WHO IS JEROEN VAN DER SOMMEN?
Jeroen van der Sommen is the director and co-founder of Akvo, an organization that builds open source internet and mobile software which is used to make international development cooperation and aid activity more effective and transparent.
Jeroen helped to ignite the Akvo phenomenon after the Stockholm World Water Week in summer 2006 and has steered Akvo’s evolution to ensure it is relevant to, and supported by, a wide range of implementation NGOs, funding partners and global institutions. He started his career as a geologist, working throughout the 1980s in countries such as Burkina Faso, Mozambique, Niger, Mali, Indonesia and India, managing water supply and management projects on behalf of organizations such as the World Bank and the European Union. In 1998, Jeroen founded the Netherlands Water Partnership, where he built a dynamic network of over 200 member organizations that collaborate.
You can connect with Jeroen here:
IN TOR 079 YOU’LL LEARN ABOUT:
- The pervasive role of water in international development, problems, initiatives and Jeroen’s personal account as a hydrologist in the field.
- The role of Open Data in transparency and long term accountability.
- How Jeroen handles an international effort, the technical, logistics and human aspects.
- How mobile technology changes the paradigm of action and response, and how it shifts the roles of the public and private sectors.
- Jeroen’s considerations on data security for international development.
OUR CONVERSATION INCLUDES THE FOLLOWING:
- Stockholm World Water Week
- Global Water Partnership
- Water for People
- Young Expert Professional Program
- The Netherlands Water Partnership
- Open Data
- Mobile software
- Saas (software as a service)
- Sillicon Valley
- Water quality and spectrometry
- Disaster response
- Data analysis
- IATI standard
- La Hague, The Netherlands
- Burkina Faso
EPISODE CRIB NOTES
We build Open Source software to make aid more effective and transparent. And collaborative.
How Jeroen arrived at Akvo
As a hydrologist, interned in Burkina Faso, stayed there. It led him to know about Africa and Asia.
After a while, he returned to Burkina’s Ministry of Water. His work had not been touched. The strange thing was that donors and NGOs were fine with shelved work.
He worked on developing water plans, hydrological maps.
At Stockholm’s Water Week he meets Thomas, straight from Sillicon Valley: “Why are you not using Open Source?” Jeroem: “What does that mean?“
Conversation turns into Akvo.
Stockholm’s Water Partnership and why water
Brings together NGOs, academia, private and government sectors around water solutions.
“Water was our starting point, but from it we span into agriculture, economic development, health.“
First focus was data, a big demand for basic information and reporting on water was revealed. A large pool of contributors created the online water encyclopedia.
Jumping into the startup
“Thomas and I spoke the same language.” After the Burkina Faso experience, it was clear something had to be done. He developed full time.
Thomas is all around Southeast Asia. There are people in Amsterdam, and teams in the countries. Skype is very important.
How to work with Jeroen
It is very easy to submit data into the platform, effectively becoming a partner. You can also request assistance for technical support.
Work with government takes longer but there has been success, for example in Mali.
Also provides support in technology and data infrastructure.
People pay for using the system. The software was initially funded with grants, now it is self sustainable.
Water for People: whenever a project requires additional development, the product improves for all the users.
How much of a difference it makes…
The scale of the activity is the main importance. Akvo has made efforts to make itself a standard to keep improving.
They provide spectrometry and water quality services using phones, it is currently securing funding for the development of arsenic and E.coli.
Vanuatu, before the 2015 hurricane. They had the system in phones right at the time of the disaster, people had the tools for immediate damage assessment. They could prioritize efforts fast. “Phones let people assess water quality.“
A team in Bangalore used phone screens as spectrometers, with a couple of photos the software can tell you the level of fluoride in the water.
…And how much it will keep making
Jeroen wishes a lot more people realized the huge impact that mobile technologies can make in development work.
More and more data in hand of more and more people.
Decentralization of data, from government. More people and private organizations filling in the data collection gaps. “The rise of the private data collector.“
More data analyzing tools.
Challenges: financing, donor responsibility to scale up in their commitments, beyond quarterly results. Unification of standards. Transparency.
“We will be able to return to the places we worked and find out what has been going on, the thing I could not do in Burkina Faso.” Every organization can follow through with impact in a local problem.
Preventing malicious use, data security issues
It is a challenge to provide services using public and private data sources.
Security is a big part of the work.
One time a data transfer algorithm caused a system breakdown, it was the first time.
Contribution to Open Source
We work under the IATI standard.
“Before developing, we see if there is an open solution already existing. If not, the result of our work is available to the Open Source community.“
There are few competitors, none for profit.
“Start outside your own comfort zone, get a sense of the real life.“
“Find an interesting place to be.” Netherlands has the young expert professional program that gives young talented people a chance to work in places like Tanzania, Indonesia.
“Go for the unexpected. Innovation is a matter of speed but also of the new.“
Please share, participate and leave feedback below!
If you have any feedback you’d like to share for me or Jeroen, please leave your thoughts in the comment section below! I read all of them and will definitely take part in the conversation.
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