There is no doubt that, in the minds of many, GISCorps clearly meets the criteria for membership in URISA’s GIS Hall of Fame. Since inception, GISCorps has given the GIS professional the opportunity to effectively make a difference – to make a better world through the use of one’s own special skills and expertise. Volunteer-guided by a Core Committee and implemented through its many volunteers, GISCorps continues to have an impact on the GIS field, the profession, and the social benefit of the volunteers’ efforts. It is an organization making significant and original contributions to the development and application of GIS concepts, and to the GIS profession and the careers of the individual volunteers. And as stated in one of the testimonials, URISA’s GISCorps exemplifies “…vision, leadership, perseverance, community-mindedness, professional involvement, and ethical behavior.”
The concept of GISCorps was born out of discussions at the 2001 URISA Annual Conference Board Meeting by members of the International Task Force. The discussions focused on serving the world by offering short-term volunteer GIS services to communities in need worldwide. GISCorps was formerly adopted by URISA as a Program in 2003 with just that mission. URISA members struck a Core Committee to develop a Strategic Plan and Operating Policies and Procedures. The Strategic Plan has evolved over the years as all Strategic Plans do, but the Operating Policies and Procedures remain largely intact and adhered to, having been updated to reflect changes in technology and to meet the requirements and increasing demand for volunteers. The Organizing Principles and Polices adhere to the GIS Code of Ethics and are pursuant to the objectives and principles of URISA.
GISCorps operations are overseen and run by a Core Committee. This Core Committee is comprised of volunteers with full time jobs, many of whom have been GISCorps volunteers on previous missions. Recently, through a generous donation, GISCorps was able to hire a part-time Administrative Assistant to address some of the more administrative and time-consuming daily tasks. More recently, a volunteer Advisory Board was also formed. These individuals advise the Core Committee and are involved in some of the longer term administrative tasks, leaving the managing of missions and recruitment of volunteers to the active members of the Core Committee. GISCorps’ sole source of funding is donations from supporters. GISCorps is supported by individual donations, corporations, and other non-profit groups with similar goals. GISCorps does not rely on funding from URISA to support its mission, although URISA’s staff does assist with some administrative and marketing functions.
GISCorps services include finding qualified GIS volunteers for short term projects and establishing partnerships to create volunteer opportunities for the GIS community. Projects vary based on the partner agency’s need and may involve any and all aspects of GIS including analysis, cartography, application development, needs assessments, technical workshops, etc. Areas of service include humanitarian relief, disaster response, conservation, environmental quality, health and human services, GIS education, and expert crowdsourcing.
Agencies requesting volunteers are called Partner Agencies. GISCorps Partners reside all over the world. They are public entities, non-profit organizations, non-governmental organizations, and professional associations. Occasionally, they are organizations operating under a social business model or undertaking a project for humanitarian purposes rather than for profit. GISCorps has also formed partnerships with other like-minded groups, such as Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT). HOT is a global community of volunteers, community leaders, and professionals who work together to create open map data to support disaster response and sustainable development. When HOT launches urgent disaster response tasks that demand a quick response from experienced OpenStreetMap mappers and validators, they occasionally request support from GISCorps.
“URISA’s GISCorps volunteers have been involved in almost every disaster since 2003,” said Shoreh Elhami, GISCorps founder. “We have worked on Hurricane Katrina, the Asian tsunami, the cyclone in Burma, the Ebola epidemic, and much more. Many of our volunteers have said they learn more quickly from GISCorps experiences than from their day jobs. They get exposed to different projects that require different skills and tools, and that provides a valuable learning experience.” The number of volunteers deployed to disaster responses and non-disaster responses is almost equal.
In an effort to ensure more GISCorps volunteers were involved in missions, the Core Committee recently started participating in crowd-sourcing projects, the most recent of which is the mapping of COVID-19 Testing Locations in the United States, and the mapping of Lost Loved Ones due to COVID-19. The Core Committee also negotiated an agreement with Esri – the GIS Service Pledge – whereby GISCorps volunteers that wanted to apply their skills to support a non-profit they ‘love’ could get access to a one-year personal use license of Esri software. This initiative was launched in November of 2017 and, to date, 45 applications have been approved, 20 have been completed and 11 are currently active. Volunteers taking advantage of this program are required to prepare a final report; these can be found on the GISCorps website (www.giscorps.org).
URISA’s GISCorps has been recognized for its service over the years. The program was honored with the President’s Volunteer Service Award in 2012 on behalf of the President of the United States for ‘making a difference through volunteer service’. The Award is given to individuals, families, and groups that have demonstrated outstanding volunteer service and civic participation. At the same time, GISCorps also received the Daily Point of Light Award during National Volunteer Week – an award that recognizes individuals who change the world. GISCorps was also the recipient of the 2005 Esri Health Service Award, and an Esri SAG Award (Special Achievement in GIS) in 2015, along with NetHope, for supporting decision makers in West Africa Ebola Crisis with GIS with support from the GIS Volunteer Community.
Over the past seventeen years, URISA’s GISCorps volunteers have made significant contributions to the profession by supporting GIS professionals benefiting communities in need. And in doing so, the GISCorps volunteers have grown their professional skills and benefited from seeing the results of their volunteer efforts.
URISA’s Hall of Fame laureates include:
Visit URISA’s GIS Hall of Fame to learn about the path-breaking accomplishments of all inductees.