When a disaster strikes, such as a hurricane or a major earthquake, relief efforts are often hampered by destroyed or damaged ground infrastructure, mostly roads, bridges, and railway networks. In the days following such a disaster, relief efforts hinge on air transport capacity, which only depends on a clear runway or landing sites for helicopters. First responders, who focus on saving lives, are primarily aviation units of the armed forces or law enforcement.
Can the sharing of technical mapping tools and datasets help to change longstanding political relations? This is exactly what’s happening between the World Bank and some of its longstanding advocacy CSO interlocutors. Several recent training sessions and technical workshops co-organized with CSOs on the Bank’s open data tools, are leading to increased collaboration around a common transparency and accountability agenda.
One example is a hands-on training workshop co-organized by the World Bank and the Bank Information Center (BIC) on the Bank’s Open Development Programs on March 7, 2012. Some 20 representatives of well known policy advocacy CSOs from the Washington area (see photo) participated in the two-hour session which featured presentations on a number of Bank data platforms and search tools: Projects and Operations, Open Data, Mapping for Results, and Open Finances. With individual computers stations and Internet access, participants were able to carry out individualized exercises and interactive tutorials. Building on the positive feedback received from this session, an extended 4-hour training session was held during the Spring Meetings on April 18. Some 25 CSO and Youth leaders from developing countries participated in this second session. (see Summary)
Development organizations operate at the global level, partnering both with countries to implement country strategies, and within sectors to tackle sectoral challenges. NGOs on the other hand, operate at the grassroots level, working with individuals towards the betterment of communities. Development organizations have the advantage of resources, many years of experience and knowledge but are generally several degrees removed from the individual. NGOs are in touch with the needs of citizens and are able to respond quickly to challenges but unable to scale up. The two have worked together, but so much more can be done. Over the last several years the dynamic has undergone a fundamental change. Cue to technology, which is fast emerging as a game changer in the world of development. Technology enables linkages based on mutual agreement (e.g. development institutions-NGOs) as well as linkages that evolve organically (e.g. a grassroots human rights group in Kenya that builds a relationship with a Swedish development institution focused on social inclusion).
If the earthquake in Haiti and the tsunami off Indonesia in 2004 have shown us anything it is that large scale natural catastrophes are not rare. Calamities that claim tens of thousands of lives happen with regularity (about every four years on average). Many others claim a smaller number of lives but are equally devastating to local communities. The claims that these disasters are unique “100 year events”, which cannot be predicated and therefore cannot be planned for, are increasingly hollow.
Access is the big topic when people discuss ICT on this blog. The digital divide is still the biggest obstacle for using ICT in development effectively. The access issue has more than one side: It's not only about access to the technology, it's also about access to content that feeds into the technology.
A couple of weeks ago, a few World Bank staff members teamed up with Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, NASA-AMES, disaster relief experts, and the software developer community in Mountain View, California to help find better ways to support disaster relief efforts.
The result, the Random Hacks of Kindness Codejam, brought together about 150 people at the Hacker Dojo, and resulted in some innovative hacks (or solutions to technical problems) that will hopefully shape the way the developer community supports disaster relief efforts going forward.
There has been a lot of coverage of the event already (including a great post on the East Asia & Pacific on the rise blog), so instead of going in to that, here's a quick list of posts and articles about the event that you might want to check out:
- East Asia & Pacific on the rise: Random Hacks of Kindness: software developers create and share code to tackle disaster relief
- Humanitarian FOSS Project: Random Hacks of Kindness
- Emergency Management: Random Hacks of Kindness
- In Case of Emergency Blog: “Random Hacks Of Kindness” Starts Today
- openNASA: Random Hacks of Kindness
- CNET: Hackers Create Tools for Disaster Relief
- CNET Photos: Random Hacks of Kindness
- ESRI at the Random Hacks of Kindness Codejam
- AFCEA: “Random Hacks of Kindness” to Aid Emergency Response
- CMU: Carnegie Mellon Team Wins First Prize at Random Hacks of Kindness
The author, Kwasi Owusu Gyeabour, won third place in an international youth essay competition sponsored by the World Bank and other partners. He answered the question “How can you tackle climate change through youth-led solutions?” The awards were announced in Seoul in June, 2009.
“There is never a time in the future in which we will work out our salvation. The challenge is in the moment, the time is always now.” -James Baldwin (1924 - 1987) Nobody Knows My Name, "Faulkner and Desegregation”
It is a privilege to be called on to share ideas on issues of our time, issues that can be solved through youthful action. In my essay, “Greening the Ghanaian Youth” I proposed several ideas that would help tackle climate change. Here is a sample of the ones I consider most practical.
Youth action at the community level is the most potent force in our fight against rapid climate change. So I proposed the establishment of a Green Sector Mutual Fund. This community-based fund will invest in firms that operate in the green/environmental sector. Now I consider this feasible because I have friends who have established mutual funds such as the University of Ghana Campus Mutual Fund which have turned out successful. The success of a fund mostly depends on factors such as advertising and the prestige and market reach of the fund managers. Most asset management firms these days would jump at the opportunity to manage something ethical just to create a sense of social responsibility and goodwill.