Mapping Settlements to Shift the Balance of Power

David Kilcullen creates maps to empower disenfranchised people in developing countries around the world. By combining social science and technology his firm solves tough problems in "frontier environments," reports David Holmes.
August 1, 2012, 8am PDT | helmholdtn
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Mapping as a social justice tool - this was not the path that the founder of Caerus Associates had in mind when he joined the Australian military 25 years ago. After working under David Petraeus through the Iraq war, David Kilcullen realized that collaborative relationships were necessary to get a real understanding of development patterns in remote locations. His company now uses crowdsourcing to map development and socio-economic patterns in Nigeria, Liberia, and other nations where war or internal conflicts have stymied efforts to track settlement.

Kilcullen's firm has empowered communities in hostile areas by allowing them to stand up to over-reaching governments and multinational corporations. Before Caerus Associates, many of his client communities were literally not on the map.

This bold company chooses to make many of its findings publicly available and not to carry weapons into dangerous environments. Kilcullen describes it as "two-thirds tech, one-third social science, with a dash of special operations."

The ultimate impact of intrepid start-ups like Caerus Associates is still an open question. Without strong civic infrastructure to continue tracking demographic patterns, will these efforts be in vain?

Thanks to Nick Helmholdt

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