By Amy Regas, Director, Omidyar Network
In today’s rapidly advancing world, technology and human ingenuity are improving lives across the globe. However, millions of people are being left behind by lack of access to these innovations and the benefits they create. Founded in 2015, Cadasta Foundation recognizes this gap and aims to fill it through provision of land expertise and technology, enabling individuals, organizations, vulnerable communities, and governments to document property and resource rights and make data-driven decisions.
Using GPS-enabled smartphones and tablets in remote field locations coupled with state-of-the-art ESRI mapping and analytics software, Cadasta makes the most advanced technology and data sets available to groups that may otherwise find it inaccessible and unaffordable. Cadasta puts communities and their assets on the map and ultimately aims to create a world where even the most marginalized can benefit from the opportunities afforded by secure property rights.
That’s why Omidyar Network invested in Cadasta four years ago, and we are proud to continue supporting their important work with our latest investment as the organization launches its new platform and strategy. We see great value in technology innovations that can be applied universally across geographies and which provide rapid and affordable ways to secure property rights — for everyone.
The data collected on the Cadasta platform often represents the first time vulnerable communities have digitally documented information on occupants, their properties, and the surrounding resources and features. People can use this data to move from being invisible to being visible in the eyes of their government, the formal economy, and global development organizations. They are empowered to make planning and investment decisions and to advocate for their property and resource rights.
A few examples of the communities impacted by Cadasta’s lifechanging technology:
- In Odisha, India, the state government recognized that the absence of accurate data on an estimated 1 million urban slum inhabitants impeded property rights and access to basic services. Cadasta partnered with the government and Tata Trusts to gather critical data and help 350,000 slum residents become formally documented occupants. By 2020, an estimated 1 million people will be documented thanks to this partnership, unlocking new levels of social and economic opportunity in Odisha.
- In an Afro-Colombian community in the country’s remote Pacific region, a group of women leaders sought to gain a better understanding of their community resources and economic activities. By working with Cadasta, the group was able to document missing community boundary and resource data in order to prevent encroachment and protect against illegal mining and other illicit activities.
- In Kenya, the indigenous Ogiek tribe lacked data and formal rights to their traditional territory within the Mau Forest Complex, resulting in repeated government evictions without consultation or compensation. Through their partnership with Cadasta, they efficiently documented and mapped their territory boundaries as evidence to support and defend their claims to their ancestral lands. Since working with Cadasta, the Ogiek tribe was able to successfully defend their claims in a landmark case at the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
While Cadasta has positively impacted communities around the world, they have also learned many lessons throughout their startup phase that can be helpful for other organizations. Perhaps most significant has been their decision to use available technology after attempting to build out their own. When Cadasta launched in 2015, they aimed to design and build an open-source platform for partners to collect, analyze, store, and share data on land and resource needs. However, based on feedback they received from practitioners in the field, it became clear that open sources alone would not provide the level of accuracy and security necessary when dealing with property rights and corresponding private information. They also realized that there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution — that the technology must be customizable and flexible to adapt to various use cases. Cadasta pivoted and selected the GIS mapping software ESRI to provide more robust, scalable, and flexible tools and services to its partners, all while maintaining their commitment to accessibility, security, and privacy.
As Cadasta began the process of transitioning to ESRI, the team also learned that users in the field would need a greater level of technical support than was originally anticipated. They needed a system that could support a wide range of training needs, hardware recommendations and configurations, data collection approaches, and varying stakeholder engagement strategies. Cadasta now engages in a Rapid Partner Assessment to manage potential service needs and design plans to meet them.
These critical changes have helped Cadasta strengthen property rights for over 1 million vulnerable rural and urban poor people, particularly women, in 17 countries. In Cadasta’s next phase, the organization aims to document 8 million on their platform across 30 countries over the next three years. Using Cadasta as a stepping stone to recognition by formal authorities, these newly documented communities are likely to feel more secure, have greater access to public and private services, and to experience less conflict with those who may try to unlawfully take away their property.
Cadasta proves that there is hope in places where government alone may not be able to provide basic public goods, such as property rights. As more organizations like Cadasta take action, we see that technology and data can be harnessed for good, in a way that creates more equitable opportunity for all.