Over the last decade, we’ve changed leadership, structure, and product – but what hasn’t changed is our values. Here are 5 of our favorites:
Landesa and FrontlineSMS are delighted to welcome and share the announcement today of a US $1.5m Google Global Impact Award, which will enable them to use mobile technology to transform the way that the government in the Indian state of Odisha helps landless families gain secure rights to their land and homes.
Njenga Kahiro, Kinship Conservation Fellow and member of the Zeitz Foundation, started the Laikipia Unity Cup in 2010 when he decided to combine environmental education and a football tournament. Laikipia is a countyin central Kenya where conflict between warring communities and stripping of natural resources are both fairly common. Njenga, with the help of his foundation, put together football teams from each region , usually combining young citizens of quarreling communities, and host a tournament that included matches, educational theater, and local conservation projects.
On the same day that the Global Journal announced us as their pick for “#1 Tech NGO in the world”, my laptop died. As my coworkers celebrated our newly-bestowed honor, I relished the irony of my technological failure and felt what has come to define my time working in the non-profit world: humility.
For the past month, I’ve been in Sudan working to set up the information flows and tech that will support SUDIA’s Community Communications System. From the tech and information management perspective, SUDIA’s System is interesting because it adapts to a low tech environment by integrating SMS and radio, and processing information largely offline. The System collects and disseminates information useful to communities that live along the migratory routes in Blue Nile State. It focuses on information that communities themselves can use to make their livelihoods more sustainable and more peaceful. In other words, the System is not aimed at organizations (Government or non-Government) that can use information to provide services or design interventions. Rather, it is aimed at communities helping themselves, and provides information that is useful to community leaders in organizing local community responses to livelihood challenges.
The Rockefeller Foundation recently launched a new website, Capacity to Innovate.org, which examines lessons from a number of organizations including Ushahidi and Internews, and encapsulates them in three short reports which are well worth a read. FrontlineSMS is featured in the 'Learning From Experimentation' report, available from the website. Here's an excerpt, but we really recommend the whole report as a very readable and thought-provoking set of examples.
FrontlineSMS was featured in the Guardian on 30th October 2012 as one Africa's progressive apps, user-friendly programs doing everything from instant messaging to 'the first mobile cow calendar'. We're proud that version 2 of FrontlineSMS is 100% made in Kenya!
The FrontlineSMS:Credit team was recently interviewed by Claire Penicaud at the GSMA MMU about the challenges that Micro Financing Institutions (MFI) face when thinking about adopting mobile money. The FrontlineSMS:Credit team described the challenges they see MFIs in Kenya facing and gave the following pieces of advice to MFIs who are ready to integrate mobile money into their systems.
FrontlineSMS:Credit enables organizations that serve the base of the economic pyramid to bring the benefits of mobile money to the financially excluded by building and distributing free, open-source software for mobile money management.
FrontlineSMS:Credit’s PaymentView software is an extension of FrontlineSMS’s free, open-source technology that turns a laptop and a mobile phone or GSM modem into a central SMS communications hub. The tool enables users to send and receive text messages with large groups of people without the need for Internet access. With thePaymentView extension, users can also send, receive, and manage mobile money transactions. By expanding the uses of mobile money in developing markets, FrontlineSMS:Credit helps to fulfill the promise of mobile money to offer even the most underserved communities access to financial services and enable new business models that aid in development.
A lot has happened since we last talked to the FrontlineSMS: Credit team. In a previous blog post, we described their approach towards enabling organizations and businesses to easily use mobile money. Over the past few months, they’ve got the opportunity to test this approach through a project in partnership with a Kenyan financial services association (FSA) .
Challenge #1: Providing an easy and convenient way for groups to transfer money to the FSA…
This FSA is composed of 50 groups of around 20 people each. Like many others, it serves a large geographical area and some groups are more than 30km away from the FSA head office. This means that a representative of each group has to travel there every time the group wants to transfer money: which represents a day of travel for the representative of the group and a cost of around USD8 for the group on a monthly basis. The service implemented by FrontlineSMS: Credit allows representatives of groups to transfer money through M-Pesa directly to the FSA. FrontlineSMS estimates that there has been a reduction of up to 50% in the cost of repaying loans and a reduction of up to 85% in the time spent on repayments, depending on how far away a savings group meets from the FSA office. The groups saving the most are those who are far away from the FSA, as almost every group meets within a short walking distance of an M-Pesa agent.
