3rd February, 2015
by Bruce Stronge (@brucestronge)
Director, NetEngine and City Lead, RHoK Brisbane

 

Last week, Bill and Melinda Gates released their annual letter outlining their big bet for the future. Their letter reinforces their continued optimism around the progress foreign aid has made in the last 15 years, and their bets are to see reduced child deaths, Africa feeding itself, and finally the role tech and in particular mobile innovations will play in getting there.

click this image to go to the actual letter

click this image to go to the actual letter

It’s great that more people in rich countries will be able to watch movies on super hi-resolution screens. It’s even better that more parents in poor countries will know their children aren’t going to die.

Hacking for Humanity with RHoK

RHoK Australia is part of a global community of technologists who are ‘hacking for good’ by matching up organisations that have a social impact with skilled technologists who want to make a difference. We are then able to develop open source solutions to challenges facing the world.

One of the reasons NetEngine brought RHoK (Random Hacks of Kindness) to Queensland as a regional partner was because I believe so strongly in the role technology can play in global inequality reduction. RHoK’s foundation is in disaster and crisis response, and as Bill and Melinda Gates expressed so well regarding technology innovation efforts: “It’s great that more people in rich countries will be able to watch movies on super hi-resolution screens. It’s even better that more parents in poor countries will know their children aren’t going to die.”

As we approached the kickoff of our third Random Hack of Kindness event here in Brisbane www.rhokbrisbane.org, ebola continued to tear families and communities apart on my home continent, Africa. My mind became pre-occupied with potential ways we as technologists could help fight this virus.

In an effort to reduce waste, and ensure our efforts would actually make a difference, we started engaging with other global tech teams who were already hacking to better enable humanitarian aid teams on the ground in Africa. All roads (excuse the pun) led to ‘The Missing Maps’ project.

Missing Maps

Vast swathes of the planet’s land-masses aren’t mapped, mainly because the majority of mapping applications are powered by commercial sponsorships and advertising - which just aren’t present in most areas of the developing world. There just isn’t enough detailed and current information on maps in rural areas of Liberia for example; the very places where our humanitarian organisations are trying to fight this battle.

So, in December teams of hackers at the RHoK Brisbane event contributed directly to the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) Missing Maps Project. The main goal of this project is to map the most vulnerable places in the world, to enable international and local NGOs as well as individuals to use maps and data to better respond to crisis affecting the areas.

We focused on mapping remote communities in West Africa, until, in response to an urgent request from the Red Cross for assistance, we diverted our focus to mapping the coastal communities in the Philippines in anticipation of Typhoon Hagupit making landfall. I believe that these Brisbane hackers’ contributed to the fact that less than 50 lives were lost in this Typhoon. I can’t see any reason why schools don’t have crisis crowd mapping as part of their geography or computer classes… watch this space!

Giving Purpose to Technology

There is an amazing vibe as a room full of people aged 12-50 (who have given up their entire weekend) start to see their efforts directly saving lives, in real time. It is the same energy that we feel at NetEngine when we’re working on meaningful projects for clients and partners who share our passion for making a difference.

That shared sense of higher purpose is what Bill and Melinda are trying to harness with their call for ‘global citizens’ - and I urge you to consider registering here and here and back Bill’s bets with us.