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Can Your Tech Idea Change the World? Submit it to the USAID / Humanity United Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention

By Michael Kleinman on March 22, 2013


On April 23rd, 2012, President Obama declared: “Preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States. Our security is affected when masses of civilians are slaughtered, refugees flow across borders, and murderers wreak havoc on regional stability and livelihoods.” With this speech, President Obama unveiled a comprehensive strategy to prevent and respond to mass atrocities and genocide.

President Barack Obama and Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and Founding Chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum April 23, 2012 in Washington, D.C.

President Barack Obama and Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and Founding Chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum April 23, 2012 in Washington, D.C. President Obama toured the Holocaust Memorial Museum before speaking about the Atrocities Prevention Board. Photo: AFP / Brendan Smialowski

As part of the President’s broader strategy, USAID and Humanity United have come together to create the Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention. The goal is to engage technologists, developers and others in helping create new tools that can be used by human rights organizations and communities on the ground. Prize money of up to $10,000 will be awarded to the problem-solvers who develop innovative concept papers and prototypes that help better respond to the challenge’s critical issues.

You don’t have to have a finished product to compete: this challenge is about sharing new ideas so prototypes, whitepapers and project concepts are all welcome.

This final round of the competition is open right now and offers prizes for excellent proposals submitted to three distinct challenges:

  • Model. How can we better model and forecast sub-national violence?
  • Communicate. What technological innovations could facilitate better (and more secure) communication with and among conflict-affected communities?
  • Alert. How can we better gather and verify information from hard-to-access areas?

We encourage you to participate and apply! And please do reach out to other technologists or developers you think might be interested in applying, not only from the US but overseas as well.

Submit your idea today: http://thetechchallenge.org/

The final proposals will be evaluated by a distinguished panel of technologists, human rights experts and government policy-makers – including Patrick Meier, Samantha Power, Alec Ross and Ethan Zuckerman.

We know that technology is a tool, and not a solution in and of itself. Simply offering prizes for innovative ideas is not enough. Winners from the first round’s two challenges have already been announced, and we will announce the winners of the next round in early summer.

So, what would you like to see next? What does it take to move from ideas to implementation and what will be their biggest challenges? Beyond prizes, what other support should we consider offering to participants and winners?

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Michael is a Director of Investments for Humanity United, and a contributing author to ICTworks. For more information visit humanityunited.org or follow @HumanityUnited on Twitter.
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3 Comments to “Can Your Tech Idea Change the World? Submit it to the USAID / Humanity United Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention”

  1. Wayan Vota says:

    I have a real issue with these challenges, hackathons, and contests. It feels good for the participants that day, but where is the long-term follow through? From the first Tech Challenge event in October, how many winners are still working on their idea now or have achieved any level of scale past prototype or demo? How many will after 1 year? Or 3 years?

    International development is already littered with skeletons of dead ICT4D pilots, and even the living ones are causing us pain – see the Uganda mHealth Moratorium as a bleak example. So it is really hard for me to feel that we need any more contests.

    I would rather see efforts to celebrate the programs that are already working, consolidating our efforts around proven models and taking them to scale, than scattering scare resources on new ones.

    • Wayan – good to see that we can replicate our email discussion in the comments section, especially as I’d love to hear what the broader community thinks.

      Both HU and USAID are hoping to provide more resources to pilot and scale the most interesting innovations, but that will be determined on a case-by-case basis. We are also committed to playing a match-making function as well, trying to link winners (and other promising ideas) with other foundations and bilaterals who might be able to provide funding, again on a case-by-case basis. So, no promises up front, but the potential for far greater funding does exist. Finally, we’re thinking through ways to provide other forms of support to winners – hence the blog post.

      So, we’re certainly hoping this isn’t a one-off. Are you saying that we don’t need more contests, full stop, or that we don’t need more contests without a sufficient plan to follow-through?

  2. Aaron Mason says:

    Wayan – Great point. These contests do tend to get a ton of visibility. But perhaps the issue isn’t with the contests themselves – maybe we should be looking more at the question of scarce secondary resources?

    There’s an interesting analog to this in the tech community where contests, challenges, camps etc. are an integral part of the sector – by some accounts they’re the most important part of the creative culture that drives tech and has made the sector so amazingly vibrant and successful. YC, Foo Camps… Ever heard of the Startup Bus? The difference is that there is a built-in runway for projects that show potential, including financial support for ideas that get traction. Ideas get seed funding, then Series A, B and C as they work their way towards getting public funding. For every one company that makes it to an IPO there are literally thousands of dead ideas on the floor. “Bodies in the space” as they say. But does that mean that the tech sector should focus less on supporting creativity?

    Ultimately I don’t think the problem is with the funding of creativity and generation of new ideas. You need to have fresh ideas to move the entire sector forward. The issue is investment. It’s easy for three guys and a great tech idea to get $10M and move forward because there are willing investors… Where are the $10M investors for development? The second-round VCs who can fund years of growth? How can we build that segment to make contests like this even more successful?