YouthMappers: Data-driven Empowerment for Youth Leadership and Gender Equality

Guest Author
07 Jun 2021
a map with pins in it
About the Author: Laura Mugeha

About the Author: Laura Mugeha

Laura Mugeha is a regional ambassador at YouthMappers. Her work entails supporting university-based mapping clubs through onboarding and providing technical geospatial training. With a keen focus on open data and free and open-source software, she is passionate about the use of location intelligence, to provide sustainable solutions to real-world challenges. Laura also actively advocates for diversity and inclusion in STEM and the geospatial industry and volunteers with open communities with the same mission.

Around the world, thousands of youth are leading change in their communities in various ways, creating and engaging in impactful initiatives that provide solutions to problems faced daily. Ranging from health to sanitation, urban planning, and climate change, today’s youth are actively contributing towards the achievement of the 2030 Global Sustainable Development Goals, ensuring that no one is being left behind as the world advances every day. This generation of innovative youth has proven that younger people are not only the leaders of tomorrow but are also leaders today. 

Similarly, in STEM, we have seen how youth drive change in the sector using data and technology through school communities. In the geospatial world, a good example is YouthMappers, a global network of over 200 student-led university clubs in 52 countries. YouthMappers chapters mainly create, use, and advocate for open geographic data by contributing to OpenStreetMap, the world’s largest free, open and collaborative geographic database. This is important as data created can be freely reused by other individuals, communities, and organizations for both similar and different purposes.

We don’t just build maps; We build Mappers.

YouthMappers is creating an impact in several ways, including:

1. Community building

YouthMappers chapters are organized per university, creating communities of youth sharing a purpose with a common goal. More communities are created as chapters collaborate and work with each other at a local, regional and global level by engaging in activities like events, mapathons (cool mapping parties), and contests. 

a group of African Youth Mappers

YouthMappers in Kenya after Open Data Day in March 2020

2. Youth Leadership

YouthMappers chapters are not only youth-centered, but they are also fully youth-led and youth-driven. Varying per chapter, chapters adopt different leadership styles and structures. Through this experience, members become more confident to pursue more leadership opportunities within the OpenStreetMap and Geospatial sector. This can be seen from YouthMappers alumni creating and leading national and regional OpenStreetMap communities, creating and running impactful organizations, and being selected in different leadership capacities.

3. Digital volunteerism

In response to the world’s most significant challenges, YouthMappers participate and contribute to humanitarian mapping by working on projects addressing unequal access to quality healthcare, water and sanitation, food security, and sustainable urban infrastructure. Additionally, members also adopt the use of other open-source digital tools for various purposes.

a screenshot of a group of people holding a meeting on Zoom

YouthMappers participating in a virtual mapathon to map agricultural communities in Mali to inform food security programs

4. Career development

With more available and accessible data, there is more room and motivation to use this research and other projects. Therefore, students get a chance to learn beyond contribution in topics like data analysis, visualization, web mapping, etc. Regularly, through the YouthMappers partners network, students get opportunities to work with organizations such as the USAID, HOTOSM, the World Bank, etc., giving them necessary hands-on work experience. Lastly, YouthMappers also provides additional opportunities through leadership and research fellowships, conference grants, and project grants.

men and women in reflective vests by the roadside
men and women in reflective vests doing some field work

Several YouthMappers members in Ghana participating in data collection for the Open Cities Africa initiative by the WorldBank in 2018

YouthMappers and Gender Equality

To fully achieve the global goals, we need to tackle the problem that runs through each of them: Gender inequality. Women and girls worldwide must have equal rights and equal access to opportunities and be able to live free of violence and discrimination. 

1. Creating spatial gender data

To further address the current inequalities that exist, there is a great need for gender data. Gender data is generated through methods and structures that highlight gender as the primary factor from collection, analysis to dissemination. However, there is a vast data gap as crucial aspects about the lives of women and girls are missing. 

This is mainly seen in health, education, and economic opportunities. Making aspects and issues that affect women and girls visible in data systems is vital for global progress as other groups working on several sectors use the same data systems.

Inspired by the #LetGirlsLearn campaign by Mitchelle Obama, YouthMappers has an active  #LetGirlsMap initiative that highlights projects addressing women’s issues. This includes the mapping for healthcare and education access and gender-based violence. YouthMappers have contributed significantly to mapping projects to help end FGM in rural Africa by mapping these areas, sharing about the project, and training other interested groups on how they can map. Through the Let Girl’s Map initiative, the work of female student leaders is also highlighted and celebrated, thus, motivating other female members.

a group young female youthmappers from Bangladesh

YouthMappers chapter members, Dhaka University, Bangladesh.

2. Diversity and inclusion

Being a global network in STEM, YouthMappers is intentional about building a diverse community with equal gender representation. From the network’s leadership, female students are inspired and encouraged to participate and lead in various ways. Several chapters are female-led, others have good female participation, and in a few instances, there are female-only chapters. Additionally, through annual awards, diverse chapters are recognized and awarded, encouraging male counterparts to push for more female participation. 

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