Looking Back At 2011

Well 2011 turned out to be a remarkable year, here is a recap of some of the things that kept me busy over the past twelve months.

In January, the Ushahidi iOS app was officially released, glad to have both the iPhone and iPad versions available for the crisis mapping community. I also travelled to Toronto in January for wedding, where I visited my friends Lisa and Geraldine from the MaRS Discovery District presenting an idea for a story telling platform.

In February, I was interviewed by the Star Phoenix sharing my thoughts on why Saskatoon needs to adopt an ‘open-data’ strategy. Although the article did start a conversation on the value of open data, we are yet to see the city fully embrace the technology.

In March, I deployed an Ushahidi map to help monitor the spring floods in Saskatchewan. The prairies experienced the worst flooding in years, and the map aimed to help aggregate reports from both citizens and the media. The flood map also drummed up a bit of press including a Star Phoenix article, blog post by crisis mapper Heather Leson, a Canadian Geographic article and a blog post by journalist Marc Ellison.

Also in March as part of the Saskatoon Sustainability Series, Flavio Ishii and I showed a video presentation of Jan Gehl’s talk on ‘Creating Tomorrow’s Liveable Cities, Urban Planning In A Cold Climate’ at the Two Twenty. Jan Gehl talks are always thought provoking, so it was good to share this online lecture in hopes to help make Saskatoon a more people friendly city.

In April, I travelled to Madrid to speak at Internet and 21st Century Revolutions conference on Ushahidi’s role in the Arab spring revolutions. The Spanish newspaper EL PAÍS, wrote a great article capturing some of the discussion from the conference. It was a real honour to speak alongside Raed Jarrar, Sami Ben Gharbia of Global Voices, Matisse Bustos Hawkes of Witness.org, Randeere Bilal of Al Jazeera and Leila Nachawati of AERCO.

Leading up the Canadian election, I deployed another Ushahidi map but this time with the goal to inspire a pro-democracy conversation why voting is important. It was exciting to see voices from across the country as they were added to the I Vote Because map.

Also in April I organized an event at Centro on local people that are using their talents in a unique way to help others. I was joined by Jeff Nachtigall, Gregg Cochlan, Daren McLean and Krystian Olszanski each sharing their insights on dharma.

In early May with help from Flavio and Krystian, we deployed the first Repurposed Labs in Saskatoon, one at White Buffalo Youth Lodge and another at Core Neighborhood Youth Coop. The goal of Repurposed Labs is to be a bridge between companies upgrading their computer systems, and organizations that could utilize those computers to provide free internet access for members of their community.

In the middle of May, my wife and I packed our bags and made a brave journey to Nairobi, where we lived for the following four months. Embracing André Gide quotes, that ‘man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore’, it took courage to step outside our comfort zone. Our time in Nairobi was important on both a personal and work level, grateful for the opportunity to live in a different country as well as spend time at the iHub Nairobi.

In June, I was honored to be invited to Lithuania for TechCamp Vilnius on behalf of the State Department, to explore ways mobile technologies can be used to improve government transparency and spark civic engagement. Also in June, April and I ran a half marathon in Lewa Wilderness Conversancy; it was a beautiful run through the game park with elephants, gazelles, zebras and monkeys on route.

In July I spoke at Mobile Monday at the iHub Nairobi sharing some of my thoughts on mobile design principles. Taking some time to unplug, in July we also did a weekend trip with Ryan Delk and Henry Addo to hike Mount Longonot in Kenya.

In August, I had the opportunity to spend a day with the mappers in Mathare, an inspiring group of individuals doing everything in their power to help improve their community. I still keep the photo of Mathare group pinned above my computer, to remind me that even those dealt a bad set of cards, have the ability to overcome great challenges and in the process inspire others. While in Nairobi, I also got to speak with the students at NairoBits sharing my thoughts on dharma and using your talents to help others. The conversation really became interesting when I asked what each of their special talents were. It was inspiring to hear their thoughts, and to discuss how those talents could be combined in a unique way to help others. That afternoon at NairoBits was definitely one of my highlights from the year.

Also in August while my friend Dan was visiting, we travelled to the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda to see the mountain gorillas. I’ll never forget watching the intense lightning storm from our cabin high above the dense forest, truly majestic. During Dan’s stay we also hiked Mount Kenya and did a rafting trip down the Nile River, two amazing life experiences. Later in August I travelled to Cameroon for field research on the Android app I’ve been developing for GVFI.

On the way back home from Kenya, we stopped in Greece for a week to help Inherity to deploy an Ushahidi map for preserving important cultural heritage. I’m always keen to find alternative uses of mapping so was glad to help white-label the iOS app for this deployment.

Later in September, I attended a life changing leadership workshop with Gregg Cochlan. Gregg has been an influential person in my life ever since meeting him at TEDxSaskatoon. Throughout the weekend Gregg re-enforced the ideas of stepping outside ones comfort zone, building efficacy through past successes and the importance of goal setting. Set the goal, and the way will invent itself.

In October, I was one of fifteen digital innovators invited to Geneva to pitch at the ITU’s Open Innovation Challenge. I shared the idea of QRForms and although I didn’t win the competition, it still was an amazing experience. Following the ITU conference, I stayed another week in Geneva where I started a short contract with UNOCHA helping design a system to improve communication of humanitarian workers during times of crisis.

In November, I spoke at Saskatoon BarCamp sharing my thoughts on Building Technology vs Solving Problems. It became so clear from my time in Kenya, that in North America we are too focussed on technology without ever asking what problem we are trying to solve. My talk was meant as a wake-up call, that if we don’t start focussing on solving real problems, that we’ll risk falling behind in innovation. Later in November I travelled to New York as well as returned to Geneva for more meetings with UNOCHA, airports were starting to feel like my second home.

To wrap up the year, I spent the first three weeks of December in Lusaka where I taught Zambia’s first mobile app development workshop. My time at the BongoHive was a remarkable experience, truly inspired by their passion to learn and their desire to share their knowledge with others. As the Bemba proverb ‘amano yafuma mwilibwe yaya muchulu’ says, ‘learning happens in both the learner as the teacher; teachers can learn from learners.’

So that was 2011, but even more important than the events was the conversations along the way. It was my time with the mappers in Mathare, speaking with the students at NairoBits, working with the developers at BongoHive that changed my view of the world, as well as my place in it. It was my pivotal conversations with Ryan Delk, Justin Arenstein, Kaushal Jhalla, Jay Bhalla, Erik Hersman, Gregg Cochlan, Lukonga LindundaEvangelos Kyriakidis, Jordon Cooper and Hendrik Knoche that really stood out as highlights from the year.

For the first time in my career, I’m beginning to realize the importance of using appropriate technology to solve real problems, the power each of us have to make a difference and the potential of inspiring others in the process.

2011 was a remarkable year, but I have a feeling it was only preparation for what lies ahead in 2012. As Alan Kay said, “the best way to predict the future, is to invent it.”