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Archives for Innovation

The Transformational Power of Science

This year’s Women’s History Month theme is “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics”. In observance, USAID is spotlighting innovative women working in these fields. Below is an interview with Christa Hasenkopf, NSF International Research Fellow, affiliated with National University of Mongolia and University of Colorado.

Can you describe your work and why it’s important?

I have been conducting research on air pollution in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, which has some of the highest measured pollution levels in the world. Nearly half of Mongolia’s population lives in Ulaanbaatar, and over half of that city’s population of 1.3 million lives in the ger district, which is a mixture of traditional felt tent housing, as well as wooden homes. The ger district is not connected to the city’s central heating system, so residents must use other methods, such as coal-fired stoves, to keep warm through the long Mongolian winter.

Christa Hasenkopf (third from left) with PEER group at an air quality monitoring station in Ulaanbaatar in 2012. Photo credit: Christa Hasenkopf

Ulaanbaatar’s position in a valley, as well as certain meteorological conditions, trap smoke from these stoves (and from coal-fired power plants) near the surface of the city. In the ger district, daily wintertime smoke levels get so bad that it rivals the conditions firefighters experience fighting a wildfire! Consequently, the pollution has catastrophic human impacts: it’s estimated that 10-25% of deaths in Ulaanbaatar over a given year are pollution-related. Pollution in Ulaanbaatar costs the country over 500 million USD per year.

There have been many different efforts to mitigate the pollution, but there is not a strong, sustained long-term program to evaluate their effectiveness and share results broadly with the public. With support from USAID’s PEER Program and the NSF’s International Research Program, I have been collaborating with Professor Lodoysamba, my Mongolian research partner, to identify the sources of the pollution, and monitor changes over time.

We are also working to spur public engagement on this critical issue. We have launched a Facebook page and Twitter account to share air quality infographics, current data, and opportunities to get involved with air quality issues in Ulaanbaatar.

Describe your own career path – How did you first get involved in science? What obstacles did you face along the way?

I fell in love with science, specifically astronomy, when I was a child. I adored books by Carl Sagan, and how he connected big picture topics like the Universe with the activities of tiny humans residing on a speck of dust orbiting a run-of-the-mill ball of gas. During my career, I have studied objects outside of our galaxy, then moved to worlds within our solar system, and now work to better understand issues affecting the atmosphere – and the humans existing in it – here on Earth.

The biggest obstacles I have faced are a lack of self-confidence in my ability and fear of standing out too much. Throughout high school and my undergraduate studies, I would be too afraid to ask a question in class or to speak up with my own ideas. Those sorts of fears keep you from truly learning and engaging with others, which are vital for becoming an expert at anything! These fears can also affect how high you set the bar for your career goals.

Where do science and development intersect?

Science has been transformative for the human condition. For example, in 1850, 25 out of 100 American babies died at birth. As the medical community developed a better understanding of how germs spread, it instituted simple interventions, like hand washing and instrument sterilization, and infant mortality rates plummeted. Today, the infant mortality rate in the U.S. is less than 1 in 100, and the world average is around 4 in 100. We have scientific progress to thank for that.

And yet, such a small percentage of the world’s population has the opportunity to pursue a career in science. A 2010 UNESCO study reports that 75% of peer-reviewed scientific papers – the primary vehicle through which science moves forward – are done by those in developed countries, which only represents 20% of the world’s population.

Eighty percent of the world’s population – those in developing countries – experience major barriers to contributing to the scientific community. We’re missing out on a ton of brainpower to help solve some big problems like the inter-related issues of climate change, energy production, and population growth that will require scientific and technical solutions. That’s not just a loss for the developing world, that’s a loss for the entire world.

D-Rev – Where Design and Function Meet Need

This year’s Women’s History Month theme is “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics”. In observance, USAID is spotlighting innovative women working in these fields.

