Aashika Damodar & collaborative technology for social impact
Every day I field questions from organizations and community groups looking to use facebook, Twitter or YouTube.. Most all of these groups are excited and enthusiastic but are coming from the wrong direction: focusing on the tools first. Our programs, services, and campaigns are successful, instead, when we focus on the community first, and that’s why Aashika Damodar’s work impresses and inspires me.
Survivors Connect is an organization supporting activists and building survivor advocacy networks using collaborative technologies to end modern-day slavery and human trafficking. Aashika, the founder and executive director, starting learning about and looking for ways to support the community of survivors when she was studying Anthropology and Political Science at University of California, Berkeley: “When I was in college, I learned of a labor/sex trafficking case right across from my dorm. I myself was also almost a human trafficking victim for the purpose of forced marriage in India. By that point, the issue of gender-based violence and trafficking had crept into so many facets of my life, prompting me to make it my life’s work to end it.”
Building programs and services to support a community means not just learning about the problems they face, but understanding how technologies can help make a difference. Aashika admits to being “a big tech-enthusiast by hobby” and she “found that the anti-slavery movement was lacking in terms of participation in this field, as well as innovation.” According to Aashika, “It is these very same technologies that often enable transnational human trafficking; so I felt that I needed to get involved in this way to make our activism smarter, and innovate on both the "process" and "product/software" frontlines.”
The Survivors Connect online platform includes various opportunities for those wishing to report abuse, take action, or otherwise support the network of activists, and relies on a variety of collaborative technologies, from data mapping to online seminars, SMS-powered communications to an online community network. Different regions around the global have a very different level of access than those in North America or Western Europe. Recognizing which tools are available to your community can make the biggest impact on your project’s success.
“It has always been quite interesting to me that in many parts of the developing world, there is near ubiquitous ownership of mobile phones,” explained Aashika. “Here is really where the innovative thinking began. Communication tech, in a sense, is shrinking us as groups while increasing our ability to connect. Why not use this to work on preventing some of the most egregious human rights abuses in the world?”
Taking advantage of mobile technology, Survivors Connect created SMS: Freedom which connects individuals and communities with experts and resources via text messages. In this way, information about scams or risks can easily be distributed to communities, or reports can be shared throughout the network.
“The experiences and stories of survivors were and always are my call to action,” Aashika told me. “They are the strongest souls Ive ever met. Survivors of various forms of slavery give us a glimpse of how the broader crime of human trafficking works, and just how much is involved.” And it isn’t just Aashika that survivors are inspiring; through Freedom Connect all members of the global network fighting slavery and human trafficking are invited to create profiles, share calendars, create groups, share resources and join together in discussions.
Most importantly to the success of Aashika’s work, is her ability to remember that it is not about the tools. Survivors Connect is not just an online platform and network working to end modern-day slavery and human trafficking, but a place to continue to learn and inspire—the technology is simply a tool for letting us connect and communicate. “We will not win the fight against slavery and human trafficking with egos, but with open and understanding hearts and minds.”
In 2008, Aashika graduated from the University of California, Berkeley; she is now working on her Masters in Philosophy in Development Studies at the University of Cambridge, UK where she’s a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar. Her honors thesis from UCBerkeley won the Ronald Frankenberg Prize and the Sylvia Forman Prize from the American Anthropological Association; it was also published in the 2010 Project Censored Journal.
How you can create an online collaboration space!
Working people and communities around the world can make sharing information and even just communicating a difficult task. Like Survivors Connect, maybe you want to share the stories and work from your community. There are various tools available, though, that make public networks or even private collaboration easy and efficient.
Top Tools for Collaboration
What do you want to do together?
The tool to try:
Just communicate by email, privately
Google Groups is a free tool to create an email group that is private or public
Share stories and updates, sometimes photos or videos, publicly
Wordpress is an open source blogging platform that lets you have any number of authors
Create an online network with options for profiles, diverse content, and multiple communication options
Ning allows you to build your own public or private online network with various pricing options
Tips for Collaboration Online
If you want to replicate some of Aashika’s success bringing people together online, here are the top 5 tips you need to keep in mind:
Evaluate your Community: where are they, what kind of access do they have, and what are they looking to do?
Evaluate your Capacity: how much time do you have, what kind of technical experience do you have, what resources are available?
Evaluate your Goals: what do you and the community want to accomplish, what do you want to do today and what do you want to do in a year?
Try Something First: don’t be afraid to jump in and give a new tool a try; if it doesn’t fit your needs, then move on!
Build on Success: if something is really working, analyze what it is and why to see if