I love being a staff writer for 3BL Media/Justmeans on topics - Social Innovation, Social Enterprise and Social Entrepreneurs. When I am not writing for 3BL Media/Justmeans, I wear my other hat as owner of Serendipity PR. Over the years I have worked with high-profile, big, powerful brands and organisations within the public, not-for-profit and corporate sectors; and won awards from my industry....
Social Innovation: GPS Technology Empowering Indigenous People of the Congo Basin
GPS social innovation technology is helping indigenous people in the Congo Basin to map the land they live on and produce documents that can help preserve their access to the forest, which is essential to their way of living, which is under threat. The African rainforests of the Congo Basin are home to 40 million people; up to half a million people are hunter-gatherers also known as "pygmies" whose lives are intimately linked to the rainforest. Yet most have no legal rights to the land that has been their home for centuries, because their government can easily give the land to logging and mining companies, who then often prevent indigenous people from accessing the area.
Rainforest Foundation UK (RFUK) is one organisation that organises social innovation "community mapping" projects in the Congo Basin. It is spread across six countries, covering more than 1.3 million square miles, an area twice the size of Alaska with an expanse of rainforest second only in size to the Amazon. Georges Thierry Handja, at RFUK says, "In almost all of the Congo Basin official laws say the land belongs to the state. Our challenge is to support those people to be able challenge those laws. Hunter-gatherer communities suffer most from the situation because 80 to 90% of their livelihood comes from forest products to survive. When nothing is done ... you see a situation where communities start dying and the number of people in the communities diminishes throughout the years."
RFUK's social innovation program, "Mapping for Rights," trains forest people to map their land using GPS devices, marking the areas they use for activities such as hunting and fishing, and their sacred sites and the routes they use to access these key areas. The GPS information is then used to create a definitive map of the land used by these semi-nomadic communities, which can be used to challenge decisions, which try to exclude them from the forests.
Once the indigenous people have the map, they are able to start discussions and negotiations with the decision makers. For example, an area of rainforest earmarked for a palm oil plantation can be opened up for discussions between the palm oil company, the government and the communities who live there, to ensure the needs of the community are considered. The social innovation maps give independent evidence that shows people rely on the land, and that continued access is essential for them.
Some indigenous communities have been fighting back. The Cameroon's Centre for Environment Development has been running social innovation community mapping projects for 10 years. Similar to the RFUK, it trains forest communities to map their land using GPS technology. This technology makes it easy for other people outside the mapping process to verify if that the information is exactly placed on the map and on the land at the same place. Technology is helping preserve the world's old communities that have been very much part of the earth and who are essential to these regions.
Photo Credit: cyclopsr on Flickr