Krista Donaldson is CEO of D-Rev. Photo credit: Krista Donaldson

1. D-Rev was recently named a “Most Innovative Company” by Fast Company. What makes the organization and its work so unique?

D-Rev is a non-profit product company that designs and, with partners, delivers market-driven products that improve the health and incomes of people living on less than $4 per day. What’s unique about D-Rev is that we start from strong values and an obsession with impact. We believe that products can be world-class and affordable at the same time, and we believe in designing for the context of each environment and user, rather than taking a Western product and trying to make it fit where it doesn’t.

We spend a lot of time asking ourselves “Why?” and “How?”  Why can we design artificial limbs sophisticated enough for the Olympic Games, but amputees in India are stuck with prosthetic legs that are so unstable they wear them in the locked position, like a peg leg? Why can we design devices that save babies born months too soon in the West, yet the only treatment for severely jaundiced babies at one of Uganda’s largest hospitals is placing them out in the sun?

We believe that all people deserve products that can improve their health and lives. The desire to spend one’s money on a product or service that brings value and is beautifully designed is universal. We want to revolutionize healthcare in low-income regions by designing products that provide treatment on par with or better than the best products on the market, are context-appropriate, and are radically affordable, costing one-tenth or less of the price of comparable devices.

Finally, we take a globalized approach to design, working with the best partners around the world. We view our local partners not as beneficiaries, but as partners. For example, our partners in India are experts at local distribution channels and supply chains, whereas we bring new technologies (e.g. like the latest LEDs) advanced modeling techniques.

2. You have argued that high-end innovations and technologies should be made accessible and affordable throughout the developing world. Is it possible?

I believe that high quality innovative products can be designed to be affordable and accessible throughout the developing world – so that social impact happens because a customer chooses, purchases, values and uses a product.  Most of the medical devices we see in public hospitals and clinics in low-income parts of the world are donated or heavily subsidized; very few truly meet the needs of the users.  When they break or need repair, they are likely to end up in the corner with a “Broken” sign. We see this time and time again in hospitals around the world. Typically no one in that hospital chose or paid for that device, so there is not much commitment to these donated devices – especially if the product doesn’t meet their needs. I’m also a true believer that beautiful design, functionality and usability doesn’t need to cost extra. Doctors like this design ethic and our approach.

3. What role do women play in the uptake and application of new technologies and innovations?

Women tend to be pragmatists and result-oriented. We see that women are the primary caregivers to the sick and people with disabilities. Among health professionals, we also see a high percentage of women doctors in public hospitals and clinics that serve our target populations.  While obviously the roles of women vary by society, we have observed that women – whether they are doctors, nurses, the patient’s family or even policymakers – tend to focus on end result, not on the latest innovation or product.  The women know that we need healthier babies or we need to help this young amputee get back to school so they only consider and back a product if they believe it will achieve that result. When they see a device like Brilliance or the ReMotion Knee, they grab it because they can envision how this gets them quickly to sending a healthy baby home from the clinic with a new mom, or seeing an amputee earning a paycheck again.

Women Working in Innovation is Not Rocket Science

This year’s Women’s History Month theme is ”Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics”. In observance, USAID is spotlighting innovative women working in these fields.

Le-Marie Thompson, from Bowie, Md., won a first place prize of $5,000 in USAID and Humanity United’s Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention – responding to the challenge to “develop technologies to better identify, spotlight, and deter intentional or unintentional third-party enablers of atrocities”. The second round of the Tech Challenge opened on March 6.

Tell us about your winning idea and your process for developing this concept.

