Category Archives: Global Development

Co image.2png – A new way to work together on social and political issues

Organizing local or global initiatives is no small task. Typical social networks such as Facebook or Twitter aren’t well suited for the amount overhead required to launch successful initiatives. Many people are all too familiar with online conversations derailing into personal attacks instead of constructive discussions. The Humanity Online organization based in the UK is hoping to change that with a new social network called, which is aimed at mitigating the many issues when organizing social or political change on traditional online networks. is a social network for citizens, government officials, and NGOs to come together and work on issues on a local, national, or global level.  The organization is  currently raising £237,350 on Indiegogo ($390,000 USD) to help them develop, test, and eventually pilot the web application.

The social network is composed of several key features – a browser app that takes users from public articles to issues on the site, issue pages where people discuss problems, and an initiative page that addresses specific problems. Other features include general feeds and basic analytics on initiatives a user has created.  “The problem with existing social media is that there can be lots of pages or groups all focused on the same issue and no simple mechanism for bringing it all together. On Engage there will be just one page per issue per location, guaranteeing that you’ll be able to find the place where everyone else has gathered on the issue and where you’ll be able to find tens, if not hundreds or thousands of projects that are addressing the issue in specific ways”, said Sholi Loewenthal, one of the co-founders of Humanity Online.

He also said that the Engage platform will encourage people to break into smaller groups that are directly tied to actions within particular initiatives. “We hope that conversation on the web will soon therefore focus more on problem solving rather than divisions.”

The campaign description highlights the company’s overall strategy for the sustainability of the organization moving forward. Relevant advertisements on the service, advanced analytics on usage data,  and technical as well as strategic support for companies on the network are some revenue generating opportunities the company is exploring.

The organization is led by Kristina Donauskyte and Sholi Loewenthal, both graduates from the University of Warwick who started the Humanity Online organization half a year ago. The two have prior experience building communities and hope that their platform can help facilitate multi-stakeholder partnerships more easily and establish a more participatory approach to social and political change.

When asked about the overall vision of Humanity Online, Kristina said that it’s  “to live in a world where people work together on the basis that everybody relevant is involved in addressing issues and that solutions are always mutually beneficial. To live in a better world, where everyone works together more effectively. Our vision is to facilitate meaningful interactions and collaborations amongst people. is just a means to achieve that.”

You can support their Indiegogo campaign to help them develop their social network here. They’ve also launched a landing page at


Introducing the Exo housing unit: The optimized disaster-relief shelter

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in June 2013 that there were over “45 million refugees and displaced people – the highest level in nearly 20 years”. Michael McDaniel witnessed like many, the devastation hurricane Katrina caused in 2005 and the tens of thousands of people who were forced to take refuge in poorly constructed shelters. A few days following the aftermath of Katrina McDaniel started Exo.

The Exo housing unit is a versatile shelter that’s easy to set-up, transport, and customize. Government provided FEMA trailers typically cost $20,000, but the Exo unit cost around a quarter of the price and can house up to a family a four. The units can be connected to heating, air, and electricity.

The company behind Exo – Reaction Housing, have taken an engineering and design centric approach to building something that solves a real problem. The Exo units are easily stackable, making transportation of the shelters faster. A unit can be assembled in under 2 minutes with 4 people without the need of any tools. Interiors can also be customized, allowing units to be appropriated for multiple uses including bedrooms, kitchens, and offices. These units can be combined to form various configurations.

Reaction Housing has currently raised over $75,000 on Indiegogo, $20,000 more than their initial goal. The money will be used to send 10 shelter units to Syrian refugees.

For more information about the Exo unit, visit the company’s website at  Support their Indiegogo campaign to help them deliver Exo’s to more Syrian refugees.

photo by Reaction Inc.

Photo courtesy of US Army Africa on Flickr |

Noora Health: Delivering high impact health skill training

Countries with poor health care infrastructure need to maximize resources to the fullest extent. In places such as India, projections estimate doctor shortages of up to 600,000 in the next 10 years. Many times, a patient’s relatives become passive observers as they wait for health care professionals to complete their care. Patient care doesn’t always end at the hospital though, particularly for invasive procedures.  This places greater stress on healthcare centers to support patients once discharged in order to reduce readmissions. What if there was some way to reduce the burden on fragile healthcare systems in a low-cost and effective manner?

Noora Health, a non-profit currently in the winter batch of Y Combinator, is helping to train family members and patients with low-risk skills. With a human-centered design philosophy in mind,  Noora Health combines video lessons and in-person training to deliver the basic skills that reduces readmission and length of stay in health centers.

