Starting up again

It has been an eventful couple of weeks here in Nairobi picking up where we left off with Map Kibera. I think we’ve finally proven that we meant it when we told everyone we’d return – how often have such promises been broken in Kibera? Now, we’re looking more broadly at what it takes to empower people to create, share and use information (maps, data, news reports, personal accounts) about their community to gain greater understanding, spark change and influence policymakers. We’re here for another six months in part to work toward the elusive, coveted goal: sustainability.

A lot has happened since December. We have several different potential partnerships on the horizon – organizations and businesses that want to adopt community mapping in their own programs, and others that want to work directly with the mapping group to collect more data within Kibera. The group has met in our absence and begun to think about how to constitute itself as an organization. This is the outcome we were hoping for.

But, first some plain facts: the mappers needs a lot more support in order to become self-sustaining, in terms of things like organizational know-how, partnership building, avenues for financing, and the most straightforward – improving their skills so they have a strong enough grasp to teach others. This is what we’re ultimately hoping will happen in other slum areas of Nairobi and/or elsewhere in Kenya.

We’re also preparing for a big “push” on community media support, meaning working with a team composed of lead local journalists (some of whom double as mappers) to make full use of the Ushahidi Kibera site, providing technology support (read: getting a website) for their respective publications, and ultimately forming a network of those who wish to collaborate and support each other to produce a truly representative picture of Kibera using new technology. We think that these citizen reporters in combination with the mappers are a formidable team, and at the forefront of new kinds of journalism in Kenya. There’s also room for more creative illustrations of the map including personal videos, stories, and photos. We think the map and related digital media can involve a lot of people in conversations about their vision and hopes for Kibera, and want to spend this time reaching out to as many different people as possible. We think that this way, folks on the ground will be able to influence and share with powerful actors like international organizations and government. This is an evolving vision, and we welcome your comments and thoughts – and always, your help.

We’re also going to work on creating better documentation and analysis of the project for publication and curriculum development, building up the Nairobi social technology and new media community of practice, and various tech projects such as printing the maps (a cartographical challenge).

We’ve also had some interesting visitors. Last week, Ory Okolloh, the Kenyan blogger and one of the founders of Ushahidi, came to Kibera with a Swiss documentary film crew in tow to meet some mappers and also the Kibera journalists who will be working on the Ushahidi site. We realized that she has something (well, probably many things) we lack – the ability to relate to the challenges of being a youth in Kenya: unrepresented by politicians and the media, unemployed, poorly educated, and generally ignored in decision-making, but with the responsibility to build the future of a nation and the strong desire to shape it for the better. Ory grew up near Kibera and started her blog as a way to express some of these frustrations, and she was keenly interested to hear how their encounter with technology had so far inspired the journalists and mappers (I, for one, learned that they were using their phones more often to access the net and particularly the ever-popular Facebook). I wanted her to stay and visit them every week just to inspire them to new visions of how all the work they’re doing can have an impact, and help them break through the barriers they’ve grown up with. It was clear to me that we’re trying to support a new paradigm of citizenship in a country where resignation and cynicism (if not resentment and anger) greets any mention of politics. Ory latched on to one mapper’s shy admission that she enjoyed the “celebrity” of getting attention for this project – such pride can transform into real community leadership and a sense of confidence and possibility. And she is the living example of that.

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