OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign up, Login or Learn more

USAID, Humanity United and OpenIDEO have partnered to pursue ways to prevent mass atrocities – that is, deliberate mass violence against civilians. Examples of mass atrocities include genocide, ethnic cleansing and mass rape. Often the perpetrators of these crimes try to conceal their actions – barring journalists and humanitarian organisations from entering the area, blocking internet and mobile access, etc. How might we better listen and respond to the needs of of victims in these situations even though physical access may be limited? How can we help gather information from these regions, given the challenges of actually being on the ground? Let's collaborate to explore this topic and propose solutions – which might include services, platforms, tools, products or approaches – to tackle this critical yet complex issue.

Understanding the Context

Sixty years after the Holocaust and despite a global effort to prevent future atrocities, millions remain at risk. Today, 1.5 billion people are living in countries affected by violent conflict. And since 1945, 67% of mass atrocities have occurred within the context of armed conflict, which makes these areas difficult to access. In certain areas, those in vulnerable communities lack the means to alert those who could help to protect themselves, relatives or neighbours from harm. They may live in areas with no internet access or even in areas where there are no mobile phone networks. Violent perpetrators are too often aware of this vulnerability and often try to further isolate their victims – blocking journalists and humanitarian aid organisations from entering specific areas and cutting off or limiting what internet and mobile networks do exist. Without any information emerging from these hard-to-access areas, it is highly challenging to prevent mass atrocities and human rights violations.

Visibility into these regions requires reliable and trustworthy information. And though 78% of those in the developing world have access to mobile technology, some of those in communities at risk do not have such access or may lack awareness of this and other available technologies. In addition, authorities blacking out communications can contribute to a chronic lack of information which makes it difficult to hold perpetrators accountable. Furthermore, many at-risk people and potential witnesses may not know how to contact those who can help – e.g. humanitarian groups, journalists, other governments, and intergovernmental organisations like the UN – when they need protection or may not trust them to help. Finally, in some situations, the problem is not the lack of information but an overwhelming deluge of information (on Twitter, YouTube and other social media channels), which makes it equally difficult to verify what is happening, especially as perpetrators themselves often try to spread misinformation.

The Opportunity

Technology advances from mobile phones to satellite imagery to social networks have led to the advent of many new tools and approaches to help monitor hard-to-access regions of the world. Our ability to connect globally presents the opportunity for new creative ways to help prevent atrocities.

  • How might we help those in remote areas inform the world that they or others around them are in danger?
  • How might we collectively design tools that offer transparency into areas of armed conflict?
  • How might we gather & verify information in these places to help prevent the violent actions from taking place, or to help respond to ongoing violence?
  • How might we explore local scenarios to create solutions applicable to specific situations?
  • How might we build upon local insights to propose solutions for parallel contexts?

Following the selection of winning ideas, Humanity United and USAID will work together to convene key voices, experts and practitioners on atrocity prevention to meet with winners and selected challenge contributors in order to further develop innovations and potentially help pilot bring these ideas in specific country contexts.

Meet the Expert Panel

Our expert panel will help to inform the challenge and ultimately, along with your activity in the challenge, will help us strengthen ideas as they evolve. Together, we’re keen to explore issues like:
  • How well does this gather and verify information from hard to access areas to help prevent atrocities? How suitable is it for various conditions such as lack of internet or mobile access?
  • How affordable and simple is it to begin piloting this? Has it already begun to be prototyped?
  • How easy is it to begin using this? Is training required?
  • How scalable is this across populations and regions?

About the Sponsors

The United States Agency for International Development is an independent agency that provides economic, development and humanitarian assistance around the world.

Humanity United is a foundation dedicated to building peace and advancing human freedom. We lead, support, and collaborate with a broad network of efforts, ideas, and organisations that share our vision of a world free of conflict and injustice.

Reminder About Ideas on OpenIDEO

Please remember that OpenIDEO is an open platform and your contributions will be in the public domain. For more information check out the Guiding Principles for this challenge.

