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  • Gabriela Zdrazilova, University of Victoria

Community knowledge and ground-level information for identifying diverse, discursive, and scale-vari

“Who are the poor? Where are they? They have a face. They have a very specific, in some cases, even location. And we tend to deal with them as if they are a homogeneous group. They are not.”

Graça Machel, Founder, Foundation for Community Development, Mozambique; Founder, Graça Machel Trust

USAID Frontiers in Development (2014)

Modern international development approaches to alleviating poverty often include use of innovative technology to achieve development goals. In order to reach a solution consistent with the principles of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, which USAID and many other western development agencies strive towards, greater emphasis on community knowledge and applications of ground-level information is needed. I argue mining of data required for geospatial analysis on a GIS rests on the availability of knowledge of the locale where work is being done. Small-scale relationships with communities are essential in order to maintain an anti-oppressive, socially conscious, and ultimately, effective, poverty-reduction practice.

Digital literacy proves paramount in making life-saving mapping technology accessible for all. USAID provides initiatives to create and enhance access to digital resources in developing countries. This ranges from access to solar energy via solar panels in rural communities, to financially supporting local scientists and their IT-based research in metropolitan cities with useful global connections.

US Global Development Lab, USAID Initiative

  • Digital Inclusion Program -- DadaabNet partnership provides low-cost internet to the world’s largest refugee complex in Kenya

  • Off-Grid Electric provides solar energy to people without access to the grid in Tanzania

  • Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research supporting scientists in developing countries

The above initiatives by the US Global Development Lab demonstrate that USAID acknowledges the unique and scale-sensitive geographies of poverty. Humanitarian mapping tasks, such as those in GIS HOT OSM, and other software used by USAID such as QGIS, require local knowledge. In context, if a region were susceptible to dam flooding, where people live in terms of infrastructure, and accessible main transportation routes such as roads and rivers should be mapped to greater enable efficient and safe evacuation of the area. Inside knowledge is required in order to prioritize important mapping tasks, which are often incredibly time-sensitive. This demonstrates USAID’s dedication to social justice, as the agency includes the needs of the community by recognizing local information as essential. Although much work can be done in terms of local mapping, USAID’s commitment to the importance of community partnerships looks promising for the future; particularly when the agency’s Geo-center is able to harness novel and more efficient geospatial technology in the future.

Gabriela Zdrazilova is an undergraduate student majoring in Geography at the University of Victoria, British Columbia.

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