Le-Marie Thompson is the founder of Nettadonna, LLC, a product development company. Photo credit: Le-Marie Thompson

My product concept is an electronic component validation tool that companies can use when developing new products. The web-based tool would allow companies to verify if the microelectronic components they source from suppliers are produced using conflict minerals –minerals that are mined in conditions of armed conflict and human rights abuses. This concept came to being while I was making a decision to change my life path. For over nine years I worked in the telecommunications industry, supporting the development of products and services that solved numerous business challenges.  However, I was restless and could not figure out why. One day in the spring of 2012, I decided that it was time for me to leave my corporate job and figure out something else to do – something that I could be passionate about while still utilizing my skills and experience. I did not know what that would be, but I knew I needed to clear my head first. So I packed up a few things and headed to India to volunteer with street children in New Delhi teaching math, science and English. I came back from India with a renewed sense of the things I cared about when I was a kid – fixing problems and serving others. Those two interests lead me to explore world challenges that may have technical solutions. The first of those challenges I decided to tackle was the issue of conflict minerals being used in electronic components.

What are some of the challenges you have faced as a woman working in the field of science and technology?

Some of the major challenges that I have faced have been internal ones, mainly self-doubt and lack of confidence. My challenges with these emotions hindered me in taking the leaps I wanted to earlier in my career. At that time, I did not have the courage to be bold enough to share my ideas with others. Another challenge I had was accepting that I was a risk taker because in my mind, risk takers did not look like me. As a woman from a conservative immigrant background, I am supposed to be the type that plays it safe. But it helps to have a good support system of fellow entrepreneurs that push– those that encourage me to experiment and make mistakes quickly, so that I can continue to innovate.

How can organizations encourage more women to enter the fields of science and technology and nurture this talent?

Organizations can encourage more women to enter these fields by not making it so complicated. Yes, some of what’s done in these fields is technically rocket science, but the disciplines of science and technology do not need to be placed on an unattainable pedestal.   It is not a monumental feat being a woman in these disciplines; in all professional disciplines, there are ups and downs, a core knowledge needs to be gained, and experience comes with time. Earlier exposure to science and technology, like with many other disciplines, will give women more opportunities to see if these fields fits in their life paths. Additionally, organizations should consider moving beyond a “build it and they will come” mentality to a “feed them and they will grow” philosophy.

Learn more about the Tech Challenge.

Le-Marie Thompson is the founder of Nettadonna, LLC, a product development company.

Conscious Tourism: Plan Your Next Vacation

This year’s Women’s History Month theme is “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics”. In observance, USAID is spotlighting innovative women working in these fields.

Fiona Mati from Kenya won a second place prize of $3,000 in USAID and Humanity United’s Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention – responding to the challenge to “develop technologies to better identify, spotlight, and deter intentional or unintentional third-party enablers of atrocities”. The second round of the Tech Challenge opened on March 6. Below is an interview with Fiona.

Tell us about your winning idea and your process for developing this concept.

“Conscious Vacations” seeks to deter tourists from visiting countries whose leaders perpetrate crimes against humanity, thus becoming themselves third party enablers. Most travelers remain unaware that their spending could possibly be used as a tool for sponsoring the activities of cruel dictatorships. Conscious Vacations intends to inform potential tourists by sharing data such as the amount of money the government spends on security or defense as opposed to other social sectors such as education and health, incidents of mass atrocities (and other human rights abuses), as well as the amount of government revenues raised from the tourism sector.

Fiona Mati is founder of Yipe!, a resource portal for young Kenyan entrepreneurs. Photo credit: Fiona Mati

To make the concept of Conscious Vacations more vivid to you, imagine for an instant lying on a sun lounger on a pristine beach. Now imagine if you knew that your being in that country enjoying the beach and all the facilities means that the local population will continue to live under the authoritarian rule of a dictator. How would you feel knowing that the dollars you spend are going to buying guns rather than school books or food? Would that beach look as pristine? This is what Conscious Vacations is about: acting as a virtual conscious-barometer to enable tourists to make informed decisions about their next holiday destination.

The idea came to me after reading an article that quoted Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi speaking in 1999 during the military junta’s rule. At the time a debate was raging among pro-democracy activists on whether to press the international community to boycott the country’s tourism. Her words spoke volumes to me when she said: “Burma will be here for many years, so tell your friends to visit us later. Visiting now is tantamount to condoning the regime.”

