For the past five months, UN Global Pulse has had a team of two Innovation Officers on the ground in Uganda. The team has been working closely with the Global Pulse staff in New York to lay the groundwork for establishing a Pulse Lab, located in Kampala. This work comes from a request by the Permanent Mission of Uganda to the UN General Assembly that Uganda to be the host country for the first of these groundbreaking labs.
Pulse Lab Kampala will be a physical space where software developers, designers and analysts can work together to address pressing problems around crisis impact monitoring by utilizing real-time information and new technologies. It will be a space where private sector, academia and civil society can share space, tools and lessons in a collaborative learning and experimentation environment. It will be a place where tried and tested, locally created solutions can scale, both to the national level to support the Government of Uganda and its partners, and to a global level to enhance the Global Pulse technology platform’s technology toolkit.
Last month, three members of the Global Pulse New York team, including myself, the Global Pulse Director and our Chief of Partnerships, went to Uganda for a weeklong mission to synthesize thinking done to date on the Lab, while at the same time creating new opportunities for partnerships and collaboration. We met with some fantastic potential collaborators – everyone from top technology firms in Uganda to key government officials – and fleshed out plans for Pulse Lab Kampala.
One of the most interesting events occurred on the first night of our stay; Global Pulse was invited to speak at the monthly meeting of the Kamapala chapter of “Mobile Monday.” The event brought together thought leaders from the mobile technology space to discuss mobile finance. While at first glance this topic may not seem like an immediate fit for the Global Pulse project, the rich discussions that ensued made it clear that the value add of a Pulse Lab in Kampala would not be limited to specific sectoral areas such as food security, health, or education. Rather, there will be tremendous benefit from having a collaborative space in which to develop open source solutions for inter-related social issues across the board.
There are several initiatives in Uganda that are already creating “incubators” and technology hubs with exciting momentum. We were lucky enough to meet with some of the champions of open-source collaboration from Makerere University. Their own initiatives in real-time information and analytics are breaking new ground in how local talent and capacity can be developed around technical issues. One of the ongoing struggles of academia anywhere in the world is how to bridge the gap between purely academic projects and those that can reach to national scale in implementation, and it became clear from our discussions that a Pulse Lab could be a catalyst not only inside of particular projects but also for linking them to larger scale, ongoing initiatives in the country.
From the week spent in Uganda, we were able to get a better understanding of how the work done to date by our Innovation Officers in Uganda can be further supported, and how the New York Global Pulse team can facilitate the creation of strong partnership scenarios to create a sustainable and successful network of in-country labs for crisis impact monitoring. Over the coming months we will be putting together a “cookbook” on the Uganda project – including mappings of partners, staffing needs and operational objectives. The cookbook will provide the blueprint and foundation not only for the Pulse Lab in Uganda, but also for the other Labs planned by Global Pulse.
We look forward to commencing work in Uganda on technical development of software for real-time crisis impact monitoring tools, on local capacity building, and on full and articulated collaboration with our partners in late 2011. Please stay tuned to this space for updates and specific sets of problems and ideas which Pulse Lab Kampala will be working on as we move forward.
Chris Fabian is Global Pulse’s Senior Advisor on Innovation, and is the co-lead of UNICEF’s Innovation Unit in New York.