Posts Tagged with “service”

Civil Society, CrisisCamp

August 29th, 2010

Almost every time I talk to Esther Dyson about Russia, she speaks of the importance of building civil society, of developing a world where people don’t look to government and formal “non-governmental organizations” for all the answers. Here’s a paragraph she wrote about civil society in an article about the Feb 2010 US State Department Tech Delegation to Russia:

Civil society is not just politics: it is a restaurant giving unused food to the poor. It is a for-profit company such as Twitter providing its service free to rich and poor alike (even though advertisers will focus on the rich). It is successful entrepreneurs mentoring start-up entrepreneurs, and NGOs engaging not just with the government, but also with commercial outfits to get support for activities that will address vexing social problems such as maternal and infant mortality.

I was reminded of Esther’s focus on civil society at the CrisisCamp event Friday night.

There are a lot of barriers to helping from a distance when a disaster strikes. Today information technology, the marvels of the Internet, and new tools focused on crowdsourcing and crowd-sourced data provide some new mechanisms. And so there are groups of people trying to develop actionable data out of the heartbreaking SMS messages (a partial example: “village of 200 houses, 100% destroyed. 100% crops destroyed. Village still flooded.”)

There’s no official government involvement. There’s not necessarily any direct connection between the people working at this and the villages or individuals affected by the floor. There is however civil society in action: see a problem, do something. Form an association (Ben Franklin formed a surprising number of associations), virtual or formal. Build a tool — or a product. Reach out. Don’t wait for government to set up a special official organization — plunge in and do things.

The degree to which citizens believe they can, can, and do affect their own lives and the lives of others is a pretty potent marker of the nature of a society.

Pakistan Floods — What to Do?

August 27th, 2010

I’ve been asked a few times what I think Mozilla can do to respond to the suffering caused by the floods in Pakistan. The answer is that I don’t know. I don’t know what particular expertise Mozilla has that can be put to use in a way that actually helps people. CrisisCommons works to develop technical solutions so that people can help, particularly to enable information sharing:

CrisisCommons is a global network of volunteers who help people in times and places of crisis. If you can use the Internet, a word processor, a cell phone or any other kind of technology, you can help. Right now virtually online or during one of our many CrisisCamps around the world!

CrisisCamps are held to bring focused attention on particular disasters. There’s one tonight in Silicon Valley focused on the Pakistan floods. Here’s the description:

Non-techies with laptops are needed do Pashtun translation, data entry, blogging, text editing, classifying messages, user-interface testing, collating web-based news updates, etc. We will also create technical tiger teams to provide Silicon Valley-located expertise to CrisisCommons projects managed by camps around the world. These projects involve mapping, databases, crowd-sourcing, coding, user-centered design, etc. This requires techies with laptops. Range of coding skills (python), geo-, and user interface skills are required.

I plan to go — anyone else?

Service Week Inspiration

September 17th, 2009

I’ve been reading about Anthony and Lucas’ trip to their local library as part of Mozilla Service Week. Only a few people came to their “Ask a Geek” table, but Anthony describes a memorably experience nonetheless. I realized that my local library might be a good place to do this as well. It’s on the San Francisco peninsula, but not in Palo Alto or Mountain View, and has a community that isn’t entirely techie. And the library is near the local high school, and I think it fills up with high school students in the afternoon.

One of our mighty system administrators lives in the same town, is an active LUG organizer, and is the perfect person to join me. Now all I have to do is go talk to the library folks and see how welcoming they will be! Also, if anyone wants to join us in the mid-peninsula area drop me a note here.

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