Originally, I had hoped that my time in the Philippines would consist of piloting my project in select cities. Like I had mentioned earlier, I received the support from the League of Cities to help me connect with mayors to facilitate pilot implementation. However for better or for worse, I was able to acquire more funding for my project which changed the scope of possibility. I had originally worried that my limited funding would mean that I could only develop a lower quality protype that I would hand off to the government to improve upon. Of course, this was a tremendous risk for, as we all know, it is extremely difficult and strenuous for governments to act upon new projects given the systems and protocols that must be followed. Suddenly it became clear that the project could become greater than I ever thought. I could have more advanced systems, quality infrastructure with higher capacities. The new funding also came later than I expected therefore I was unable to finalize my contracts with the developer. In my correspondance with my developer, he mentioned that software development would take about 2 -3 months–meaning, that no matter what I did, the software I would want would not be ready this summer.
After she heard about my project, a representative of the German Red Cross had reached out to me offering any advice and support she could give. The German Red Cross has been a valuable presence in aiding disaster relief in the Philippines and they had recently begun exploring the use of mapping and crowd-sourcing technologies. During our meeting, I asked her about the current state of disaster relief operations in both her organization as well as others like the UN OCHA. She forwarded that there were many lapses in the current framework that could be well complemented by my proposed system. No one had really leveraged crowd-sourcing technology in the expansive way I was hoping for. She mentioned there was a need to further push the integrative nature of the project and ensure that it could also enable and mobilize the relavant parties when needed. This meant that the information exchange between the government and rescue operators shouldn’t just be a capability but an established and reliable connection. If the information could not give these parties the information to mobilize, it would be utterly useless and filed neatly under all the other failed attempts to improve the status quo. I asked her if she felt that I needed to reform my project in any way given her experience working with disaster relief and her understanding of the capabilities and difficulties of the environment. She surprised me when she said there wasn’t anything she would change. Adding to the surprise, at the end of the meeting, she asked me if I could speak about crowd-sourcing technologies at a conference. I didn’t (and still don’t) consider myself an expert in this field, and therefore was shocked that she considered me knowledgeable enough to give a presentation.
A couple of weeks ago, I had emailed Ms. Michi Barcelon of the Ayala Foundation’s Technology Business Incubator. The Ayala Corporation is one of the country’s most prominent forces, and the foundation is no different. The Ayala Foundation has initiated and supported a wide array of initiatives that have greatly benefitted the country. As mentioned in their website, The Technology Business Incubator “provides invaluable support to technology start-ups and entrepreneurs” and “aims to identify, develop, and promote social entrepreneurs providing innovative solutions to social problems.” In response to my email, the team had originally set up a meeting with me last tuesday. In an ironic twist of fate, I was unable to get into the city due to a storm and flooding. Refusing to give up, we then took the 21st century approach and arranged a skype video call. The storm was just as persistent and eventually messed with our internet so much that our video call was demoted to a skype voice call to eventually just a regular phone call. Despite the technical difficulties, it was a very good meeting. The team expressed how much they liked the project and forwarded their willingness to support me in anyway they could. They asked if I would be available to meet with their technical team as well as some of the entrepreneurs, and I happily agreed.
In the classroom, we have relentlessly discussed the disparities between the developed and developing countries. We recognize differences in the way governments may perceive their roles, the way finances and revenues are handled, and civil society’s disposition to various circumstances. In my research, I have found this to be true in a very surprising way. In almost every instance I have presented my project proposal to “Westerners” I have received a tremendous amount of support–both tangibly and ideologically. People seem to not only believe that the project is innovative, but that that it is also possible and could hold great value in improving disaster management in the Philippines. As my time in the Philippines continues, I find myself faced with much more speculation. There are two types of doubts: doubt of it’s value and doubt of it’s possibility.
When I talk to people about my project for the first time, I can see their eyebrows raise in a combination of interest and speculation. I, more than anyone, know how large of an undertaking the project seems to be. However, what gives this project life is the tremendous amount of support I have received for my project. In early 2012, I presented my project idea at the Mason School’s Social Entrepreneurship Conference where I was able to gain valuable visibility. Through this conference and the tremendous generosity of donors at the business school, I now have more resources and funding available for my project on top of the Charles Center Scholarship.