Collaborative digital maps help slum dwellers organize daily life

July 12, 2013

In developing countries there are many poor areas where countless people live together on very small patches of land. In Brazil these slums are known as favelas, in South Africa as townships, in other parts of the world they are called shanty towns or bidonvilles, for example. Often these poor areas are situated in front of the gates of large cities. However all you see on online digital maps is a blank spot as if these regions simply don’t exist!


Although being invisible to the outside world might be a problem for slum dwellers, it is, by far, not their most important one. It would, however, be of great help to the inhabitants if they could use digital maps as as a collaborative platform. This would enable them to obtain information about their immediate environment and opportunities at hand. Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) can help them to organize their life and make it much easier. Map Kibera is an example of how people in a very poor area use online maps to work and live together. Kibera, a slum in the southwest of Nairobi, was a blank spot on the map when young Kiberans created the first free and open digital map of their own community. Today, Map Kibera has grown into a complete interactive community information project.


The virtual map helps locate and make use of local services


Around a quarter of Rio de Janeiro’s 6.3 million people live in slums. When Google Maps launched its Street View of Rio de Janeiro, many Brazilians were surprised to discover that the city looks like a massive collection of favelas. This had not come to light in the past due to unavailability of image material and the lack of access to gang-controlled drug settlements. For decades, city maps simply did not show the favelas on the slopes of Rio’s rich south zone and the city’s poor north.


This is why the Rede Jovem (“Youth Network”), an initiative that has been harnessing ICT to drive social progress in the favelas since 2000, founded Wikimapa . It is a collaborative map containing information on locally offered services in Brazil and all over the world, with focus on mapping streets, points of interest (POI) and services within slums and low-income communities providing information that has never been  mapped before by available online mapping services. By using this service, favelas’ inhabitants can easily find schools, jobs, medical care or projects, which can help ease the burdens of their everyday lives.


Over the past two years, five full-time wiki-reporters and over 700 volunteers have added thousands of details to Wikimapa. Young residents of each low-income community are selected to act as wiki-reporters and are responsible for all mapping activities. The government has even set up free wireless Internet networks in some favelas, and offers Internet courses for people living there to enable people to access this information network.


Wikimapa auf YouTube


Wikimapa auf Twitter

David Hoffmann
David Hoffmann

David Hoffmann is member of the “empowering people. Award” team at the Siemens Stiftung (foundation). He holds degrees in Economics and Geography and has worked on development issues in the European Parliament and the German Embassy in Moldova. He also worked as project coordinator for humanitarian disaster aid missions.


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