Question: Where did you get the idea for GroundReport?
Rachel Sterne: It was inspired over a long period of time first by my work as a political intern at the US mission to the United Nations which I'd initially wanted to work directly for the UN but instead got an internship with the state department which ultimately was probably more access than I ever could have dreamed of in any role because of the incredible sort of influence of the US and so I was reporting daily on security council sessions which are confidential or close sessions basically, all the top ambassadors of the 10 members of the security council and watching first hand as foreign policy was made and basically the biggest issues in the world were debated and decided, here's what we are going to do. The Security Council is really the decision making arm of the UN, the only one that really carries weight and is able to carry out their actions. The issues at the time, some of the issues that I was covering was Haiti, the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri and the Darfur crisis was really at its peak. It was really getting really bad.
There was one day when then a secretary general Kofi Annan came into the council and addressed the council and basically, and basically sort of begged all members to do something, he said it is completely out of control and it really struck me and the thing that really bothered me it was the fact that even though the U.S. had been one of the first to call it out as genocide, the Darfur crisis, we didn't really pledge anything beyond saying that. We didn't pledge any concrete action which if we had, knowing the dynamics of the security council, our allies probably would have responded 10 or a hundred-fold in supporting us and that was something that really troubled me.
One of the quotes that Kofi Annan used at the time was that the role of the UN is not to bring humanity up into heaven but prevent it from descending into hell and that was what is happening there.
So I ended the internship at the term when it was done and it was a fantastic experience but I said, I need to be in the space where there is more innovation where things are more dynamic because there is just so much bureaucracy, sort of holding back that kind of innovation and I went to work for Limewire which is a file-sharing platform which is totally different, but what was interesting to me was there I was helping them re-launch their websites and learning all about these really cheap but very powerful publishing tools and I realize, we could start to address this problem that had really plagued me at the UN which is that we can allow people to really know what's going on in the world because if the public is more informed, they can put more pressure on their governments to make responsible policy decisions and I feel very strongly about that.
I do believe that and so the idea I had was instead of having this dry wire reports, why don't we let people who are actually there experiencing these things, this terrible atrocities or these wonderful events to in their own voice report the news or take a photo or publish a video and we'll aggregate it all together and we'll vet it with our editors and we'll make sure that it's, that we're giving everyone a chance to share their voice and reach this global audience and that was how the idea for GroundReport was born.
The funny thing is that, I had always wanted to do a job where I can do both international relations and technology and web stuff and so I'm sort of like a geek on one end but I majored in history on the other end and three or four years ago, none of these jobs existed and now of course all this projects are exploding all over the internet and GroundReport was just in its infancy when this happens. So I basically made it up because it didn't exist.
Recorded on: June 12, 2009