FrontlineSMS empowers people to create their own social change
BushBuckridge, South Africa: Women spending most of their days queueing for water. Photo credit: Ken Banks, kiwanja.net
“The default position for many people working in ICT4D [information and communications technologies for development] is to build centralized solutions to local problems – things that ‘integrate’ and ’scale’. With little local ownership and engagement, many of these top-down approaches fail to appreciate the culture of technology and its users. … My belief is that users want to have their own system, something which works with them to solve their problem.”
Ken Banks, January 2009
FrontlineSMS was first conceptualized in 2004 when Ken Banks was working in Kruger National Park on a technology/conservation project. He was approached by the parks authorities and asked to help them think about how communities bordering the park could be re-engaged in the conservation effort. No-one in these communities had access to the Internet, but increasing numbers of them had mobile phones. One hurried coding re-education later, FrontlineSMS was born, coded over six weeks on a kitchen table in Finland. The platform was first made available online in October 2005.
By 2006, Ken began receiving fellowship and donor support to improve the platform, which he did, whilst writing prolifically and outlining the early applications of mobile technologies to meet local needs, encourage entrepreneurs, and improve development work. With that modest support, interest in the FrontlineSMS project grew so quickly that Ken was compelled to create The kiwanja Foundation
to house his work, which it has since 2007.
In 2008, Ken took two major steps to advance FrontlineSMS: 1.) he made the software fully open source and 2.) began working with Josh Nesbit, the co-founder of Medic Mobile
. Josh worked intensively with a clinic in Malawi to apply FrontlineSMS to the management and patient care challenges they faced, significantly increasing the number of patients they were able to treat, the coordination of associated community health workers, and their record-keeping. Most importantly, for an under-resourced healthcare facility, Josh and FrontlineSMS increased the number of patients seen by health workers, while saving time and money. This narrative, coupled with work and advocacy that Ken was doing, drove FrontlineSMS adoption and usage considerably.
FrontlineSMS, in 2009, experienced the first of what was to be a series of organizational leaps. It hired its first staff member, Alex Anderson – now our Lead Developer – and we began to measure software downloads and to build a sector-specific brand with FrontlineSMS:Medic. By the end of 2009, FrontlineSMS had been downloaded 4,605 times.
In 2010, FrontlineSMS recognized the importance of adapting the software to provide additional functionality tailored to specific industries and sectors. Within a year, FrontlineSMS expanded its project set, supporting a group of young mobile development experts and organizations in the creation of FrontlineSMS:Credit
. Each project began developing user relationships, partnerships, and software aimed at improving mobile integration in their industry, while acting as advocates for FrontlineSMS. By the end of 2010, FrontlineSMS had been downloaded 12,395 times.
As of December 2011, FrontlineSMS, without having released any new software since summer 2010, had been downloaded over 20,000 times. The FrontlineSMS team has grown from 5 in 2010 to 18 in March of 2012. Since 2011, the FrontlineSMS team has increased its focus on positioning the organization to deliver on the tremendous potential of the professional use of SMS to engage customers, clients, and citizens.
Learn more about the FrontlineSMS Family and our growing team.
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