Last week, Ushahidi launched our first grassroots fundraising campaign, geared towards raising support to enable us to continue to support hundreds of grassroots organizations using our cutting-edge open source technology to make their work 10x more effective.Over the next couple of days, we'll be featuring some of our grassroots partners, learning more about the projects and how they're using Ushahidi.

This week, we feature Penang Hills Watch, run by Penang Forum, whoo have been using Ushahidi to raise awareness about environmental impacts of hill land degradation while engaging with government authorities to take action against unsanctioned or non-compliant acts of hill clearing in Penang State.

Here are some thoughts from Rexy Prakash Chako and Dr Kam Suan Pheng, co founders of Penang Hills Watch

Tell us a little about Penang Hills Watch

Penang Hills Watch (PHW) was conceived by members of the civil society group Penang Forum, as a means to crowd source and systematically document information from concerned members of the public regarding hill clearing activities in Penang State (A state in Malaysia). This initiative is aimed at raising public awareness about the environmental impacts of hill land degradation while engaging with government authorities to take action against unsanctioned or non-compliant acts of hill clearing.Penang State, particularly Penang Island, has been beset with soil erosion, landslides and flash floods during heavy rains with development projects expanding further uphill as availability of flat land diminishes. Despite the prohibition of development on gazetted hill land above 76m or steeper than 25deg, infringements of guidelines and best practices for hillslope development do occur. While it is incumbent upon government authorities to take action against such infringements, we felt that additional impetus must come from citizens and civil society to keep watchful eyes to safeguard the hills against degradation and its dire environmental impacts. This constitutes the motivation for initiating Penang Hills Watch.

What made Ushahidi the right tool for your project?

We adopted Ushahidi as our crowd-sourcing platform because:

  • Besides documenting reported and verified observations it is important for us to tag and display them using an interface with interactive mapping that is publicly accessible and easy to use.
  • Documenting our observations using Ushahidi gives a good geographic sense of distribution as to where the concentration of hill-clearing activities are, and since visuals are supported, the public could see with just one click what is going in a certain area.
  • It was easy for us, as administrators of the project, to learn Ushahidi, thanks to its user friendly interface, and also because of the technical help that we got from the Ushahidi team, throughout the deployment of this project.
  • Being a group of volunteers working on very limited funds, the free license availed to us was most appealing and made it possible for a grassroots initiative like ours to take root and flourish.
  • The new feature of Ushahidi being supported on Android and iOS also adds an advantage to our use for Penang Hills Watch.

How has the Ushahidi platform helped you realize your goals and impact?

We have been able to launch Penang Hills Watch on the Ushahidi platform rather quickly when we started towards the end of 2016. We attracted quite a lot of attention from concerned citizens and even from political parties who used our site to track hill clearing infringements in Penang.

  1. In 2017 one of the first sites of hill clearing we tagged and alerted the state authorities early in the year turned out to be the site of a deadly landslide 8 months later. You can read the story here
  2. In 2017, one of the sites of hill clearing which was tagged in our site happened to be an illegal encroachment into forest reserve land. We channeled this information to the local council and the Forestry Department and they were able to take action based on this input. Our deployment was featured in a write up on Mongabay :
  3. Another case of deadly landslide happened in October this year (2018), at a site that we had tagged since early last year, reported and sent two reminders to the State government, the last of which was sent barely a month before the the tragedy happened. In this report the responsible government leader claimed he had taken heed of our last report, but a little too late.

What impact has using the platform had on your initiative? Your team? Your beneficiaries?


Our role in alerting the Penang State Government to two deadly landslides in the gap of one year, had inadvertently raised the visibility of Penang Hills Watch, with posts on our Facebook page reaching more than 150,000 people within 3 days of the 2018 landslide. A recent online petition PHW launched to Save Penang Hill ( , reached 25,000 signatures within the gap 9 days. In many ways our initiative has made Penangites (people of Penang) more aware and concerned about the hills around them, and our Ushahidi deployment played a significant role in implanting this awareness. We hope that with our continued commitment to the PHW initiative and the increased public awareness, we will be able to help avert future tragedies such as those that happened twice within just 12 months.


We sincerely hope to be able to continue availing of the free license of Ushahidi to sustain the Penang Hills Watch initiative, as we would not be able to afford to pay for its annual licensing.

What opportunities exist in the future for the project, and how do you think Ushahidi can help you realise them.

With our recently enhanced visibility we are on a recruitment drive to have more volunteers to join our present core team of two so that there can be more ideas as well as human resources to implement the ideas. We have not yet explored fully the potential of the Ushahidi app on smartphones and would like to do so in the near future, to get more people involved in active reporting about hill clearing cases. We have just received a donation of a drone and are planning to use better resolution drone videos/pictures to complement conventional photos taken from the ground. Any advice from Ushahidi team on this would be most welcome.

What would be your rallying cry to people for why they should donate to Ushahidi so we can keep supporting amazing grassroots organisations like yourselves using our software?

“Information Power plus People Power through USHAHIDI is not Additive but EXPONENTIAL”