SXSW 2016: How aid organizations are deploying tech to developing nations

What if the place where you lived didn’t exist on a map?

For many parts of the world, this is the reality. Now imagine those places being struck by a disaster, like an earthquake or typhoon. How would a humanitarian aid organization know where to go and how to get there? How would they get help to people just driving around, hoping to find them?

Solving this problem is the work of the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, an organization that relies on a huge network of volunteers to create useful maps of where they live.

The concept relies on the principles of open source and open data sharing, and it’s already facilitated aid and response all over the world.

Tyler Radford of HOT was one of the presenters in the 2016 SXSW Interactive session, Designing Collective Action for Global Development. “After a disaster one of the keys is determine where it’s happening and get the right resources out there,” he said.

Radford told us the story of how HOT was deployed to assist with the 2015 earthquake in Nepal. “We had 20,000 volunteers to map Kathmandu and surrounding valleys, and the USAID response agencies used these maps to plan their activities.” USAID is the lead U.S. Government agency that works to end extreme global poverty and enable resilient, democratic societies to realize their potential.

HOT is one of the projects supported by U.S. Global Development Labs, which operates within USAID to seek out, test and scale scientific and technological solutions. And they’re looking for your ideas.

The USAID is one of the partners behind the Global Innovation Exchange, a free market that connects funders, innovators, users and solution seekers and gives them the tools to maximize their ability to meet the largest, most pressing development challenges. Alexis Bonnell or USAID described the reason why the Exchange began.

“What we’re really trying to do here is disrupt the way this kind of work is done now. We’re giving up control and saying, ‘How do we facilitate innovation and take ourselves out.’ That’s a really different way of doing business.”

The Exchange, then, simply allows the ecosystem of these project — the innovators, collaborators and funders — to connect. So far on the Exchange: 3,700 innovations, $284 million in potential funding, and 3,000 collaborators.

What makes the idea of the Exchange so powerful is the idea of allowing the community to connect on its own. And Bonnell says, it’s also the riskier part. “A lot of people in government think this isn’t possible. And I want to prove them wrong.”

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