David Kobia: Low tech with high impact when it matters most

David Kobia: Low tech with high impact when it matters most

PEOPLE | THNK is publishing a series of creative leader profiles to draw attention to inspiring people who have championed breakthrough innovation. This week, David Kobia (Co-founder of Ushahidi) is in the spotlight for taking crowdsourcing to a whole new level in crisis situations.


“With regard to crisis, the fact that we are opening up this sector and moving from a one-to-many situation where only one person actually tells you what’s going and moving to a many-to-many situation where everyone is actually involved, the outcome of that is profound, I think.”
- David Kobia, interview with MIT’s Technology Review


Post-election violence in Kenya. Conflict in Gaza. The cataclysmic earthquake in Haiti. The rapid spread of swine flu around the world. The BP oil spill... David Kobia gave the world a new way to communicate during crisis situations. He gave everyday people the means to share critical information in real time to save lives and minimize disaster.


In 2007, David watched in horror as post-election violence struck his native Kenya. Within 72 hours, the computer engineer had developed the first version of Ushahidi, a crowdsourced platform that allows people to communicate during emergency situations and natural disasters. Ushahidi means ‘testimony’ in Swahili.


The platform pulls content people send from all kinds of digital devices and online networks into easy-to-read interactive maps. The maps depict critical information: areas where violence has occurred, the locations of injured and missing people after disasters and places where disease outbreaks and environmental catastrophes have cropped up.


Human rights activists, governments, community organizations and even the US military use Ushahidi. It is flexible and can be adapted and deployed quickly by anyone for any situation. The platform was set up one hour after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti struck. A network of software developers around the world continue to enhance the Ushahidi, based on feedback and feature requests from users.


FastCompany recently named David one of ‘The 100 Most Creative People in Business 2011”. David was also honored by MIT’s Technology Review as the ‘2010 Humanitarian of the Year’ under the designation ‘Young Innovators Under 35’. Not one to rest on his laurels, David has launched an innovation center in Nairobi, Kenya to nurture the next generation of African technology entrepreneurs.


THNK considers David Kobia a creative leader. He turned a tragic event into an opportunity to empower people. His message: get involved and provide valuable assistance when it matters most!


Visit the Ushahidi website
Have a look at David Kobia's ‘2010 Humanitarian of the Year’ video
View David Kobia's profile in FastCompany’s ‘100 Most Creative People in Business 2011’