Jason Carter in Myanmar during the November 2015 election.

In 2014, the IDN launched the ELMO Initiative in collaboration with The Carter Center and Laney Graduate School, in line with its mission of finding new ways for higher education to help solve the world’s most complex development problems. ELMO is an online, open-source mobile data collection and reporting system, originally designed for The Carter Center to facilitate its election observation. In 2015–2016 the ELMO Initiative began reaching out to faculty and graduate students to encourage them to use ELMO in their research on a wide range of social issues. ELMO’s versatility makes it especially suitable for research in low-resource and volatile environments. Using ELMO not only reduces time spent on tedious manual data entry; it also allows for data collection that is more reliable and secure.

ELMO Fellowship, Funding, and GlobalFieldLabs

A key part of the Initiative was to establish a graduate fellowship. The first ELMO Initiative Graduate Fellow, during the 2015–2016 academic year, was Grant Buckles, a political science doctoral student in Laney Graduate School. Buckles studies elections, political parties, and political mobilization in the developing world. As the inaugural ELMO fellow, Buckles held three training sessions to introduce ELMO to the Emory community. These sessions gave students and faculty the technical training on how ELMO can be used for data collection and reporting for field research. Buckles stated, “It was useful to spend so much time learning ELMO, and I hope to use it in future projects. More generally, doing so sparked a lot of ideas about how to design fieldwork projects and collect information in developing countries. I also learned about the very practical issues of actually implementing projects on the ground.” 

Buckles also laid the groundwork for creating the GlobalFieldLab, a multidisciplinary working group, to share information and practical advice on conducting field research in low-resource environments. To help launch the GlobalFieldLab and highlight how ELMO is being used to gather data on human rights in Burundi, IDN hosted Gabrielle Bardall, The Carter Center human rights analyst for Burundi.  

Meet our 2016 ELMO Initiative graduate fellow and grant recipients

Siti Sarah Muwahidah

Siti Sarah Muwahidah 
Doctoral Student, Graduate Division of Religion

The IDN is pleased to announce that Siti Sarah Muwahidah is the recipient ofa the ELMO Initiative Graduate Fellowship for the 2016–2017 academic year. Muwahidah will be a resource on the ELMO tool for the Emory community; coordinate a speaker/discussion series exploring research on assessing and measuring election quality; and participate in sessions on the methodological and technological design of election- monitoring tools and data.

Originally from Indonesia, Muwahidah is a doctoral student in the Graduate Division of Religion. She sees herself a scholar-activist concentrating on religion in West and South Asia. Her research focuses on Sunni and Shia conflict and coexistence in Indonesia. Muwahidah’s dissertation, “For the Love of Ahl al-Bayt: Negotiating Shi’ism in Indonesia,” explores how Indonesian Shiites and Sunnis attempt to reduce the discord between the two communities in their everyday lives. She also examines how the religious defamation law of Indonesia (UUno.1/PNPS/1965), which is often used to justify the discrimination and persecution of religious minorities, often trumps the Indonesian constitution’s protection of religious freedom.

With the ELMO Initiative Graduate Fellowship, Muwahidah plans to continue her scholarly research on this topic and her activist commitments. She participated in an ELMO workshop at Emory in February and was excited to learn that ELMO provides a free, secure, and versatile technology platform that has numerous potential applications, even beyond electoral monitoring. Muwahidah sees ELMO as a valuable tool for her own research and for NGOs working in the field of human rights, conflict, and peacebuilding. “I see so much potential for ELMO beyond election monitoring and, as a fellow, I can be a part of the conversation mining ideas to develop ELMO and to market ELMO to people who might use it here at Emory but also at NGOs around the world. I’m excited because essentially I can be part of the academic community but the content is not only purely scholarly. There is also the potential for real-world activism here. That’s what’s so exciting — serving my two worlds, academia and activism.”

“As a scholar-activist from Indonesia, a transitional country that is one of the largest democracies, the skills that I acquire will not only benefit myself but also the organizations and communities with which I will work.”

Why this work is important to Muwahidah

My father is an activist. I remember when I was a college student doing my first project where I lived in community, where I stayed in the village and worked with the villagers. The project was successful, and the villagers were happy with our work. And when I returned home, my father said to me, ‘Did you touch the most marginalized, the poorest people in that community?’ His question shook my conscience and reminded me how I need to continue to learn but also stay involved with activism.”

Rachel A Harmon

Rachel A. Harmon 
Doctoral Student, Political Science Graduate Program

As a recipient of the IDN predissertation funding to use ELMO for field research in summer 2016, Rachel Harmon will spend three weeks at the border of Nepal and India to set up a system to collect data on the trafficking of women and girls. Free for Life International (FFLI), an NGO working to eliminate the human trafficking of women and girls, has invited Harmon to lead a project to redraft surveys given to possible sex- trafficking victims by border- monitoring staff. The survey will use ELMO and help determine its capacity to collect and analyze data on human trafficking.

FFLI interviews women and girls at the border to determine whether they are being trafficked or are at risk of being trafficked. Any person found to be victimized by traffickers is given access to a shelter, medical care, and placement in a long-term recovery program operated by the Peace Rehabilitation Center (PRC). FFLI’s border-monitoring program assists an average of more than 150 trafficking victims per year and has resulted in more than 50 traffickers being arrested. In addition to developing the survey and training FFLI staff to collect survey data, Harmon will also conduct in-depth interviews with FFLI staff members in Krishnanagar and Dhangadhi, PRC staff members at a long-term recovery facility in Kathmandu, and adult trafficking survivors in Kathmandu.

