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Showing Revision 6 created 03/25/2020 by Erin Gregory.

  1. I'm an immigrant from Venezuela,
  2. and I've lived in the US for six years.
  3. If you ask me about my life
    as an expatriate,
  4. I would say that I've been lucky.
  5. But it hasn't been easy.
  6. Growing up, I never thought
    that I was going to leave my homeland.

  7. I participated in my first
    student protest in 2007,
  8. when the president shut down
    one of the most important news networks.
  9. I was getting my bachelor's degree
    in communications,
  10. and that was the first time I realized
    I couldn't take free speech for granted.
  11. We knew things were getting bad,
    but we never saw what was coming:

  12. an economic crisis,
    infrastructure breaking down,
  13. citywide electrical blackouts,
  14. the decline of public health care
    and shortage of medicines,
  15. disease outbreaks and starvation.
  16. I moved to Canada with my husband in 2013,
  17. and we always thought we'd move back home
    when the crisis improved.
  18. But we never did.
  19. Nearly all my childhood friends
    have left the country,
  20. but my parents are still there.
  21. There have been moments
    where I've called my mom,
  22. and I could hear people screaming
    and crying in the background
  23. as teargas bombs exploded in the streets.
  24. And my mom, as if I couldn't
    hear it, would always tell me,
  25. (Speaking Spanish)

  26. "We're fine, don't worry."

  27. But of course, I worry.
  28. It's my parents, and I'm 4,000 miles away.
  29. Today, I'm just one of more than
    four million Venezuelans

  30. who have left their home country.
  31. A lot of my friends
    are Venezuelan immigrants,
  32. and in the last few years,
  33. we've begun talking about
    how we could make a difference
  34. when we live so far away.
  35. That is how Code for Venezuela
    was born in 2019.
  36. It began with a hackathon,
    because we are experts in tech,

  37. and we thought we could use
    our tech skills
  38. to create solutions
    for people on the ground.
  39. But first, we needed to find some experts
    actually living inside Venezuela
  40. to guide us.
  41. We'd see so many other hackathons
  42. that came up with wily, ambitious,
    incredible technological solutions
  43. that sounded great in theory
    but ultimately failed to work
  44. in the actual countries
    they were intended to help.
  45. Many of us have been
    living abroad for years,
  46. and we are detached
    from the day-to-day problems
  47. that people are facing in Venezuela.
  48. So we turned to the experts
    actually living inside of the country.
  49. For example, Julio Castro,

  50. a doctor and one of the leaders
    of Médicos por la Salud.
  51. When the government stopped publishing
    official health care data in 2015,
  52. Dr. Julio began collecting
    information himself,
  53. using an informal but coordinated system
  54. of cell phone communications.
  55. They track available personnel,
    medical supplies, mortality data,
  56. disease outbreaks;
  57. compile it into a report;
  58. and then share that on Twitter.
  59. He became our go-to expert
    on health care in Venezuela.
  60. Luis Carlos Díaz,

  61. a widely recognized journalist
    who reports acts of censorship
  62. and human rights violations
    suffered by the people of Venezuela,
  63. he helps us make sense
    of what is happening there,
  64. since the news is controlled
    by the government.
  65. We call these people
    our heroes on the ground.

  66. With their expert advice,
    we came up with a series of challenges
  67. for hackathon participants.
  68. In that first hackathon,
    we had 300 participants
  69. from seven countries
  70. come up with 16 different
    project submissions.
  71. We picked the projects
    with the most potential
  72. and continued working on them
    after the event.
  73. Today, I'll share two of our most
    successful projects
  74. to give you a taste of the impact
    we are having so far.
  75. They're called MediTweet
    and Blackout Tracker.
  76. MediTweet is an intelligent Twitter bot

  77. that helps Venezuelans
    find the medicine they need.
  78. Right now in Venezuela,
  79. if you get sick and you go to a hospital,
  80. there is a good chance they won't have
    the right medical supplies to treat you.
  81. The situation is so bad
  82. that patients often get
    a "shopping list" from the doctor
  83. instead of a prescription.
  84. I live the need for this firsthand.

