A look into history points an important fact that whenever there has been a need to fundamentally alter the social, economic, political fabric of the society, people across various stratas of society collaborated (often cooperated) to bring that change. Gandhi’s Non Violence Movement for India’s independence, Martin Luther King’s Civil Rights Movement etc. have all been collaborative efforts. In contemporary times the increasing importance given to the concept of Creating Shared Value has further strengthened my belief that the age of collaboration between the government, civil society, private sector and non-profits is imperative to bring a positive change to the society. At Nestle’s Creating Shared Value 2010 forum there were numerous examples (for an article I wrote about the forum for LSE – click here) to illustrate the potential of collaboration for achieving development goals. Henceforth, my faith in the age old adage – Unity is Strength has been reinforced!
Currently I am interning with Ushahidi. And after studying the Haitian deployment of Ushahidi I realized that it is a great example of how collaboration between likeminded organizations of various affiliations spread across geographies can help us accomplish greater goals.
On January 12, after the devastating earth quake an international emergency response was launched. In Haiti – non-profits, private companies, civil society, public sector and the US government collaborated and shared information using the power of the internet to manage the relief operations. Internet facilitated citizens (and organizations) spread across the globe to help in the relief operations. The internet and the mobile phones aided in the collection, organization & representation of information from various sources, to provide the means to mobilize the skills & talent of the people and to distribute tasks across the world.
Here is how it all happened – Within hours of the earthquake, a group of people at Tufts University setup the Ushahidi instance at Haiti, and worked in collaboration with a mobile provider to setup the shortcode, 4636. Frontline SMS provided the local SMS gateway. Radio stations in Haiti helped to spread the number. OpenStreetmap community collaborated to develop up-to-date maps of the area. Google Maps, DigitalGlobe and GeoEye helped the OpenStreetmap community by sharing their satellite images. Within a couple of days an extensive map of Haiti was developed with contributions from people worldwide.
Most of the SMS’s were in Creole. CrowdFlower provided the microtask platform enabling the native Creole speakers to translate the information coming in. Ushahidi reached out to the diaspora to help with the translation using Skype. Afterwards, the information was put on the Ushahidi platform to provide a spatial awareness of the nature of the crisis and its aftereffects. And, finally the information was relayed across the various relief organizations on the ground to manage and direct their relief efforts. Also, InSTEDD took up the task of providing technical support to enable information flow to the population in targeted ways to help them recover from the crisis faster. A lot of other organizations also contributed in the crisis management process.
It is just fascinating to thinking about this. The level of co-operation and collaboration is amazing. How was it all put in place so quickly? And, how did it work? I find it hard to point my finger at any specific reason. To me it seems that when multiple stakeholders to a project are driven by a single motive, which in this case was helping out the Haitians, difficult or complex task can be accomplished. And ofcourse, the level of trust between the organizations plays an important role. I am sure that this collaboration must have developed a network of trust between the participating organizations further. God forbid, if such a natural disaster happens elsewhere I am sure that managing crisis response will be more effective and faster. I think the concept of Creating Shared Value will remain to be a fundamental driver for development efforts in the times to come.