At the Best of Blogs as a Jury Member

I’m in Bonn, Germany as the English speaking judge for Deutsche Welle’s “Best of Blogs” awards (aka The BoBs). There are 11 judges, each representing different languages, and we each get to present one blog for each main category and each get one vote for the winner. Being the English judge is actually quite challenging, where many of the language judges need only focus on a single region, I have to contend with the fact that there are English blogs all over the world, so many that I can’t know all of them.

House Help and Human Rights

Blogs give voice – they lower the barriers, allowing stories to surface that would otherwise not be seen or heard.

The first vote today is for a Special Award on Human Rights. It’s a sobering start to the morning, going through blogs where people are doing courageous writing, shining a light on atrocities from Mexico to Germany to China. My nomination was for the blog Migrant Rights in the Middle East. It’s a blog put together by Mideast Youth, led by Senior TED Fellow Esra’a al Shafei out of Bahrain – a true grassroots effort.

One of the top contenders in this category is the Chinese blogger Teng Biao’s blog, a prominent human rights lawyer, writer and professor from Beijing. He was arrested this February dung the first day of China’s Jasmine Protests.

Migrant Rights won the award. I think this is largely due to the fact that what the team at Mideast Youth is doing hits on a subject that is so rarely spoken of. There are millions of house help and casual laborers that work in homes throughout the middle east, they come from all over the world and they lack a voice. Their stories get picked up from time-to-time in mainstream media, but there’s a need to follow this all the time (with resources and a database of activities), across the whole region and that’s where Migrant Rights fits in.

Expatriate workers are a crucial part of the fabric of Gulf society and economy, where they make up to 80% of the population in some states…

Whether we are a Qatari citizen who has grown up with a team of domestic staff at home, a Saudi woman who relies on her Pakistani driver to go to visit her girlfriends, or a western expat who benefits from a Filipino cleaning lady and works in a smart, modern office tower that was build from the back-breaking work of Nepalis, Indian, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, we all owe these individuals a debt of gratitude. Yet instead these individuals are undervalued, ignored, exploited and denied their most basic human rights. This is modern day slavery.

Congratulations to Esra’a and her team for providing a voice to the often voiceless.

Other Jury Winners

I was also in charge of the Best Blogs in English category, and I’m very happy to announce that the winner is Sandmonkey!

(Note: For those counting, 3 of the 6 jury winners are from North Africa and the English winner is also from the continent. All for good reasons of course, the activity in this space has been amazing since just January. Now it’s time for sub-Saharan African bloggers to up their game. Part of that means nominating the really amazing bloggers who are doing incredible work in your region. )

Quick Hits Around African Tech

Umbono: Google’s South African Incubator

In Cape Town, Google has initiated a tech incubator that gives 6 months of free space, $25-50k startup funding and access to an extensive mentoring network. The secret sauce here is in the angel & mentor network, who will be providing 50% of all investment money, while Google provides the rest. Johanna Kollar leads this initiative, and tells me they’re looking for at least 5 companies to get behind in this first go at it, though if there are enough exceptional applicants, they might do more. If you’re a registered business in South Africa, then you can participate. (more on the Google Africa blog)

The BoBs

Deutsche Welle runs the “Best of Blogs” awards each year, showcasing excellent blogs from all over the world. If you haven’t yet, take a few minutes and vote for your favorites. There are quite a few from North Africa.

21st Century Challenges: Digital Technology in Africa

I’ll be a guest to the Royal Geographic Society in London on May 18th for a discussion on technology in Africa with Nicholas Negroponte, Herman Chinery-Hesse and moderated by Bog Geldof. Our main topic:

“Can digital technology such as laptops and mobile phones offer the countries of Africa realistic economic and educational opportunities?”

If you’re in London, you can get a ticket to the event and join us.

Ushahidi moves

There are over 10,000 deployments of the Ushahidi platform around the world, and as you might imagine, a lot has been happening at Ushahidi, including:

  • The launch of Crowdmap Checkins at SXSW, a way to “roll your own Foursquare-type service”. It’s in it’s beta stage, but you can play with it now, as others have already using the Ushahidi Android or iOS apps.
  • Some amazing people created a Japan deployment after the earthquake and tsunami there, we helped by getting our SwiftRiver Sweeper app to do real-time translation using Google’s APIs.
  • Japan earthquake Ushahidi data, heatmapped

    Japan earthquake Ushahidi data, heatmapped

  • We’ve released some reports on past deployments and are part way through an evaluation by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative.
  • One of our volunteer deployers, Anahi Ayala Iacucci, spent a great deal of time and created a 90+ page Ushahidi manual for anyone looking to deploy Ushahidi. Having worked on over 20 deployments of her own, she’s one of the best placed people in the world to do this.

Samsung Seeks to Grow in Africa

Samsung is opening a new Electronics Engineering Academy for youth in Boksburg, South Africa. As Afrinnovator states, they have about 20% of the market, which will only increase as they’ve been smart enough to get behind Android in their devices (currently with 22 models). We’ve felt this presence at the iHub in Nairobi as well, where Samsung has a great interest in reaching out to Android programmers.