The survey data will help FFLI assess and improve programming, and allow Harmon to begin researching what role access to information about trafficking and legal rights play in determining whether a person is trafficked. It also will help to determine whether ELMO is an effective tool for anti-trafficking NGOs to use in border-monitoring activities in low-infrastructure environments. If it proves to be effective, it can be shared with other NGOs that combat human trafficking.

Why is this work important to Harmon

“I’ve always been influenced by President Carter. He is one of my heroes, and I really look up to him and how his work is motivated by his faith. I share that Christian faith and I use that faith as my source of strength.  

I was also really influenced by my family. My grandmother never had the opportunity to complete high school but raised seven children on her own, as a single mother. In spite of all her responsibilities, she found the time to be passionate about civil rights and to be involved here in Atlanta. So I grew up with this idea that there was no excuse not to step up and be involved. 

“Growing up I learned that women and girls suffer disproportionally from a number of problems, but particularly trafficking, and I became very interested in that topic.

After completing my undergraduate and graduate degrees, I took a couple of years and worked with a small NGO — actually, one of the NGOs I will be working with in Nepal this summer — that focuses on surveying women and girls trafficked from Nepal into India. 

“Back then, I was in the U.S. doing administrative work for them. In this administrative role, I learned two things. First, I am not a people person. I don’t do my best in a direct service role. Instead, I love learning, questioning, and developing data to answer the questions. I also learned that a number of tiny nonprofits and NGOs working worldwide couldn’t afford a lot of data collection and analysis. I realized that I could combine my passion for scholarship and practice in the field with research that could really influence people’s lives. 

“That is what this fellowship is allowing me to do. While at Emory, I have continued to volunteer for that NGO, and when they approached me recently and said, ‘Do you have any idea how we can improve our data collection and analysis?’ I had recently learned about ELMO and thought, this is a perfect match.”  

Kathy Trang

Kathy Trang
Doctoral Student, Anthropology Graduate Program

As a recipient of the IDN predissertation funding to use ELMO for field research in summer 2016, Kathy Trang is spending three months in Hanoi, Vietnam, conducting research on migrant male sex workers. She is working with the public health team at Song Hanh Phuc, a collaborating HIV/AIDS clinic at Hanoi Medical University. 

As Hanoi experienced rapid economic growth, men moved to the area to uphold their traditional role of being pillars of the family. Lacking the skills to compete in this new economy, some were driven into sex work. Because sex work is negatively viewed, they have become marginalized and stigmatized. 

According to Trang, “From the 1980s to the mid-2000s, Hanoi experienced rapid socioeconomic growth where the reduction in the absolute poverty rate went from 75% to 18%. This growth attracted the rapid influx of migrant labor into major cities, young men 18 to 35. However, only 35% of these men had the necessary technical training to find work. In Vietnamese culture, the idea of the ‘happy family’ is key, and part of this ideal is that men are supposed to be ‘the pillars that uphold the family.’ Many of the young migrant men who come to Hanoi in search of opportunity and prosperity are heterosexual, married men with children. However, without technical training, they end up doing sex work to fulfill that role as pillars that uphold the family. The sex work is stigmatized, and homosexuality is considered pathological in Vietnam.”  

Trang’s pilot study aims to use ELMO and My Tracks, an Android GPS logger, to examine the marginalization of male sex workers in Hanoi. Existing research about lower-income neighborhoods highlights social inequalities and vulnerabilities related to gender, but it does not help us fully understand the choices made by marginalized populations. Trang hopes to use her findings to show how particular stressors in specific neighborhood settings are driving migrant males into sex work and marginalization. 

“I want to use ELMO to capture more of that full experience, to really understand how vulnerability exists before migration and after migration, and to find out the health and biological effects of chronic stress. What are the long-term effects of being caught in this space of vulnerability? I’m really interested in the question of social marginalization in the context of rapid socioeconomic changes and in the uneven distribution of benefits and risks and vulnerability. In many ways, I see the migrant sex workers exemplifying a group of individuals who are very much caught in the space of vulnerability.” 

Findings from this study will shed light on how environmental conditions, like neighborhoods, shape health outcome; how urban marginality is enacted in the everyday lives of migrant male sex workers in Hanoi; and what sociocultural factors contribute to these different migration trajectories. This study also will test ELMO’s capacity to relate to ecological momentary assessment (EMA) to map illness experience and progression.

Why is this important to Trang

“This research is important to me for several reasons. My family emigrated from Vietnam after the war, and I feel a sense of connection to the place. I also grew up in Southern California in a very large and vibrant Vietnamese American community. The reverberations of the war were very evident among that community, among the people I grew up with — many of whom were lower income, who did not get a college education, who were not able to realize their full capacity. In many ways, their achievements became obstructed by the lingering effects of the war, and I wanted in some way to illuminate those factors and to develop a better understanding of the effects of the Vietnamese War on people both on the U.S. side and in Vietnam.”    

Photo Top: Jason Carter in Myanmar during the November 2015 election. 

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