“I feel more human and alive when I write code that touches other people’s lives.” — Sri “Batman” Prasanna, long-time contributor to RapidFTR

What does it take to build a force for change?

A great idea, a clear vision, concrete plans, and the right set of resources are all key ingredients to successful social innovation. But without people and passion, none of these other things amount to very much.

Over the past several years of innovating for children, we have learned time and again that people–end-users, frontline workers, implementing partners, and many others–are central to designing effective solutions to some of the world’s most complex challenges. In the case of RapidFTR, one group of people that has played a particularly critical role is the open source community of volunteer developers that began contributing to the project nearly five years ago.

Today, we celebrate this community and their tremendous work to-date, and open a call to action to developers, designers, and user-experience experts around the world to JOIN OUR FORCE FOR CHANGE.

A Global Community of Volunteers

Since its inception, RapidFTR has been driven by passionate people committed to making a difference for children through code. The concept of RapidFTR originated in 2009 through the “Design for UNICEF” class taught in the Interactive Telecommunications Programme (ITP) at NYU, and gained momentum with the support of a cadre of volunteer developers who came together around a compelling idea.

Some of the original core contributors to RapidFTR participate in the first ever Code Jam in early 2010. Photo Credit: JORGE JUST/2010
Some of the original core contributors to RapidFTR participate in the first ever Code Jam in early 2010. Photo Credit: JORGE JUST/2010

For the first two years after its inception, RapidFTR relied on these volunteer developers to move from a bright idea to a concrete innovation. Volunteers came together through a series of Code Jams organized in cities around the world–from New York to Chennai, Brisbane to Kampala, and London to Porte Alegre–working together to build the foundations and first release of the product.

While it is difficult to estimate the total number of hours contributed by the community during this period, we believe that over 10,000 hours have been contributed to RapidFTR by over 200 developers across six continents. And these numbers continue to grow.

A Hybrid Model for Open Source Software Development 

In 2011, UNICEF and ThoughtWorks teamed up to accelerate the development of RapidFTR. This partnership came at the critical point where RapidFTR was being moved from Blackberry to Android–a move that not only vastly improved the functionality and deployability of the tool, but also opened RapidFTR to a broader community of open source volunteers.

Between 2011 and 2013, as UNICEF and ThoughtWorks continued to invest in expanding and improving the core functionalities of RapidFTR, the community of volunteers remained actively engaged in picking up stories, organizing Code Jams, and providing critical feedback on technical decisions about how to advance the platform. Some of them, like Sri “Batman” Prasanna, have even had the opportunity to support live deployment of RapidFTR in the field.

Batman was part of the OSC that was deployed with a UNICEF team to support RapidFTR in the Philippines for the response to Typhoon Yolanda. In this photo, he is syncing records from the back of a van on the heavily affected island of Samar. Photo Credit: Cary McCormick / 2013
Batman was part of the OSC that was deployed with a UNICEF team to support RapidFTR in the Philippines for the response to Typhoon Yolanda. In this photo, he is syncing records from the back of a van on the heavily affected island of Samar. Photo Credit: Cary McCormick / 2013

In December 2013, Prasanna joined the team from UNICEF to support the RapidFTR deployment in the Philippines. Reflecting on this experience and on his engagement in the RapidFTR community over the past three years, Prasanna exudes both excitement and satisfaction. “I find joy and satisfaction when I contribute to projects such as RapidFTR,” Prasanna says. “The feeling you get when you know that every single comma, space, character you type has huge impact on lives you will never get to meet–that’s incredible.”

For Prasanna, like so many other volunteers in the community, RapidFTR presents an opportunity to humanize the art of coding. “I feel more human and alive when I write code that touches other people’s lives,” Prasanna reflects. “I take things personally when it comes to the development of RapidFTR.”

A Look Ahead, A Call to Action 

RapidFTR has been in active field use for nearly two years. Through deployments in the Philippines, South Sudan, and Uganda, we have learned a great deal about how to adapt and improve the tool to ensure that it is as user-friendly and functional as possible. As we embark on the next phase of development of RapidFTR, we want YOU to join our force for change. 

The RapidFTR community brings together passionate people with a diverse range of skills. We are looking for Developers, Quality Analysts, Business Analysts, UI/UX / Web Designers, Documentation Specialists and more. Volunteers can contribute as much or as little of their time to RapidFTR as possible–and all contributions are greatly appreciated.

If you are ready to put your skills to the test and join the RapidFTR force for change, visit the RapidFTR Wiki for more information and start contributing today!

Stuart Campo
Roving Lab Lead & RapidFTR Product Manager
UNICEF Innovation Unit

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Related stories:

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Typhoon Yolanda photo essay – Revisiting the RapidFTR deployment

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