Monday, November 22, 2010

"Taking an interest in the individual"

Ory Okolloh
By ( [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Ory Okolloh might surprise you. She’s a Kenyan activist, and a Harvard-trained corporate lawyer. She’s a blogger and a connector. She’s known for her innovative approaches to crowdsourcing information – but also has words of wisdom about making the world a better place by "taking an interest in the individual."

Okolloh, along with a fellow Kenyan, runs a website called Mzalendo: Eye on Kenyan Parliament. What Mzalendo ("patriot" in Swahili) does is monitor Kenya’s Members of Parliament. It posts information about MPs including their comments in Parliament, the questions they ask, and which Ministries are asked questions. Citizens can submit information on their constituencies. Mzalendo aims to hold Kenyan MPs accountable, and to engage citizens, especially young people, in politics. According to the site creators, "We feel that Kenyans not only have ‘a right to know’ but also need to take a more active role in determining their country’s role – this is our effort to do more than just complain about how things are not working in Kenya."

Okolloh also co-founded Ushahidi ("testimony" in Swahili) with four other Kenyan bloggers. Ushahidi mapped post-election violence in Kenya in 2008-2009, using information coming from people by text message, e-mail and the web. Ushahidi became an important information source particularly when local media reports were unavailable.

The founders of Ushahidi soon realised that the platform would be useful elsewhere. Ushahidi became an open source platform for collecting and mapping information. The software has been used to help earthquake victims in Haiti; to monitor violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa and Gaza; to track the availability of pharmaceuticals in Kenya, Uganda, Malawi and Zambia; to map flooding in Pakistan; to monitor elections in Mexico and India; and to organise snow removal in Washington, DC.

Ory Okolloh also blogs at Kenyan Pundit. Check out, for example, her post on Mapping Kibera (and also the list of Kenyan and other African blogs).

I'll leave you with Okolloh's presentation at TEDAfrica in 2007 about herself and her perspective:

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