People's Radio: Tried and True Technology Meets New Innovation

There's an armed conflict in your country and violence is escalating. People around you are getting hurt, raped and killed. You don't have access to the Internet and your mobile phone is unable to connect to a network. Perpetrators capitalize on this and try to isolate you further by preventing journalists and humanitarian aid organizations from entering the area where you live.

This is the reality for many of the 1.5 billion people who are living in countries affected by violent conflict today. It is a critical international problem, which many people have little or no experience dealing with. We're so used to gathering and sharing information that it's hard to imagine what it feels like to be cut off from the rest of the world, especially when connectivity means a way of alerting international organizations or even neighboring communities of human rights abuses and mass atrocities. That's why Humanity United and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) set up the Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention, to find new ways to gather information from hard to access areas to prevent mass violence against civilians, using the OpenIDEO platform.

Atrocity prevention is a complex humanitarian problem, and in this open innovation challenge, hundreds of people from different countries and backgrounds collaborated to explore the topic and propose potential solutions. Interesting ideas were shortlisted and prototyped, tested and challenged by OpenIDEO community members.

My idea, People's Radio, was selected as one of the winners. It's a radio channel made up of spoken tweets, allowing people with no Internet access to call a free number and record a short voice message, which is then played on their local radio. People's Radio serves as an interesting thought experiment. How might we connect more robust and traditional communication systems such as landlines and radios to modern platforms like the Internet? Are there unexplored connections to be made?

What I really love about this kind of open innovation is that it makes it possible to explore and visualize ideas without having the technical knowledge to develop them. Being an undergraduate student, I'm far from being an expert in any field, yet I'm given the chance to try and tackle large-scale problems, such as atrocity prevention. On OpenIDEO, anyone is able to post an idea and get a response from a vibrant community of more than 50,000 users from 160 countries. Experts, thinkers and doers collaborate to help push ideas into viable solutions. For me, it has been an empowering and engaging way to learn from others in different fields.

You don't need be an expert to try and tackle large-scale problems. By harnessing the wisdom of their crowds, organizations like OpenIDEO, USAID and Humanity United shine a light on pressing challenges and empower their communities to find solutions. I think it's a really democratic way of doing developmental work. Too often, a small group of people in big organizations makes decisions without fully utilizing insights and empathy from people on the ground, or connecting experts with thinkers from diverse fields. That level of collaboration used to be hard to facilitate, but technology has made it possible for many people with lots of ideas to join forces and create big solutions.

This blog post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post, Humanity United and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), in recognition of the Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention. To see all the other posts in the series, click here. For more information about The Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention, click here