Data Will Help End Hunger Part 3 – Crowdsourcing

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“Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.” – Henry Ford.

Today I will conclude this three-week “data and hunger alleviation” blog series by looking how crowdsourcing could help end hunger in America and around the world. Great questions and discussions abound on how to ensure food security for all. One of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals is “Zero Hunger.” Can you imagine a world where everyone has enough, nutritious food to eat? Wouldn’t it be absolutely amazing to be a part of this movement?

What exactly is crowdsourcing and how can it help solve this complex, societal issue of 48 million food insecure Americans and 795 million hungry people worldwide? How do we harness the power of crowdsourcing to keep number of undernourished people in developing regions drop like it has since 1990? According to the White House’s Office of Science, Technology & Policy’s Federal Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Toolkit I helped edit in 2015, ‘in crowdsourcing, organizations submit an open call for voluntary assistance from a large group of individuals for online, distributed problem solving.’ In other words people with all kinds of skill sets can volunteer to help figure out solutions and become engaged in causes they care about. It’s not a new concept – people have come together to generate ideas, collaborate and solve problems for centuries.

In a 2014 article by NYU’s GovLab, Beth Noveck says “we can- we must – bring technology to bear to create a sustained conversation between government and citizens to engage more Americans in the fight against hunger.” The article goes on to say it should be possible to leverage the crowd’s strength to identify locations of and causes of hunger. A 2012 Forbes article points out an example of crowdsourcing, technology and innovation for social good. Skills for Change is an online micro-volunteering platform that allows anyone to find a charity needing help and use their skills to meet the communities’ need. I agree with Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist that “technology can give the voiceless real voice and the powerless real power.”

Other examples of hunger-alleviation crowdsourcing projects are Ushahidi and Cropmobster. The Ushahidi project, which means “witness” in Swahili, was developed in 2008 in Kenya to map reports of violence. It has become a much more effective way for everyone to contribute to maps and provides the response people need when it is most needed using shared resources and data visualizations. Cropmobster uses social media data to connect farmers that have surplus crops with people who need it. It taps into the power of the crowd in 12 California counties to help reduce the 31 million tons of wasted food Americans throw away each year. What if other communities around the world followed these models to identify people’s food needs and reduce food waste? Crowdsourcing is a tool we need to make an even bigger dent into the 795 million people around the globe that are hungry.

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