Map Kibera

Empowering communities through Technology: Map Kibera visit FrontlineSMS office

Post by Kike Oyenuga, FrontlineSMS Community Intern

“Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya, was a blank spot on the map until November 2009, when young Kiberans created the first free and open digital map of their own community. Map Kibera has now grown into a complete interactive community information project.”

Jamie Lundine, Executive Director of Map Kibera, stopped by the FrontlineSMS office in London to meet with our London team whilst she was visiting the UK. We had a great conversation with Jamie about the way different types of technology can be used to help empower vulnerable communities. She discussed the role Map Kibera plays in community building in Kibera, one of the largest informal communities in the world located on the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya. She also shared her experience of providing training to youth groups in Kibera, on different types of participatory tech tools including FrontlineSMS.

Map Kibera was started in 2009 as an effort aimed at creating an open street map of the informal settlements of Kibera. This project was significant because mapping hadn’t been carried out by any official source previously. The process of mapping was completed by community volunteers and over the course of three weeks in late 2009, using hand held GPS devices and the Open Street Map open source mapping platform. The mapping itself was done by young ‘digital surveyors’, who were recruited locally and trained to report on their local area. The city mapping project has been so successful that it has since expanded to involve several other communities in Kenya, including Mathare, Mukuru and Kwale.

Map Kibera has now become a spring board for other projects too, including Voice of Kibera which is an interactive citizen reporting program started in 2010. “Voice of Kibera is operated largely by residents of Kibera, and allows community members to reports news events in the area by SMS and by travelling to the local office to make reports,” Jamie explains. This news is then posted to the map of Kibera, and made available online for others to access. The reporters at Voice of Kibera are locally-recruited youth who are trained in reporting techniques. Jamie discussed with us how “Map Kibera is a program that aims to help the Kibera youth have their voices heard.” The journalists, along with the mappers and incident reporters are all youth members of the Map Kibera Trust and are involved with directly involved in managing its programs.

The Voice of Kibera system does not use FrontlineSMS software directly, but the Map Kibera team do encourage others to use our software if it is helpful. “We encourage youth and community members to use the best ICT solution for their current needs and available resources,” Jamie explains. This means training youth on a range of solutions and allowing them to choose the most appropriate (which is sometimes no ICT at all, and rather some sort of offline communication strategy).

Map Kibera offers training on a range of open source technologies to help youth reporters. Jamie highlights that, “the training specifically targets youth because they are eager to adopt new technologies and are invested in the improvement of their community.” The technologies they train on include OpenStreetMap to map the communities, Wordpress for blogging and Ushahidi for mapping incident reports. They also train on FrontlineSMS, showing people how our software can be used to send, receive and manage mass SMS messages. The team train local youth groups, NGOs and community organizations to use FrontlineSMS in order to help other social change projects. In fact it was through Map Kibera training at Plan Kenya that the Jipange youth project in Kenya first heard about FrontlineSMS, and then began exploring ways they could use it for their work as we reported on our blog previously.

The impact of Map Kibera’s work can clearly be seen through the empowerment of youth reporters. The young men and women that are involved receive training, acquire skills and, as a result, a sense of pride and accomplishment as they learn to produce their own media work. The uses of the mobile and media platforms can be determined directly by the reporters as well. For example, one project started by the mappers documented  girl's security and they track danger zones in the community as a guide to women. This was a need defined by the needs of the community and met by the community reporters themselves using technology.

Future plans include moving Map Kibera beyond online access only, and towards using the map data in public displays to help everyone in the local community. A map of Kibera, displayed prominently, could help residents to locate and access services within it. In Kibera, businesses and public service providers are not necessarily formalized. They can move locations or shut down suddenly, it is useful to have a dynamic map that can be readily changed to reflect to most up-to-date version of Kibera.

It was exciting to meet with Jamie, and learn more about Map Kibera’s future plans. Here at FrontlineSMS we are always keen to see how technology is being used in different ways to empower communities. Thanks to Jamie for her visit, and we look forward to keeping in touch with the Map Kibera team as they progress with their work.

For more information on Map Kibera visit: