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Amnesty International III Shift Van -Update 5

A mobile van to provide knowledge and advice, create connections and create (global) awareness on unlawful detentions. Because of its mobility, it will allow people in remote areas to access information and internet access.

Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard
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To offer access to knowledge and advice to people who need them and create (global) awareness on unlawful detentions and actions we can take.

Offer internet connection

Share knowledge, connect and collect stories in rural and urban zones

In certain regions of the world, people don't have access to information, advice and even basic connection to know what to do in case of unlawful detentions (and even what this really means), and they don't know how to connect to lawyers and support organizations like Amnesty international.

Based on some research and discussions with people working in the field in Africa, access to the Internet is crucial to the security and development of populations in Africa. A great innovation developed by UNICEF that reflects this need and allow children and youth to have access to information across areas of health, education, job training, and protection from violence and abuse: I assume it is the same in other continents.

In other regions of the world, people are not necessarily aware of the many cases of unlawful detentions in other countries, or sometimes not that far from their houses. By sharing stories but also some creative and positive solutions, we can hopefully  trigger actions. We can also potentially get donations (for example for the )


  • Visiting rural and urban communities in countries, regions where unlawful detentions is an issue.
  • Visiting cities (like London, New York, Paris, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Berlin, San Francisco, etc.) and raised awareness about the issues of unlawful detention. 

There are two scenarios, that could be independent, but are even stronger if interconnected. While you travel in rural areas or small cities (scenario 1), you provide support, information, internet access and collect stories. When you travel in big cities (scenario 2), you share the stories and the actions taken by the vans in scenario 1. You raise awareness but also hopefully can raise money and have people donate to program such as sponsor a spouse or the Detainee Support Net. Some of this money (and maybe even messages of support like in the sponsor a spouse program) can be distributed by the vans when they visit the communities.

  • Basic services to be offered: Wifi connection and access to the internet through a few laptops, information and advice (through the various online services) with the help of the van's staff who could help accessing the information, reading and writing, some training (at minimum for the use of the technology).
 Technical help to access various online platforms and services as well as help for reading and writing (in context of low literacy)
  • Providing access to knowledge (pamphlets, A-Z guides basic legal and counseling services) access to lawyers and NGOs). The community to use to have access to the internet, of course some of the Amnesty International services and platforms, or services related to Unlawful detention (e.g. Detainee support net website, local advice wiki, creating connections, A-Z guides for families and friends of detainees, as well as contacting a lawyer - via email or even Skype. ), but also other more general services - Google, emails, or accessing government websites. Some of the information (like the A-Z guide) would also be available in a paper format.
  • Education: technology training, letter-writing workshops etc.; legal information (through internet search and maybe messaging or even skype with a lawyer); 
Here is an example of an education program (on sanitation) using a mobile van:
  • Broad range of services: Beyond the information and advice related to unlawful detentions, and the education programs mentioned above, there could be more general services such as scribe, SIM cards to use in old mobile phones; Torches; mail from one village to another, etc. see Ana's vending machine concept for possible services: /open/amnesty/concepting/amnesty-international-vending-machine-info-hub. Offering a variety of services (like internet connection "in general", sms services, scribe, etc.) could make it less "suspicious" to go to the Shift van and thus address some of the potential security issues. Also I guess that security issues will vary depending on the area the van will be visiting. It is difficult to decide upfront. However, it seems that the van would have a stronger impact if it was offering more than just information about unlawful detention and collecting stories.  You can imagine specific services (on how to create a business, selling crafts, postal services, letter writing workshop, etc.) depending of the local needs and the skills of the people driving the van. The services would vary depending on the locations. For example, in China, there could be access to Vincent' petitioning service. (see image 5 with list of "services" that could be offered).
  • Per the suggestion of Team Life Link to Jason - /open/amnesty/concepting/the-detainee-support-net-financial-legal-moral-  on creating an initial connection from the affected family to the site through a local community that the family could contact. Local NGOs would know about the Amnesty-affiliated Support Net as well as for the van route (which will offer wifi access). They would inform their local communities or those at risk of being detained about the van, the support net and other services available (e.g. creating connections, the A-Z guide).
  • This scenario will have to be prototyped and adapted to local needs (in terms of services) and constraints (in terms of security, road, access to internet).
  • Friday during the refinement workshop at NYU-Poly, we discussed the possibility of creating mesh networks - thanks Paul for your suggestion, see 2 concepts suggested by Paul: mesh networks:


    /open/amnesty/concepting/network-startegically-using-mesh-potato-networking/  - and leaving a computer or a tablet (like the $100 laptop or the $35 tablet see for example: /open/amnesty/inspiration/india-launches-35-tablet-/) with a member of the community (it could be offered through micro-loans like the phone ladies in Bangladesh) which will become an "internet lady" (or "sir" :-)).
  • Another option in some contexts would be to leave a digital drum such as the ones developed by UNICEF in Uganda.
  • The van will have a regular route and will come back regularly (every 3 weeks or so).
  • People driving the van would be able to help locals to navigate on the web and even read and write for them if needed.

