Co-creating and Celebrating Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team

Maps connect us and tell stories. On Thursday, September 22, 2016, the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team will convene for our 2nd annual HOT Summit in Brussels on the eve of the State of the Map conference. Both events celebrate OpenStreetMap and the community.

HOT Summit Logo

Top 5 Reasons to be at the HOT Summit

1. Leaders will share their map stories from around the globe

Check out the amazing programme of speakers from Indonesia, Canada, US, Tanzania and more.
HOT activation traininng in Jakarta

(Photo by Mhairi O’hara at the HOT Activation Workshop, Jakarta 2015)

2. Meet and build HOT and OSM together

The map is bigger than one individual. It is a community, a network of networks.

Bill Gates on OSM in Nepal Response May 5, 2015

3. Provide input into HOT’s future strategic planning

We are 6 year’s young and so much to do. Give us advice, take a task, share your experience, express your opinion. We will have many conversations and coffee conversations about the future of HOT. Help us co-create this strategy.

Road by BraveBros. from the Noun Project noun_106568_cc

(Image credit- Road by BraveBros. from the Noun Project)

4. Learn new skills from peers

The talent in this community to teach each other is amazing. Having an in person space to learn, ask questions, grab a side table to map makes the HOT Summit a space for everyone. Just ask. I am sure that we will find someone who can answer your questions or even learn a thing or two from you!

Mapping Nepal (photo by Gopinath Parayil))

(Photo for the Nepal Earthquake response by Gopinath Parayil)

5. Have fun mapping for change with your new friends

A few of the HOT community attended the World Humanitarian Summit. Many of us had not met before in person. Times of laughter and solidarity make all the difference.
HOT at WHS 2016

(photo for WHS 2016 using Heather’s phone)

Why join us?

How can we get to the next million participants creating the largest open map? How can improve everyone’s experience from novice to advanced? What are some of the project highlights from around the world?

Achieving our mission to help humanitarians and economic development with OpenStreetMap means widening the circle. Sure, we will talk fine details about mapping, but there is space for everyone to explore and contribute. Even if you are not a ‘mapper’, but are curious about open source and open mapping, then join us. We aim to improve the map and grow the global community. Over the past months, our team has been demonstrating how HOT can help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and help humanitarians with Missing Maps. This action packed day has tickets available for 66.24Euro. (Register today!)


You can MapSwipe!

Every day we use our phones. We tap, we read, we photograph, we chat, we view, and we connect. But wait! What if your ‘tapping’ time could help a humanitarian? Queue MapSwipe.

mapswipe_lockup_whiteblue larger

Your quick tapping decisions about images could save mappers time and help the most vulnerable. Satellite imagery for project regions are added to MapSwipe. Then, we give you project tasks focused on looking for key items. For example some projects will look for houses, if you see a house in a tile, you tap once for yes (tile turns green), if you are unsure you tap twice (tile turns yellow) or if the tile is flawed (blurry), then you tap three times (tile turns red). Multiple people look at the tiles so that we can crowdsource to higher accuracy. Once the project is completed, we share the curated data with mappers who will review and map the data on OpenStreetMap. All of this is to help humanitarians have the best map possible.

MapSwipe main project screen “In a humanitarian crisis, the location of the most vulnerable people is fundamental information for delivering food, shelter, medical care and other services where they are most needed. And, although it may be hard to believe, millions people around the world are not represented on any accessible map.” (Pete Masters, Missing Maps Coordinator, MSF, July 14, 2016)

MapSwipe is available today on the Google Play and Itunes stores. Download and MapSwipe Today!

MapSwipe is a Missing Maps project aimed to proactively map the places in the world where the most vulnerable people live before a crisis happens. Missing Maps is a partnership between Medecins sans Frontieres, American Red Cross, British Red Cross, Netherlands Red Cross, CartoONG, and Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team.

Please share MapSwipe widely with your friends and family. And, do let us know how we can improve. Help bit counts!

