We’re excited to announce major funding for Ushahidi coming from the Ford Foundation. Ford Foundation is making a $500,000 grant to Ushahidi over 2 years. The funding enables us to increase our community engagement capacity, scale the Crowdmap platform and provides operational support in 2011 and 2012.

Who is the Ford Foundation and why do they care about Ushahidi?

The Ford Foundation is an independent, nonprofit grant-making organization. For 75 years it has worked with courageous people on the frontlines of social change worldwide, guided by its mission to strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement. With headquarters in New York, the foundation has offices in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

What are these funds for?
Ushahidi’s tools are used around the world in various activities, from Crowdmapping, Crisis Mapping, Citizen based reporting of elections like what is happening now in Egypt and DRC, and so many other uses that are too numerous to mention. Ford foundations support will help Ushahidi continue providing the tools and support to organizations using its technology worldwide.

Localization and outreach is key to adoption of Crowdsourcing tools. Ushahidi is committed to exploring ways of extending its reach and availability of its tools around the world. Continuing to prod the humanitarian technology community to explore new ways of data gathering, aggregation and visualization through Crowdmap.

When the Ushahidi platform was written as an open source project in 2008, the vision was to have a platform that any individual or organization could easily deploy in any situation. While providing the software for free to anyone to install on his or her own servers has worked well so far, we have realized that there was a need to rapidly deploy Ushahidi without any required technical acumen in the shortest amount of time possible. The answer to this challenge is Crowdmap. This ability is useful to change agents big and small. From small NGOs to international organizations like Amnesty International who recently used the platform to gather information about human rights in Saudi Arabia.

Special Plugins and enhancements to Ushahidi software
Our focus on 2012 will be to continue to make both the Ushahidi core platform and Crowdmap accessible by decoupling features from the core code and continue to grow the plug-in applications. In addition, we will be working on improving the user-interface and increase the available themes for customization. Finally we will be working on making both faster and more secure and as always easier for the wider community to contribute to.
Making a version of Ushahidi that takes into account the special needs of activists or people working in highly repressive regimes is a challenge and an opportunity to work on in 2012 and beyond. We have began working on a debian module that has special hacks to help with privacy issues. Ford Foundation support will help us to continue this.

The challenge of using Ushahidi in areas of low bandwidth still remains; we will continue our development efforts to tackle this problem. Localization and worldwide adoption are interlinked, thus efforts to improve the translation of the tools will require continued support.

Mobile Applications have always been part and parcel of not only the Ushahidi platform, but also part of the strategy as the tools are used around the world. The iPhone and Android apps are already in use, and we are working hard on getting a Java app rewritten for use on Blackberry and other Java enabled phones. The mobile development team is continually responding to feedback and updating the various mobile apps.

SwiftRiver Integration into Crowdmap
The SwiftRiver technology that Ushahidi has been working on will need to be integrated into Crowdmap to enable current users to benefit from a curation and data analysis capability.

Training and Outreach
Based on our early realization that technology is only one small component of what it takes to implement a tool like Ushahidi successfully We are increasing our focus on building and growing the community around Ushahidi. We currently have a wiki and support forum online, a community resource guide page on our website, and have already hosted regular “intro to Ushahidi workshops”, or Ushahidi 101 sessions that cover different aspects and different use cases for the platform. We host these sessions at various places around the world and live stream online.

The community section of our website that will be dedicated exclusively to the wider community of Ushahidi implementers. It hosts resources, case studies, themes, plugins and forums for the end users to learn, interact and share.

Finally, the one of the biggest use of the funds is in community engagement. We have an incredible Community Engagement Director on our team, Heather Leson, whose job it is to connect and communicate between our diverse network of deployers. The people who use Ushahidi in 132 countries around the world.

What we’re finding is that we can have many tools, even leverage outside volunteers and community members to help carry the load for training and linking between the communities of deployers globally, but that it is not enough. We strive to do more, and are grateful to The Ford Foundation for helping us reach our goals.