Recognizing remarkable creativity and effectiveness by non-profits across the globe, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation named 13 organizations as recipients of the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions. The Award, which recognizes exceptional grantees and helps ensure their long-term sustainability, provides each organization with up to $1.5 million, depending on the size of its budget.
In early 2008, villages and cities across Kenya were ravaged with violence following the disputed re-election of the sitting Kenyan president. The election controversy became the pretext for ethnic clashes that displaced hundreds of thousands of people and claimed the lives of more than 600, some in grisly fashion. An ad-hoc group of tech bloggers based in Kenya decided to do something about it. They couldn’t solve the humanitarian crisis, but they could build a tool that could shine a light on human rights violations, bringing much-needed attention and support to developing emergencies. The tool was Ushahidi. Usahidi means “bearing witness” in Swahili.
The purpose of the tool was to empower Kenyans to document and report on incidents in real-time, giving the media, governments, and relief organizations a true picture of what was happening on the ground. By aggregating texts, tweets, photos and descriptions from mobile phones, smart phones and desktops, Ushahidi created crowdsourced maps that made incidents of violence, election fraud, and abuse plainly visible on a broad scale.Since that catalytic moment in 2008, Ushahidi has grown into a mapping platform used in crises across the world, supporting 35,000 maps in 30 different languages.
Following the earthquake in Haiti in 2010 and the tsumani in Japan in 2011, the Ushahidi platform was used to organize emergency responses in real-time. In less than an hour after the 2011 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, the Ushahidi platform was used to spotlight areas of refuge. And most recently, Ushahidi has provided the platform for crowdmapping violence in Syria’s civil war.
Today, Ushahidi’s vision comes full circle as it prepares for Kenya’s first election since the outbreak of violence, and the first under its new constitution. With Ushahidi’s help, election watchers, human rights activists, international media, and foreign governments will have a much better view of developments on the ground. And, more importantly, Kenyan citizens will have a place where their collective voices can be heard as they push for a safer, more transparent democracy.
Ushahidi will use its $750,000 MacArthur Award to ensure its ongoing stability and growth going forward. Specifically, the award will stock a cash reserve to alleviate fluctuations in funding, enable the development of technology security measures to protect users of Ushahidi, and allow Ushahidi plan strategically for the next phase of their growth. With this award, Ushahidi will continue to be one of the creative, disruptive technologies that is empowering citizens in crisis across the world.