech friends. Two Nethope staff are en route to Daadab and were in the middle of planning logistics. Car, gas, airplanes, supplies. All the while we were eating Ethiopian food and talking about volunteer technical communities and how to bridge the gaps between NGOs, volunteers and the formal organizations like the UN. Each of us has had varied experience with these discussions. By the end of the dinner, the two humanitarian workers had the logistics set up and were off to northern Kenya. I am in awe of their work and really hope they can broker the next steps. Inspiring. Every bite of food felt like a triumph. We have so much in our world.

I woke up this morning to my happy hosts kids presenting their prize catch. They live with so much joy.


Icoffee at ihub

The sun is starting to set in Nairobi and iHUB is still full of people working away on their respectful projects. Innovation labs like this are incredibly special. I am souped up on Pete’s coffee and adrenaline from an afternoon of getting to know my colleagues and working on an event project.

My new tech boyfriend named IDEOS:

Someone is blaring decent electronica while we work away. Great vibe. It is helping me keep alert. The trees and flowers are gorgeous. The roadside paths scatter around the city with many people walking. I hope to see more tomorrow. Though, I suspect I may wake up disoriented after days of no to low sleep. One thing I have noticed is how much people smile here. I mean really smile with the whole of their being in a genuine way.

One of my coworkers gave me coveted Kiptagich Tea, which I will give my mom. Another coworker suggested that I fill my suitcase with Tea Masala. Done!

Ihub, Nairobi Kenya

Linda: she who burns the midnight dev hours and loves Oreos

Tosh and Marie relax-working

And, there is a Fooz ball table:

Today is World Humanitarian Day 2011. Every day these people change the world one step at a time.



Over North Africa

Somewhere west of Cairo, I woke up and wanted to pull my eyes out. Exhaustion has set in. I dug out the big guns: lemon ginger echinacea tea. If I could buy shares in this tea, I would. In the past year, it has saved many a day. Now I carry a few packages of it for special moments when a 2’4 is unavailable to crack myself back into calm.

So far in the last 24h, I’ve napped about 4 hours in total. My flight brain is getting fun. I woke up in a start over Germany and squeaked. Yes, squeaked and alarmed two seat mates. I saw a mouse. At least, I saw a mouse in my dream. They laughed. I seriously thought a mouse scurried over my feet. Red-faced apologies, but they laughed.

I am becoming the plane tourist. So, far I’ve watched African Cats. Sita is my new hero. Kala reminds me of, oh, that’s a tangent. Next up is a documentary: Meerkat Madness. Why do they look huggable? I might have time for Zoo Adventure. The last flight to AMS, I got bored watching Lincoln Lawyer and on this leg was Limitless. Meercats and lions over Hollywood. So, this is my state of mind.

Earlier I read Pius Adesanmi’s essay: “Going to Meet Black America” comparing poverty in the US with parts of Africa. It should be mandatory reading for some. I wish there was a talking/light car on the plane and that Sylvia was here to discuss the merits and faults of his argument. And, I need a book light. Since I’m not sleeping, I may as well learn and read.

Later today I meet some of my coworkers for the first time. Excited. Some nutcase decided that I should have 4 hours of meetings in the afternoon. Self-flog, but I am running an event in under a week and need to nail down details. That adventure will call for the Barcelona special. Drink within one hour:

1. One or two strong cups of expresso
2. Red Bull
3. One scary looking juice protein mix
4. Water

Enough writing in the dark. I love the timing of “If I ever leave this world” on my playlist. Appropriate. I travel with an old iPod and phone loaded with music. It saves on these long hauls.

“I’m ok, I’m alright…”

Time for cats!

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