New Media Task Force Student Group

There are lots of ways for SIPA students to keep busy and pursue their interests.  One way is through student groups.  Currently there are 37 student groups at SIPA and one of the newest groups is the New Media Task Force.   The following post was submitted by Sawako Sonoyama.


I would like to introduce a new student group at SIPA, the New Media Task Force. We are thrilled that our student group exists at SIPA. The time is right—there has been a tremendous need for this community at SIPA: a student group that focuses on information and communication technology for development, crisis mapping, and mobile for health.

The New Media Task Force was initiated under the supportive umbrella of the UN Studies Program Working Group. Launching as the “UNICEF New Media Task Force”, we focused on research, internship, and networking opportunities with the UNICEF innovations department. Although the Task Force started as a small group of interested individuals, the number of people engaged in the Task Force grew every year.  In DATE Sean Blaschke ( MIA 2010) and his team received the first-place award in the ‘Development 2.0 Challenge’ of the US Agency for International Development. For this project, they worked with RapidSMS, a system leverages basic mobile phones and text messages, to collect health information and improved the speed and quality of health data collection in Malawi. This award brought a lot of media attention to SIPA and its activities in technology for development, especially in the use of mobile.

The biggest turning point for the New Media Task Force was the launch of crisis mapping at SIPA. On February 27, 2010, SIPA students were listening to Patrick Meier speak at a conference titled “Policy Making in the Digital Age,” hosted by The Morningside Post. He spoke about a process called “crisis mapping” and a new technology platform called Ushahidi that had greatly aided relief workers after the Haiti earthquake.  That same day, a tremendous earthquake of magnitude 8.8 occurred off the coast of the Maule Region of Chile. When Meier asked if anybody was interested in holding crisis mapping training sessions for the Chile earthquake, SIPA students stepped in.

From a volunteer standpoint, the earthquake could not have happened in a worse timing—during midterms. However, brutal econ tests did not phase SIPA students. Within 48 hours of the earthquake, over 60 students were trained to monitor media sources, map GPS coordinates, and report earthquake related incidents. For weeks after the earthquake, countless students stopped by the Situation Room to help out. We were so impressed with the passion and dedication that SIPA students demonstrated in assisting the people of Chile. These actions were a true testiment of the character of SIPA students.

Ushahidi-Chile brought a tremendous amount of media attention to SIPA, which included Al Jazeera filming a training session. The Ushahidi-Chile instance was a great example of how students can mobilize and make a tangible difference to those in need, continents away.  At that time, we also recognized that Chile was only one of many crises, and that there was great potential in formalizing and institutionalizing Crisis Mapping at SIPA so that students would be able to assist in future crises. Additionally, we realized that we had the opportunity to bring extremely valuable skills to SIPA students, skills that are in high demand by organizations such as OCHA, the World Bank, and other agencies. During the chaotic time of crisis mapping for the Chile earthquake, it was decided that the New Media Task Force would branch out from UNSPWG and officially become a student group.

The New Media Task Force was approved officially at the end of May 2010. We truly appreciate UNSPWG’s support, providing us with both institutional and moral guidance in launching our student group. We would also like to thank  Professor Lindenmayer for her guidance in working on the earthquake relief; her experience in Haiti gave us a deeper insight on what it means to work in a crisis situation. Thanks to their guidance and SIPA’s support, the Task Force now has the capacity to make an impact in the fields of crisis mapping  and information and communication technology for development.

The New Media Task Force’s mission is to increase student knowledge of how technology can support decision-making in international affairs and to expand opportunities for students within the information and communication technology for development space. Through projects, panels, and events, we aim to create a community around new media for development and promote practical research and internship opportunities for SIPA students. Additionally, the New Media Task Force supports SIPA curriculum development around technology for development. Our students and alumni work globally with organizations such as The Earth Institute, UNICEF, OCHA, Ushahidi, and UNDP. One of our primary activities is Crisis Mapping, an international effort to respond to disasters around the globe, and our volunteers provide essential information within the first few essential days following a disaster.

We look forward to welcoming more students who is interested in technology and development.