What are some of the challenges you have faced as a woman working in the field of science and technology?

Coming from Kenya, I have to say that the tech ecosystem is very supportive of women, so I can’t attribute my gender as presenting any obstacles. This has been the case particularly in the past five years with the growth of mobile phone use and the widespread adoption of mobile money systems such as M-Pesa, which has encouraged many women to venture into the tech space.

How can organizations encourage more women to enter the field of science and technology and nurture this talent?

Kenya’s accommodating technology ecosystem is mainly urban-based, and it would be great if organizations would work on enabling rural women to access the same opportunities. It’s also important to continue encouraging more girls to pursue careers in science and technology. Judging from local university enrollments in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) courses, women by and large remain in the minority.

Learn more about the Tech Challenge.

Fiona Mati is the founder of Yipe!, a resource portal for young Kenyan entrepreneurs.

USAID and CISCO to Establish Networking Academies in Burma

Last week in Burma, USAID hosted a technology delegation with the top American companies in the industry, including Cisco, Intel, Microsoft, Hewlett Packard and Google. With extremely low Internet and mobile coverage in-country and the government’s determination to create a more transparent and efficient governance, we were on the hunt for partnership opportunities to make a speedy transition.

Burma’s Minister of Communications, Information Technology called the delegation the ‘ICT Dream Team’ and outlined specific ways in which we could be helpful. He told us how pleased he was that these companies were committed to both the economic and social development of their country. Too often others seemed to only care about the former.

Maura O’Neill, Chief Innovation Officer,l at 2013 Mobile World Congress. Photo credit: Visa

We knew that in order for everyone in the country to benefit from a digital economy and for the government to develop the know-how to navigate the technology, Internet was key. Fortunately the companies involved in the tech delegation have experience developing and rolling out projects in digital literacy and business skill training in other countries on a massive scale. One of those companies is Cisco.

USAID has a long history with Cisco on public-private partnerships and they too had recently established operations in-country. Together, we have successfully developed and managed alliances in more than 70 countries. These partnerships range from focused projects where USAID and Cisco address development needs in one community by providing Information and Communication Technology (ICT) solutions, to large multi-partner alliances that have both broad and deep impact across a region or country, with the common goal of enabling human capacity-building and workforce development.

Drawing upon this established global partnership, Cisco committed to working with USAID to establish two Networking Academies in Burma within the next several months. Cisco Networking Academies are the flagship of Cisco’s social investment programs worldwide. They have established over 10,000 Networking Academies in 165 countries, helping individuals build ICT skills and prepare for industry-recognized certifications and entry-level ICT careers in virtually every type of industry. Over the next four to six weeks, Cisco will identify the location and donate lab equipment to support the launch of the Networking Academies.

This is just the beginning. USAID has long-standing relationships with the major global technology companies with track record of advancing development outcomes while aligning with core business interests.  The technology companies bring deep expertise, leading-edge technology products and platforms, and extensive experience in leveraging their core business and technology capabilities to advance outcomes ranging from strengthening governance and transparency, advancing education and fostering entrepreneurship and economic growth.

We know that broad-based economic growth is essential to long-term development. That is why USAID has adopted a model for development that seeks to achieve development goals more sustainably and at scale through high-impact and innovative partnerships.  With this in mind, we are building public private partnerships with U.S. businesses, university networks and civil society, linking them to development projects and encouraging the Burmese people to invest in their own development. Transition must come from within and USAID is committed to working alongside the people of Burma in building a path to prosperity.

Empowering Women with Mobile Money: The Tanzania Report

This originally appeared on Mobile Payments Today

Tanzania’s first mobile money service, M-PESA, was launched less than a year after it started in neighbouring Kenya, but adoption has been much slower in Tanzania. Consumers, especially women, face a myriad of barriers to mobile money uptake and regular usage.  During my fieldwork in Tanzania, I met with a number of women, both mobile money non-users and users, to learn more about these barriers. I also explored opportunities for the mobile money industry to overcome these challenges and develop a compelling case for women to use mobile financial services.

