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