Virtual mapathon for pandemic preparedness with Thomson Reuters Labs 

A few weeks ago, I was approached by one of my Thomson Reuters teammates with an idea to make an impact - virtually.

Remembering a conversation we had about my experience working with cartography, my teammate used our excellent internal network to connect me to Meg Parker Young, the Director of Impact Strategy and Development. The next day I spoke with Meg and she told me about her idea of running virtual mapathons at Thomson Reuters, leveraging the talent we have internally, given the current state of events.

A mapathon brings volunteers together to digitally connect and map the most vulnerable places in the world so that communities, governments, and NGOs can better respond to crises affecting these areas.

Up to date maps are critical in the wake of disasters and global pandemic preparedness. Pre-emptive mapping of priority areas by volunteers around the world facilitates more accurate disaster response, medical activities and resource allocation when future crises occur.

I reached out to my amazing team at Thomson Reuters Labs and shared the idea, and in a matter of minutes, we had all the volunteers we needed. We were ready to roll!

On Wednesday, March 25th, we ran our first Virtual Mapathon. We were provided with a detailed mapping tutorial and shared some background information for the project we were mapping for by the Missing Maps Program Coordinator from the Red Cross.

With participants across all Thomson Reuters Labs global locations and our Social Impact Institute, we mapped for pandemic preparedness programming for the Bomet County in Kenya.

We utilized the Humanitarian Open Street Map Tasking Manager to add needed data in a priority zone from Missing Maps and the Red Cross using satellite imagery. Even though we were all mapping from different places, we helped each other troubleshoot. It was remarkable seeing how quickly our participants started discovering keyboard shortcuts and different techniques to make the mapping quicker and more efficient!

We had so much fun coming together as a group and hanging out while we mapped. It brought the human element we are missing so much these days.

While we were mapping, we even had Meg’s kids running around in the background and following along. We were surprised that even after 1.5 hours of mapping, our mappers wanted to keep going because they were very excited, wanting to finish the squares they had so we could complete the whole project!

It was truly inspiring seeing so many people working together towards a common goal and for such a great cause. We also got the chance to gain a few new skills and connect with colleagues while doing something meaningful!

Overall, it was a fantastic experience, and I am really looking forward to the next mapathon and other virtual volunteering opportunities that our Social Impact Institute is hosting so we can continue to support communities and make a difference.  


Juan Lara is a Senior Software Engineer working at the Thomson Reuters Labs, London.

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