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Innovation

How 'Civic Hacking' Answered Haiti Disaster

Tom Grubisich's picture

From the tragedy and wreckage of the Haitian earthquake come amazing lessons about how information technology and social media can bring help and hope to people trapped in catastrophic circumstances.

A good place to see how this is happening is the Social Entrepreneurship website.  Crisis camps of "civic hacking" throughout the U.S. and abroad are quickly producing base-layer maps that connect Haiti's thousands of orphans with potential adoption families, mobilizing speakers of Creole (photo), and delivering myriad other tech-driven emergency assistance with few layers of action-delaying bureaucracy.

The camps were set up by Crisis Commons, an international volunteer network of tech professionals.  The first CrisisCamp was actually held well before the Haiti earthquake -- in July 2009, at the World Bank.  Participants (scroll down to "Attendee List") included a rich cross section of representatives -- public, private, nonprofit -- from the sometimes rivalrous world of development aid.  "Us" and "them" suddenly became "we."

Civic hacking's Haiti successs stories are producing a flexible template for how emergency assistance can be delivered in other disasters, including those where climate change is at least a secondary cause, like storms and flooding.  Civic hacking's lessons will surely be extended to development aid in general, especially in countries with weak capacity.  Information technology can deepen and broaden capacity, and fast, as the proliferation of cellphones in Sub-Sahran Africa, South Asia, and other developing regions has been proving for years.

Knowledge in the era of decentralization

Aleem Walji's picture

Working in the innovation space actually means thinking a lot about how we source and organize knowledge. That's definitely an area that is changing fast. Here's how I am thinking about what this means for the World Bank.

We're moving away from a world in which knowledge is centralized and resides primarily in any one organization, even an organization as complex as the World Bank or even a university. Web 2.0, particularly interactive platforms such as blogs and other social media tools, now makes it possible for a wide range of actors to co-create, critique, and share knowledge in a variety of ways. What that means for institutions that aim to be knowledge centers is that they will have to source knowledge from wherever it lies (infrequently in one place), interact with it (critique it, interpret it, build upon it), and connect increasing numbers of people to it.

Why Climate Adaptation Has to Begin at Home

Tom Grubisich's picture

DM2009 finalists focused on community-based adaptation (CBA) to climate change because the struggle against intensifying drought, storms, flooding, and rising sea levels in developing countries often must begin not in national ministries but at home.  Why that's so is summed up cogently in this slide show from CARE, the global  organization that focuses on helping the poorest individuals and households  The slide show was presented at the pre-Copenhagen U.N. climate meeting in Poznan, Poland, in December 2008, but it's as relevant today as it was then.  Maybe more so.

'Some Current Approaches to Climate Adaptation May Bypass Local Institutions'

Tom Grubisich's picture

Carbon dioxide -- the chief cause of manmade global warming -- doesn't park itself only in the atmosphere over major emitting countries.  So, obviously, the response to climate change requires global action.  But drought, storms, flooding, and rising sea levels demand climate adaptation tailored to circumstances that will vary by region and even locality.  For example, farmers in one part of southern Zambia may have to respond with a hybrid maize seed that differs significantly from what needs to be planted in another part of that climate-besieged food bowl.  The issue in southern Zambia is not just more intense drought, but how it can, and does, vary in intensity even within one region.  Dry weather may be so severe in one area that farmers there may have to give up maize cultivation and plant an entirely different crop.

Such fine-tuned local adaptation can't come primarily out of ministries of the national governments of developing countries trying to cope with the mounting adverse impacts of climate change on people and resources.  It requires local institutions to meet the capacity gap.  But national governments aren't collaborating that closely with civil society at the community level.

This from the new book Social Dimensions of Climate Change (World Bank, 2010):

"It is unfortunate that some current approaches to adaptation planning and financing may bypass local institutions.  The current push to formulate national adaptation plans of action [NAPAs] seems to have missed the opportunity to propose adaptation projects for community- and local-level public, private, or civic institutions."

Apply Now for Tech Awards

Tom Grubisich's picture

The Tech Awards, a signature program of the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, CA, honors innovators from around the world who are applying technology to address humanity’s most urgent challenges.

In partnership with Santa Clara University’s Center for Science, Technology, and Society, 15 Laureates are selected annually and $50,000 is awarded to one Laureate in each category: Environment, Economic Development, Education, Equality, and Health.

Individuals as well as nonprofit and commercial organizations are eligible. Anyone may submit a nomination. Self-nominations are accepted and encouraged.

Deadline for nominations is March 31. Deadline for final applications is May 5.

This year’s Laureates will be honored during a week of activities in Silicon Valley leading up to The Tech Awards Tenth Annual Gala on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2010.

DM2009 Finalists Build Strong Presence on Blog

Tom Grubisich's picture

DM2009 finalists have been major participants in this blog.  Since the site re-launched on Oct. 27, 2009, 33 finalists from 25 countries have contributed 12 articles, been interviewed 14 times, quoted 18 times, and commented twice.  Here's a breakdown of finalist contributions by country.  The linked names will take you to the finalists' projects, and the linked titles to the finalists' contributions.