About MapSwipe Team and Project

MapSwipe was funded by MSF UK for the Missing Maps Project. Currently, all projects are for Missing Maps partners, but this might change in time. The tool was developed by an amazing team. Congratulations Ivan, Pim, Sadok, Alison, Pete, Astrid and Bennie. You all inspire me. (Note: My contribution of advisor was on my personal time as a proud Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team Board Member. )

Imagery is provided by Bing (Thanks Microsoft!).

Thanks for Mapswipebe a mobile volunteer with mapswipe


Data Driven Summer Schools

Summer is here in the northern hemisphere. My office is a ghost town with people on annual leave. Living in the Middle East means that I consider summer a time for major learning endeavors. Fortunately, many universities also see this opportunity.

The 2016 Big Data Peace and Justice Summer School has a great lineup of data leaders. Their aim is to connect researchers and practioners on how the data revolution is infusing peace and justice work. The application deadline is July 15th, 2016. The Peace Informatics Lab invites people to join for the Summer School on August 15 – 9, 2016. (Register here)

In a few weeks, I am off to teach at the ESA Earth Observation Summer School. I am excited about the topics and potential to co-create with students, fellow teachers and ESA leaders. (applications for this are closed)

Earth Observation summer school

What are you learning this summer? Taking any courses? Reading any ground-breaking books in your respective field?


What is in your Travel Go Bag?

There are many frequent travelers in my life. After yesterday’s incident at the Istanbul airport, I asked them what they have in their travel bags. (My thoughts are with the families and travelers affected by this horrible event.) As the night turned to morning, our collective list of items grew. One friend encouraged me to share it more widely so that others are prepared. While there may be many lists online, I am sharing because brilliant travelers in my network may have some new ideas for you. Frankly, I am going shopping this weekend to fill in some of my ‘go bag gaps.’

Traveling is better when you are prepared, especially with all the variables at play. Some of this won’t help in a crisis but maybe having a plan will keep things calmer:


  • Local Currency for destination
  • Currency for the stop-over
  • Back-up currency (eg. USD, Euro, Pounds)
  • Back up credit card, clear card for emergencies

There is no guarantee that the airport will have working ATMs. Plus, people can be targeted for thief at machines. After some fun traveling in Kenya (Bank cards would not work for some dumb reason), I try to carry USD to exchange in case of emergencies.


  • spare medicine, ibuprofen
  • Bandaids
  • tensor bandage
  • paracord
  • metallic pen (glass breaker)
  • Bring a change of basic cloths (undergarments)
  • Have a ‘backup wallet’ with expired cards, pointless cards and small currency. (why – To give up if robbed.)
  • protein bars
  • water purification tablets, http://lifestraw.com/
  • Deck of cards
  • foldable water bottles (e.g. http://hydrapak.com )
  • antiviral face mask
  • nitrile gloves
  • a knifeless multitool
  • handwipes
  • PVC insulation tape
  • selection of cableties
  • pocket mask (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pocket_mask)


  • headlight, flashlight
  • spare batteries
  • 1 – 2 Working SIM cards with international roaming where ever you go
  • Backup phone
  • Global Charger
  • 1 – 2 backup power chargers
  • charger(s) for my portable and mobile devices
  • offline map tools like OSMAnd


  • Contact your family/friends at each stopover, destination
  • Use social media at each stop. Some consider this a privacy risk, but then more people could help in case of an emergency so I default to posting just in case
  • Try to not check your bag. Pack light, pack smart.
  • Review the airport map before you go. Look like you ‘know’ where you are going. Chin up, no paper maps or travel guides
  • Have an emergency plan, share with your friends/family. Make sure they know all your flight details
  • Mediate on the plane on the tarmac. Be as calm as possible when you land
  • And keep spare money in your shoe or Bra
  • In some places, I keep a note in my bra with the address, emergency contact numbers.
  • paper copies of all your documents separate from the originals.
  • USB stick with passport and other documents copies
  • I also backup my computer’s data and carry the backup with me.
  • Comfortable shoes
  • Scarf- it is also a towel, a blanket
  • earplugs

Um, nitrile gloves and buttons as flashlights. Friends, you are amazing


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))


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.


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.)


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!


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:


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.

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