Note on the van for scenario 1: Reading an article about Doctors without borders and how recognizable (in a positive way) their white Toyota with their label has become, I thought that we could try to have a unified look and design and that this would help create a sense of trust and positive awareness about Amnesty International involvement with local communities. Yet, as noted by Amanda in one of her comments (a well-taken point, that others also highlighted), it might be better to make the van less visible. I guess this would have to be discussed with Amnesty International's experts and other local NGOs, and might vary depending on the areas. Using local vehicles might be a way to make the van less visible.

SCENARIO 2 (as highlighted by Arjan in one of his comments)
  • Learning about realities, challenges, solutions and dreams of people unlawfully detained (or at risk) and their families and friends.
  • As noted by Arjan in one of his comments, it could be a strong campaigning device leading to developing public awareness but also in sharing initiatives and actions, hopefully created desires for more actions and collecting some donations to support some of these initiatives. In both cases, it would be about shifting things: either by providing support, or by creating awareness.


Based on the OpenIDEO team and expert suggestions, I've looked into technical possibilities to provide wifi access in rural areas.

I found several interesting examples regarding vans and computer / internet access:
  • In Wired about a van in rural Washington, North Carolina, where a van was used to provide wifi access for classes:

  • The Commonwealth Youth Programme Technology Empowerment Centre on Wheels, or ‘CYPTEC on Wheels,’ in Chadigarh in North India. It is a modified mobile van fitted with several desktop computers, mobile internet, public addressing systems, all powered by a generator.

    This project aims to offer computer training to youths in rural areas and help them learn skills which will help them gain future employment. Every month the van travels to a different rural area in Chandigarh where a tutor offers daily computer training to young people:

  • Increasing internet access in Indonesia was tackled by the government by sending out vans. Each mobile computing van is equipped with audio visual devices, a controller computer, a server, and six laptops.  The van is manned by a driver and an IT officer. It is like a mobile internet cafe but there is no training offered in this case:

Thanks to Alan Hyman's technical expertise, I found a few solutions. I suppose we are considering rural areas with no (or little) cellular coverage. In that case, we may want
to use satellite and then a wifi router to share the internet connection. It seems that using cellular to provide the internet and then sharing it people in the van is easy today. There are products called MiFi that do this. Here is a google search that has tons of them: or

one of the products by clear wireless.

We would also need to make sure what the cellular standard is in the part of the world. I.E. GSM or CDMA.

As for the satellite service, t he speeds will be slower than the Mifi's but it would work in area's that do not have good cellular coverage. Here is a company that Alan found that has tons of options:

We would need to make sure that the service you get would work in the area the van will be in.

The best might be to get both options. One could backup the other in case one does not work.

Network design: Both solutions would work in much the same way. You need to get internet from somewhere and then share it in and around the van.

The internet would come via the cellular networks or from satellite. Then the internet would be distributed via a router with wifi capabilities. The computers would then connect via the wifi or a direct cable connection via the router. You would need to mare sure that the cellular and satellite services work in the areas you want the van to be in.

Another technical component: we might need to get extra power for the van as the computers and such may use all the power from the battery in the van. Maybe it's own generator. The best option (at this moment) seems to be a bio-fuel generator with a battery backup. One could add also solar panels but it seems to be less efficient at this time (per the advise of several mechanical engineers at NYU-Poly) and this won't be an option during rainy seasons.

However, we could incorporate solar panel kits for charging the computers and cell phones.

Also per Paul's comment, especially in "at risk areas", you might want to use a cover dish and incorporate it in the superstructure of a van.  This could provide both additional weather-proofing and concealment (at least attracting less attention)


Inspired by Marnie's attempt to make connections to all concepts, I've tried the same exercise.
I realized that except for a few concepts which are targeted specifically to the (potential) detainees (e.g. Alejando's no ping, Pamela's "Help I'm being detained") or to connect information on the spot like Vincent's Amnesty Observer App, the Van builds upon and could support many other concepts.

