Mapping for a good cause

Since October 2016 I have been adding schools and other points of interest in rural Tanzania to – a community of mappers that contribute and maintain data about roads, trails, cafés, railway stations and so forth, all over the world.

The Tanzania Development Trust (TDT) is a charity that supports projects in Tanzania and they also work with the OpenStreetMap tool. TDT funds development projects in Tanzania since 1975 and is supported by international volunteers.


The first TDT project I worked on was focussing on the area around Mugumu, Serengeti to help protect girls at risk of female genital mutilation (FGM). Maps of rural Tanzania are helping social workers access remote villages and rescue girls who are being forced to undergo female genital cutting.

For more information about FGM please visit the WHO website.

It is quite a strange experience, while tagging buildings and roads on your computer screen, that you are able to help people to navigate in a region I’m not familiar with – and that at 10.000KM distance! It is great that digital technology can actually have a direct impact on our fellow residents. But at the same time are girls both in health and psychologically seriously injured during ritual ceremonies. Therefor FGM is recognised internationally as a violation of the human rights. It reflects a culture of deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women.

My internet consumption each month is >25 hours (easily) and I thought why not combining my online presence and volunteering at the same time? For me online volunteering worked out pretty well and in average I am spending 2-3 hours every week on the mapping. If you like to support the Tanzania Development Trust or similar good causes, you could have a look at the United Nations Volunteers website.

Bukit Lawang

In December last year we went on a trip to Indonesia. One of the places we visited was Bukit Lawang. A small and popular village located on the edge of the Gunung Leuser National Park — a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is home to numerous birds, plants and mammal species like the Sumatran orang utan (Pongo abelii).

The 2.5 million hectare Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra site comprises three national parks: Gunung Leuser National Park, Kerinci Seblat National Park and Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park. The site holds the greatest potential for long-term conservation of the distinctive and diverse biota of Sumatra, including many endangered species (source: so we booked a three-day jungle trek in the hope to find orang utans.


We encountered five orang utans and several other animals – an experience to be well remembered. Walking through this kind of forest makes you feel small. Plants and trees are growing everywhere – absolutely amazing.

But besides all the beauty and excitement I also sensed that the village and the Gunung Leuser National Park is facing some challenges too. For example the amount of litter in the village is something which can not be overlooked. Plastic packaging, bottles and other stuff is scattered around the place. During the trekking we spend the nights at two different base-camps. Also here were traces of litter evident.

I assume the amount of visitors will increase in the years ahead and I would like to see that as something positive as it brings prosperity to the residents and many trekking-businesses. But the increase of visitors also puts pressure on the amount of waste produces – not to mention the collection and processing of the waste. And as most people come for jungle trekking the increase of visitors will also put a burden on the forest animals. Other challenges are palm oil production and illegal logging (the harvest, transportation, purchase / sale of timber)

I have email exchange with Bukit Lawang Jungle Trekking – one of the many trekking businesses in the village. They organised our jungle trip in a very professional way and with one of the directors I reflected my thoughts. It’s a relief that they have the same opinion and in fact they initiated the CARE NOW project to fight some of the issues. This initiative focusses on education, training and support of local communities about waste (management, reduction, separation, processing) and the impact on the environment. Another project they support is the BUKIT LAWANG TRUST. The purpose of the trust is to engage in environmental and wildlife projects in connection with the endangered Sumatran orang utans.bukit-lawang_gunung-leuser-national-park_2016

I truly hope that other local businesses take an example of Bukit Lawang Jungle Trekking and that local authorities will anticipate timely in order to secure the future of the people, the park and its wildlife.

Food Democracy

Food Democracy: Towards Sustainable Food Features

By Dr Oliver Vodeb

It is impossible to think about sustainability without putting food at the center of our discussions. Food is our most intimate relation to nature, and while essential for our living, we have let corporations and profit interests largely determine our food culture.

In the era of privatisation of everything, basic human needs get colonised through corporate strategies. The food system- production, distribution, representation and consumption of food- becomes a machine, which excludes people from participation.
Big corporations are putting exclusive copyrights on seeds- the very source of life. Seeds as public knowledge bank were cultivated through centuries in a close relation between human and nature.

Predictions show that because of unsustainable commercial farming the amount of food produced at the end of the century will be 50% of what we produce now. Currently more than 30 % of food is thrown away right away after harvest just because it does not look in a particular way and 200 000 people could be fed for a year just with the food that is thrown away by European airlines in one year. As world population numbers are rising, food will become the biggest issue of survival and geopolitical dominance very, very soon.

The consumption is to a big degree preconditioned as well. Our desires to achieve pleasure with food are in many ways the product of the prevailing food related libidinal economy- the way society organises desire. Food is designed with great effort and so are its representations.

With the strategic use of sugar, salt and fat, food is having the chemical effect of drugs. But addictive relations to food are designed by advertising too- in many cases food advertising even promotes behavioural patterns, which resemble to illicit drug cultures and food itself is more and more being designed to be a drug-delivering device.

My research has been focusing on what can communication/design and art do in order to contribute to FOOD DEMOCRACY. In 2013 we have initiated the global Memefest, the festival of Socially responsive communication, design and art on the theme of Food Democracy. Memefest is interested in the development of public communication for social change. Results of the many responses from 25 countries can be seen here.

A series of what we call extradisciplinary workshops has been addressing the issue in local Brisbane, Australia, where we have worked with the Aboriginal activist group, the Brisbane Aboriginal Sovereign Embassy and have developed public interventions in support of Food Democracy:

We are currently working on a book titled FOOD DEMOCRACY, Critical Lessons in Food, Communication/Design, Art and Theoretical Practice, which will be published in 2017 by Intellect Books UK.

In our technological world and the society of the mediated spectacle, communication, design and art must play a crucial role in our food futures. In order to do so, new innovative and socially responsive approaches to public communication as well as education will be crucial.

Dr Oliver Vodeb: Research, writing / theory. PhD Sociology of (visual) communication, University of Ljubljana. Based in Melbourne, Australia.

Creativity and activism

I recently read an interesting article from Ryan Schleeter (Greenpeace USA) titled “Art is essential to activism”. It describes the confrontation between Greenpeace, a tuna-fishing company based in Thailand and the use of creativity as weapon agains their egregious practices.

Art by Aaron Staples

The article deepens out that activism is not only a matter of (brutal) force but it can also entail more subtile approaches. Please read the original Blog post here.


Sustainica can also be seen as a form of activism as we simply taking action to effect social change. And especially the following paragraph is interesting as it strongly relates with the idea of Sustainica: “Art and activism are both built on exposing the truth. Art in particular has the ability to convey powerful messages across the linguistic and cultural barriers that so often divide us.”

Pointing a finger and telling people how they should behave is one approach. Another one is the use of creativity and culture as a transmitter of the message. During the development of Sustainica and the definition of our objectives – to inform and inspire consumers on sustainable living and consumption – we came to the idea to involve artists and designers in the concept as they allow us to connect with the visitors on a more emotional level. In terms of advocating changes I think it is crucial that the message gets through to the receiver and leave a (long) lasting impression. Emotions play an important role to achieve this.

With the creation of an appealing concept that involves commercial parties for the fair (businesses, startups, designers) combined with the aesthetic qualities of contemporary art, the next step was finding a suitable content partner. Continue reading.

On 30 Nov. this year the NRW-Forum organised the annual press conference and announced its program for the year 2016 and also what they have in mind with Planet B. This press release first appeared on the website of the NRW-Forum Düsseldorf (German).