Arik Hesseldahl

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Kenya’s Ushahidi Brings Tech Help Where It’s Needed Most

juliana_rotich1“If it works in Africa, it will work anywhere.” It’s something that’s occasionally said about the mobile market on the continent. And it’s something that Juliana Rotich has lived as the head of Ushahidi, a nonprofit tech organization born during the chaos of post-election violence in Kenya that has since evolved with the development of an open-source platform for sharing and mapping information.

One recent breakout moment for Ushahidi occurred in the wake of the Haiti earthquake, when people in need of help or rescue were able to send text messages that appeared on a map that first responders could use to reach them. Meanwhile, a network of volunteers in Boston and New York and elsewhere translated messages from Creole into English in order to help direct aid to people on the ground. Rotich said that about 44,000 maps — among them maps showing need for help or illustrating corruption — have been created and put to use in as many as 159 countries.

The organization is also working on a new product for the African market. Behold, the BRCK (pictured below), which Rotich described as a sort of “backup generator for the Internet.” Power outages are a constant problem in Africa. The BRCK will provide wireless 3G or 4G Internet connections and power to last about four or five as long as 12 hours. When the power goes out and takes the terrestrial network down with it, coding sessions or other work can continue. The organization will launch a Kickstarter campaign in the next two weeks to raise funds in order to build it.

brck_image


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