Through a partnership with Narayana Health, a chain of hospitals in India, they’ve trained over 7,000 patient family members. In addition, complications for open heart surgery were reduced by 36% and readmissions for the same surgery by 22%. Their mission is focus these training programs exclusively in marginalized populations.

Visit their website at to donate.

photo by US Army Africa

Weekly Newsletter – March 16, 2014

This Week’s Top Stories

Edward Snowden appears on livestream at SxSW. This was the first time the NSA whistleblower addressed the US public since he leaked scandal in June. You can watch the full (non-optimized audio) interview on YouTube.

Omlet – A safe way to connect with friends. A start-up from the Stanford StartX incubator created a mobile messaging system and promises to never monetize or sell user data.

Bill Gates thinks cameras in inner cities could be a good thing. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Gates said that cameras could be useful, specifically alluding to London where petty crime has gone down and terrorism prevented with the help of cameras.

The NSA’s plan to infect millions through malware. The Intercept revealed that the NSA has relied on more sophisticated techniques to siphon data from targets. One is a man-on-the-side attack where they disguise themselves as a Facebook server and are able send data packets to users containing malware.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee thinks the Web should have a bill of rights. With the 25-year anniversary of the Web, inventor of the internet Tim Berners-Lee told the BBC that there should be a ‘Magna Carta’ bill of rights in order to protect users.

Zuckerberg called Obama to talk about surveillance. It doesn’t seem like there will be reform any time soon according to Zuckerberg. In a post on Facebook, Zuckerberg said, ”So it’s up to us — all of us — to build the internet we want. Together, we can build a space that is greater and a more important part of the world than anything we have today, but is also safe and secure. I’m committed to seeing this happen, and you can count on Facebook to do our part.”


Drones will cause an upheaval of society like we haven’t seen in 700 years. Noah Smith from Quartz talks about the dangers of drones and autonomous robots.

A look at how the Immunity Project handles HIV in the lab. The company developing a free vaccine for HIV shows how they work with the virus in their lab.


Weekly Newsletter March

This Week’s Top Stories

Julian Assange delivered a speech at SXSW yesterday. Assange participated in a ‘virtual’ interview with Benjamin Palmer from the Barbarian Group to talk about surveillance and democracy on the web. A recording of the hour-long interview is on YouTube and The Guardian has also written a summary piece. Both Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald will appear for virtual interviews on Monday.

Snowden tried to go through official channels over ten times before leaking the highly controversial NSA program. The Washington Post reported that Snowden reached out to over 10 officials before finally taking matters into his own hands. The NSA previously told the Washington Post that Snowden never made any attempt to do so.

Experts say government cyber-intelligence is compromising online securitySan Francisco held the annual RSA conference last week where cyber enthusiasts gathered from all around the world. Many security experts are worried that the tools used by the NSA could be acquired by black-hat hackers.

A Vietnamese blogger was sentenced to two years in prison for “abusing democratic reforms”. Truong Duy Nhat was convicted under article 258 of the penal code. Nhat denied that he broke the law in his criticisms of the government, but his defense didn’t hold up in court.

Wikileaks cable from 2006 hinted at possible Russian invasion of Ukraine. Joshua Keating from Slate uncovered cables on Wikileaks dating back to 2006 that foreshadowed the events that have unfolded in Ukraine. The cable warned of instability in Crimea and the potential threat from pro-Russians.

British politician accuses Google of storing private patient data. Prominent Tory MP Sarah Wollaston brought to light that private health data from the NHS is being stored on Google servers. Wollaston tweeted, “So HES [hospital episode statistics] data uploaded to ‘google’s immense army of servers’, who consented to that?”

Facebook is rumored to be acquiring solar-powered drone manufacturer Titan Aerospace for $60 million. Sources from TechCrunch indicate that Facebook is purchasing the drone manufacturer to help increase internet access in the developing world. Facebook wants to ensure that every new user connected to the internet starts using Facebook.

Eurotech companies using streetlights to expand cellphone coverage. The average US mobile phone user consumed 1.2 gigabytes of data a month over cellular networks which was double the average amount used in 2012. European based companies Ericsson and Phillips revealed a new project last Monday which will incorporate cellphone antennas into LED streetlights.


Has Privacy Become a Luxury? Long gone are the days when we had to pay for news and mail. It’s not cheap to buy privacy, as Julia Angwin on the New York Times explains.

Government Surveillance – This is Just the Beginning. Privacy researcher Christopher Soghoian gave a TED talk (8 minutes) on the proliferation of private enterprises selling surveillance software to governments around the world. 

A Visit to Haiti, and the biggest Hellraiser I Know. Bill Gates recounts his visit to Haiti last week and the tremendous work Paul Farmer has done with Partners in Health (PIH), a non-profit that runs medical clinics at 12 sites in Haiti.