Tag Archives: Ushahidi

Mapping to Decrease Maternal Mortality


Maternal mortality rates in India have been high over the past several years. This resulted in the government providing free maternal health services from governmental health facilities. However, there has been a problem with women being charged informal fees. This means that when a woman goes to a health facility, she is still getting charged for services that are meant to be free. This has especially been a problem in Utter Pradesh, a state in northern India. As a result of these informal fees, a campaign called Mera Swasthya Meri Aawaz (My Health, My Voice) has been launched. This program uses mobile phones to monitor informal payments in the Azamgarh and Mirzapur districts. People just have to use their mobile phone to call a toll-free number and report an out of pocket expense. These reports are then reported on a map, a deployment from Ushahidi, showing the facilities where informal payments were demanded, the amount charged, and the types of services that the informal payments were charged for. This information is being used collectively by community based organizations, women’s groups, and government health officials to try to end the practice of charging informal fees.

Before reading about this program, I had never heard of using mapping in this way. While this is not a disaster situation, it is important to stop the charging of informal payments in order to reduce maternal mortality in the long run. Not only will this map allow the government to track facilities that are charging informal payments so that they can put a stop to it, it also allows women to avoid going to facilities where they can see that informal payments are being. While it is already a big step that there has been reporting about informal fees, I hope that the government and community organizations will be able to use this map to put a stop to informal fees for good.

iHub: Tech Networking in Nairobi


Across the globe there are many examples of ICT significantly increasing business productivity. In Nairobi, Kenya iHub, a seeks to do just that. Conceived of by the developers of Ushahidi, iHub provides an open forum for members of the tech community including programmers, designers and researchers in Kenya to exchange information and facilitate entrepreneurship. Their goal is to build an ecosystem of both financial and intellectual support around technological innovators and help ideas grow to their desired scale. To date, the community workspace counts over 12,000 members and iHub has developed partnerships with Intel, Google, Samsung, Omidyar, Nation Media, and Hivos.

iHub’s success in networking within the ICT industry are quite clear, but are iHub’s activities truly catalyzing the Kenyan tech community’s growth? Further, is the growth of this industry having impacts on the lives of those not directly associated with the tech community? Membership in iHub is open only to those who are already in the tech field, which may serve as a barrier to potential ICT users. Additionally, it may be challenging for members to progress through the three levels iHub membership. The most basic level of membership, white gives users access to a weekly newsletter, job board postings, event invitations, and entry into the physical iHub workspace one day a week. Members may then apply for green, and finally red memberships which offer further opportunities to grow tech projects and network with investors. However, red membership requires a payment of Kshs 15,000.

Any successful ICT project within a country’s business sector must be accompanied by a desirable business environment and solid governance. Since Kenya is no stranger to charges of corruption, it is important for the government to ensure that it helps to facilitate a climate that is attractive to investors. iHub is a great example of a community driven initiative to spur development within Kenya’s business sector, but its participants would do well to recognize that it will require collaboration with the Kenyan government to be most effective.

Check out iHub’s activities on their website, and read what a UNDP chief thinks about their initiatives here.

BRCK: A Backup Generator For The Internet

For those who live or work in developing areas, the nettlesome pursuit of connecting to the internet is, if not impossible, a chore and luxury. In an ever-connecting world where the value and need for reliable internet is becoming vital for nearly every aspect of development, the modes by which we connect–i.e. ethernet, routers and USB devices–have changed little. Thus, one’s internet connection is only as reliable as the surrounding infrastructure–which, in the context of this blog, is more prone to random blackouts and painfully dated technology than the nearest Apple store. As such, there’s a market-gap for a product that can withstand the barriers of connectivity in regions lacking dependable service.


Meet BRCK, the latest innovation from Ushahidi. BRCK is your home router after a few years in the Peace Corps–its leaner, stronger, and more versatile. The device can connect to WiFi, 3G, 4G mobile networks and Ethernet; when one service fails, BRCK automatically switches to the next available one. Say your reading this blog in Northern Uganda using WiFi via the BRCK and the power goes out. Given that there’s a mobile network, you’ll be able to read on and on while BRCK runs off its 8-hour battery. As Ushahidi likes to put it, “it’s the equivalent of a backup generator for the net.” BRCK also has a 16 GB hard drive and can be used as file sharing source–think “cloud”–and can support up to 20 devices in multiple rooms.

Albeit a handy tool, BRCK far from solves the problem of someone trying to gain access to the internet in, say, anyplace without a mobile network. The product still relies on the surrounding technological infrastructure–if your off the grid, you’re off the internet. Moreover, you wont be seeing a lot of school children or small shop owners lugging these things around; BRCK’s currently go for $200 USD.