Community Cross-Pollinator

 Meena Kadri

Do you want to get involved in this challenge?

We follow a process with phases. Currently we are in the Impact phase. You can participate by adding stories on the impact of this challenge.
325 contributions
166 ideas
166 final ideas
17 final ideas
17 final ideas
618 days remaining Participate
View more

Attachments (5)


Printable Challenge Poster


Printable Challenge Poster

Prototyping Tips From's HCD Course

Prototyping Workshop From's HCD Course


Join the conversation:

Photo of Akbar Khalilzade

hi . i am Akbar Khalil zade from Iran . and i have great invention about airplane for have a best take off and landing and without any turning to left or right to get destination , and i don't have any supporter to presentation it, i said all of above sentences right .
other benefits of this invention are:
1) get to Destination with the nearest path
2) go ahead without any turning to left or right
3) have a best take off and landing at the airports
4) Using less fuel to reach the destination
5) Enhance air safety factor on future flights
if every one or every company can help me and then help for Future society
please connect me with this number: +989338377934 or +985435314156
my email:
Thank you for your kindness of look

Photo of chang liu

we are on the same earth and I'm sure we all have the equal chance to enjoy a peaceful life. for the remote areas, where we may never heard of, may now suffering mass atrocities. I think there should be a special and strong organization which will in charge of area like that. they have the most professional journalists ans well equipped armies.

Photo of chang liu

some of the issues must be attend more by people, no matter from what perspective . as a son and husband, i should start to think and study something.

Photo of Fei Xin

It is really highly challenge to prevent mass violence against civilians. First, people must have a sense of self-protection , especially those in vulnerable communities lack. To have this sense needs the network education to spread . In addition, once any violence happened, people the organization must find the organization for help , such as "humanitarian groups, journalists, other governments, and intergovernmental organisations like the UN." However, it is necessary to gather information from hard-to-access areas. Government needss to ensure 100% network coveraged throughout the world. Even though "they may live in areas with no internet access or even in areas where there are no mobile phone networks." People can still use satellite technology to find people which in danger . In order to prevent mass violence happened, so enhance the police power and security management is also essential. People should also have confidence for the government, the government can protect them.

Photo of mengyuan chen

I think it is very important to prevent mass violence against civilians. Year to year, there are many violence happened in the world including terrorist, mass rape, genocide and internet violence. Lots of people got hurt physically and psychologically . Not matter from which part, it is all hurt people overall. In order to keep human being live in a peaceful and comfortable world, we should prevent any of them happen in the future. At least we should minimum the damage if some thing like that happen in the future.

Photo of silka miesnieks

Here are a few quick comments that might be helpful...
1. I would say to get to know the news web sites and Facebook contacts at a grass roots level.
For eg, in South Sudan, a friend, Garang has friends everywhere they FB or Skype even in remote areas.

Satellite nad mobile means people are pretty connected. There are some amazing photos posted.

There's a site called also These are not really known outside of the Sudanese community but they all read these.

So engaging people from community groups can help find out what's happening where.

2. Developing and improving bandwidth in remote areas so people can stay connected. In Africa, mobile is a revolution because it was accessible, cheap and no need for expensive landlines. I visited Kakuma refugee camp in yhe north Kenyan desert, and most ppl had a mobile n there were Internet cafes!

3. Supporting independent film makers and other activists who are trying to expose global companies responsible for exploitation of natural resources in developing countries. Examples: Documentary 'Crude' about US oil mining in Latin America, also copper mining in Zambia by Swiss company, overfishing within the country boundary off West coast of Afrixa by British fishing companies means no fish for locals. this exploitation is perhaps the major cause of pollution, poverty, destroys local fertile land, hunger, unstable governments coz the West play them like pawns. all these factors lead to civil unrest even in remote areas.

So if Openideo can start at the big end of town it will help the remote unseen victims.

Cheers, Silka

Photo of DeletedUser


This is absolutely a boots on the ground approach as it becomes next to impossible to reach isolated people in a war-torn region (i.e. Syria). Helmet cameras have become the wave of documenting extreme sports and they have usefulness in documenting war because of their versatility and durability.

