Position Statement: OSM US Board

Posted by DrishT on 11 October 2015 in English (English)

Getting lost in rural Rwanda is kind of disconcerting. My team and I had a general idea of which body of water to follow, but without a proper map, it was hard to know exactly which bend in the river we had just passed. But mapping is why we’re here, after all. We’re filling in this community’s map partly so emergency responders won’t get lost. Unlike us, emergency responders don’t have the time to decipher bends in the river. Someone else won’t do it for this community, so they’re doing it themselves, with a little help from my team and a lot of help from OpenStreetMap.

A year and a half earlier I decided to take a risk. I left my cozy job with Apple to work for the American Red Cross. After having completed Graduate degrees in Nonprofit Management and Emergency Management, it seemed like the right thing to do.

My first week happened to coincide with the onset of the Ebola crises. By my second day on the job I was using OpenStreetMap to make maps for Red Cross disaster responders deploying to West Africa. I got to witness the power of digital volunteers, and saw how the new information they were adding was being used in the field to make real-time decisions. Teamwork and collaboration around mapping unfolded before my eyes. Needless to say I fell in love, and wanted more.

Months later I got my wish when we launched the Missing Maps Project. The goal of the project is to map the most vulnerable places in the world so that NGOs, communities and individuals can use the maps and the data to better respond to crises. The project seeks to literally and figuratively put people and their communities on the map.

Since Missing Maps’s launch in 2014 I have hosted and helped plan, more than 15 mapathons in the US. We’ve been able to expand our reach by coordinating with companies, government departments, universities and community groups around the country to grow interest in mapathons and introduce people to OpenStreetMap.

mapathon Fun part of my job is planning themed mapathons, where I get my co-workers to dress up in costumes like our ugly sweater mapathon last Christmas.

I have also been lucky to have led community mapping trainings in various countries where the American Red Cross is working, specifically Rwanda, Tanzania, South Africa and even my home country where I was born and raised, Zimbabwe. Being able to see a blank space on a map fill up with information that is then used to make programmatic decisions that change lives—it's nothing short of amazing.

rwanda mapping Mapping with volunteers in rural Rwanda, using field papers and OpenMapKit to collect data.

What I love about OpenStreetMap is that it’s not just about mapping rural communities in Rwanda. It’s about bringing people in the US together to map their own neighborhoods and to take control of the data their communities need to make decisions. I am excited about the prospect to work with the local OSM community because I see great potential for growth through cross sector collaboration. In Washington DC I’ve sat at tables with different partners— from the government and private sector to education and nonprofit—who use OSM and have seen successful outcomes from bringing everyone together. I know we can support each other more on a national level. And that bringing together different stakeholders will make OSM even stronger than it already is.

community discussion Community discussions with various stakeholders including local volunteers from the mapping area, local government, university students and Red Cross staff at training in Harare, Zimbabwe.

So why me?

Community engagement and outreach are my forte. I would like to expand the network of the OSM community to include a more diverse membership that continues to have shared interest in using OSM. Through increased communication and collaboration members will be able to share knowledge and leverage resources that will allow individuals or groups to overcome challenges to achieve their goals. This could be in the form of partnering education institutions with humanitarian organizations where students would benefit from gaining experience, and organizations would have access to talented and trained volunteers during times of disasters. This is just one example but there are many more ways.

Secondly I believe my experiences as a third generation Zimbabwean of Indian decent, in addition to my exposure to cultures from both the eastern and western hemispheres helps me bring a unique perspective. Two years ago I had no idea what OpenStreetMap was and now it’s a big part of my job and has expanded my view of the world in new ways. I’m grateful and want to continue that journey.

What I look forward to.

I have no doubt that this would be a great experience for me. Most of my community mapping experience has been international, however I believe there is a lot we can do right here in the US. We are lucky and don’t face challenges that we would normally see in other countries such as; loss of power, no access to wi-fi, general security and ability to travel easily.

I would use this opportunity to be more connected with the OSM community in the United States. There is a vast amount of talented OSM’ers in the country using open data in different ways and I am excited to learn more and expand my knowledge. As we have seen over the past few years the community is growing very fast. A larger effort is required to organize goals and vision so that we move forward in a more targeted way and achieve better results.

And lastly if the past State of the Map US conference has taught me anything, it’s that the OSM community has a lot of fun together. I absolutely loved the last one in NYC and would enjoy being apart of the team that has the challenge of planning the next SOTM-US and see how we can make it even better.

Thank-you for your time and consideration. You can get more information on voting here. It's not too late to become a member so you can have your say and vote.

Feel free to comment below if you have questions or reach me on Twitter.

Location: Heritage Island, Washington, District of Columbia, DC 20002, USA

Comment from Super-Map on 12 October 2015 at 07:17

"I am excited to learn more and expand my knowledge", great that a nice goal.

Hi, DrishT,

Your "ambitious, I see, Missing map project is good for those who want help a community growth. I had learned alone, OSM and I find that "great". When somebody look for the first time the map in his basic layer, he can't think, that is a joke and a waste of time... nothing of that! In fact, when you learn more about this project, map a lot of places and in the same time improve your knowledge, perform your skill, effectively you want learn more and more. Because it isn't a simple map or a simple "project". I have heard about this project since his beginning, but I was young with others "preoccupations". I really discovered it and start to map in 2012, after to have discovered a lot of interesting things in the same "spirit", all project linked by Open Sources... I had started "slowly", and getting to make a map in my country in the begging, it was easier and I had less "apprehension". I had continue to improve my knowledge and learning more about several sectors... Like my "English", I learn "alone"... I had learned alone the software who everybody must use in OSM for mapping: "JOSM", the best tolls for to map correctly, faster. However, it isn't for the beginners. If you don't know what is a node, a way a tag, a relation and haven't acquire enough skill, you must use a software in line throughout your web brother, like: "Potlatch, ID (the latest based in Html5). It's just recently who I have discovered Missing Map project and of course: "Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team" projects. And I'm very interesting about all around that, because now, I know the "power" of the project, of the "map". I recognise the work of all who had or contribute to make this project a reality, work on all software and perform it continuously for to improve and make more easer the work of all OSM contributors. Of course the community is "growing", however they exist not enough active contributors and not enough contributors with all skill we looking for... you know we must spent a part of our time for to represent an "area" and more when this his a place where you never go... It's take a time and before all thing we must learn the: "how to", the wiki. And like our universe, this project is continuously in "expansion". It isn't a "game", you can use it with children like this for to emerge news "hobby". However they must acquire all skill required before to do "alone"... Effectively, it's certainly not a "game", they exist a lot of wars zone around the world with dramatic aftermath... and all natural, or not, disasters will be amplified with the consequences of: "Climate Change"!! For this last point we are only in the beginning... and probably for a long time if we are enable to fix all rules we need for to maintain the temperature grow under 2C°... OSM and his contributers can improve rescue intervention, faster, cheaper... however for to get this and make it a reality, we must "react" more quickly when some thing wrong appear. And for that, the community must be: "formed"!

Have a nice week.

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