As an Atlas Corps fellow at Creative, I have new tools to bring back to Liberia

By Luther Jeke

June 23, 2016   |   3 comments

DSC_0012 In January 2015, I started my journey as an Atlas Corps fellow at Creative Associates International in Washington, D.C. I still remember traveling from my native Liberia and arriving in Washington on that winter day, and experiencing total culture shock: the cold weather, the reliable electricity, the people and even simple things like the transportation systems—especially the fascinating Metro system.

It is now time for me to transition to the next phase of my life and career. As an old adage says, “Every ending is a new beginning, we just don’t know it at the time.” I believe that every ending reveals great vistas and wonderful new opportunities.

Technology for Development (Tech4Dev) has been my passion and been pivotal to my career, long before I came to the U.S. and began working at Creative in the Creative Development Lab.

Prior to the Atlas Corps Fellowship, I spent four years supporting development organizations and projects to use geospatial and other Tech4Dev tools to do everything from monitoring elections and building an open government and citizen engagements system to creating early warning and early response systems and coordinating the Ebola response activities in Liberia. Before I came to Creative, I was just a typical young Tech4Dev enthusiast, inward-looking and unaware of the scale of the impact that technology can create globally.

But joining Creative was a game changer.

Getting the opportunity to join a recognized international development organization (with nearly four decades of experience delivering on-the-ground development services and sustainable solutions) to assist with ushering in a geospatial revolution across its work was both challenging and promising.

Passion, dedication & technology

The Creative Development Lab team has the energy, passion and collective technical and intellectual knowledge to provide solutions for some of the world’s toughest challenges. A lot has been written about the capabilities of the Development Lab and its work but, at its the heart, the evolution of the Lab is a testament to the power of ideas, collaboration and technology.

During my time with the Creative Development Lab, we built tools with the potential to scale globally and continue to contribute to some of Creative’s most important projects in lesser-developed and crisis-prone regions across the globe.

We have incubated and launched the CreativeMapper, which has brought geospatial thinking and action to our work. The CreativeMapper tool, powered by Geospago, is a set of processes and technological tools that allow community members, project staff and other stakeholders to collaborate on mapping important community challenges and assets—such as education services for out-of-school youth, crime patterns or incidents of electoral violence.

The SDG Youth Action Mapper allows communities to identify and share social services in their local areas. Design by Amanda Smallwood.

The maps generated become valuable resources for communities and their governments, expanding access to information and catalyzing important dialogues on local needs and priorities.

In addition to the CreativeMapper, the team accomplished a lot. Here are a few highlights:

These are just a few of our accomplishments; there are many more and I am sure many yet to come. Above all, we have affected lives and brought the power of the technology to our pursuit of helping people across the world realize the positive change they seek.

During my time at Creative, I wrote about a variety of topics such as the SDGs and the data imperative and how real time data can help reduce violence in Central America. I was given the opportunity to attend and present at several global conferences and forums such as the FedGIS Conference, GEOINT Symposium and the Alliance for Peacebuilding Annual Conference.

Another touching moment during my fellowship was the week of April 25, 2015, when I joined the Standby TaskForce to create a volunteer group of digital humanitarians.

Tech4Dev & Nepal earthquake

This group collected, curated and interpreted information to assist and accelerate the coordination of humanitarian groups responding to the Nepal earthquake. We processed an extraordinary range of data streams during the 12 days of the deployment: geo-located pictures and messages of needs and offers of assistance. We provided maps and tables and supported other organizations and groups to streamline their processes.

The volunteer group I led worked closely with many other groups throughout the period of 7.8 magnitude earthquake that claimed more than 8,800 lives and injured 23,000. You can read about our efforts and success over the on the TechChange blog.

I have grown tremendously both professionally and personally over the last year and a half. I have learned a lot about people and project management, diversity and the importance of teamwork. I am eternally grateful to my supervisors and colleagues at Creative who have joined me on this Atlas Corps journey and shared the dream of improving humanity.

It has been an honor to work with and serve this team of extraordinary people, witnessing their dedication and recognizing that to change the world, you have to give everything. I am so proud of what we have achieved together. So many amazing people at Creative have inspired me to think about strategy, scale, practical execution and sustainability.

While the lessons have been exponential these questions in the Tech4Dev sector remain mostly unresolved and will form part of what I continue to work on as I transition to the tech4dev scene in Africa.

Creative Associates and the Atlas Corps Fellowship have prepared me in so many ways for the next phase of my life and career. I’ve been empowered with the tools, knowledge and experience needed to ramp up the technology for development and social change revolution back home in Liberia and Africa at large.

As many young professionals in international development would tell you, the sector can enrich you while it challenges you, and ultimately it will reshape you. I saw many gaps in the international and local ecosystems that can be tackled by innovative technology, a better understanding of the complex systems and a sincere commitment to making the world a better place.

So, as I prepare to transition back home to the next phase of my life and career, I am certain that there are and will be obstacles and challenges on the road ahead. Fortunately, I’ve learned that we have to take chances. All life is chance anyways. As Dale Carnegie once said, “The man who goes farthest in his life and career is generally the one who is willing to do and dare,” and this is especially true in the technology for development sector.

With my head filled with dreams and vision for the future, I carry back with me the invaluable lessons and experiences from Creative , the Atlas Corps Fellowship and the wonderful city of Washington, D.C. I know that new beginnings are both exciting and daunting but the passion for making the world a better place is my invaluable companion as I return home.