Ushahidi is celebrating our 10th year. This is pretty amazing, in light of the fact that we were founded by four Kenyan bloggers a decade ago to keep people safe during the post election violence in Kenya. Since then our software has been used over 150,000 times in over 160 countries, crowdsourcing more than 30 million reports from citizens. Ushahidi’s mission is to build technology to help disadvantaged people raise their voice, and those who serve them to listen and respond better. Fundamentally, we are that communication pathway, the improvement between these two sides, the helpers and those who need help, all around the world.

Ushahidi builds technology to solve some of the biggest humanitarian and development challenges facing the world, such as crisis response, transparent elections and governments, and human rights abuses.  And we do that by being a service provider, a technology partner, the same way many technology companies in the private sector do.

The world has changed; the technology sector shifts constantly, the geopolitical reality tilts, and the sectors in which we operate evolve - I want to take a moment to reflect on the past and think about the future to come, and share three things that define Ushahidi across these impermanent landscapes.

First, we exist in these development, civil society, and humanitarian industries. But these industries operate on some old paradigms.  One way aid handouts, developed vs developing, north vs south, Ushahidi upends these paradigms. We often think of ourselves as punk rock development. The internet has helped to level these spaces, giving rise to innovation and opinions from a larger array of minds and experiences.

Look at Ushahidi’s team. We are 30 people who come from 10 different countries. We were born in Kenya but then grew to be used in over 160 countries. Most other social enterprises, or development tech companies that you have heard of, most likely originated from elsewhere in the world to improve the lives of those in Africa. And certainly they do incredibly good work. But we are the opposite. Ten years ago we worked to solve a problem that faced Kenyans, and now we are used all around the world and our team reflects that global reality. This is a paradigm shift, this is huge in fact, and one of the reasons our story is so important. Think about it, our roots are in Kenya but we have been exported and grown to be truly international, distributed, open source team. Fifty years ago Westerns might have scoffed at the idea of buying a TV made in Korea, now you are hard pressed to find one that is not. We hope that in forty years it would not be novel for a large, global organization to buy enterprise software from a company with a Swahili name, and we hope we have some part in that shift. That message, that an organization can start in Nairobi and grow to be global, used now just as much in places like the USA (our largest user base in fact) as it is elsewhere, is a powerful story.

Second, Ushahidi is a champion for the free and fair internet in the world. Our software is open source, and we champion these values. And this is not easy, it definitely makes it harder to build revenue, sadly too often organizations who could pay us decide to build in house, which is totally in their right to do so. But when it gets hard I think about this professor I had in college, one of the most influential people in my life, who taught a class called Entrepreneurship and Good Work. I have been thinking about him a lot lately because he passed away recently. He had all these sayings in this class, it was a class really about life, about how you can do good work and be entrepreneurial in the way your approach the design of your own life. And when times are tough I think about one of his sayings, “If you are a rat in a rat race, even if you win, you are still a rat.” Ushahidi’s mission isn’t to IPO, it isn’t to grow for growth's sake, it is to help disadvantaged people and those who are looking to help, help better. Even when I might be on the fundraising grind and staring down a burn rate, I think about that, and know that at least, we are not the rat in the rat race.

Third, Ushahidi’s software is used for all sorts of different ways, but we are best known for crisis response, election monitoring, and human rights, and I want to tell you a few quick stories about our users and our impact.

First, Ushahidi, this idea that came to life 10 years ago in response to violence in Kenya, is the primary incident reporting and situational awareness software for the United Nations Department of Field Services. That means that Ushahidi is used by the UN, the peacekeeping international body setup post World War II, in their daily peacekeeping operations and crisis response in eight countries, Haiti, Mali, Sudan, Somalia, etc. Think about that. That is astounding impact. This is what I am talking about when I speak about changing the paradigm of development

Second, election monitoring. Let me be clear: democracy and trust in elections is under threat world-wide, and we are at a pivotal moment in history. When I hear people we work with in East Africa or South East Asia say “you know, China, Rwanda, they seems to be doing a lot better, and it seems like elections are just rigged, why should we have a democracy?” I get scared. This is a scary time for the freedoms, democratic values, and human rights that The West has championed since World War II, and we need to fight for transparency and trust in these institutions and systems. For instance, the two weeks before the 2016 US election candidate Donald Trump starting saying that the election was rigged, that there were tons of fraudulent votes. This angered me, because I know that there have been some three verified false ballots in over 1 billion filed over the past decade.  Voter suppression on the other hand, is a serious issue in the USA, voter fraud, not so much. So with 10 days to go before the election, we decided to just start up a citizen monitoring effort using Ushahidi, because we felt someone had to do something, and we were someone.

Democracy and elections are fragile, albeit a beautiful thing, they are built on a foundation of trust. As we see in elections around the world, when an electorate does not believe in the system, often violence ensues to protest an outcome.  This is where technology can help. It can help build more trust in the system. That is what is needed right now, and that is a large part of what Ushahidi aims to accomplish in the next decade, infusing elections with trust around the world.

Unfortunately, the day after the 2016 election, we started receiving hundreds of reports of hate speech. And so we shifted the project to be called Documenthate, a human rights effort in the USA. We worked with activist and journalist Sean King and ProPublica and we gathered hundreds of reports. The similarity of this trajectory to the one of our founding should not be lost on you.

The last group of users I want to tell you about are those like Harassmap, Safecity, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, and SyriaTracker. These were groups of activists who were passionate about problems in their communities. For Harassmap and Safecity, for instance, it was the harassment of women in their communities.  They set up an Ushahidi instance in a few minutes and started letting people raise their voice. And now these groups of activists have turned into fully operating organizations of their own, with a team of employees, funders to manage, and large volunteer communities. I love it when someone using Ushahidi is able to build an entire business or organization off of our software, that is a true platform. Ushahidi has now given away over $50 million in software value through our open source and grassroots donation efforts.

To wrap up, what are our big goals for the next few years, the next decade?

First, we aim to really revolutionize, again, the way technology can solve these big humanitarian and development issues outlined in this post. We are currently experimenting with machine-learning, chatbots, and blockchain. We are thinking about how we can be a true platform, like a Kickstarter or platform for our large community of activities, and a true enterprise game-changing tool like Github for our users like Amnesty International and the UN.

Second, we have reached 30 million people, and we aim to double that in the next 3 years.

Third, we are on the path to being fully financially sustainable through earned revenues. We are about 50% of the way there.

And lastly, we are going to continue to be the vision of the world we want to see in the 21st century. This international, diverse, secret sauce.