A message confirms the deposit of a new customer who is signing up for mobile banking. Photo credit: Kendra Helmer/USAID

The women users I spoke with were using mobile money mainly for remittances of under TSH 20,000 (approximately US$13). Some used the service for business, but most transactions were personal.  Many of the women who reported receiving remittances had married men from other towns or villages and had thus moved, and were receiving money from family at home. The frequency of mobile money usage varied from every two months to as many as seven times a month.

The women I spoke with suggested that using mobile money has improved their lives because of its ease and convenience. However, they also shared stories about agents charging more than the commission rates set by the operators, forcing users to pay more than they should to withdraw and deposit their money.  For some, this extra cost was acceptable because it was still lower than the costs of travelling to obtain the money by other means; for others, they did not have agents nearby so they incurred this fee on top of the time and cost to reach the closest agent.

In rural areas, respondents suggested that families live so close together that there is less need for remittances. However, learning more about women’s lifestyles and money management practices still highlights the potential role of mobile money in this context. For example, nearly three quarters of the population relies on agriculture-related activities for income; people keep crops such as maize as savings, liquidating only when there is an immediate financial need. One group of women acknowledged that they may not get the best price when they sell their crops like this, but they also feared the money would be misspent if they sold sooner.

Key questions we are continuing to probe include: How could mobile savings impact the families in these areas? What would be the best way to structure such services and how could mobile operators best communicate about the service to potential users? The answers to these questions – and more – will be reflected in the final report to be released later this month.

Kristy Bohling, an associate with Bankable Frontier Associates, conducted qualitative fieldwork in Tanzania. A video of Ms. Bohling discussing her research is also available.

Empowering Women One Mobile Phone At a Time

This originally appeared on Mobile Payments Today

Today, half the world’s adult population — 2.5 billion people — lacks access to basic financial services and the majority of them are women. Being financially excluded means relying on cash, where a simple task like paying a bill or receiving money from a family member can be risky, costly and time consuming. This exclusion from financial services also reinforces the cycle of poverty and slows economic growth.

From Kenya to Haiti to Indonesia, mobile phones already have begun playing an important role in expanding access to financial services, including ways to send, receive and save money. At the end of 2012, an estimated 1.7 billion people in the world will have a mobile phone but not a bank account, but thanks to advances in mobile banking technology, these are no longer mutually exclusive.

Mobile banking saves women time and money. With mobile services, women no longer have to make all-day treks to and from the bank. Photo credit: USAID

Mobile technology in the hands of women can help enable entry into the financial mainstream and provide access to life-enhancing services such as savings, payments, healthcare, education, and entrepreneurship. But as research has shown, there’s a gender gap in mobile phone ownership and usage, in part because of the lack of products designed for the wants and needs of women. In order to achieve the full potential of the role mobile technology can play in women’s empowerment globally, it is critical that service providers understand what women need and design products that effectively reach this audience.

Toward that goal, the GSMA mWomen Programme and Visa Inc. have partnered with Bankable Frontier Associates (BFA) to conduct groundbreaking research in five key countries: Indonesia, Kenya, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, and Tanzania. Building on the results of GSMA mWomen’s Striving and Surviving, which was prepared as part of Visa and GSMA’s partnership with USAID and AusAID, the BFA research will provide a deeper dive into how best to reach these women and what services and products will directly meet their needs – offering important lessons for mobile operators, financial institutions, governments, and other partners.

Consider Pakistan, where field work already is underway. In Pakistan, only 12 percent of the total population has a bank account — and those who do are primarily men. However, mobile phone penetration hovers around 70 percent, offering a unique opportunity to provide access to more formalized financial services via mobile phone. Our early field work indicates that while Pakistani women are remarkably sophisticated and adept at managing their household finances, they don’t have access to formal financial tools. Instead, they save in money boxes in their homes or via savings groups, both of which can carry significant risk. Given the increasing presence of mobile phones in the country, mobile financial services – if designed properly – can provide an accessible and convenient avenue for women to enter the financial mainstream.