  85. My mom was diagnosed with cancer in 2015.
  86. She needed to have a lumbar puncture
  87. to get a final diagnosis
    and treatment plan.
  88. But the needle for this procedure
    wasn't available.
  89. I was in Venezuela at that time,
  90. and I was seeing my mom
    getting worse in front of me every day.
  91. After looking everywhere,
    we found the needle in a site
  92. that is like the eBay of Latin America.
  93. I met the seller in a local bakery,
  94. and it was like buying
    something on the black market.
  95. My mom brought the needle to her doctor,
    and he did the procedure.
  96. Without this, she could have died.
  97. But it's not just medical supplies,

  98. it's medicines, too.
  99. When she was first diagnosed,
  100. we bought her treatment
    in a state pharmacy,
  101. and it was, like, practically free.
  102. But then the state pharmacy ran out,
  103. and we still had six months
    of treatment ahead.
  104. Six months of treatment ahead.
  105. We bought some medicines online
    and the rest in Mexico.
  106. Now she's in her third year of remission,
  107. and every time that I call,
  108. she tells me, "I'm fine, don't worry."
  109. But not everyone can afford
    to leave the country,

  110. and many aren't healthy enough to travel.
  111. That is why people turn to Twitter,
  112. buying and selling medicines
    using the hashtag #ServicioPublico,
  113. meaning "public service."
  114. Our Twitter bot scans Twitter
    for the hashtag #ServicioPublico
  115. and connects users who are asking
    for specific medicines
  116. with those who are selling
    their private leftovers.
  117. We also pool the location data
    of those Twitter users
  118. and use it for a visualization tool.
  119. It gives local organizations
    like Médicos por la Salud
  120. a sense of where they have a shortage.
  121. We can also apply
    machine learning algorithms
  122. to detect clusters of disease.
  123. If they've received humanitarian aid,
  124. this could help them
    to make better decisions
  125. about the distributions of the supplies.
  126. Our second project,
    is called Blackout Tracker.

  127. Venezuela is currently going through
    an electricity crisis.
  128. Last year, Venezuela suffered
    what some people consider
  129. the worst power failures
    in Venezuelan history.
  130. I had two long days without
    communication with my parents.
  131. Some cities experienced
    blackouts every day.
  132. But you only know about this
    on social media.
  133. The government won't report
    blackouts on the news.
  134. When the power goes out,
  135. many Venezuelans, we quickly tweet out
    the location with the hashtag #SinLuz,
  136. meaning "without electricity,"
  137. before their phones ran out of battery,
  138. so people around the country
    know what is happening.
  139. Like MediTweet,
  140. Blackout Tracker scans Twitter
    for the hashtag #SinLuz
  141. and creates a map using
    the location data of those users.
  142. You can quickly see
  143. where the blackouts are happening today
  144. and how many blackouts
    have happened over time.
  145. People want to know what is happening,

  146. and this is our answer.
  147. But it's also a way of holding
    the government accountable.
  148. It's easy for them to deny
    that the problem exists
  149. or make excuses,
  150. because there is no official data on it.
  151. Blackout Tracker shows how bad
    the problem really is.
  152. Now, some people in Silicon Valley
    may look at these projects

  153. and say that there are no major
    technological innovations.
  154. But that is the point.
  155. These projects are not insanely advanced,
  156. but it's what the people
    of Venezuela need,
  157. and they can have a tremendous impact.
  158. Beyond these projects, perhaps
    our most significant accomplishment
  159. is that a movement has been created,
  160. one where people around the world
    are coming together
  161. to use their professional skills to create
    solutions for the people of Venezuela.
  162. And because we are partnering with locals,
  163. we are creating the solutions
    that people want and need.
  164. What is so great about this

  165. is that we are using
    our professional skills,
  166. so it comes easily and naturally.
  167. It's not that hard for us
    to make a difference.
  168. If someone from San Francisco
  169. were to hire professionals
    to create solutions
  170. like MediTweet or Blackout Tracker,
  171. it would cost a small fortune.
  172. By donating our services,
  173. we are making a bigger impact
    than if we were just to donate money.
  174. And you can do the same thing --

  175. not in Venezuela, necessarily,
  176. but in your own community.
  177. In a world that is more
    connected than ever,
  178. we still see how specialized communities
    can be living isolated or in silos.
  179. There are so many great ways to help,
  180. but I believe that you can use
    your professional skills
  181. to connect diverse communities
    and create effective solutions
  182. through those relationships.
  183. Anyone with knowledge
    and professional skills

  184. has a powerful force
    to bring hope to a community.
  185. For us at Code for Venezuela,
  186. this is just the beginning.
  187. Thank you.

  188. (Applause)