We’re very excited to announce major funding for Ushahidi coming from the Omidyar Network today. Omidyar Network is making a $1.4M grant to Ushahidi over the next 2.5 years. The funding will enable us to scale the platform, put resources towards Swift River and grow our operations in Kenya.
Who is the Omidyar Network and why do they care about Ushahidi
Omidyar has funded Digg, the Wikimedia Foundation, Creative Commons, WITNESS and the Sunlight Foundation. Why should they fund us?
A good starting point is their boilerplate, which states:
Omidyar Network is a philanthropic investment firm dedicated to harnessing the power of markets to create opportunity for people to improve their lives. Established in 2004 by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and his wife Pam, the organization invests in and helps scale innovative organizations to catalyze economic and social change. To date, Omidyar Network has committed more than $300 million to for-profit companies and nonprofit organizations that foster economic advancement and encourage individual participation across multiple investment areas, including microfinance, property rights, government transparency, and social media. To learn more about Omidyar Network, please visit www.omidyar.com.
Where Ushahidi fits in is their Media, Markets and Transparency section, specifically in the way that the Ushahidi platform can be utilized around the world for greater government transparency. Ushahidi’s innovative use of technology to strengthen democracy by amplifying citizen voices and its ability to connect potentially millions of individuals to information that could transform their lives are what drew Omidyar Network’s interest.
Where is all this money going to go?
Taking on funding like this, for a small organization like ours, isn’t something you do lightly. We sat down earlier this year and worked out a strategic plan that highlighted the main areas that we thought the organization should be going.
1. Dedicated core development resources for the Ushahidi engine
We needed to move from just two core developers (David Kobia and Henry Addo) so we recently brought on Ken Kasina and Brian Herbert to help carry the load, especially as far working to address issues and feature requests that have been brought to our attention by Ushahidi implementers. Additionally, Caleb Bell has joined the team to work on the front-end, so that the programmers can remain dedicated to the back-end work. Covering everything from the core architecture to visualizations, mobile apps, API, security, translations and plugins these five individuals, led by David Kobia, will be working with the greater developer community to make it happen.
2. Strategic Partnerships and Community Building
A major challenge for Ushahidi in the past year, has been balancing the need to develop a robust core platform, while responding to the needs of the wider community that is looking to implement Ushahidi in various ways. A key focus for us in the coming year is helping nurture the network of Ushahidi implementers who can help us ensure that the platform is having an impact, who can help us make sure that our feet remain firmly on the ground as we scale, and who can share their knowledge and experiences with us. In addition, the Ushahidi platform has seen a surge in demand from international organizations in the media, humanitarian and human rights space this past year looking to understand better how Ushahidi can work for them. Patrick Meier has joined to the team to serve as a point of contact for international organizations looking to implement Ushahidi, to help provide expertise internally on how to respond to the needs of humanitarian organizations, and along with other members of the Ushahidi community help play the role of a “network weaver”, building relationships especially with the academic community.
3. A Kenya Focus
Establishing a physical hub in Kenya is important to Ushahidi for several reasons. First, while we will continue to remain an international organization with staff based around the world, we feel it is important to establish a physical presence in Kenya, the country where the idea of Ushahidi was born. Second, with the upcoming arrival of the undersea cable and the already buzzing tech scene in Kenya, we feel having a presence in Nairobi will expose us to a rich talent pool and give us a great testing ground for building an Ushahidi ecosystem. Erik Hersman will relocate to Nairobi to help manage the hub
The hub will serve as a physical space to host Ushahidi activities and volunteer developers in Nairobi, as well as a community space for the local tech community.
The hub will also service our in-depth testing and deployments in Kenya. Kenya is currently the only country in the world where we will have over a dozen installations of Ushahidi running by the end of 2009. This offers a unique opportunity to track what happens when you have an “ecosystem” of Ushahidi installations in a particular geographic location e.g. Does the potential for early warning crisis increase? Do patterns emerge when the information collected by the various Ushahidi installations is merged?
4. The Swift River initiative
Swift River is an Ushahidi initiative that serves to answer two important problems for us. First, verification of incoming information. Second, dealing with massive amounts of citizen-generated data in real-time. Since we announced it earlier this year, we’ve been unable to commit adequate resources to it. We’ll be bringing on at least one full-time resource to work with the other people and organizations working on Swift.
5. Scaling the organization
This is the mundane, but ultimately critical capabilities that we need to handle the growth. While we’re doing a number of things within the organization itself, the most important item is establishing a Board of Directors for Ushahidi. You can read more about the board here.