Posts / January 3, 2011

Looking Back At 2010

It’s easy to charge ahead with the new year, but I believe it’s also important to first pause for a moment and reflect on all the things one’s accomplished over the past year.

After spending the last three years living in Halifax and London, it as nice to know that 2010 would be spent back in Saskatoon allowing me to reconnect with friends and family. Unfortunately, getting assaulted during the last new years festivities was not exactly the warm welcome I was expecting. Also somewhat ironic, considering that over the past three years I’ve travelled to over twenty countries without experiencing any problems, guess thats why they say there’s no place like home 😉

In January, the world watched in horror as an earthquake devastated Haiti’s capital, Port au Prince. The Extraordinaries called an emergency team meeting, looking for ways our micro-volunteer platform could be used to help the people of Haiti. Over the next few days our team frantically worked to build a Missing Person Finder to allow volunteers to tag images from the earthquake, and to match those tagged images with missing person photos. We always knew the potential of the platform, but I believe it was the Haiti earthquake response that was the tipping point where the public also realized the real power of micro-volunteering, a few spare moments could make a big difference. And we had an incredible response, 76,584 disaster images tagged, 8,137 news photos collected from the earthquake, 746 possible matches identified and 24 matches good enough to contact family members, truly remarkable!

In February, I had the incredible opportunity to travel to Rwanda to help install an OpenMRS medical record system in a small rural hospital in Gitwe. It truly was a life changing trip for me. Being my first time in Africa, every day felt like two because by noon I had already experienced an entirely new day of sights, sounds and smells. The trip didn’t come without it’s challenges, from customs confiscating the computer hardware to major electrical conversion headaches to faulty hospital room power supplies and buggy open source software with almost non-existent internet connection for support. Somehow, at the 11th hour, we got the computers installed and the software running. Rwanda is such a beautiful country, but it was people that really touched my heart, especially the children. Whether it was them singing for us, or making paper airplanes together or visiting the local school, I’ll never forget my time in Rwanda.

In March, I decided to leave the Extraordinaries so I could pursue some of my own interests and continue to support open source initiatives like Ushahidi and FrontlineSMS. It was a difficult decision to make, but I feel blessed for having the opportunity to contribute to the Extraordinaries’ micro-volunteer platform, a fantastic team on a noble mission to allow the crowd to harass their wasted moments to volunteer for a worthy cause. I will definitely look back at my time with the Extraordinaries as a highlight of my career.

In April, as a favour to a friend Lucky Gunasekara, I developed the Reminders plugin for FrontlineSMS, open source software that has been used by NGOS around the world to send and receive text messages for such efforts as human rights monitoring, disaster relief, education programs and fundraising campaigns. The Reminders plugin added the ability to schedule an email or sms message for a future date for a variety of occurrences. The plugin has since been used to send reminders to TB patients in Indonesia, to send patient appointment reminders at AMPATH clinic in Kenya and in Romania for librarians to send overdue book notifications.

In May, I had the opportunity of speaking at the U of S Digitized conference to 250 high school students about why computer science was a must for solving the world’s biggest problems, and why innovation comes at the intersection of disciplines, with software development at the heart of social change.

Also in May, as a little side project, I developed Web Comics, a web comic reader for iOS. Being a comic fan myself, I was pretty excited to publish the app because it allowed other fans to share their favorite comics via Facebook, Twitter or Email. Much to my surprise, rather than happy fans I was greeted by an angry mob that mis-understood the app was just a RSS-reader pre-populated with feeds. Not wanting to upset the artists, I quickly pulled the app from sale. Learning from my mistakes, I altered the apps functionality allowing users to add their own feeds, and re-published to the App Store. That entire ordeal taught me a valuable lesson; Twitter is a powerful tool for communication, but also a vehicle for mass mis-communication.

At the end of May, with help from my friends in Halifax and Flavio Ishii in Saskatoon, we hosted the second Apps 4 Good iHackathon 4 Charity, with over fifty participants across two cities. Over the course of the weekend we started developing seven apps, truly inspiring to see everyone working towards a common goal. As Margaret Mead once said, “never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.” Unfortunately, the seven apps are still in development, but hopefully we can publish some of them in early 2011.

In June, I travelled to Toronto and had the honor of speaking at Mobile Tech 4 Social Change conference on Mobile Volunteerism during the Net Change Week. The entire day was filled with fantastic talks on how mobile devices are changing the world, excited to be part of that conversation. While in Toronto I also participated in the Future Lab event where my team was given the challenge, how can people in areas of conflict be given a voice? Our team proposed the idea of Megaphone, a VOIP system that allows participants to create ad-hoc groups and share information using an ordinary cell phone. The system could be used by farmers in developing countries to share crop prices, or for mothers in a rural village to notify others of potential threats. It’s an exciting idea, hopefully one day soon it will move from concept to product.

In July, I worked with SMS Medic to help develop a new plugin for FrontlineSMS called TextForms, to allow structured data gathering via SMS. The plugin was piloted in Haiti and Pakistan to monitor hospital resource levels. I’ve also been a long time fan of SMS Medic, so it was pretty awesome working with Josh Nesbit and Dieterich Lawson.

In August, I became Ushahidi’s Mobile Project Manager and began developing the long awaited iOS app. Building the app from ground up, it was exciting to apply all the things I’ve learned in iOS development from the past year.

In September, I worked with FrontlineSMS to develop FrontlineSMS Mapping plugin which allowed Ushahidi incident reports to be collected via SMS, and uploaded once an internet connection became available. The plugin was originally developed by Emmanuel Kala, but I continued from where he left off, adding new functionality including integration with TextForms and FrontlineForms plugins, providing new ways to collect incident reports.

In October, I gave a talk at Saskatoon Barcamp on Lessons From A Freelancer, nice to see such a developed software community here in Saskatoon. In early October my wife and I travelled to Greece for a friend’s wedding, getting to also visit Turkey along the way.

In November, I began developing an Android app for GVFI.org to replace their traditional paper forms with a mobile app to help reduce errors and while providing realtime access to information. The app eventually be used by GVFI.org field agents to monitor potential virus outbreaks in high risk areas like bush meat markets in Cameroon.

In mid November, I had the amazing opportunity to speak at TEDxSaskatoon on Dharma and the purpose of life. Sharing some of Deepak Chopra’s wisdom from Seven Spiritual Laws Of Success; that everyone has a special talent, and it’s purpose in life to use that talent to help others. The idea of dharma has been a major influence on my life, so it was excited to share this concept with others.

Also in November, my friend Flavio Ishii and I organized the Saskatoon Sustainability Series, a documentary series to share the success stories how other cities have solved similar challenges Saskatoon is now facing by embracing sustainable ideas.

Finally in December, I added the finishing touches to the Ushahidi iOS app and submitted it to the App Store. The iOS app was just officially released today, excited to finally have it available for the community.

So there it was, my 2010. It’s easy to get caught up in the daily task or challenge, but after looking back at the last twelve months, I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished this year. But upon reflecting, I’ve also realized there is still work to do. In 2010, I hoped to bring two powerful ideas to life: everyone is a teacher, and everyone has a story to share. Unfortunately, these two ideas got put on the back burner as other items took priority. But you can expect to hear from me more about these two ideas in 2011 🙂

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