Around 2005, I found myself in Afghanistan supporting reconstruction efforts. During this time, rogue elements exploited portable, anonymous communication technologies, creating their own pirate communication networks, to thwart tracking by the authorities and coordinate attacks on both coalition forces and locals. In one such instance, I rendered assistance to an individual, Zamir, and his family, who soon became my friends. They lost everything when hostiles invaded the area and the village had no means of communicating to request assistance.
The roots of the Portable Anonymous Communication Technology (P.A.C.T.) platform took hold from there. I imagined repurposing these technologies to positively affect at-risk or geographically isolated communities. Joining the Tech Challenge for Atrocity prevention, which is a unique competition sponsored by Humanity United and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), provided a path to realization and prompted serious evaluation of realistic and scalable solutions.
P.A.C.T. uses low cost, portable communication technologies to enable safe sharing of information through voice, text, pictures, videos, and other media with each other and the world. In effect, it creates ad hoc communication networks when existing infrastructure fails for one reason or another or does not exist at all. The P.A.C.T. video quickly demonstrates the platform.
After bouncing around the globe for a couple more years, I landed in Africa in 2010, and that prompted significant time and effort learning about the culture, economics, infrastructure, and political stability of the countries on that diverse continent. Geographic and political isolation in many communities was and continues to be a major concern.
During multiple trips to Kenya, I witnessed how the MPESA technology simplified monetary exchange for goods and services and spurred positive economic gains in remote areas. In one particular example, I met a man named Mwae, a motivated Kenyan in his mid-20s, who impressed me with his ability to convert information into economic opportunity for his family. With his innate drive, he also generated support for his work with at-risk youth through partial sponsorship and volunteer work with a soccer club. Interacting with Mwae confirmed for me once and for all that there was a real need for a platform like P.A.C.T. to help isolated groups. On one level, it provides safety and stability by providing a way for at-risk populations to get the help they need through a reliable communications infrastructure. At another level, it gives entrepreneurs like Mwae better access to information from global sources, which they can use to improve their economic situations.
The key to P.A.C.T. is empowering people by giving them new resources. A rising tide raises all boats, and giving at-risk populations access to information provides a sustainable way to keep that tide rising.
The prospect of realizing P.A.C.T. to help people through the simple act of creating safe access to information and communication options is exciting. The next step is to build the back-end support module and test it in an area like a national park, where we have limited existing infrastructure and widely varying terrains. These types of environmental factors provide adequate stressors commonly found in areas where many isolated communities live.
Building on the relationships and resources I've been introduced to through the Tech Challenge, my hope is for P.A.C.T. to get public partners as well as private collaborators that can show the world there are companies that are choosing to be what Sir Richard Branson advocates: "businesses as a force for good."
This blog post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post, Humanity United and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), in recognition of the Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention. To see all the other posts in the series, click here. For more information about The Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention, click here