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Launch of Google Outreach: Webtech Meeting Refugee Protection

Today I was in Geneva at the office of the UNHCR, the UN organisation for the protection of refugees.

Together with Google Earth they launched for Switzerland the new online mapping programme, Google Outreach (up to now it is only available in certain countries), and at the same time unveiled the outreach programme for the UNHCR:

“It’s absolutely fantastic. The potential for us and the potential to serve our interests and to serve the refugee interests round the world is quite substantial and we need now only seize the opportunity and move ahead with it,” Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees L. Craig Johnstone told more than 250 staff and invited guests at a launch ceremony in the atrium of UNHCR’s Geneva headquarters. Johnstone said the pilot UNHCR layers, which are now live on Google Earth Outreach and available from the UNHCR-site, made it possible to zoom in on specific refugee situations

L. Craig Johnstone

And indeed, it was very fascinating to see the the scope of possibilities this new technology offers. Rebecca Moore, manager and founder of Google Earth Outreach, gave an insight into the new application, showing different examples already realised.

Rebecca Moore from Google

With layers you can place information and media into Google Earth (a downloadable program) and Google Maps (online version). Now Google Earth Outreach gives non-profits and public benefit organizations the knowledge and resources to greate maps and virtual visits to projects.

This way you can directly show people what is at stake at a place and not just speak about it. You thus can raise the awareness and reach a broader audience – at the moment there are more than 350 million Google Earth users world-wide. You can use the tool to educate people, inspire action and influence decision-makers.

To show the impact of photos to sensitize people to what is happening in other parts of the world, Zalmai, internationally reknown photographer, born in Kabul and and refugee himself, who had just returned from Afghanistan, showed very impressive pictures of the horrible living conditions of internally displaced people there.

In the afternoon there was a tech-session to explain how the magic works, and a a manual for developers (pdf) was handed out. And we did some experiments with the spreadsheets to create information for Google Earth – it’s really not difficult to use.

Google also just launched an initiative together with “The Elders” – a gathering of world leaders coming together to guide and support the people – called “Every Human has Rights“, on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Google is now placing the 30 Articles of the declaration into the download version of Google Earth, so that you can see them at different parts of the globe, where they are at stake. This way also the knowledge about the human rights is spread all over – a very inspiring initiative.

At my office we are already using Google Maps to show the areas of world-wide activities. And since yesterday the Circle of Good Will can also be found on Google Maps. But I don’t know yet whether in my office or privately Google Outreach will come to a use… Nevertheless it is a great tool for inter-connecting the world and thus bringing in a fresh air of the Aquarian age.

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