Read the full post on the GSMA website.
On September 7th 2012, our founder Ken Banks contributed a guest article to BBC Future, their website on technology, science, the environment and health, on the impact technology has on poverty eradication.
"Twenty years ago, if you were information technology-literate and interested in international development, your options were limited.
That’s how things were for me when, in 1993, armed with ten years programming and networking experience I began turning my attention to the developing world.
My efforts didn’t get me far. The information technology revolution we see today had barely started at home, let alone in many of the developing nations. If you weren’t an English teacher, a doctor, a policy maker, an economist or a dam builder, careers in development seemed somewhat limited.
How things have changed. Driven largely by the spread of the world wide web and the burgeoning mobile phone sector, opportunities to develop solutions to many of the world’s social and environmental problems have reached almost every bedroom and garden shed in the land.
The irony today is that arguably the greatest developmental tool we have in our hands isn’t a product of the tens of billons of developmental aid spent over the years, but a by-product of private sector investment. Putting the debate around costs and coverage to one side, the development sector has a lot to thank the mobile industry for.
In 1993 the number of mobile subscribers in Africa numbered in the hundreds of thousands. By 1998 that had crept to four million. Today there are an estimated 735 million with penetration running at around the 70% mark. Not bad in less than 20 years."
As TV and radio broadcast markets intensify across several liberalized African countries, broadcasters need to find solutions to create more interactive communication with their audiences and build loyalty among them. SMS is one of those. There are a few SMS management software available out there butFrontlineSMS, a rather discreet solution provider has already been in the front line to support several African broadcasters. Sylvain Beletre, Senior Analyst, Balacing Act talked to Amy O'Donnell, Project Manager at FrontlineSMS on how SMS can be a very powerful media tool.
Looking at recent audience surveys across the African market, it is obvious that local audience want local content. Indeed, radio and TV operators have responded by increasingly shifting from a one-way broadcast to media that reach audiences by integrating interaction with listeners into programming.
But the lack of communication with the audience and the lack of finances are often major barriers for broadcast organizations working in African countries. Not knowing exactly what people want to watch and listen and not being able to check facts on the field, broadcasters have to find alternative solutions to make their job easier if they want to avoid being eaten up by more powerful competitors. And if broadcasters do not know their audience's program needs, they lose market share together with potential advertisers' revenues.
To read more, please click here.
On Friday, August 31st 2012 PBS featured a blog post written by Trevor Knoblich, our Media Project Manager. The post focused on our plans to integrate journalism tools into FrontlineSMS, enabling news-gatherers all over the world to integrate SMS more easily into their work. Thanks to PBS for allowing us to repost the piece here - you can find the original on the PBS Media Shift website. If you are interested in hearing more about our work, please email services@frontlineSMS.com to get in touch with the team.
By Trevor Knoblich, Media Project Manager
The field of journalism has faced a number of technology-driven changes in the past decade, including the advent of blogs, the generating and sharing of news via social media, and the tentative move by many governments to provide open data.
So many elements of news have evolved that many experts think we're on the verge of a revolution in digital journalism, including Google's director of news and social products, Richard Gingras. "The media landscape is in the process of being completely transformed, tossed upside down; reinvented and restructured in ways we know, and in ways we do not yet know," Gingras argued recently during a keynote address at the annual conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass and Communication. "The process of change is far from over. Indeed, it will never be over."
NEWS AS A PARTICIPATORY PROCESS
When thinking about all of these changes, I find one shift particularly inspiring: the growing concept of news as a participatory process. In the past, news was produced largely by media outlets and consumed by readers, viewers, or listeners -- a passive audience. Of course, now we view news as a lively and active discussion, in which former "consumers" participate in sharing stories, providing news tips, raising questions, and adding depth and context to stories.
Chris Lehmann, former chief of Yahoo News, recently told the New York Times' David Carr, "News is an activity, a verb really." He was primarily referring to the editorial room, but I think this now equally applies to all people who regularly read, share, write, and contribute to news. We live in an active news culture, in which stories are rarely static, breaking news reaches the world in a matter of seconds, and average citizens have access to many tools to provide news tips, content, and context nearly instantaneously.
