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Estlow Center’s Anvil of Freedom awarded to crowdsourcing organization Ushahidi

Juliana Rotich, Ushahidi cofounder and executive director, accepted the Anvil of Freedom award from the Estlow Center. Photo: Wayne Armstrong.

The DU-based Edward W. and Charlotte A. Estlow International Center for Journalism and New Media bestowed its 2012 Anvil of Freedom award on the nonprofit organization Ushahidi at a ceremony on Jan. 12 at Davis Auditorium in Sturm Hall. Around 75 people attended the award presentation, including Edward and Charlotte Estlow, for whom the Estlow Center is named. Juliana Rotich, Ushahidi cofounder and executive director, accepted the award.

Ushahidi, which means “testimony” in Swahili, uses crowdsourced crisis mapping to foster citizen journalism. Anyone, anywhere in the world can use the Ushahidi platform to report vital information from cell phones or computers. The information is then uploaded quickly — almost in real time — to maps that reveal where instances of violence, sickness or destruction have occurred, enabling human service organizations to respond quickly.

Ushahidi began with the 2007–08 electoral violence in Kenya. Since then, it has been deployed in crises in Haiti, Mumbai, Japan, Libya and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It has helped track cases of swine flu worldwide and chronicled storm-related problems in the northeastern U.S. after Hurricane Irene. Rotich says there have been 20,000 Ushahidi deployments in 120 countries.

“[The award] is a big honor to the Ushahidi team and community and underscores our mission to change the way information flows and to empower people to use whichever devices they have available to bear witness to what is going on around them,” Rotich says. During her speech, she noted that Ushahidi was designed for mobile phone use because, at the time, less than 3 percent of Kenyans had Internet access.

Lynn Schofield Clark, Estlow Center director and an associate professor in DU’s Department of Media, Film and Journalism Studies, says a team of DU faculty members and media professionals chose Ushahidi as the 2012 Anvil recipient.

“Ushahidi has been an important platform for citizen journalism, particularly in parts of the world where it can be difficult to get information quickly to those who need it most,” Clark says. “They are filling an important need in communities that increasingly use mobile media and text messaging as primary means of communicating.”

Originally from Kenya, Rotich has worked in telecommunications and data warehousing for more than a decade. She earned a computer science degree from the University of Missouri, Kansas City. She is a TED senior fellow who was named to the Huffington Post’s “Power List” on Jan. 9.

Rotich participated in Associate Professor Margaret Thompson’s course International and Intercultural Communication, and students in Clark’s Innovations in Media and Communication course attended Rotich’s speech. Clark says those in media studies can learn from Ushahidi’s commitment to helping people share information that results in improved lives around the world.

The Estlow Lecture series and the Anvil of Freedom Award honor individuals whose careers demonstrate true leadership and commitment to democratic freedoms, ethics and integrity.

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