I'm with Coco! My thoughts on being named to the Time 100 List

April 29, 2010

Before starting, I would like just like to thank everyone for your amazingly kind words and your continuous support.  Your words mean an incredible amount as they come from people I admire so much.  This is a deeply humbling experience that means a lot both to my family and myself.  So before I say anything else, thank you very much.  I’m overwhelmed by your kindness.

This recognition would not have been possible without the support of an incredible community of innovators, activists and friends whose passion and commitment to their work is not only an inspiration but important as their thoughts and actions are changing the way we think fundamentally about problems and how we can address them.   It’s amazing to work in a community where open-collaboration and sharing ideas take precedence to personal accolades and where each other’s work, successes and even failures are celebrated. Whatever we accomplish, we do so standing on the shoulders of friends.  I hope you see this recognition, as I do, as an incredible validation of our work.

I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate and thank my colleagues at MVP, many of who form the basis of the ChildCount+ team.  Are work has just begun but your demonstrated dedication and expertise hold the key to realizing this project’s potential.  In particular, I have the great fortune to work with Patricia Mechael and Andy Kanter, both pillars in m+eHealth respectively, and to whom I owe a great deal for their mentorship and guidance.  As our project continues to grow, I am incredibly excited to work with people such as Bennett Nemser and our talented Health and CHW team who bring the understanding and attention to this project that is needed.

As a former programmer, I need to thank our core development team of Renaud Gaudin, Dickson Ukang'a and David Gelvin who make all this possible and who I recognize will never get due credit for all they contribute. Through Renaud, the spirit of Geekcorps lives on in his organization Kunnafoni, and he is largely behind the success of the Rural Technology Lab which represents such incredible promise.  Lastly, I would like to thank the Sauri Health team led by James Wariero, who took a rough idea and forged it into a working model. I would also like to pay particular tribute to community health care workers who represent the best investment we can make, bar none, to ensure a community’s health.

Projects like ChildCount+ are possible because of RapidSMS and it’s incredible community, at the heart of which are Chris, Erica, Sean, Terra, Seth, Merrick, Malthe, Adam and Evan and the rest of the UNICEF Innovation Unit who are to me the definition of selfless collaboration. Jonathan Jackson and its incredibly talented crew at Dimagi (Cory, Dan, Rowena, Clayton) and others like Jeff Wishnie, Tim AkinboMichael Benedict and Nic Pottier help make RapidSMS what it is and quietly work to demonstrate its potential.

We represent, however, only a small part of the picture.  One has to only look so far to the work of my colleagues with the Open Mobile Consortium (OMC) to understand this. My good friends Hajo and Bas’ work at Text To Change – was the first to convince me that a mobile phone could really be used to save lives, and Peter and his team with Cell-Life work to do this daily in fighting HIV in South Africa.  Neal Lesh of D-Tree and Dimagi have worked diligently to create CommCare another important tool to watch in community health.  Gaetano, Yaw and Carl out of the University of Washington have blessed us all with Open Data Kit, THE tool for complex mobile phone based data collection.  They have shown that you don’t have to be a project endowed with millions of dollars to release a world-class product.  Then there is Ushahidi (a project that no longer needs an introduction) that simply does things the right way; this is no surprise as it is a trademark of it’s co-founder, and personal inspiration, Erik Hersman.  Robert Kirkpatrick, who formerly helped lead the important work of InSTEDD, now as the director for GIVAS has the daunting responsibility of scaling our ideas to an important new level of scale. Last but certainly not least is Katrin Verclas of MobileActive of who sees where all this is going and is not afraid to drag us there if needed.

Ken Banks, Josh Nesbit, Ben Lyon and the rest of FrontlineSMS team deserve incredible recognition not only for their pioneering work but for building a community of EMPOWERED users that sets the example for us all to follow.   Joel Selanikio and the DataDyne team have not only made mobile phone based data collection easy but understand that for applications to achieve their potential they need to be Coded in Country.

For years, our friends at Inveneo (like TIER) have set the example of how to appropriately bring low cost and appropriate computing and connectivity to rural communities and is now playing a central role in restoring connectivity in Haiti.  Then there is the inimitable Wayan Vota (now with Inveneo) who works tirelessly to raise awareness to what matters and who also gave me my first shot with the Geekcorps.

So many more deserve recognition including the OpenMRS community, the pioneers of point of care — Gerry, Mike & Jeff of Baobob Health, Jørn and the OpenXData project,  eMocha, The Gather Project, the Grameen Tech and their MoTech project, the people behind the innovation labs and centers like AppAfrica (Jon Gozier), LimbeLabs (Bill Zimmerman) and iHub (Ushahidi). Ian Shuler of NDI who has helped pioneer the use of SMS in election monitoring and groups like Development Seed who are teaching us all how to make data look GOOD.   This is just a partial list and omitted are the people we don’t yet know — the teams of programmers and social activists in Africa, India, Asia and Latin and South America working to better the world around them.

In short, I feel blessed to part of this wonderful community.  If you want to learn more about this field, I would encourage you to contact anyone from this list, as they are all incredible ambassadors to our work.

Personal thanks go out to my friends and family for their support of the life I’ve chosen and Leigh for her continued belief in me throughout all of this. My schools Knox College and Thunderbird for an education that I will never take for granted, my colleagues and close friends Jess and Yanis for helping create an opportunity to test out my ideas early, and my supportive boss Vijay and brilliant team mates of the Modi Research Group and The Earth Institute – my home for the past three years.

Finally, I would like to remember Dennis Bilodeau, whose commitment to promote democracy and governance through better access to information in Mali is represented by the country-wide network of thriving community radios he’s left behind.  It’s the memory of people like him that help us get through the tough days.


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I'm a technologist/geek living in Nairobi, Kenya. I believe open code and data can make the world a better place. Follow me on Twitter;

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