We wrapped up our first Blockchain for International Development course in February and recently had a chance to sit down with Maputi Botlhole about her experience in the course!

Maputi is from Port Elizabeth, South Africa, and has over 3 years of international work experience at the intersection of global health, technology and supply chain management. She worked as a Program Officer on the USAID | DELIVER Project and is also the Co-Founder of MAISHA Innovate. When coming to this course, she was most interested in the application of blockchain technology in global health. She also wanted the course to help her think creatively about how to apply blockchain technology in the township economy space (South Africa).

Q: How did you find out about the TechChange course Blockchain for International Development and what inspired you to take it?

In December 2017, I was in Port Elizabeth, South Africa celebrating the festive season with my family. I was enjoying the beautiful weather, the refreshing conversations and great food! I remember returning from a walk with my sister and checking my phone for notifications, and there it was: an email from TechChange with the subject “Check out our 2018 course catalog!”

At the time, I thought about learning something new in the upcoming year, hence the email enticed my curiosity and I proceeded to open it. The course:  Blockchain for International development, was the first listed course offering for the year 2018. I was hesitant to immediately sign-up, however, I kept the thought of enrolment at the back of my mind. We ushered in the new year, and days later I received a notification from ICT4Drinks. The notification was for the “Block Party Edition,” which  served as a good reminder to sign up for the course on “Blockchain for International development.” We are inundated with information on the cryptocurrency applications of blockchain, and this was the first time I’d come across learning about the technology within the context of international development. The potential to use the technology for social good coupled with the $50 “BlockParty” discount peaked my interest and provided an extra nudge to enroll for the TechChange course!

Q: What did you enjoy most about the course?

The course did a great job of taking students through the fundamentals and applications of blockchain technology. The participants in the course were from different corners of the world ranging from Little Rock, Arkansas to Suva, Fiji to Lima, Peru!  The course content and the manner in which it was delivered made blockchain technology accessible to myself as a South African, and accessible to participants from other geographical locations.

The diversity of the course participants was a testament to the global footprint of TechChange and added a cross-cultural flair to our discussions on blockchain technology.

At the same time, I learned about blockchain as a technology that has applications beyond cryptocurrency – yes, digital currency is important. I even set up a wallet and exchanged stellar lumens through the course, however, the blockchain demo and other visual material from the course effectively described the underlying technology of blockchain. I now know that blockchain is a decentralized, distributed and incorruptible public ledger that records any transaction of value – whether that value is in the form of digital currency, smart contracts in land titling, votes in the electoral process, or any item that can be tokenized – with no requirement for third-party validation. This expanded my understanding of the technology. In addition, the case studies and live events; which featured guest speakers, discussed blockchain topics ranging from how applications powered by blockchain are being used to create economic identities for “unbankable” farmers in remote areas; to how blockchain technology is used to provide data integrity on supply chain operations.

An interactive slide from TC116: Blockchain for International Development on various blockchain applications.

I enjoyed learning about the several application of blockchain through this course! Furthermore, the discussions on the future of blockchain helped me to think creatively about the applications of such a technology in South Africa. I even found myself seeking out events that spoke to the use of blockchain in South Africa. This was to the point where I ended up attending the 2018 Africa Energy Indaba. The “Indaba” was held in Sandton City, Johannesburg and one of the panel discussions spoke to the democratization and deployment of renewable energy through blockchain. So even though this was an online course, it coalesced in a way that encouraged me to get away from the computer screen and go out into the world to learn more about blockchain technology.

Q: Whats one thing people should know about blockchain

This is a technology that is accessible to all of us! We can dedicate time and resources to learn about blockchain through platforms such as TechChange; partner with others to use the technology to creatively solve some of the pressing global challenges. I was inspired by the case studies which documented and highlighted blockchain projects for social good!

Q: Tell us about the block party you organized, sounds like a great event!


On the evening of April 20th, 2018, I held a “BLOCKCHAIN PARTY” in a South African town called Grahamstown. This town is located in the Eastern Cape region of the country and it is predominantly “Xhosa” speaking: the Xhosa language is internationally known as the click language and it’s also spoken in the fictional country of “Wakanda” in the Black Panther movie. I was surprised to have at least 20 female high school students show up for my party. Most of the students were from an academic excellence residence known as Maqubs Academy. The high school students ranged from 15-18 years in age and even though they could’ve been pre-occupied by other activities that evening, they all were eager to learn about blockchain technology.

