A month ago, Abhishek and I had the great experience of representing the Sentinel Project at Telecom World 2011 in Geneva, Switzerland. This annual conference and trade show is organized by the International Telecommunications Union, the United Nations specialized agency for telecom, which also hosted technology competitions for Young Innovators and Digital Innovators. We participated in the second category, which allowed us to meet other teams using technology for non-profit work all around the world.
The program for our week in Geneva included two days of workshops intended to develop our idea in preparation for making a presentation to potential funders. Our subject was the Ground Information Network (GIN), a new project under development by the Sentinel Project’s ICT Team. GIN is an application that will help us to manage and analyze data submitted by citizens from their mobile phones when they witness events that may indicate an increasing risk of genocide. We can then also use it to disseminate warnings back out to people at risk.
While we were the only ones with a project that focused specifically on human rights or human security issues, Abhishek and I also got to see lots of other ways that people are using mobile technology to make the world a better place, ranging from increasing government transparency to helping aid workers in the field. For example, Ju$txt.org is focused on mapping instances of bribery in order to fight corruption first in Nigeria and then worldwide, while Ally Krupar’s survey tool would help the Infectious Diseases Institute enhance health education in Uganda. We also discovered just what a small world it can be once you get into using ICT for social good when we ran into fellow Canadian Dale Zak, who works for Ushahidi and also had his own project, QRForms, in the Digital Innovators category. I had previously heard of Dale and his work through a mutual friend who I met earlier this year at a genocide studies conference in Buenos Aires and was surprised to see him in person in Geneva. Another Geneva friend of ours, Trishan de Lanerolle, was representing Humanitarians for Free and Open Source Software, an organization that we first encountered in Toronto earlier this fall thanks to our UCOSP interns who are working on GIN.
Overall, our time at Telecom World was an adventure and a great opportunity for getting to know other young people working with technology to make the world a better place. Hopefully we can stay in contact as we all go forward with our respective projects and continue building the international community of people dedicated to ICT for development and peacebuilding. While we had a range of different focuses, each one of our projects could have multiple applications. Perhaps an application developed now to support aid workers could one day help the Sentinel Project and our own GIN will definitely be useful beyond predicting and preventing genocide. Thanks to the connections that we made in Geneva, spreading that technology to the people who need it will be much easier than it ever was before.