Ushahidi at Five

    Erik Hersman
    Feb 6, 2013

    Ushahidi is 5 years old. [The map above represents all of the reports on Crowdmap, visualized from 2010 until now.] What started as an ad hoc group of bloggers and technologists scrambling to make sense of the madness that our country was falling into has become a global organization and platform. There was no way we could foresee what would happened in the intervening years. Five years ago we built Ushahidi. It was a rudimentary mashup of email, SMS and web reports on a map. A simple tool that came out of a deep seated desire from David, Juliana, Ory, myself and Daudi to try and do something using technology in the midst of Kenya dissolving in around us. Back in those early days of 2008 we had this idea, this glimmer of a thought, that what we had started in Kenya could become something bigger. That a simple software platform, if made open source, could be used by others in need and create a revolution. It has.

    Our Voices Revolutionize the World

    40,000+ deployments of the software in 159 countries means that we did something right. More importantly, it means that there are more people able to coordinate their communities and more people able to tell their stories. It means that the software, through it's community of deployers, is successfully disrupting industries, sectors and countries that have a historically top-down information flow. It's allowing ordinary people to tell their stories, changing the way information flows in the world. Ushahidi-community To all of you who have deployed Ushahidi, who have done the hard work using Ushahidi around the world, I want to thank you. On behalf of myself and the Ushahidi team, we are deeply grateful for your commitment, your creativity, your coding and your willingness to make us better. Our commitment to you is that we will always listen, and that we're 100% focused on supporting the platform and creating new tools that make your work easier, better, faster, and have a greater impact.

    The Culture You Build

    It's been my great joy and pleasure to work with Juliana, David and Ory, and all the team members who have joined us since. Every week I look up and am grateful for the people I work with and the culture and environment we have created together. 21 Ushahidi team members met in Kenya these last few weeks. We anticipated and organized for coming full-circle with next month's Kenyan elections. We coordinated for the upcoming release of four products in 2013. We celebrated the past years and planned for the coming ones. tShirts 2 Since it's 5 years, I'll take the time to name every member of the team over the years: Juliana Rotich, David Kobia, Ory Okolloh, Daudi Were, Henry Addo (first hire!), Patrick Meier, Brian Herbert, Caleb Bell, Dale Zak, Linda Kamau, Limo Taboi, Emmanuel Kala, Nat Manning, Evan Sims, Jepchumba, Robbie Mackay, Angela Oduor, Brandon Rosage, Brian Muita, Rob Baker, Heather Leson, Sharon Rutto, Jon Gosier, Heather Ford, Ahmed Maawy, Charl Van Niekerk, Matthew Griffiths, Jon Shuler. To all of you who have worked, or still work at Ushahidi, I say thank you. I'm consistently amazed by your work, by the enthusiasm and love you bring to the team. You are the ones who give me the energy for each day.

    Thinking Back, Looking Forward

    Five years and a lot has changed, yet a lot has also remained the same:

    Five years ago we were leading a community effort to crowdsource information and create a record for the future. Today Ushahidi as an organization and as a platform lives and dies by its community.

    Five years ago we were using simple technology that worked in Africa to solve a problem. Today we create simple technology tools to change the way information flows in the world.

    Five years ago we thought technology could change the world. Today we know so.

    Five is an important number. It's easy to count and gives you a chance to remember and to celebrate what's been learned along the journey. Ushahidi has changed. We recently realized that we're no longer just about the software we create as an organization, though it is still the core of who we are. For instance, we've helped create and support communities around crisis mapping and the Kenyan tech scene. We took the iHub on as a call from the Kenyan tech community, and now it's independently strong in its own right. We've got a hardware R&D project that will roll out in a couple months. Ushahidi is the same. We create tech solutions, and interact with the communities around them, to solve uniquely African problems - many of which can be applied globally. SwiftRiver was undertaken to deal with information overload in an emergency. SMSsync came from a need for turning a phone into an SMS gateway. The iHub was created as a way for us to give back to the community that had helped create Ushahidi, and as a base for us in Kenya. The CrisisMappers group was created because this, then nascent, community was something we needed to connect to. Ushahidi has moved from African tech startup to becoming a young global organization. Just like 5 years ago, we're not completely sure where we'll be in 5 years from now. After all, we tend to use a compass, not a roadmap, as we continue this journey. What we do know is that we're in what might be the most interesting and exciting year of our existence. Thank you for supporting us, believing in us, and for joining us back when it didn't make any sense to do so in 2008. Thank you for still doing so today.

    Passion drives us, funding allows us to do so

    Ushahidi doesn't take money from national governments to do it's work. Instead we rely on the goodwill of private foundations to support us operationally so that we can spend our time coding and creating the tools that are used by organizations small and large globally. All of these foundations have generously supported Ushahidi, and we wouldn't be here today without them: Humanity United stands out as the team who got us started, giving us that first $200,000 that allowed us to make Ushahidi an organization back in April 2008. Omidyar Network, has given us massive amounts of operational funding, which means creative freedom allowing us to pivot and shift throughout the years, as well as sage council. Knight Foundation and MacArthur Foundation have consistently supported us over multiple years, taking flyers on crazy new ideas that become new products or projects. The Ford Foundation and OSI are both responsible for funding in tight times, and we appreciate their generosity. Google, Cisco, Mozilla and Net Squared represent the belief and goodwill of the tech world towards Ushahidi. Finally, Hivos has been a stalwart companion, both with Ushahidi and the iHub back when both were fresh and new to the world.