I had party lanyards, name tags, party whistles, beaded necklaces, refreshments and 50 balloons to liven up the atmosphere. Each balloon had an interesting fact or questions about blockchain inside that I had written on a piece of paper. I also had some South African “GQOM” house music playing in the background. The participants walked in, wrote their names on provided tags and put on the lanyards. The blockchain party started at 18:30PM SAST and I introduced myself. I shared on the expected participation conduct/norms. For instance, one of the norms was for the attendees to blow their party whistles whenever they had a question, and each participant was required to pop a balloon every 5 minutes to read a fun fact on blockchain for the entire group. I then asked the participants to share their expectations for the blockchain party. The participants also inquired about my background with blockchain and proceeded to tell them about my learning experience on the TechChange platform.


The discussions at the party leaned on the roundtable format with myself as the facilitator. It was important to make the interactions conversational in order for the participants to feel comfortable, and confident enough to engage with me on this topic. I had a whiteboard where I mind mapped and highlighted the general aspects of blockchain. I also drew a table to present the advantages and unknowns of the technology. The discussions kicked off with the fundamentals of blockchain technology: what it is, how it works and its applications. I took the participants through the blockchain demo. They did have some knowledge on bitcoin as a digital currency due to the buzz bitcoin had recently created in the South African news cycle, markets and on social media. However, the participants didn’t know that blockchain technology can be applied to other areas such as healthcare, energy, remittances, land titling, etc.

Their understanding of blockchain expanded once I explained the underlying technology and shared information on the case studies that I had discovered through the TechChange course.

I will mention that the students were a bit taken aback by the thought of a technology that doesn’t require third-party validation (banks, government, legal institutions, etc) and started to ask a lot of questions (trust and corruption was a big issue). Of course, we did not forget to pop a balloon every 5 minutes to read the fun facts – these fun facts also included notes on case studies which helped to enliven the discussions and provided clarity on some of the questions. We discussed case studies ranging from BanQu to Blockcerts. We then had a Q&A session, and the party ended with the participants telling me about how they plan to share the information they had learned during the blockchain party. One of the students said she would introduce blockchain technology as a debate topic at her school, another student said she would take the time to learn more about freight forwarding applications of blockchain, and another student said she’d also host a blockchain party with her friends! Unfortunately, it got late and we couldn’t pop all 50 balloons but the participants took the remaining balloons with them! The blockchain party was a success and it got me thinking about the possibility of organizing more blockchain parties for high school students in South Africa! I even heard that a high school in Johannesburg, called the African Leadership Academy, had conducted their student government elections on the blockchain. It would be interesting to discover and document how young people in South Africa are thinking about and using this technology. More blockchain parties in the future!!

Thank you Maputi for your creative blockchain party and your contributions to our first Blockchain for International Development course! Interested in taking our Blockchain for International Development course? The next session starts on Monday, September 10th and you can sign up here

By Sairah Yusuf, TC141: Mapping for International Development (Fall 2013) alumna

Before taking this Mapping for International Development course last fall, I had absolutely no previous background on mapping tools, so everything about digital mapping was new to me. For my course final mapping project, I created a digital map of the countries and locations of participants of an international training camp held by Generations For Peace (GFP) in November 2013 (Amman Camp 2013). Given my involvement in evaluating the impact of this training, I wanted a way to visualise the effectiveness of the training.

Here are the steps that I took for my introductory experience in creating a map for my work at Generations For Peace:

Step 1: Define the purpose of your map

Throughout the course, the importance of defining the purpose of your digital map as a first step emerged with debates regarding representation and privacy concerns. My aim with this map is to understand the cascading effect over time of these Generations For Peace volunteers, who will be passing on their skills to new volunteers in their home countries in the Middle East. By maintaining this map from November 2013 to November 2015, I hope that it will be possible to visually demonstrate the geographical impact of this training.

Step 2: Select your dataset

I used data from Amman Camp 2013, including the home country of each individual trained and the geographical reach of the training. I felt that this data was simple enough to work with, given that this was my first exposure to mapping. That said, I had to create the dataset from scratch, entering street addresses/locations for each participant.

Geocoding data in the MENA region proved to be the biggest challenge because geocodes for most street addresses (which were predominantly in Arabic) could not be found in the APIs I used. In addition, we had trainees from the occupied Palestinian territories at the GFP Camp. I struggled with pinpointing their locations on the map since the occupied Palestinian territories did not show up as a country option in many of the geocoding tools I tried. I had to get around this by tagging individuals from this region as hailing from Israel and then manually changing the name later to reflect their location. This issue was important to deal with because I did not want any of these trainees to view the map I had created and feel like I had misrepresented where they were from in any way due to geo-political sensitivities.

