State of the Map Africa was held at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda from July 8th to 11th 2017. As the first SotM in Africa, the conference united 150 OpenStreetMappers from 21 African countries (and 5 outside the continent) for 3 days of workshops, talks, events, and new experiences – ranging from hectic boda-boda rides to an exciting soccer match between Uganda and The Rest of the World.
It was an energetic and engaging conference, beginning with 5 minutes to meet someone new sitting close to you – a helpful icebreaker. The opening keynote was given by Bernard Muhwezi, an enthusiastic supporter of OpenStreetMap and aerial imagery, and Manager of the Geo-Information Services Division at the Uganda Bureau of Statistics. Talks were translated into French/English by volunteers, and it was noted to make a plan for bilingual resources at future conferences.
A standout from Day 1 was a round table on Women in Technology & Mapping. A panel of 6 female mappers described their experiences working within the OpenStreetMap and greater technology communities. The panel was held at the beginning of the conference and had no parallel track, which allowed for the highest number of participants. Hurdles to female participation were discussed and included gender bias, the perception that OSM & tech are too difficult for a woman, and the belief that science is for men. Members of the panel described ways in which they are trying to overcome challenges as well. In some countries, OSM community leaders meet with a woman’s husband or family to garner support for her participation in OSM. In Tanzania, promoting 50% female participation has seen positive results by encouraging women to take part and reserving space on a list just for women who might hesitate to sign up otherwise. Overall, the panel agreed that positive reinforcement, building self esteem, and perseverance are needed to bring more women into the OpenStreetMap community.
Day 3 featured hands-on workshops, and a round table on how to strengthen and foster the emerging OSM communities in Africa. A desire for one, united OpenStreetMap Africa was expressed. The OSM community was described as horizontal, due to the observation that the passion people had to map in OpenStreetMap was foremost, with the development of a community becoming a byproduct of those individual mapping efforts, making it difficult to focus specifically on growing the community. This panel dovetailed nicely into a lunch discussion regarding the next SotM Africa – a commentary on the success of the inaugural conference.
Chad Blevins, of USAID & YouthMappers, gave passionate closing remarks and shared his experiences with OpenStreetMap. His final encouraging statement to continue “working together to make OSM part of everyone’s life, not only for the mappers, but for the world”, received warm applause from the both the YouthMapper contingent and the entire audience.
It was wonderful to witness connections being made and meet people from Cameroon, the DRC, Kenya, the Netherlands, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Mozambique, South Africa, Madagascar, Malawi, Ghana, Uganda, Morocco, Rwanda, Senegal, Niger, Zambia, and Mali. Talks were thoughtful and inspiring, and revealed a rapidly growing OpenStreetMap community all over Africa, transforming lives through education, risk reduction, navigation, community development, and more. Topics tended toward use-cases rather than tech, and there was emphasis on engaging local communities and humanitarian uses of OSM. YouthMappers had a strong presence, and an infectious enthusiasm that carried me beyond the conference. The food also gets a great review, and the delicious lunch buffet allowed me to try Ugandan dishes like the matoke and addictive ground nut sauce (purple in the picture below).
The final social event of the conference was a soccer match, with Uganda challenging the Rest of the World. It was a competitive but fun game, played to a setting sun and a supportive crowd. It was a great way to build relationships and generate interest in staying after the closing remarks. The Rest of the World managed a win over Uganda, but not without substantial effort and some epic saves from our keeper.
I feel lucky to be a part of the growing international OpenStreetMap community and look forward to the next gathering on the African continent! Thanks to the organizing team for a memorable conference, and to OpenStreetMap-US for the travel support!