Muhammad Ali once said, “Wars of nations are fought to change maps, but wars of poverty are fought to map change.” In Kibera, a slum in Nairobi, Kenya, citizens are flipping this around by putting themselves on the map as a way of fighting poverty.

Kibera used to be a blank spot on the map, despite it being the largest urban slum in Africa and one of the largest in the world. Google Maps didn’t reach its claustrophobic alleyways of inequality and deprivation, and local schools and health services struggled to coordinate across the region. A young group of residents decided to change this by using a free, open-data mapping service called OpenStreetMap.

Now this remarkable online tool is entirely community driven and uses local knowledge to build up an accurate picture of any area in the world – the kinds of areas map developers don’t often tread, like Kibera.

 Virgin Unite, Sustainia, Kiberia

This work in Kenya is now organised under The Map Kibera Trust and it is helping empower communities by giving them ownership of their place in the world. Map Kibera has a YouTube channel, the Kibera News Network, and an SMS reporting platform called Voice of Kibera, allowing residents to share news and information. In an area where 90 per cent of the residents have no tenancy rights, 50 per cent unemployment, and just two water pipes are shared by 250,000 people, this is more than a creative mapping exercise – this is a response to acute human need.

Map Kibera launched the Open Schools Kenya project, which maps the location of 328 schools in Kibera, serving more than 53,000 students. By making this information available online, along with detailed school profiles, it helps communities coordinate where services need to be improved as well as notable gaps in education provision. It also helps parents make the right choice for their children.

This citizen-led mapping solution has also been extended to Mathare and Mukuru slums of Nairobi, and its impact is already reaching off the screen and into the futures of young Kenyans. Map Kibera provided verified and real-time updates about the election in order to help dismiss false reports and propaganda that risked triggering violence.

The team at Map Kibera has said of their mission, “We're working for a world in which all people have equal ability to create and share information to influence their future.” In doing so, they are literally mapping a community out of poverty and into a healthy, happy place in the world. 

Virgin Unite, Sustainia, Kiberia

This innovation is part of Sustainia100, a study of 100 leading sustainability solutions from around the world. Visit and discover more solutions at @sustainia and #100solutions

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