This access has been described as public, participatory or citizen journalism, with varying definitions for each -- and no definition that everyone can agree on. That said, regardless of the title we give to this shift in news culture, the combination of ways in which people can contribute to news is encouraging. The more people are seeking, discussing, and shaping information, the closer we may get to a common understanding of the issues and challenges we face in our community, region, nation, or planet. This shift also allows information to spread quickly, and reach more people.
EXPANDING GLOBAL PARTICIPATION
With this in mind, I accepted my role at FrontlineSMS with a specific purpose: to extend global participation in news to people who otherwise would be left out of this shift, meaning those with no or infrequent access to the Internet. Lack of Internet access should not exclude people from receiving, discussing, and shaping the news that affects their lives. And while many people still lack Internet access, nearly everyone has access to a mobile phone, and by extension SMS.
SMS is the most pervasive digital communications platform in existence. As such, news outlets can use SMS to invite more people to participate in news in a variety of ways. Participants may be trained citizen journalists, eyewitnesses sharing news tips or photos, or even commentators on important stories.
Yes, this brings with it the challenge of vetting information, verifying senders, and devising clever mechanisms for being inclusive of a variety of different voices. But I believe we can meet those challenges, and the result will be a more robust audience participating in news in a more informed way. In fact, I've already seen inspiring examples of this from our user base at FrontlineSMS.
In one example, Al Jazeera noticed that while many people around the world were discussing the viral, controversial Kony 2012 video, there was a glaring gap in input from people in Uganda, where much of the discussion is focused. In response, Al Jazeera established the Uganda Speaks program, allowing people in Uganda to join the conversation in a variety of formats, including SMS, e-mail, Twitter and Facebook. For those without Internet access, SMS became a critical channel to weigh in on the global dialogue.
In another example, Indonesian television station RuaiTV trained citizen journalists in a method for texting information on illicit activities by palm oil companies. Citizen journalists would text or call with information about suspected wrongdoings, and RuaiTV would follow up on the news tips. In this manner, citizens were actively working to hold companies and governments accountable to the local legal framework.
At FrontlineSMS, we are motivated by these and similar user stories. These organizations are working to lower the barriers for participating in news debates, whether they are local or global. Via SMS, we can now invite many more people to receive news, share new ideas, and foster discussion around topics that are important to them. In many cases, people have this type of access for the first time in their lives. Thanks to the creativity of our users, potentially millions of new voices are now invited to participate in news. It will be thrilling to hear what they have to say.
Trevor Knoblich works as Project Manager for FrontlineSMS, a 2011 Knight News Challenge winner. He began his career as a federal policy reporter in Washington, DC,then spent 5 years working as a humanitarian specialist. He currently works on issues at the intersection of journalism, technology and developing countries. At FrontlineSMS, he is building tools to help journalists and media outlets around the world improve their ability to gather, track and share news.
Amy O’Donnell, Radio Project Manager at FrontlineSMS:Radio recently spoke to Alessandra Bajec from the European Journalism Centre Magazine about the way FrontlineSMS is used to facilitate dynamic conversations between radio stations and their listeners in Africa and beyond. By enabling the powerful combination of radio broadcasting with SMS, FrontlineSMS:Radio is empowering and engaging communities across the globe. Republished here with permission or you can read the original post here. By Alessandra Bajec
Q. How has FrontlineSMS technology influenced African media?
Exponential growth in use of mobile technology has meant that many African media outlets are interested in using this technology effectively. By downloading FrontlineSMS and plugging in a mobile phone or GSM modem to a computer, people can use SMS in more sophisticated and professional ways.
We are moving from having contributions fed via SMS into an individual’s phone to a more open way of integrating SMS into content. We’re also supporting citizen journalists with tools for digital news gathering.
In Zambia, for example, Breeze FM radio uses FrontlineSMS to communicate with journalists. After gathering news tips received from the general public, the radio station organizes the evidence, sends SMS to journalists who may be out in the field, encouraging them to verify the facts and report.