To hear more about the work underway in Pakistan, please click here to view a video from one of the field researchers, the first in a series that will highlight the work being done in all five countries.

“Through this research, we aim to uncover the challenges women face in their daily and longer term financial management and to suggest ways of easing those burdens with mobile money,” says Daryl Collins, co-author of the seminal work, Portfolios of the Poor, and a director at BFA. “Poor people of both genders manage their money with a complex portfolio of financial instruments. However, the evidence suggests that women are doubly burdened, given that they are often responsible for making ends meet, yet are less empowered to make full use of the options available.”

Our hope in this effort is to help women realize the promise of mobile financial services. In order to do that, we need to learn more about women’s attitudes towards mobile services, including barriers to frequent use and whether mobile financial services offer an entry for women who previously did not value or know how to use mobile technologies.

As our research continues over the next few months, we look forward to sharing with you the voices of these women from around the world.

Aletha Ling is chief operating officer for Fundamo, a Visa company. Chris Locke is managing director of GSMA Mobile for Development Department.

USAID Announces #Popcorn + International Development Winners

At the end of January, we asked our partners for videos that showcased the creative ways digital space is used for development. The call for submissions was In participation with the global Social Media Week 2013 at which USAID participated for the first time this year.

Beny, a peer educator in the DRC uses Facebook to educate society about HIV prevention.

We received more than 50 videos from around the world, and we selected 20 that best illustrated how technology directly advances development and social good. We welcomed participants and others interested in social media to our headquarters at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington this afternoon, and shared a dynamic dialogue about the approaches organizations used, the successes they experienced, and the challenges they faced.

Thank you to all those who submitted videos to us! More importantly, thank you for the great work you are doing for making our world a better place to live.

Watch the final playlist that includes all winners. Follow the conversation on Twitter about the video showcase at #smwUSAID.

Advancing Development Through Social Media

Dr. Maura O'Neill is the chief innovation officer and senior counselor to the administrator at USAID.

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to moderate a panel for Social Media Week about the latest social media trends in international development. It was the first event of its kind here at USAID and I was happy to moderate. With panelists from UN Foundation, USAID, Huge Inc., iStrategy Labs, and Internews, it was a vibrant discussion to say the least.

The social space has become saturated with creative content from diverse thinkers and implementers of social good, and this could not be a better time for partners in development to use this space for improving programs and reaching even more people. Each panelist introduced a unique, and important, perspective to the conversation about the role of social media in the development world.

The UN Foundation alongside the UN General Assembly hosted an amazing  Social Good Summit  last September. Caleb Tiller, executive director of Communications and Public Affairs, introduced it as a powerful example of how social media can drive conversations around the globe about important issues that directly affect the daily lives of those engaged in the discussions online. He also pointed out that the inherent reach of social media is a benefit for initiatives such as the Summit because it is a quick way of engaging the individuals who are important to the conversation. The Social Good Summit reached  more than 300 cities worldwide and local simultaneous summits were held. This has significant impact in the development space because it means we can connect with more people, educating them about important issues that affect their lives – from global health, to gender equality, to ending extreme poverty (the list goes on!). It also means that any work we do has the potential to reach a thousand-fold the audience we would have reached through more traditional communications means.

Social media also allows room for more innovative ways of assisting people with few resources. And our partners and colleagues have been doing great work using social media as a tool to help promote advancements in the field of development. Through Facebook, Kate Watts, Managing Director at HUGE, helped facilitate the highly successful Pepsi Refresh campaign that gave more than 300 grants and $20 million to users for beneficial projects around the community. Participants submitted thousands of ideas through Facebook that people voted on. Nearly 132 schools and organizations benefited as a result of the campaign, more than 40 communities received affordable housing and parks, and 21 neighborhood parks were refreshed.