 

Bangladesh

 

Belize

 

Ecuador

 

El Salvador

 

Ghana

 

India

 

Indonesia

 

Kenya

 

Laos

 

Maldives

 

Mali

 

Mexico

 

Mozambique

 

Nepal

 

Nicaragua

 

Nigeria

 

Peru

 

Philippines

 

Russia

 

Samoa

 

Serbia

 

Tanzania

 

Vanuatu

 

Venezuela

 

Vietnam

 

All finalists also contributed videos to the DM Channel on YouTube (featured on the upper-right-hand side of this page), and some participated in video interviews that are also included in the Channel.

 

How to Help Least Developed Countries in Climate Crisis

Tom Grubisich's picture

Least Developed Countries, we know, will be heavily impacted by climate change.  Indeed, drought, storm-caused flooding, rising sea levels, and heat waves are already taking their tolls in those 50-some nations.  But LDCs don't have enough resources to adapt adequately to adverse weather that regularly devastates communities and their ecosystems, reinforcing poverty.   The International Institute for Environment and Development details this mounting problem on its website.  It's not just the costs of adaptation for LDCs, but also a shortage of human resources, which, as the Institute says, are needed for "pressing and clearly definable issues such as health, employment, housing and education."

One way out of this bind is what the Institute is doing through its climate-change initiative -- "supporting, increasing and utilising the capacity of development practitioners, government agencies, NGOs and community-based organisations to enhance resilience to climate change."

DM2009 and its finalists are a perfect fit.

The IIED was founded in 1971 by economist Barbara Ward, a pioneer in promoting sustainable development, who frequently wrote about the disparities she saw in global wealth distribution.

The above graphic -- from the IIED -- lists LDCs, including Small Island Developing States (SIDS), which are especially vulnerable to rising sea levels.

'I Explained It to My Daughter, and She Understood'

Tom Grubisich's picture

If Sergio Margulis didn't grow up to be an environmental economist, he could have, no doubt, become an equally successful stand-up comic.  Who else could get some laughs when trying to explain the econometrics of climate-change adaptation?

The occasion was the recent World Bank-sponsored panel discussion on the draft report "The Costs to Developing Countries of Adapting to Climate Change," of which Margulis was co-author.  Of course, Margulis' primary intention wasn't to get his audience to laugh, but to understand a complex but increasingly important issue that's going to occupy global attention for perhaps the rest of the century as developing and developed countries try to put a ceiling on more global warming.

Margulis, Lead Environmental Economist with the World Bank's Environment Department, was joined at the panel by report co-author Urvashi Narain, Senior Environmental Economist at the World Bank; Otaviano Canuto, Vice President and Head of the Poverty Reduction and Economic Management (PREM) Network at the World Bank, and Warren Evans, Director of the World Bank's Environment Department, who moderated the standing-room-only event.

Here's the video of the discussion.  (Sorry we couldn't embed it.)

DM2009 Winner Sees Public-Private Gap on Climate Adaptation

Carlos Daniel Vecco Giove's picture

In my country of Peru, climate adaptation planning at a national level isn't effective.  In fact, there aren’t any plans to speak of.

It would be great if all civil society groups could help to build an effective national plan that would produce results benefiting people and resources.  But this will require a process, and there is a lot to be done.

This not only a problem for government.  Even among NGOs there are factors that limit the participation of all organizations and people.

In our experience as a small organization, we were able to bring change in a concrete way at the regional level after a long and big effort. Our achievements were ignored during a long time by the main public institutions and big NGO.  Only after 10 years of hard work with scarce resources are we beginning to see results in terms of a change in the attitude of politicians that govern the region.

We are supporting in a very important way the regional political environment. But it is necessary to show how a small project like ours, which is being co-financed by DM2009, will contribute to this objective.

(Vecco [photo above] was team leader on the winning DM2009 finalist project in Peru that  will use its US$200,000 grant to help1,500 indigenous people in the Peruvian Amazon better manage their agricultural production systems, protect their forest, and increase their income.)
 

DM Finalist Digital Divide Data Keeps on Winning

Tom Grubisich's picture

 

The good news for DM2003 winner Digital Divide Data keeps on coming.

DDD, which trains the disabled, orphans, migrants, and vulnerable women in Cambodia and Laos to become digital operators for overseas clients, has received a US$50,000 grant from the Boeing Co. to advance its socially attuned IT job training and placement in Southeast Asia.

In its most recent quarterly statement, non-profit DDD, whose 650 employees and trainees make it the largest technology company in Cambodia and Laos, reported:

"...we increased earned revenues from clients to US$2.2 million for the year ending June 30, 2009. This was up 50% from the previous year of US$1.5 million.

"For the fourth straight year DDD covered its business costs through earned revenue. We then used generous support from our donors to support our social mission related expenses, particularly the recruiting and training of disadvantaged young people and educational benefits."

Digital Divide Data was founded in 2001 by Jeremy Hockenstein, then a management consultant for McKinsey & Co.  Struck by the "mix of poverty and progress" in Cambodia on a trip to Angkor Wat, Hockenstein saw "the opportunity to make a difference."  He put together a team of friends from his college days (he graduated from Harvard), and they started an IT training program -- modeled after outsourcing operations in India -- whos graduates would do digital work for foreign institutions and companies. Their first contract was digitizing the Harvard Crimson at Hockenstein's alma mater.  The details of DDD's outsourcing work for academic institutions, libraries, and other clients are here

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