‘Malawi Mappers’ Mobilize to Improve Open Geospatial Data


Christine Mhone is the GIS Projects Leader at mHub, Malawi’s first technology and innovation hub. She was nominated by mHub to represent Malawi at the first State of the Map Africa conference in Kampala, Uganda in 2017. Christine has continued to lead the Malawi Mappers community in adding data to OpenStreetMap. Christine can be reached via email at: cmhone{at}mhubmw\dot\com


Open mapping in Malawi

In recent months, more than 180 youth across various tertiary institutions in Malawi have been trained in the use of OpenStreetMap (OSM) to improve open geospatial data for disaster risk management. This is the direct result of efforts by the Malawi Mappers Team – a vibrant budding community of volunteers helping to catalyse OpenStreetMap adoption nationwide. I have helped lead this new OSM community in Malawi since August 2017, building upon previous work by the Malawi government and Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT). The quality and coverage of digital maps in Ntcheu, Zomba, Monkey Bay and Cape Maclear have already seen significant improvement from this initiative.

Malawi is exposed to a number of natural hazards including floods, droughts, hailstorms, winds, landslides, earthquakes, volcanoes, fires, and disease and pest outbreaks. The use of OSM could be pivotal to improving the quality of open geospatial data available for disaster risk management. Improving the quality of OSM data also has significant potential for impact across use cases such as zoning, population census, land ownership, and administrative boundaries, helping stakeholders at multiple levels make better decisions for the benefit of all Malawians.

The State of the Map Africa Conference

As the GIS Projects Leader at mHub, Malawi’s first technology and innovation hub, I was nominated to attend the first ever African OpenStreetMap (State of the Map) conference in Kampala, Uganda in July 2017. Leading up to the conference, I attended a five-day training event (co-organized by the Government of Uganda, OpenDRI, and financed by the ACP-EU Africa Disaster Risk Financing Program) alongside other OSM community leaders to learn how to use OpenStreetMap, QGIS and InaSAFE for disaster risk management. The training exposed me to the various use cases for open geospatial data in Malawi and made me aware of the information gaps and vulnerabilities that exist from a lack of it.

I also participated in the panel discussion “Women in Mapping and ICT” with OSM community leaders from Tanzania, Mali, Zambia and Niger. My presentation “Women in Technology and Mapping in Malawi” aimed to highlight key challenges that stem from a lack of diversity in software development and mapping. One such challenge is a gender bias in the way technology applications are developed and data are collected. Such biases ultimately impact decision making in development planning and disaster risk management, and can have a negative impact on women and girls.

Back in Malawi after State of the Map

I returned to Malawi armed with new knowledge and a passion to contribute to my country. I soon had the opportunity to partner with the MASDAP (Malawi Spatial Data Platform) team, an institutional group composed of the Malawi Department of Surveys, DoDMA, NSO, local district organizations, and universities. We collaborated to plan an OSM mapathon, a coordinated group mapping event towards a specific goal. We brought together more than 35 people in August 2017 at mHub in Lilongwe to learn about OpenStreetMap and to map key features missing in the Ntcheu district.

Since the kick-off for Malawi Mappers, our organizing team has been busy successfully implementing mapathons across southern Malawi. Polytechnic University, Chancellor College, and Malawi University of Science and Technology (MUST) all opened their doors to the initiative and hosted mapathons with more than 40 participants attending each event.

We have seen these events spark interest and inspiration across the college campuses. At Chancellor College, a partnership is now being developed to establish a permanent recurring mapping training and mapathons open to the community.

To date, 180 participants have been trained, and they have collectively mapped four major areas in Malawi, namely; Ntcheu, Cape Maclear, Zomba and Monkey Bay. These areas now have geospatial data to highlight key institutions such as hospitals, education centres, markets, roads, houses, churches, to name a few. As I write, community members are still actively working remotely to complete the process.

I share a vision with mHub that these initiatives will help to fuel the growth and improve the quality of open geospatial data in Malawi, starting through OSM and extending to other geospatial platforms such as MASDAP. Malawi Mappers’ next goal is to digitize the entire country by building out a trained community of volunteers through mapathons. Eventually, our field mapping teams plan to capture high-quality imagery with UAVs and add observational data to make OSM even more valuable for disaster risk management in Malawi.


Supported by the World Bank and Global Facility for Disaster Risk Reduction.