By Susannah Vila with Aashika Damodar
At least 12.3 million adults and children are in forced labor, bonded labor, and commercial sexual servitude at any given time; 56 percent of all forced labor victims are women and girls.
There are a variety of obstacles preventing the end of human trafficking. A prominent one, though, is the difficulty of ascertaining where the information about traffickers and their victims is and who has it. For example, how many different NGOs focused on human trafficking are there in a given community? Are they sharing knowledge and capacities so that they can be most effective in addressing the problem?
Aashika Damodar and her team at Survivors Connect decided that a Ushahidi-powered map of resources may facilitate this collaboration. But how difficult would it be to keep the mapped information private while also running a successful implementation of the software?
While she was still in high school, Aashika's parents told her that she'd be moving to their native India for an arranged marriage. After much fighting, she riled her way out of the situation and graduated from UC Berkeley four years later. Aashika was struck by the experience of a cousin, however, who was sent to India under similar circumstances and ended up a domestic servant. Her personal experiences with forced migration led her to found Survivors Connect while still an undergraduate. It’s a global network to build advocacy and support networks of activists and survivors working to end modern-day slavery and human trafficking. And it’s the organization behind the Ushahidi-driven “Freedom Geomap.”
THE TOOLS AND TACTICS
“What I loved about Ushahidi is that it crowd sources using so many different inputs…I saw a variety of uses for it.”
The only problem was that the information she hoped to map might put those involved at risk. For example, someone with accurate locations of safe havens for victims of human trafficking wouldn’t share the information unless they knew that it would be invisible to traffickers.
So Survivors Connect decided to create a password-protected resources map.
"It’s not crowd sourcing in the traditional sense; it’s crowd sourcing among a really small population of actors.”
The team had to make various additional tweaks to the out-of-the-box Ushahidi software in order to make it work for this context:
- Adding satellite imagery on top of the basic Google map allowed fieldworkers and local organizations to more easily recognize land and markers so that they could, for example, pinpoint a farm with suspected forced labor.
- Increasing the map size so it covers the whole page. After all, this isn’t just one community—it’s the whole world.
- Allowing participants to plot multiple points. This way, you can see how a data point (which may represent a slave) has moved over time. Identifying patterns inherent to global human trafficking is one important step forward in the fight to eradicate it.
- Changing the category scheme so that a user can view multiple categories at the same time. Maybe you don’t want to just view organizations or just view forced labor sites but instead view both at the same time.
THE STUMBLING BLOCKS
Deciding if the advantages of having the map password protected are worthwhile has proven to be a huge challenge.
"The benefits [of having it password protected] is that it’s all verified, and people feel more secure in reporting forced labor and trafficking—they know they won't get in trouble and that a select group of people will see it. The disadvantage is that we don’t get more citizen voices."
Going back to the initial launch, getting NGOs to use the platform was a huge obstacle. Aashika turned to physical outreach, reaching out to organizations on the ground and presenting the map as an experiment that may or not be helpful. “We just want to try out this tool and see if it can be useful to you,” she’d tell them, showing a bulleted list of ways that they could use it for—things like publicizing alerts, cases, and organizational capacities.
NGOs ended up liking it because they could identify their own work on the map and visualize it in relation to other resources. In part, it’s a platform for their own publicity—allowing other folks who work on international trafficking to see what they are up to.
Does a password-protected implementation of Ushahidi work? Aashika and her colleagues haven’t yet decided. The Survivors Connect team is considering opening up the map to the public because they haven’t received a critical mass of submissions:
"In the beginning people were really excited, but once they logged on and plotted some things they had exhausted themselves and then didn’t know what to do with it—we saw less logins and now it has tapered down."
Private or not, without enough citizen reports, the map adds less value.
Yet, what Aashika’s experience has demonstrated is that, even though Ushahidi was created for a short-term crisis situation, it can be used to map resources in the long term.
The mere practice of allowing NGOs and other resource providers to plot themselves and their work on the map can be helpful.
blog comments powered by Disqus