Crisis Mapping Somalia with the Diaspora

The state of Minnesota is home to the largest population of Somalis in North America. Like any Diaspora, the estimated 25,000 Somalis who live there ar closely linked to family members back home. They make thousands of phone calls every week to numerous different locations across Somalia. So why not make the Somali Diaspora a key partner in the humanitarian response taking place half-way across the world?

In Haiti, Mission 4636 was launched to crowdsource micro needs assessments from the disaster affected population via SMS. The project could not have happened without hundreds of volunteers from the Haitian Diaspora who translated and geo-referenced the incoming text messages. There’s no doubt that Diasporas can play a pivotal role in humanitarian response but they are typically ignored by large humanitarian organizations. This is why I’m excited to be part of an initiative that plans to partner with key members of the Diaspora to create a live crisis map of Somalia.

This is a mock-up for illustration only

The project is still in very early stages so there’s not much to show right now but I’m hopeful that the stars will align next week so we can formally launch the initiative. The basic game plan is as follows:

  • A short survey of some 10 questions is being drafted by public health professionals with experience in humanitarian response. These questions will try to capture the most essential indicators. More questions are be added at a later stage.
  • Humanitarian colleagues who have been working with the Somali Diaspora in Minnesota for years are now in the process of recruiting trusted members of the community.
  • These trusted members of the Diaspora will participate in a training this weekend on basic survey and interview methods. The training will also provide them with a hands-on introduction to the Ushahidi platform where they’ll  enter the survey results.
  • If everything goes well, these community members will each make several phone calls to friends and relatives back home next week. They’ll ask the questions from the survey and add the answers to the Ushahidi map. Elders in the community will fill out a paper-based form for other colleagues to enter online.
  • Trusted members of the Diaspora will continue to survey contacts back home on a weekly basis. New survey questions are likely to be added based on feedback from other humanitarian organizations. Surveys may also be carried out every other day or even on a daily basis for some of the questions.

If the pilot is successful, then colleagues in Minnesota may recruit additional trusted members of the community to participate in this live crisis mapping effort. There’s a lot more to the project including several subsequent phases but we’re still at the early stages so who knows where this will go. But yes, we’re thinking through the security implications, verification issues, data visualization features, necessary analytics, etc. If all goes well, there’ll be a lot more information to share next week in which case I’ll add more info here and also post an update on the Ushahidi blog.

11 responses to “Crisis Mapping Somalia with the Diaspora

  1. Awesome — I think leveraging the power of diaspora communities is the key to many future deployments as well.

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  5. H Patrick I’d especially like to be helpful with that. There’s a Somali community here in Faribault, Minnesota. I have some background in humanitarian aid, training, and surveys. Really exciting idea.

    • Hi Moira, many thanks for your note and kind offer to help. We’re currently waiting for our humanitarian implementing partner on next steps. Once we have an update, I’ll be sure to pass it on. Feel free to ping me again in a week or two. Thanks again.

  6. This is very interesting, I am really curious about the questionaire, I am working on applying social marketing and transmedia storytelling to the field of conflict and peacebuilding and will use similar methods. I am curious what kind of information is trying to be extracted? and besides gathering the info – will your diaspora counterparts also help in aid? my initial thought is that the diaspora communities connections might already be the lucky ones as they send remittances, so perhaps it is the secondary target group or perhaps tertiary that you will seek to reach (that is, friends or acquaintances of family members in Somalia). Once the info is gathered what is the next action step to the project in order to help those that have answered the question positively? Lots of questions, I am very interested in this sort of project and what is done with the formative research that is gathered. I am working on creating social marketing projects (much like public health workers might) but instead of health issues, to influence peaceful behavior in conflicting parties.

  7. Hi Patrick , thank you for launching Crisis Mapping Somalia , how can we (Somali Diaspora) help you in implementing this humanitarian project.
    1-How is the platform to be deployed -how it is going to serve in this crisis ?
    2- Somalia is a country which has frequent and returning drought , so the platform should be designed to take into account also about the future challenges .
    3-When there is rain , after the drought , which is also expected , the weak becomes weaker , and thus victims of disease circle. How we can help .

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  9. Hi All,

    Together with several partners, Al Jazeera and Ushahidi have just launched this project:

    But we need your help in translating and mapping the text messages we are receiving from Somalia. All you need is to speak Somali/English and have access to the Internet. To translate the messages, please follow this link:

    Feel free to share with trusted members of the wider Somali Diaspora. All the messages have to be translated by Wednesday for Al Jazeera to go live with this project on TV/web.

    Thank you!

  10. Pingback: Map or Be Mapped: Otherwise You Don’t Exist | iRevolution

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