A letter from project founder Ivan Gayton:

Let me begin with an unusual statement for a project soliciting donations:

Firstly, I want to emphasize that we are not in need of donations! Several of us are funding the project ourselves out of personal conviction that this work needs to be done, and the goals of the West Africa Motorcycle Mapping initiative will be met regardless of additional funds. These goals are:

  1. Creating a proof of concept wherein locally appropriate, open data-based mapping and data collection in low-income medical settings actually facilitates and improves health care and public health, and
  2. Creating a playbook that helps to scale this activity throughout the poorest and most vulnerable areas of the world. This includes making the costs, as well as all data, public, so that future similar projects (not necessarily done by us) can more easily budget and raise funds.

We have chosen to work in the Kenema and Kailahun districts of Sierra Leone because we have found two health care providers, Medecins Sans Frontieres and the Nixon Memorial Hospital in Segbwema, who wish to use the mapping data to better serve their patients and the population. We are, however, not working directly for either of those providers, nor are they funding us. We are collaborating with them as genuine partners; we and they both wish to improve the health of the people of Sierra Leone by creating and using open, locally appropriate map data.

The bridge — at Kailahun District.Photo Credit: Ivan Gayton

As mentioned above, the project is personally funded by several of the participants, and is ultimately an individual labour of love and conviction.  We have budgeted around USD $25,000 for the project, including local salaries, volunteer living and travel expenses. With this amount, we expect to be able to map a significant portion of the two districts, Kenema and Kailahun (of thirteen districts in Sierra Leone).  This is enough for the proof of concept..

However, there are 11 more districts in Sierra Leone, not to mention populations in Guinea and Liberia, where this work would probably do enormous good. We are more than happy to extend our work to these areas (first completing all of Sierra Leone, and later extending to the other countries) if people wish to contribute financially to this project!

We will not, in contrast to many established projects seeking funding, provide prospective donors with quantitative guarantees of what we will accomplish. The very reason that we are self-funding is that we intend to break new trail! We do not know if we will succeed. We do not know how much it will ultimately cost to make a truly effective public health tool. We have a budget, freely available to anyone who cares to inspect it, and our expenses are all a matter of public record, and obviously we are trying to be cost-effective (though this is a secondary consideration after being simply effective) – we haven’t put our own money and time into this in order to waste it. However, we deliberately choose not to make promises we don’t know if we can keep, and anyone who wishes to contribute can only do so on the same basis that we ourselves are contributing: out of conviction that this needs to be done, not out of certainty that it can be.

This may sound like a pretty chancy bet. If it sounds like we’re saying, “We’d love for you to give us money to continue our work, but we don’t guarantee that your donation will do any good,” it’s because that’s exactly what we’re saying. The only assurances we can offer are these:

  • We believe this needs to be done. It is shocking and unacceptable that people in poor countries, particularly rural sub-Saharan Africa, are not even on the map in a way that allows for the most basic of public health practices: contact tracing for communicable diseases, epidemiological surveillance, and effective direction of emergency response.
  • This kind of activity would be hard to fund using a traditional donor model, but will contribute to professionalizing and quantifying the costs of this kind of work. Your donation may be massively leveraged by making it possible for more risk-averse donors to follow the trail you’ve helped to blaze.
  • We have put our own time and money where our mouths are. If you donate to our project, you’re not taking any greater risk than we already have.
  • Everything we do is 100% transparent. Our budgets, data, tools, and methods are all open. You are welcome to look at what we’ve done so far, examine our methods, and make your own assessment of the likely impact of our project continuing and expanding.
  • At the moment a back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that the $25,000 we are spending is sufficient to map all of the villages in two districts of Sierra Leone (on the order of 1500 villages, so something like $16 per village). This includes the inefficiency of mobilizing several international volunteers for short visits, as well as a high supervision ratio. It includes considerable effort to bring a state-of-the-art dashboard on line at Nixon Memorial Hospital. It’s a virtual certainty that doing more with the same crew will result in substantially lower costs per village (probably hitting an eventual asymptote somewhere around the $8/village mark). So your donation will be more cost-effective than our initial funding has been!
  • Additional funds will improve both the proof of concept and the playbook. The more experience we get, the better our outcomes will be, and the more likely they will be replicated.

With your money, we will certainly put people on the map who have never been mapped before, restoring some measure of dignity to people that no one has ever cared enough about to go visit them and ask them where they live, and what they call their home.

In sum, we don’t need your money, and we can’t promise you a guaranteed outcome if you donate to us. But we truly believe in what we are doing, and if you want to help, we will accept your assistance with gratitude, humility, and transparency.

If you would like to support us, donations can be made here.