What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?
How many people face eviction? Where are they located? What is the status of the land? These are some of the many questions those working with urban poor communities in Phnom Penh ask when a community receives an eviction order. Often, the answers are not readily available. As a journalist also working in the urban sector in Phnom Penh, I came to realise how important, and powerful, reliable information can be in supporting communities under threat of eviction. Although various community profiles may currently exist in NGOs' and authorities' offices, or indeed in a colleague's head, the information is rarely easily accessible.
But it's not only about evictions. Phnom Penh is changing incredibly fast: what was here today may be gone tomorrow, and the day after a new building has been erected. Is anyone tracking this? No. Heritage buildings disappear without a trace, and areas previously home to thousands of families now house luxury hotels owned by powerful individuals. Few people staying in the hotels know this - if they did, they might opt to stay elsewhere.
Phnom Penh is a beautiful city with so much potential. Yet the city previously known as The Pearl of Asia is undergoing such ferocious and unplanned development it may never regain that title. Perhaps, by monitoring and reporting on changes in Phnom Penh, we can propel at least some of the capital's citizens to stop and think about what kind of city it is that they really want.
When Tactical Tech introduced me to the Ushahidi software, I saw how others have used it for advocacy purposes around the world, and realised that visualising information on an online map would be the ideal solution to make historical and real-time info about urban developments in Phnom Penh easily accessible to a variety of actors. Given that it is online, anyone can access the data, and the site's reporting function allows anyone to report further information. When properly up and running, the UrbanWatch site will make information access and exchange much easier, as well as allow both community members and their supporters to develop more effective advocacy campaigns based on increasingly accessible and reliable information. It's a simple idea, but knowledge is power.
Tell us about the social innovator—the person—behind this idea.
Nora Lindstrom is a journalist and urban space activist based in Phnom Penh. Since she first came to the Cambodian capital in 2007 she has been fascinated by the fast and constant changes in the city. Through working with STT, she also came to know the dark side of these developments. She quickly realised the mapping work conducted by STT was crucial in locating, often for the first time, urban poor communities, many of whom face eviction. But she wanted more. She learnt that in order to support communities under threat of eviction, reliable information about the communities was needed, yet this was not always easily available even if it did exist "somewhere" in "some file". Once she came across the Ushahidi mapping platform it all fell into place: she would mobilise STT's mapping skills, use already existing information about communities and urban developments, as well as train others to gather more information. The result? UrbanWatch, a unique tool for tracking developments in the urban space, providing an institutional memory of developments, as well as visualising them on a map to allow for the identification of patterns.
STT co-founder Meas Kim Seng was one of the many Cambodians that inspired Nora to start the project. Seng is a trained architect who despite growing up in the tumultuous Khmer Rouge years, has emerged as one of Cambodia’s leading lights in the urban sector in general and the urban poor sector in particular. Seemingly indefatigable, Seng has worked with urban poor communities in Phnom Penh since his graduation in 1999 and has unparalleled knowledge of this group and its history. Despite opportunities to work in more lucrative architectural practices Seng has focused his career on what he loves most – working with people, especially those in vulnerable situations. Ironically while many of the the people Seng has helped over the years now enjoy small but highly valuable homes in the city Seng in fact still rents a flat in Phnom Penh while prices have far outstripped his modest salary. Seng, marked by a dedication to his work, his trademark smile and untiring enthusiasm are without the doubt another major force behind this idea.
How did you first hear about Changemakers?
Web Search (e.g., Google or Yahoo)
If through another source, please provide the information.
Approximately 50 words left (400 characters).