The devastating earthquake that struck Port-au-Prince on January 12, 2010 killed as many as 200,000 people. My fiancée and five close friends were in Haiti at the time and narrowly escaped a collapsing building. They were some of the lucky few survivors. But I had no knowledge that they had survived until 8 hours or so after the earthquake because we were unable get any calls through. The Haiti Crisis Map I subsequently spearheaded still stands as the most psycho-logically and emotionally difficult project I’ve ever been a part of.
The heroes of this initiative and the continuing source of my inspiration today were the hundreds and hundreds of volunteers who ensured the Haiti Crisis Map remained live for so many weeks. The majority of these volunteers were of course the Haitian Diaspora as well as Haitians in country. I had the honor of meeting and working with one of these heroes while in Port-au-Prince, Kurt Jean-Charles, the CEO of the Haitian software company Solutions.ht. I invited Kurt to give the Keynote at the 2010 International Crisis Mappers Conference (ICCM 2010) and highly recommend watching the video above. Kurt speaks directly from the heart.
Another personal hero of mine (pictured above) is Sabina Carlson—now Sabina Carlson Robillard following her recent wedding to Louino in Port-au-Prince! She volunteered as the Haitian Diaspora Liaison for the Haiti Crisis Map and has been living in Cité Soleil ever since. Needless to say, she continues to inspire all of us who have had the honor of working with her and learning from her.
Finally, but certainly not (!) least, the many, many hundreds of amazing volun-teers who tirelessly translated tens of thousands of text messages for this project. Thanks to you, some 1,500 messages from the disaster-affected population were added to the live crisis map of Haiti. This link points to the only independent, rigorous and professional evaluation of the project that exists. I highly reco-mmend reading this report as it comprises a number of important lessons learned in crisis mapping and digital humanitarian response.
In the meantime, please consider making a donation to Fonkoze, an outstanding local organization committed to the social and economic improvement of the Haitian poor. Fonkoze is close to my heart not only because of the great work that they do but also because its staff and CEO were the ones who ensured the safe return of my fiancée and friends after the earthquake. In fact, my fiancée has continued to collaborate with them ever since and still works on related projects in Haiti. She is headed back to Port-au-Prince this very weekend. To make a tax deductible donation to Fonkoze, please visit this link. Thank you.
My thoughts & prayers go out to all those who lost loved ones in Haiti years ago.
I recently had the pleasure to meet with Al-Jazeera’s Social Media Team in Doha, Qatar. It was immediately clear that they were also interested in partnering on a joint project in Somalia when I suggested a few ideas. Several weeks later, this project is almost ready to launch. The purpose of this initiative is to let Somalis speak for themselves and to amplify those voices in the international media.
As Al-Jazeera has noted, Somalia is quickly slipping from global media attention. With Somalia out of the headline news, however, advocacy and lobbying groups will find it increasingly difficult to place pressure on policymakers and humanitarian organiza-tions to scale their intervention in this major crisis. This project therefore offers a direct and innovative way to keep Somalia in the international news. The project described below is the product of a novel collaborative effort between Al-Jazeera, Ushahidi, Souktel and Crowdflower in direct partnership with the Somali Diaspora.
The project will “interview” ordinary Somalis in Somalia and let them speak for themselves in the international media space. Interview questions drafted by Al-Jazeera will be broadcast via SMS by Souktel to 10% of their existing 50,000+ subscribers in the country. The interview questions will also invite Somalis to share in which town they are based. (Note that we are reviewing the security protocols for this). The Somali Diaspora will then translate and geolocate incoming text messages from Somali to English using a customized Crowdflower plugin. The processed messages will then be pushed (in both Somali and English) to a live Ushahidi map. Al-Jazeera will promote the live map across their main-stream and social media channels. Mapped SMS’s will each have a comments section for viewers and readers to share their thoughts. Al-Jazeera will then select the most compelling responses and text these back to the original senders in Somalia. This approach is replicable and scalable given that the partners and technologies are largely in place already.
In sum, the purpose of this project is to increase global media attention on Somalia by letting Somali voices take center stage—voices that are otherwise not heard in the international, mainstream media. If journalists are not going to speak about Somalia, then lets invite Somalis speak to the world themselves. The project will highlight these voices on a live, public map for the world to engage in a global conversation with the people of Somalia, a conversation in which Somalis and the Diaspora are themselves at the centerfold.
If you want to help out with this initiative, we’re looking for Somali-English speakers to translate and map the incoming text messages. It’s important that volunteers are familiar with the location of many cities, towns, etc., in Somalia in order to map the SMS’s. If you have the skills and time, then please add your name, email address and short bio here—would be great to have you on the team!
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.
I thrive when working across disciplines, building diverse cross-cutting coalitions to create, translate and apply innovative strategies driven by shared values. This has enabled the 20+ organizations I’ve worked with, and those I’ve led, to accelerate meaningful and inclusive social impact.
Which is why I've been called a social entrepreneur and a translational leader by successful innovators. President Clinton once called me a digital pioneer, while recent colleagues describe me as kind, dedicated, values-driven, authentic, creative, ethical, and impactful.