Nonetheless, the BRCK is a step forward in the way people connect to the internet or at the very least provides the blueprint for a multifaceted router. It’s still a temporary, limited solution for broken infrastructures that need tremendous improvement–but that kind of progress is slower than dial-up. In the meantime, grab a BRCK.

Mapping Violence with Plan Benin

In addition to producing the ICT4D project guide, Plan also is running a number of it’s own projects to promote child rights through participation and media in Africa. One interesting example of this is Plan’s program to increase the reporting of child abuse in Benin. In Benin, reporting violence generally goes against the cultural norm and many feel that they either don’t have access to communication with authorities or that the authorities won’t act on the information. To address this issue, plan has partnered with Ushahidi to produce crowdsourced maps on incidences  of violence.

The system allows victims or witnesses to send text messages to a special number through an application called Frontline SMSImage to report the abuse. The website is carefully monitored and all reported cases are verified. Children can also email their stories or send audio or video testimonials. This allows the project to gain a deeper more personal understanding of the accounts. Once the stories have been verified, they appear on an Ushahidi map. This both allows locals to be aware of incidents of violence and alerts the authorities. Plan can also try to match children and their families to the appropriate support service.

While mapping cases of violence is a valuable tool for raising awareness and changing the culture against silence, privacy is still a top concern. Linda Raftree, one of the project coordinators, describes the challenge in the Plan report as such, “‘Can we capture all the information that comes in, yet scrub it before publication on Ushahidi so that it doesn’t identify the victim or alleged perpetrators, yet keep it in a file for the local authorities to follow up and respond? And a second challenge: If everyone knows everything that happens in the community,how can we ensure privacy and confidentiality for those who report?”’ These are all quite important to consider since the backlash from perpetrators can be severe. However, I think that crowdsourced mapping is a great wait to begin to expose acts of violence without revealing too much about the victim.

As with most ICT4D projects, this technology presents a number of other challenges and limitations that have to do with the digital divide. Of course, if a person doesn’t have access to a cell phone or computer, than this technology is useless. There are also issues with illiteracy. Many people who are illiterate would prefer to call instead of text or email but the system is not set up for this. This would require phone operators and make the system more like a hotline. Also, sending text messages is not free so some people don’t have enough phone credit to text in a report. PlanBenin says that they are working with the government to try to set up a charge free number.

Because of all of these problems, this project is not the ultimate solution to child abuse. However, it is beginning a discussion and working to change a culture of silence and abuse. I’m not sure how effective this technology will be right now for bringing individuals to justice but it does work at the root of the problem so I think it definitely has merit and is worth expanding.

From Matatus to Mobile Phones; Kenya’s Growing Tech Success

Throughout the semester we have discussed multiple application of ICTs that aid the the development of nations around the world. While many of these are practical and goal based, I stumbled across and fun an innovatice applicaction of information communication technologies that boosts the economy of the given nation, connects customs of the country to the world and is a catalyst for fun.images-3

The African nation of Kenya has been at the forefront of ICT development for a long time, with incredibly high rates of mobile phone use relative to the rest of Africa. A newer start-up had been in the video game world. As mentioned in the Eocnomist’s Article Upwardly Mobile, Kenya has taken one of their craziest ways and turned it into enterntainment. In the capital city minibuses called matatus fill the streets moving with homicidal turns, twists, starts and stops. Signals are seldomly used, and brakes are used sparingly. With all the excitment they have to offer, Planat Rackus, a Nairobi based start-up, released “Ma3Racer”, a mobile phone game where each user steers a matatu down the street, with the quite unrealistic goal of avoiding pedestrians. Within a month of the games release, .25 million people in 169 countries around the world had downloaded the game.

This game brings the exciting street life of Nairobi to the world, but also demonstrates the growing trend of starts-ups popping up in the past few years. These companies are part of a quiet tech boom in Kenya happening alongside the coffee and safari industries the nation is known for. In 2010, Kenya’s tech related exports reached $360 million, and Nairobi is now known as the “Silicon Savannah”. However it still hold one crucially differential factors from its silican counterparts. Almost all of the tech firms have desinged their programs from mobile phones rather than computers. Why, well for ever 100 kenyans, 74 have cell phone, and nearly 99% of internet subscriptions in Kenya are on mobile phones


As a result of the nation’s tech success, investors ore flooding in. Ranging from small firms like Nailib and 88mph Ngong Road, to Kenya’s largest bank, Equity Bank, opening an “innovation centre” the city has become a melting pot for innovation and growth, focusing most of the investment funds on on mobile technology. GSMA, a global association of mobile operators, is about to open an Africa office, also on Ngong Road.