Photo of DeletedUser


It will be a surprise to many, but mobile phone ownership in Northern Africa is better than 98% and approaching ~72% in ALL of Sub-Saharan Africa. The people who are being victimized have phones. The major AID orgs have been making their money by NOT empowering individuals because they (USAID, Oxfam, UN etc.) "know better" then civilians what is needed. Hogwash. People know what they need and they should be enabled to ask for it using the phones that they have today. Supporting technologies like TETHER would allow communications sovereignty, as would the major orgs providing cost-free SMS within any region declared to be in a state of emergency - for which protocols are already well established.

Photo of DeletedUser


I was thinking along the same lines. Plus, those who don't have phones and/or can't afford their services could have access to what we have here in Massachusetts: Trac Phones. These could even be given out for cheap in "quick risk" areas. The phones can be really small and discreet.

Photo of DeletedUser


I would like to submit a response to the challenge - how do i do that? I have a concept - but I can't locate the response form again. Help!

Photo of DeletedUser


Yes the site architecture here is really not flat. I'm still trying to figure out where to post or I'd just tell you :-)

Photo of Cristina Lastra

We're having a look at this challenge at an OpenIDEO meeting in Barcelona tonight... important aspects that I haven't seen mentioned and I hope we can hash around this evening are related to language & culture:

1. high rates of illiteracy among remote populations and how this has to be factored in to any system under consideration
2. hundreds of languages and dialects

Solutions could be in the form of (culturally-relevant) pictograms, codes or symbols... and we need to think about how these 'translate' into SMS messages etc.

Photo of Meena Kadri

Way to go, Christina. Glad to hear the conversations were rich at the Barcelona OpenIDEO Meetup!

Photo of DeletedUser


It sounds like a perfect application of Ushahidi & Frontline SMS. The reporting & mapping of events like this became hugely important in Kenya amid the post-election violence the country saw in 2007/08. It has been used pretty extensively as an election monitoring tool in other African countries (see intro post from Frontline here: and as a newsgathering tool also. All it relies on is the ability to send SMS - verification is done as a follow-up.

Another organisation worth talking to is Komaza, a forestry NGO (Run by an American social entrepreneur, Tevis Howard) based in a rural coastal area just inland from Kilifi, Kenya. They have designed a WAP form-filler which can be used via Nokia phones for farmers to report incidents of tree pests/diseases on their coppices. It includes a grid ref geolocation, and is the kind of thing that could be repurposed to this end.

The key in countries with low connectivity is to keep the necessary bandwidth for the medium low. Facebook Zero has done well in Sub-Saharan Africa by restricting the platform to text, which makes transmission easier, and a lot cheaper.

Photo of Meena Kadri

Great thoughts Markham. We hope you'll join in on collaborative discussions over on our shortlisted ideas:

Photo of DeletedUser


Frontline is buggy and cannot reliably handle large traffic of more than a few hundred messages per second. Ushahidi has had a major reworking, but if your needs do not fall into their design scheme or use-case, then you are also in trouble. More importantly, if there is no one "listening" then all the mapping in the world will do no good.

Photo of DeletedUser


There is nothing showing who at USAID has the implementation authority to make this happen. Without some concrete idea of what this project will be used for, it is hard to feel free about offering suggestions. Additionally, the problem and the organizations involved with addressing it go way beyond these two orgs, essentially requiring a total rethink of how aid is distributed. Bottom line, if you want to support resiliency, you have got to empower individuals (and thereby communities) by providing a tangible sense of efficacy. This is respectful and will offer much more in the long run than the current top-down paradigm.

Photo of Babak Khodaparast

it's vary by area! in some area we have satellite and mobile coverage so we can solve the problem very easy and there is no need to spend more money for making a new tools. Is there any possibility to indicate some of your target areas?

