GAIN Prize Profile: Ushahidi

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The Global Adaptation Institute (GAIN) honored four organizations leading adaptation efforts on the ground in its inaugural awarding of the GAIN Prize. Engineers Without Borders-USA, Austin Chapter; MEDA; Positive Innovation for the Next Generation (PING); and Ushahidi received the 2012 GAIN Prize. We are honored to introduce you to Ushahidi.

The GAIN Prizes are given to recognize those organizations and entrepreneurs that are working on innovative projects and successfully tested technologies that will help the most vulnerable adapt to the changing global climate, GAIN’s founding mission. These Prizes, which were awarded at the GAIN Annual Reception May 9, honor the shoulder-to-shoulder work with communities through a monetary award and recognition to promote continued development of innovative adaptation solutions.

Ushahidi was awarded the 2012 GAIN Prize for its work developing and democratizing digital tools for crowdsourcing and visualization information. The Ushahidi community has created dynamic maps such as energyshortage.org, thaifloods.com and costofchicken.crowdmap.com to map energy flows, flooding and food price fluctuation. The problems created by climate change and other global forces can surface in many ways, from rising tides to desertification and from food shortages to malaria outbreaks. The Ushahidi platform’s power lies in its ability to help communities around the world tackle a diverse set of these growing challenges.

Much of the data Ushahidi helps users act upon is relevant to the GAIN Index. Energy access, water supply and food prices are directly or indirectly reflected by GAIN Index indicators. GAIN hopes that collaborations with Ushahidi and others can reinforce the importance of gathering and acting upon adaptation information.

Juliana Rotich, Ushahidi Executive Director

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Origins

Ushahidi was created during the 2008 Kenya election, in which violence broke out across the nation. People were looking for real-time data to stay abreast of news and this technology offered just that. 

Ushahidi means testimony in Swahili. Ushahidi was formed to solve a specific problem, the lack of centralized coherent, real-time, on-the-ground information. Ushahidi is open source software that collects and visualizes information on a map. During the crisis in Kenya, people were able to send in texts, tweets and emails to report on what was happening around them. It allowed for transparency and for the world to see what was occurring on the ground.

The Ushahidi software has been used for approximately 22,000 cases, from disasters such as the Haiti earthquake and Thailand floods to election monitoring, harassment and energy shortages.

Integrating adaptation

This prize comes at an exciting time for Ushahidi, which is pleased to announce that it will use the GAIN Prize to help develop version 3.0 of the Ushahidi platform. Version 3.0 will be able to integrate sensor data as a channel into Ushahidi. This will allow users to compare water level sensors with crowdsourced testimonies, for instance, during a flood. Ushahidi hopes that this new capability will expand the creative potential of its deployers. Being able to use and compare structured sensor data with crowdsourced testimonies will allow climate change researchers to synthesize quantitative data with qualitative information.

Integrating sensor data will also help with crisis and first response. An alert system could be built to send an SMS each time a water level sensor reached a certain height. This example as well as other variations will help communities around the world adapt to the global challenges related to urbanization, population growth and climate change.