Kathleen Reen (right) of Internews explains the importance of digital security at USAID's panel on social media and development. Photo credit: USAID

Kathleen Reen, Vice President for Asia, Environment and New Media Programs at Internews, brought up the important factor of protecting information that resides in digital spaces. To address the challenge, they’ve implemented programs and training to ensure digital security in vulnerable societies that face challenges with access to Internet. As Kathleen said, “In vulnerable/censored societies, changemakers need knowledge digital tools to stay safe.”

It’s clear that the broad boundaries of social media bring to the forefront various issues we need to keep in mind, and continue to fine-tune, so we use platforms in smart ways. At USAID in particular, it is critical for our virtual efforts to translate to “real-life.” One way to do this was to use videogames as a channel to reach youth in Jordan.  It increases their real-life knowledge about civic responsibility and engagement by getting them engaged in building and running virtual cities. Maryanne Yerkes, senior civil society and ICT advisor at USAID, explained how USAID’s Innovations in Youth Capacity and Engagement (IYCE ) program says that games  directly strengthen youth engagement when integrated offline components.

We know that social media has isn’t perfect and has some of its own downsides. But, only through trying new approaches to our work and embracing new technologies can we discover powerful ways to drive more quickly our development goals.

What is your experience with social media and development? Join the conversation.

Maura O’Neill is on Twitter.

Follow USAID on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and Storify.

Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention: Introducing Our 1st Round of Winners

This originally appeared on Humanity United

In the fall, Humanity United partnered with USAID to launch the Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention. The goal of the Tech Challenge is to bring technologists and the human rights community together, to facilitate the development of new tools and technologies to help the human rights movement.

The first round of the Challenge opened in late October, offering prizes for the most innovative solutions to two intractable problems: how better to document evidence of atrocities on the ground, and how better to identify third-party enablers of atrocities (i.e. those states, corporations or individuals that offer support to perpetrators).

We are incredibly excited to announce the winners. The first place prize for $5,000 on the documentation challenge went to a partnership between Physicians for Human RightsDataDyne and InformaCam for developing the Kivu Link. This mobile app will equip doctors and nurses with critical tools for collecting, documenting and preserving court-admissible forensic evidence of mass atrocities including sexual violence and torture.

The second prize for $3,000 went to a mobile application that allows uses to covertly take pictures while simultaneously recording the location and time (EXIF) data during internet blackout situations in a hostile environment using an encrypted peer-to-peer Bluetooth network.

The third prize for $2,000 was split between two entries. Bonnie Feudinger, Brian Laning and Heather Vernon from the MCW Biotechnology and Bioengineering Center proposed the International Evidence Locker app, designed to collect relevant evidence, maintain a clear chain of custody of the evidence so that it’s admissible in judicial proceedings, and protect the witnesses collecting the evidence. The Signal Program Harvard Humanitarian Initiative proposed AMALGAM: Automated Mass Atrocity Algorithmic Analysis Methodology. This is a open-source platform to allow analysts to easily and systematically process and share remote sensing data specific to predetermined geospatial phenomena.

The first place prize for $5,000 for the enablers challenge went to Le-Marie Thompson of Nettadonna LLC, for her proposal for an Electronic Component Validation Tool for New Product Development, which address the challenge of companies unintentionally sourcing microelectronic components from suppliers that produce components using conflict materials.

The second prize for $3,000 went to Fiona Mati of Kenya for her app Conscious Vacations, which seeks to put pressure on state perpetrators (and those who commercial interests who support them) by helping tourists avoid countries whose leaders are implicated in human rights abuses.

The third prize for $2,000 went to the The Enough Project, for their proposal to combine front-line research with cutting-edge data mining technology to identify and stop enablers of mass atrocities.

We’re also very excited to announce that the next round of the Tech Challenge will open in late February! Stay tuned.

Michael Kleinman is a director of Investments, based in our San Francisco office.

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