Step 3: Select your mapping tool or software

The Mapping course featured a variety of tools including Google Maps Engine, MapBox, Ushahidi, OpenStreetMap, CaerusGeo, and Palantir. I chose the Mapbox/TileMill combination over other options because I felt it allowed me to customise my map more – I could colour in different countries and introduce different levels of interactivity within the map.

Step 4: Choose your design

My design choices were partly shaped by wanting to keep my map easily readable, using block colours and simple labels, and also to keep my map customisation as simple as possible since this was my first mapping exercise. I also wanted the countries in question to stand out quite clearly.

By introducing dots in different colours for new individuals these volunteers train in their own countries, over the course of 2 years, for example, this would show how much of a geographical “spread” the training from Nov ’13 had. It would also help distinguish between volunteers with different levels of training. For example, as time goes on and individuals complete GFP programmes and further training, it is possible to change the colour of the dots representing those who were trained at the original Camp to red, demonstrating their status as a GFP “Pioneer.” Any new volunteers they train can be represented in “blue.” The idea is therefore to improve this map and maintain it over a period of time to represent these changes.

Filling out more details in the second click feature can provide relevant information about each individual – what they’ve done in the past and what programmes they are working on now, for Generations For Peace.


Basic mapping software can actually be quite accessible, even with very little technical training. However, there’s definitely something of a “glass ceiling” in its use, after which more technical expertise is required. Overall, Mapping for International Development was a really great course, and I’ve already recommended it to others! This online course covers debates in the field in some depth, but also focuses on mapping tools in the field in enough detail to have a platform to build on afterwards.

Are you new to digital mapping as well? Would your work benefit from geographically visualising projects and impact? Register now for our online course on Mapping for International Development.

Bob Corbett’s final mapping project on flood-prone areas in Bangladesh. (Note: this map was prepared as a mapping exercise. Anyone viewing the map should understand that it would need to be reviewed and validated by a qualified expert before it should be relied upon.)

By Bob Corbett, TC141: Mapping for International Development alumnus

During my undergraduate work in Landscape Architecture, I learned a method of analyzing spatial data by overlaying various types of information on acetate sheets or tracing paper developed by Ian McHarg, a Scottish landscape architect. The technique is described here (Note: I am not related to the author). I have always been fascinated by this technique and the GIS capabilities available today make this type of analysis readily possible. This offline overlay technique was the basis of my final mapping project in TC141.

In mid-2011, I launched SMS in Action, an Ushahidi Crowdmap that lists text message based programs worldwide that contribute to the social good. To date, nearly 240 programs classified under 29 different categories have been profiled on SMS in Action and viewed by thousands of visitors from 119 countries. With my general interest in mapping piqued by my Crowdmap experience, I ventured into crisis mapping with the Standby Task Force and more recently, Crisismapper deployments using the Tomnod platform. I have since worked on a variety of crisis mapping efforts from locating refugee encampments in Somalia, to tracking forest and bush fires in Colorado and Australia and identifying storm damage after Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda in the Philippines to name a few.

TC141: Mapping for International Development

Taking the online course, Mapping for International Development, allowed me to combine my interests in ICT4D, international development, data visualization, and a love of maps. I very much enjoyed the format of TC141 with the combination of live presentations, weekly readings and videos, exercises, discussion forums, and the step-by-step instructions and “how-to” materials. Although I tried to “attend” each live presentation the fact that everything was archived for viewing at my convenience was a real plus. This being my first online course, I was surprised at the level of personal interaction available between participants as well as with the facilitator. Chris Neu was a great facilitator: always enthusiastic, arranged interesting presenters and shared an immense amount of information with course participants. I had no specific goals for the course at the outset other than to broaden my knowledge of available mapping technologies. I quickly realized TC141 provided me a chance to gain a capability to work with GIS, a long-term interest of mine. As a result, I selected QGIS, the open source GIS platform as the primary platform upon which to develop my course project.

Mapping with QGIS and MapBox’s TileMill
In a preliminary course exercise we were introduced to MapBox/TileMill. In a follow-up exercise I used MapBox/TileMill to create a simple map of the top ten world coastal cities at risk from flooding due to climate change – including Dhaka, Bangladesh. Given that we have a family friend from Bangladesh, I felt a more detailed investigation of flooding patterns in Bangladesh, an increasingly frequent problem, might lend itself to my major project for the course.

