I distinctly remember the first time I heard of Ushahidi. It wasn’t while visiting my family in Nairobi amidst the tragic election-violence but rather a week later and on the opposite side of the planet.

I was in Dili, Timor-Leste, working with a local NGO to set up a community-based conflict early warning system funded by the International Forum for Election Systems (IFES). The latter had supported the deployment of an election-violence monitoring system but with the elections now over, the donor wanted to transition the initiative to a broad-based conflict early warning system.

Local NGO in Dili

Belun, a local NGO in Dili

This conflict early warning project was directly tied to my work with the Program on Crisis Mapping and Early Warning (CM&EW) at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI). Our donor, Humanity United (HU), was particularly interested in exploring alternative approaches to conflict early warning and the Timor project presented an excellent opportunity try something new.

Soon after my arrival, I received an email from HU with news that a Kenyan group had set up a platform to crowdsource human rights abuses. The donor was thinking of providing Ushahidi with some initial seed money so they asked me to get in touch with the team to find out more.  Needless to say, I was immediately impressed.

One of the reasons I’m excited about joining the core Ushahidi team at this time is because two other colleagues have just joined as well: Caleb Bell and Brian Herbert. Caleb is a first-rate graphics designer and Brian a top-notch software developer. We’ve already had some great conversations with the rest of the awesome Ushahidi team and we’re all eager to hit the road running. In fact, we’ve got loads of really exciting developments in the pipeline and can’t wait to roll them out!

Caleb and Brian

Caleb and Brian

My role at Ushahidi will focus on Crisis Mapping, Swift River and Strategic Partnerships. In terms of crisis mapping, I’ll be working closely with the team to make sure that Ushahidi continues to pioneer the field of Crisis Mapping. This means pushing the envelope on all four fronts of Crisis Mapping: (1) Crisis Map Sourcing, (2) Crisis Map Visualization, (3) Crisis Map Analytics and (4) Crisis Map Operations.

Swift River is an integral part of Ushahidi and the next frontier for our work in crowdsourcing crisis information. The purpose of Swift River is to validate crowdsourced information in near real-time. Ushahidi will be bringing on a full-time tech developer for Swift in the coming weeks so I look forward to collaborating closely with Chris Blow, Kaushal Jhalla and Andrew Turner (among others) to complete Swift in early 2010.

Finally and most importantly: strategic partnerships. I’ll be collaborating closely with my colleague Juliana Rotich to ensure that we remain fully responsive to the evolving needs of current and future partners. I’ll be focusing specifically on international partners and academic networks in the humanitarian, media and election-monitoring space. I will also be exploring new partnerships with important groups in other sectors. This means that I’ll remain especially mobile in 2010, meeting face-to-face with strategic partners and presenting on Ushahidi at various events around the globe.

So that’s what I’m up to. Why? Because my moto is total open collaboration. I answer all emails so please do get in touch (patrick@ushahidi.com) if you’ve got some ideas on how you’d like to use Ushahidi or any new features you’d like to see.

We’re always looking to improve so consider us “Open for Crowdsourcing”.

Asante sana!