The tech investment is spurring an increase in Aid, inspriring NGO’s to focus on devleopment of the tech economy alongside agricultural and humanitarian assistance. This growth focuses on solutions to many local problems, but also holds a valuable spot in the global stage, with braggign rights to platforms like M-PESA and Ushahidi. Head of Google in Kenya, Joe Mucheru, says “We need to solve the nitty-gritty first and then we can invent new things”. This is where we say programs like M-Farm, a service that gives farmers access to markt prices via text, and allows them to group and sell products. This helps Kenya, and can be exported to other poor coutnries.

Over all the movement towards mobile phone application development in Kenya will allow the nation to continue to grow in all sectors of the economy, regardless of there geographic position or underdeveloped past.


Ushahidi open source platform

In class we have briefly talked about Ushahidi, an open source platform that allows users to send crisis reports through a variety of distribution channels including SMS, email, Twitter and the web. The idea started during the post-election upheaval in Kenya when popular blogger, Ory Okolloh, asked her viewers to send in emails describing events that were not being reported.  Information began flowing into her site faster than she could manage.  Okolloh sought the help of two software developers to build a program that could place the reports on Google Maps.  The basic system has since transformed into comprehensive participatory platform that is used to track crises throughout the world.

As Ushahidi has become more widely used, the program has encountered a challenge of dealing with the plethora of information users submit. As this diagram shows below, the crowd-sourced information was easier for people to report than the system to manage. How could they decide what data was important and ensure that they did not waste any imperative crisis information?

The developers addressed this issue by incorporating the SwiftRiver platform to help make sense of the excessive information.  The platform allows Ushahidi to analyze information, indentify trends, and rate data to filter and refine the information they receive.  This addition to Ushahidi is able to better verify reports and produce more accurate crisis locations.  To read more about Ushahidi and it’s development check out this case study

Pakreport: Crowdsourcing for the Pakistan Floods

Pakreport is an ICT initiative that began in response to the 2010 Pakistani floods. The initiative’s case study describes the program as bringing together crowdsourcing companies, crisis mapping organizations, relief agencies, and engineers in a disaster management effort. Pakreport achieved this through utilizing Ushahidi software in two forms of crowdsourcing: the use of people to provide reports from the ground and use of people around the globe to translate, categorise and geolocate incoming messages. Once this information was processed it was displayed on pakreport.org in an online map for all to see.

As seen in Haiti’s Mission 4636 which we discussed in class, the main source of information for Pakreport was from on the ground assessments from local relief agencies. Similar to 4636, Pakreport set up a 3441 SMS code with the message “what you see about floods,” which was spread via the mass media and relief agency workers. This led to an exponential increase in data, most of which needed to be translated from Pashto or Urdu to English. As in Haiti, volunteers from around the world came together to help evaluate these messages. In the end Pakreport collected over 1,500 real time reports from people on the ground through SMS, while crowd volunteers completed over 2,500 categorizations of reports. Additionally, the initiative created general mapping knowledge and information in Pakistan that did not previously exist.

I think crowdsourcing is an amazing way to provide disaster management in the digital age. The ENTIRE cost of Pakreport’s project came to $7,000, all of which came from a fundraising campaign at globalgiving.org. The microtasking platform and technical services were provided by CrowdFlower for free, as well as the time and expertise of three independent engineers. The idea that an undefined public from around the world can spontaneously come together to help a foreign community in their time of need is a really unique concept, one that is endlessly relevant and important to our ditigal age.

How does Cognitive Surplus relate to ICT4D

     After reading Richard Heeks “ICT4D Manifesto“, which discusses the potentials (and limitations) of information and communication technologies in past development and in today’s “ICT4D 2.0 age”, we watched Clay Shirky’s TED talk titled How Cognitive Surplus Will Change the World.

In his lecture, Shirky discusses how digital technology combined with human generosity have created a new collaborative and social idea know as “cognitive surplus”. The 21st century has given us not only more free time, but also the ability and tools to let the consumers become the creators, who often times create for free. These technological and social changes are creating whole new opportunities for ICT and this in turn relates to ICT4D. Shirky’s point is not only are we in an age where this abundant creation is possible through new knowledge and interconnectedness, but that it is being done for pleasure, for “intrinsic motivations”, and for our fellow people.

This is not the neoliberal, top down, design of the past in how ICT worked, but a grassroots and collaborative effort that falls more into capabilities approach and post developmentalism. Individuals around the world are creating new things for others’ benefit, whether it be a simple laugh at an LOLcat or crisis mapping using the Ushahidi model, both examples Shirky discussed. These consumer created tools can then be used in development, like the crisis mapping in Kenya, and even better is that they were free and open to the public. This is not knowledge kept away for profit, but freedom of information and tools to better others. This is ICT4D 2.0 at work; innovative, using existing technologies, and collaborating across the world.