Drawing upon existing sources of information available via the Internet, I located shapefiles for administrative districts, the extent previous flooding, road systems, airport and hospital locations, topographic information, population data and more. After importing this information into QGIS I was able to identify recently flooded and flood prone areas of the country. Seeing how flooding can compartmentalize the country and disrupt the movement of people and relief supplies between areas, I then performed a quick search of key medical facilities and major airports to better understand which would be affected and which might be available to support relief efforts. The QGIS-based flood map was then exported into MapBox/TileMill where it was further refined using the tools and capabilities within the MapBox platform.

Mapping Bangladesh’s Flood-Prone Zones
Given that our Bangladeshi friend is engaged in development activities in the Khulna administrative district, I wanted to see whether flooding in Khulna might impact their area. Based on Internet research, I chose flooding from a 6-meter storm surge as the basis to work from. I then located ground elevation data for Bangladesh and loaded the file into QGIS. By filtering the elevation data I was able to “see” the general extent of flooding that might be expected in Khulna District by a 6-meter storm surge. I was very pleased with the resulting maps and the new skills and capabilities that I had gained. Prior to taking TC141, I was not even aware of QGIS or MapBox/TileMill. I feel compelled to note that my “flood maps” were solely academic mapping exercises and should not be interpreted to be definitive maps of anticipated flooding in Bangladesh. However, it did show me the new capabilities I had developed as a result of TC141.

Mapping in My Future
TC141 offered much more information than I have touched upon here. One area of discussion in the course was OpenStreetMap and Humanitarian OpenStreetMap. With my past involvement with crisis mapping I have developed an interest in pre-disaster planning. Although post-disaster efforts often involve hasty mapping after an event I am interested in what types of information and infrastructure could and should be mapped in advance of disasters as part of a preparedness program. For example, if we believe that climate change is expected to result in an increased frequency and intensity of tropical storms, typhoons, hurricanes, cyclones, etc. shouldn’t first responders and aid agencies have reliable maps to work with prior to a disaster? The Philippines experience, on average, 20 tropical storms per year. Accurate up-to-date maps of facilities and infrastructure needed to recover from such emergencies post-disaster should be mapped in advance in OpenStreetMap as part of a preparedness program. I am interested in learning more about the types of facilities and infrastructure that need to be mapped in advance as part of a preparedness effort and see OpenStreetMap as a logical platform for presenting that information.

Interested in learning how to build your own digital maps using the tools that Bob learned? Enroll now in our 4-week digital mapping course, Mapping for International Development.

By Lauren Bailey, TC309: mHealth – Mobile Phones for Public Health alumna

Lauren Bailey

My final project for TechChange’s mHealth online course overlapped a final project for a master level global environmental health course. I’m currently working towards a Master of Public Health degree, concentrating in global environmental health, and specifically focusing in water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH). I recently became interested in mHealth and decided to do my global environmental health course project on mHealth in the WASH sector. Since I was new to mHealth, I kept the project simple, touching on some basics. This background document includes: (1) applications of mHealth in WASH; (2) case studies; and (3) recommendations.

Throughout TC309, I became increasingly interested in how mHealth can be applied to behavior change, a major component of reducing WASH-related illness. The mHealth online course has been a wonderful way to learn about the different applications of mHealth, the challenges and successes of programs, and the future possibilities of mHealth. I’ve been inspired by many of the articles, discussions, and live presentations and am now incorporating mHealth into my master’s thesis.

Here is the infographic I created, using Piktochart as part of my course project:

mHealth-in-WASH-infographic_Lauren Bailey


  1. Mobile phones offer a means to reach most at-risk populations, particularly those in rural areas, to change health outcomes.
  2. More individuals in most African countries will have access to a mobile phone than they will to an improved water source by 2013.
  3. Mobile phones have been deployed over the past decade as tools to improve water, sanitation, and hygiene.
  4. Client education and behavior change communication, data collection and reporting, financial transactions and incentives, and supply chain management are potential mHealth applications categories.

To read Lauren’s entire final project from the online course, mHealth: Mobile Phones for Public Health, please click here.

Interested in learning more about how mobile phones are impacting WASH, healthcare, and promoting health worldwide? Register now for our 4-week online on mHealth here.