Most of us take for granted that Google Maps will accurately lead us in the right direction. But in many parts of the world, difficult terrain, remote areas, conflict, or lack of resources to fully survey and map locations creates some inaccurate, misplaced or just plain missing pieces into the map puzzle.
For Simengwa Musiani, fitting these pieces into the puzzle is helping provide essential information for his community in Lusaka, Zambia. It is also providing the 27-year-old an opportunity for increased technical training.
Musiani has been working with the Lusaka Sanitation Project under the direction of Humanitarian OpenStreetMaps Zambia (HOT). HOT is an organization working directly in more than 20 countries in the global south, and has trained over 1,250 individuals—more than 42 percent of them women—to use mobile devices to update maps in their communities. To date, HOT volunteers have mapped more than 3.1 million data points, and growing.
HOT is also one of 17 recipients of the NetHope 2017 Device Challenge, a challenge created through a grant from the Tides Foundation, the charitable arm of Google.
In Zambia, the grant has provided smartphones to HOT volunteers to map Lusaka's community schools, churches, water points, and septic systems, capturing locations and conditions. These are tracked to inform the city Water Authority with critical information for future planning.
"The Lusaka Sanitation Project obtains data that is current and provides feedback to the institutions responsible for service delivery," said Musiani. "The Lusaka City Council and Lusaka Water and Sewage are using the data collected from the survey to help in decision making during planning for a larger, improved sanitation system."
HOT received the funding for the devices from the NetHope 2017 Device Challenge, a collective impact grant program launched in January 2017 for nonprofits to advance their missions through the use of phones, tablets, and other devices.
The program was created thanks to a $5.5 million grant award from the Tides Foundation, the charitable arm of Google. Seventeen grantees, including HOT, were selected from a highly competitive field of over 300 applications and included both NetHope members and other nonprofits. The other successful recipients of the grant include: Anudip Foundation for Social Welfare; CARE; Catholic Relief Services; Concern Worldwide; Family Educational Services Foundation; FINCA International; Girl Effect; International Rescue Committee; Management Sciences for Health; Mercy Corps; The Nature Conservancy; Norwegian Refugee Council; Pact; Plan International USA; Save the Children Federation, Inc; and SOS Children’s Villages International.
Grantees such as HOT are using the funds in a variety of programs around the world, ranging from education to healthcare to financial services for vulnerable populations, with early efforts focusing on building the foundation for successful implementations.
Beyond the work of the mapping, Musiani is gaining opportunities to practical application of his technical education as well as increased social interactions to learn more about his community and its people.
"After interacting with many people in my community on this project, I have come to appreciate the struggles they go through," he noted. "I want to study and learn strategies that can be used to help the people out of their struggles. There is more than just what meets the eye when it comes to life's challenges."
Checkout our extensive trove of resources with regard to open source mapping in the humanitarian sector at the NetHope Solutions Center. Register for our webinar later this month with the NetHope Crisis Informatics team, MapBox and NetHope member PATH.