ICT4D Professional Profile: Ory Okolloh

Ory Okolloh is a Kenyan activist, lawyer, and blogger who is currently employed with Google as the Policy Manager for Africa. In addition, Okolloh has also been known to create a number of websites (engaging in mobile phones, social media, and Google Maps) in order to increase the use of communication and information practices in underdeveloped nations, specifically within the region of Africa where her geographical area of focus is. I chose to write about Ory Okolloh because I feel as though she is an incredible example of applying ICTs to underdeveloped nations by identifying a need and then applying that need to practices of communication and information.

Okolloh’s first ICT4D endeavor was during the year of 2006, where she had co-founded the parliamentary watchdog site Mzalendo, defined as Patriot in Swahili. The website’s mission is to “keep an eye on the Kenyan government” (www.mzalendo.com).  In addition to Mzalendo, Okolloh had also assisted in creating the website Ushahidi, defined as testimony in Swahili. Ushahidi collects and records witness reports of violence by using technological resources such as text messages and Google Maps.

Furthermore, although Okolloh has worked with underdeveloped nations through a number of ICT4D practices, she also has her own individual online blog that is called Kenyan Pundit. Kenyan Pundit was created in result of Okolloh’s  website Ushahidi. Reporting on happenings in Kenya and also referencing other Kenyan blogs of similarity, it acts as an outlet of information and communication for individuals that reside in Kenya and within other nations around the world. However, Okolloh has decided to resign as Ushahidi’s executive director, leaving a good-bye post on Kenyan Pundit. Okolloh states that since the beginning of the creation of Ushahidi “it has been a crazy ride…from producing an incredible open source platform and working towards scale, to building and working with an incredibly talented team, to seeing multiple uses of Ushahidi around the world, to numerous awards and press mentions.” 
For me, what has always been the most important aspect of the work we do has remained simple, building a tool that makes it easy for individuals and groups to tell their stories, and making it easy for these stories to be mapped/visualized. Ushahidi has grown to be that and much more, thanks especially to the wider community, which saw potential uses beyond crisis reporting and who largely shaped our growth and direction to date be it through translation efforts (Ushahidi now available in 10 languages!), or custom themes, or pushing for a hosted version (Crowdmap), or challenging us to address the shortcomings of the platform (through tools like Swift River and our community resource page) (Okolloh, www.kenyanpundit.com). Nevertheless, what Okolloh is most proud of, is the fact that Ushahidi’s platform has extended to underdeveloped nations around the world, each attempting to diminish the digital divide and continue to strive for increased accessibility of communication and information practices.



ICT4D Professional Profile: David Kobia


I chose David Kobia, co-founder of Ushahidi, http://ushahidi.com ,for my Thought Leader Profile because of his unique story and tremendous, ongoing contributions to the development world. Born and raised in Kenya, Kobia came to the United States to study computer science at the University of Alabama in 1988. After some time, however, Kobia dropped out to pursue a career in web developing. Soon enough, Kobia was employed by several top companies, including Reader’s Digest, Times, Inc. and Southern Progress as a web designer. Kobia always has been, and still is very involved online. He frequently tweets, @dkobia, and updates his blog, www.dkfactor.com, with useful information relating to development. It was this constant Internet activity, which lead to his involvement with Ushahidi.

After shutting down one of his online forums which had begun to take a radical, uncontrollable turn, enabling insensitive information and communication pertaining to violent events in his own homeland, Kobia was keen to make up for this mistake. It was at this time that Erik Hersman approached David about creating Ushahidi. Kobia immediately joined the team, and still holds an important position, as Director of Technology and Development. Kobia has created and owns several other online companies and resources (www.kobia.net), in addition to his ongoing work to improve Ushahidi.

David Kobia has received international accolades for his work with Ushahidi, including Humanitarian of the Year, and has been included on multiple prestigious lists highlighting accomplished innovators in the ICT4D field. What I find most remarkable about this admirable leader in development is his loyalty to Kenya, his first home, despite his decades spent in America. Kobia firmly believes in the ability of the African people, not the white Westerners, to achieve better levels of development. In support of this belief, Kobia has constructed a technology innovation center in his hometown of Nairobi to stimulate the development potential of the area. Kobia believes the African people will soon live up to their potential, confirming, “There’s a pool of mind-blowing talent just waiting to be tapped” (http://www.technologyreview.com/TR35/Profile.aspx?TRID=947).