Photo of DeletedUser


Solving the worlds problems is a simple as identifying them. Politics and Religion are philosophies and misused to gain control over a prosperous planet by people in position of power who lack the insight of philosophy.
Both Politics and Religions from every culture have uneducated leaders who express debates instead of negotiating for peace and prosperity.
Politics and Religions have gone so far as to question absolute constants and border becoming mental illness.
The basic idea of Democracy is to have representation for the voters express views but democracy fails when politics and religion effect negotiations with possessive debates over the common goal of Prosperity.
Individual Representation from our devices at home, work, school, the public library should guide representation instead of a voting booth which allows s Presidents to avoid Congress and push Executive orders.
Too much power is given to too few... The democratic party in America demanded that the 1% get extra taxes to fund the government. The people of America are seeing the .00017% are law makers in Washington DC who display violations to the oath and dereliction of duty. Therefore limiting power of Govt and providing more freedom to citizens allows for the cogs of prosperity to turn on a planet where we still have yet to move onto other worlds and technologies we know we can have.
Isolationist countries and blatant tyrannies from oppressive governments for reasons of politics and religion for power must be identified and responded to with what ever means possible to allow the freedom to just live.

Photo of DeletedUser


I have such insights after reading the challenge information:

1) First of all, if this project is managed by USAID and HU, then you should keep your people in those regions, so they will bring the most current information about the issues;

2) Need to talk to local government and government of the country about developing centers where people who suffered can come with those problems and feel free to talk about it.

3) Since it is a very personal problems and in many countries society forbids victims to complain and they are scared, or if there are applied some other bad sanctions, then people who will talk about it should be accepted as anonymous so offender will not do anything bad to them.

4) Government of such countries should add sections about punishment whenever such things occur and everyone should be aware of them.

Photo of Jason Schlatter

Some questions came to mind when reading this brief and some of the inspirations and missions so far:
- To whom would these groups be communicating and are those message recipients (if not the USAID or HU) willing/able/or already connected to USAID or HU?
- What network/process is in place to actually respond to these situations?
- Are there particular countries/continental areas that are the primary focus? (as that may help shape some solutions in regards to specific cultural approaches)
- What feedback/requests/solutions are already available or sourced from developing countries that might be in need of solutions that may be discovered through this challenge? How is their voice being expressed in solving these issues? Is there any information from their perspective that can be shared with those taking this challenge up?

Photo of M. Ricciardi

Your questions are cogent and important -- we could use some clarification bu the sponsors of this challenge.

In regards to the first one: does USAID/HU have any existing network infrastructure (whether people, computers, satellites, cellular) -- or one being established over time -- that could be utilized when a conflict erupts in a given region?

Yout third question i think is answered in the third USAID/HU challenge (datasets/models), which states that conditions will vary greatly from region to region, meaning, the focus here could be on one or several; we need to find solutions that work in particular areas, verses, a "one sze fits all" solution.

Your fourth question is also important but should be simplified, as it has several aspects to it and might be confusing. Also, I would say in regards to the second question (in this last question) that few groups will know in advance they will be targeted, and, when they are, they are unable to express, or communincate (get the message out) for the reasons stated (isolation, network shut down)....they may also be fleeing for their lives.

Photo of DeletedUser


Hi, I am very new to Openideo in terms of usage. As for this challenge, one solution comes to mind : A community can be equipped with solar-powered video camera along with some basic instructions on how to use it, to record any suspicious activities happening around and send these recordings to alert the concerned people.

Photo of DeletedUser


Hmmm... sounds like you might need an introduction to Andrew McGregor and the Tiziano Project he founded: Their mission statement: "The Tiziano Project provides community members in conflict, post-conflict, and underreported regions with the equipment, training, and affiliations necessary to report their stories and improve their lives." So I think the question is- how to help Tiziano broaden their reach? Here in LA we have really fun fundraisers for them like the recent Tuxedo Tyrants Chessboxing Match.

Photo of Meena Kadri

Sounds highly relevant Susanna. Perhaps you might add it to our Inspiration phase for this challenge:

Photo of DeletedUser


Thanks, I will!