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Find Ali: A Crowdmapping Initiative to Help the Homeless in Lebanon

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Forty days after the death of Ali Abdallah, a homeless man in Lebanon, Karim Badra launched a social media campaign to raise awareness about homeless people in Lebanon.

Ali Abdallah’s death during Lebanon’s severe January weather hit Karim Badra hard. Ali had been homeless and he died from exposure to the cold.

As a response to Ali’s death, Badra created a  Facebook page, Ushahidi map, and a YouTube movie to raise awareness about homelessness in Lebanon. On the 40th day of Ali Abdallah’s passing, Karim published his initiative using social media. His movie was nominated in the category of Most Engaging Youtube Video as a part of Beirut’s first Social Media Awards.

Below, Badra shares his thought process for developing and carrying out the project in the first of a new series we’re calling “In the Organizer’s Eyes,” which aims to tell stories of  local  Arab activism. The questions are ours. The answers are the organizer’s, edited only for grammar, spelling, and sense. SMEX does not endorse any campaign, but we do encourage open, constructive discussion that advances our shared understanding of how to build the power of citizens in Arab societies.

Why did you pick this issue?
I picked this issue because of the inherent data problem that comes with the issue of the homeless. People want to help; they just don’t know who to help, and what to give. Even NGOs with enormous logistical and financial capabilities have a data problem.

What is your goal for the campaign? That is, what do you expect to happen as a result of this campaign?
My goal is to create a large-scale database on Lebanon’s homeless and needy, and for this to happen through widespread user-engagement. When the database is created, a lot of things can happen as a result. People can understand the magnitude of the problem, empathize better with those in need, civil society can mobilize, social enterprises can spring up, and individuals can literally walk up to the needy, talk to them, and offer help.

What is your ideal outcome of this campaign?
There is no ideal outcome per se. There are many possible outcomes, as mentioned above. What I would love is to couple the data with organizations that provide direct aid.

Who is your target? What do you want them to do? Who are your online audiences? What do you want them to do?
My target is people between the ages 0f 18 and 30, who are familiar with or who have an affinity for ICT tools such as Crowdmap, and who have a strong sense of the importance of helping others.

What tools did you use and why?
I used three tools so far: Crowdmap, YouTube, and Facebook. Crowdmap’s importance is in the data it can create. YouTube’s importance is in the inherent value of storytelling in value-proposition. Facebook’s importance is in user-engagement and community creation. Find Ali also uses Android and iPhone apps for an easier reporting experience (see links below).

Does this campaign connect online with offline, and if so, how and where?
The project is offline in two ways: first in its promotion, and second in its user-engagement. Promotion-wise, we have stenciled a Find Ali promotional campaign across Hamra (as pictured above), and stickers are to follow. User-engagement wise, the people who are to be reported require offline interaction between them and empathetic users who later report them online.

The same division applies to connecting online. Online user-engagement is already mentioned in the tools listed above. Online promotion is happening through word-of-mouth advertising as well as through Facebook ads.

How long is the campaign? Ongoing or time-bound?
I wouldn’t call this a campaign. Find Ali is a tool that can function as long as people want to submit reports. I imagine that I would personally have to surrender my role as administrator of the website, Facebook page, and soon-to-be NGO network in the fall. By that time, I imagine that task will have been filled by someone else who is equally passionate about the cause. I, however, would not want this project to be time-bound at all.

How much did it cost, if anything? How much time did it take to launch and maintain? 
It has so far cost roughly $300, and has been in preparation for a month.

Did you need any special technical, graphic design, or content production skills to execute your campaign? If so, what were they?
I did need a graphic designer for the website, and a director and an actress for the video.

Are you working with other organizers? Partners? Donors?
I would like to work with other NGOs and am currently in contact with a few.

What challenges did you face?
My greatest challenge at the moment is incentivizing people to use the site. People in Lebanon are so far unfamiliar/uncomfortable with tools such as Crowdmap, and they are using iPhone and Android apps for anything besides social networking and gaming. My greatest challenge is to make the reporting process seamless, easy, and rewarding. Another challenge I face is having to manage between finishing my college education and this project.

What considerations might have stopped you from leading this campaign?
My impending graduation and my desire to do well at university.

What can the community at large do to help you reach your goal?
The project is centered on user-engagement. It relies almost entirely on a community of people who want to submit reports and subscribe to alerts. Without this community, the project is nothing.

What progress have you made? How are you reporting back to your supporters on your progress?
The video has caught the attention of many who want to use the website, and who want to support the campaign. The Facebook page is rapidly gaining fans. I am reporting back to supporters via the Facebook page, generally.

Do you have any advice for other organizers? Are we missing any links?
My advice for other organizers is to be interdisciplinary and be averse to focusing less on tools and more on solutions. Rather, I would love for them to be open to any tool and opportunity that could create an impact. Many times, efforts and tools are redundant and superfluous. Programmers code, activists protest, and dancers dance. I encourage them to mix it up for the greater good.

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One Response to Find Ali: A Crowdmapping Initiative to Help the Homeless in Lebanon

  1. Khalil Zakari April 19, 2013 at 3:58 am #

    Sharing is caring… You are certainly investing much time and effort to share … populate a community… offer a voice… suggest an outlet and make a difference… truly signing your passage to more than the social media arena… Congratulations!

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