State Department Is Trying To Make A Thousand Ushahidis Bloom

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

When the earthquake decimated Haiti last year, technologists around the world converged online to develop tools to help rescuers find victims and raise funds. Now the State Department wants to see if it can take that impulse and put it to work helping grassroots organizations tackle humanitarian problems around the world even when there isn’t a horrible disaster to deal with.

To do that, the State Department is convening a series of “TechCamps” in different parts of the globe this year to bring together non-governmental organizations that know the problems, with technology experts who might have innovative ideas about how to tackle them.

“We saw the ability of digital natives and the networked world, using lightweight and easily iterated tools, to do something rapidly that a big organization or government would find difficult, if not impossible, to do,” Richard Boly, the State Department’s director of eDiplomacy, tells Fast Company. “The question is: Can we get that same magic to happen when people aren’t dying?”

The State Department tested out the idea in Santiago last fall, as part of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Civil Society 2.0 initiative to bring more technology into diplomatic efforts. In that gathering, NGOs and technologists from around Latin America discussed tools to promote democracy and economic development.

The new conferences will work similarly to the Santiago one–but with a twist. This time, the State Department will also be inviting the people who might pay for these innovations–including the World Bank, USAID, and large corporations–so that ideas that emerge will have a way to live beyond the conference.

Source: Fast Company (link opens in a new window)