I've mentioned above Amanda's Creating Connections, Elliott's Sponsor a Spouse Nathan's Local Advice Wiki, Jason's Detainee Support System and Amjad's A-Z guide.

Here are other concepts which can be connected to the van:
Amy's PACT: educate local communities about PACT (Van scenario 1)

Midori's Take action on google: collect stories (scenario 1); share information from the platform to raise awareness (scenario 2)

Anna's Behind the bars: some data visualization printed in pamphlets for sharing information and educating local communities (scenario 1); visualization - paper as well as web based - to increase awareness (scenario 2)

Rashmey's Universal emergency number: spread the word and educate people (scenario 1, but scenario 2 as well).

Abbey's We miss you... over: website accessible from the van and spreading the word (scenario 1)

Marnie's Digital Smoke Signals: collect and share stories (scenario 1); raise awareness (scenario 2).

Lei's distributed network: to support the security of the data shared and collected (particularly in scenario 1).

The 3 concepts that I could not integrate are indirectly connected as they are directly supporting the detainees. One could imagine mapping the "eco-system" of this challenge and these 16 concepts:
Lei's distributed network and the van (by providing wifi, access to the internet and information in general) would provide the infrastructure.
Supporting the detainees:
Alejandro's no ping, Pamela's "Help I'm being detained", Amy's PACT, Rashmey's Universal emergency number
Supporting the families and friends from various perspectives (all of these concepts and services are building upon each other):
Amanda's creating connections
Elliott's Sponsor a spouse
Nathan's Local advice Wiki
Amjad's A-Z guide
Jason's Detainee support net
Abbey's We miss you... over
Collecting information:
Vincent's Amnesty Observer App
Midori's Take action on Google
Anna's Behind the Bars
Marnie's Digital smoke signals

You could even think of it as a journey from PACT to the Detainee Support System, Sponsor a spouse and creating connections.

What kind of resources are needed to get this idea off the ground and/or support it over time?

RESOURCES: RESOURCES YEAR 1 FOR SCENARIO 1 Each of the below is for one van in one area. Van: $55, 000 (for the van + the transformation needed See for example, thanks to Amanda's link and Alan's call: This is the high price version. Other versions could be found, using a modified old Volkswagen Kombi (VW Bus). We could also imagine using smaller vehicles, more "local". Wifi: Satellite dish = $16, 000 + $5,000 / year for the service laptops: 4-5 at $300 = $1, 500 [$500 if we were to use the "one laptop a child" which costs $100 each] generator: $450 Operational costs: 2 people's salary / year fuel parts and maintenance If the van distributes laptops (one child a laptop @$100) or tablets (@$35) to one person in the community, we could get them sponsored or donated. The van is the most expensive element. Yet, as mentioned in our refinement workshop, it could be replaced by a local and smaller vehicle. Many of these resources can be paid through donations. For example, a car company could provide the vans. Computers could be provided by a computer company, etc. SCENARIO 2 Van: while you will need several for scenario 1 (as many as the number of areas you want to serve), you could have only 1 for scenario 2 and it will travel from cities to cities. Wifi: Mifi would be a cheap option No need for a generator. Laptops: same as above Operational costs: costs of living for volunteers, fuel, parts and maintenance. -- Funding: Private funding is key: donations of equipment and sponsoring for the vans (by Ford, Toyota, Mercedes, VW), the satellite dish or the computers. Private foundations and money raised through scenario 2. Minimum fees for access to the services and donations when visiting for public awareness. Funding through kickstarter or similar programs. -- Actors to be involved: Amnesty international; volunteers from organizations like Peace Corps and local NGOs. Local NGOs would be key to spread the word, make connections with the local communities, understand their needs and build a relationship. Local NGOs (in scenario 1) would also be able to access some of the services (including Wifi) offered by the van. They could also help organize lodging for the van staff.

My Virtual Team

Technical expert: Alan Hyman: The OpenIDEO student chapter@NYU-Poly and the participants of the refinement workshop organized by the OpenIDEO student chapter@NYU-Poly During refinement phase: special thanks to Amanda, Ana and Paul Reader. Main inspirators: Ana: Jason: and a few others of his concepts (see on the right) Anne: SACK team: Imran: Jamie: Vincent: Yen Chiang: Arjan Tupan: From the social business challenge: Nathan for his concept on mobile training truck: and Meena for her comment and the reference to the Magic Kombi:

How could this idea also be adapted to work in low-tech situations?

This is for both low-tech and high-tech situations.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Tom Hulme

Great to see you're the lead on this fantastic concept AL!

Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard

Thanks Tom. It was a lot of fun and learning to work on this.

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