Throughout my college career, the most gratifying learning experience I have had is with mapping and its practical uses for humanitarian assistance. After several geography and GIS classes as well as a switch in declared major, I started getting involved with the YouthMappers chapter on my campus at The George Washington University, the GWU Humanitarian Mapping Society. Being surrounded by like-minded people who saw open source mapping as an opportunity to aid and raise awareness to those who might otherwise be forgotten was truly inspiring. This prompted me to apply for the Virtual YouthMappers/ USAID GeoCenter Internship this semester to take the next step in my involvement in the mapping community. Throughout the semester we have been working on the Lake Chad region to identify settlements and access routes which will be used to combat the large number of displaced persons within the region due to Boko Haram and the shrinkage of the lake.
On Thursday April 19th, USAID held a youth innovation event at the Washington Hotel in Downtown Washington, DC. I was fortunate enough to attend and represent YouthMappers and the work we do. Before the official start of the event, those in attendance were allowed to walk around the large number of tables located around the room, called the marketplace, each with their own youth innovation group or project. As the event started, we were introduced to Abella Bateyunga who represented the Tanzania Bora Initiative, a collaboration of individuals from across Tanzania aimed at increasing a democratic culture in the country through media and art. She stressed the group’s vision to see a society in which citizens are engaged in the development of social, political, and economic practices.
After giving the audience an overview of the initiative and the work it was doing in Tanzania, she introduced Mark Green, the Administrator of USAID. The two engaged in a dialogue discussing some of the challenges the global community is facing and how the world’s youth fit into that picture. Ms. Bateyunga expressed to Administrator the need to include youth in discussions when it comes to making country wide decisions. Administrator Green concurred recounting his own experience dealing with politicians during tense elections then having the same conversation with young adults from both sides of the political spectrum. However, the discussion between the young adults was much more open-minded and productive. Before concluding, Ms. Bateyunga reiterated the need for youth to have a larger role in political dialogue in order to promote democratic values and a culture of strong principles for future generations.
Before the marketplace opened we were able to hear from five other initiatives including Aliança Empreendedora, an initiative aimed at supporting small businesses and entrepreneurs as well as attempt to build inclusive business models for governments and large corporations to include small businesses. Makkiya Jawed represented the group Sehat Kahani, who’s actions building an all-female healthcare provider network in Pakistan won the group the Global Youth Summit Top Innovation Award. Another organization was the Palestinians Childs Home Club in Hebron who assist Palestinian children in the development of skills across many areas as well as give them an opportunity to engage and become leaders in their community.
Flavien Kouatcha represented Save Our Agriculture from Cameroon which utilizes his background in engineering to create aquaponics kits for individuals who want to grow their own organic food in Africa. This system navigates around the problem of logistics in Africa caused by the lack of roads in a large number of areas. Finally, the National Youth Bunge Association is aimed at empowerment and building the capacity of youth across Kenya. They do this through forums created by youth from around the country who then educate fellow youth and promote activities and policies directed towards the support of youth in villages and counties around Kenya. After these presentations, each table gave a very short overview of their organization after which the marketplace opened and anyone could visit any table they wanted to learn more about the organization.
Throughout the event, I was able to talk with USAID and State Department Staff, employees in the private sector, fellow youth innovators, and many more. Among these was the incredible opportunity to speak directly with Administrator Mark Green. I was able to express the importance of what we do in the collection of data in areas that are frequently devoid of ground information. In addition, I was able to give him a demo on the use of OpenStreetMap and how the information collected on the site can be directly used to impact a broad selection of issues including disaster risk assessment as well as the displacement of communities. This amazing experience would not have been possible without my internship supervisor, Chad, those representing YouthMappers with me at the event, Nina, Yolani, and Jo, as well as my peers in the YouthMappers internship who have worked with me throughout the semester and given me the knowledge I used in articulating what makes this organization so great to some of the largest names in USAID and the youth innovation community.
Ian Burke is currently an undergraduate senior studying International Affairs concentrating in Security Policy and minoring in Geography at The George Washington University. He is an active member of the GWU Humanitarian Mapping Society. Ian has an academic interest in mapping, terrorism, the sociological impact on diasporas, and humanitarian relief on the global scale. He looks forward to continuing to work in the mapping community as well as expand his knowledge of GIS and open source mapping to encompass all of his interests.