Q. What is innovative about the FrontlineSMS software plugin?
With Version 2 recently released, FrontlineSMS has a user-friendly interface making it easier to manage larger volumes of messages, and to customize the software to better meet user needs. Pending messages can be sorted in a more timely fashion.
So radio is important—but not perfect. Although community radio stations often involve local residents in programming and long-term planning, getting real-time feedback from listeners can be challenging. Voice calls are expensive, and stations have a limited time to take calls from their audiences. This is where mobile telephony and text messaging can be a game changer, transforming radio listeners into active participants.
Another example: FrontlineSMS, an organization devoted to leveraging mobile phones for development. Unlike similar organizations, Frontline has devoted significant resources to radio initiatives. Frontline’s platform has been used by community radio stations like Radio Mudzi Wathu in Malawi, which uses Frontline SMS to solicit questions, comments, and ideas from listeners. During prime listening hours, Radio Mudzi asks its audience questions like “why do you think that HIV/AIDS is increasing despite interventions?” and asks them to text their responses. They then aggregate the responses, analyze them, and take them to local policymakers and aid workers.In addition to facilitating audience participation, SMS-oriented radio initiatives allow for unprecedented levels of audience research. After receiving feedback on any given issue, stations have a repository of information that they can analyze and look back on in order to better serve needs of audience. As they identify trends, needs, and concerns, radio stations can catalyze a profoundly fruitful cycle, using more relevant programming to drive audience engagement, thereby soliciting more feedback and dialogue.
So how can we encourage more hybrid radio/mobile projects? First of all, we need to adjust the way we approach technology intended for the developing world. When designing, funding, researching, or discussing technology for development projects, we need to stop being fixated on one technology or platform and instead consider how new technology can be integrated with existing needs, values, and networks.
Good news from the software sector: FrontlineSMS Version 2 is here at last! Two years in the making, the updated version is simpler, more intuitive, and easier to utilize. It also adapts more easily to individual needs and systems, and has already met an enthusiastic response from the SMS community. And with all it has to offer, the new software should prove a valuable contribution in the effort to achieve positive social change in developing countries around the world.
FrontlineSMS is a free, open source, SMS-messaging software that empowers the user to communicate with large groups of people through a mobile network. Basically, with just a laptop and a mobile phone, the initiator can create a communications hub that allows him to send, receive, and manage text messages.
The software is easy to set up and doesn't require an Internet connection—an important feature, since many FrontlineSMS users come from remote areas where reliable Internet connections simply don't exist. (The software has a significance presence in underdeveloped parts of Africa, for example.) Uniquely equipped to serve remote areas and the local communities who live there, FrontlineSMS is a powerful tool for achieving positive social change and health improvement by breaking down communication barriers and allowing instantaneous, two-way exchanges of information.
FrontlineSMS: Version 2
As an organization, FrontlineSMS offers individualized training and support to organizations embarking upon social change projects. It is also very proactive about acquiring user feedback and incorporating it into software updates and new releases. From the start, FrontlineSMS has focused on meeting the actual needs of local people by consistently engaging its user base.
FrontlineSMS Version 2 incorporates an extensive amount of that user feedback and represents “a significant step forward.” As an overall assessment, the software is said to be “easier and more intuitive to use, more versatile, and capable of being more easily extended with new functionality.” (For a detailed overview of the changes and additions, consider this description from the FrontlineSMS web site.)
A stronger and more flexible architecture allows the software to be integrated into more platforms and systems, and permits users and developers “to customize FrontlineSMS to better meet their needs”. So far, the response to FrontlineSMS Version 2 has been enthusiastic.
In addition to its core software, FrontlineSMS offers four sector-specific programs:
- FrontlineSMS:Credit (“enables organizations to easily manage mobile money”)
- FrontlineSMS:Legal (“increases the reach, transparency and efficiency of legal systems in underserved areas”)
- FrontlineSMS:Learn (“supports and strengthens] education and training initiative and human capacity development”)
- FrontlineSMS:Radio (“represents a vital outreach particularly for rural communities” and “[fosters] two-way dialogue”).
FrontlineSMS:Learn and FrontlineSMS:Credit are currently running on Version 1.7, but will eventually be updated to the full-scale Version 2.
FrontlineSMS: Valuable Social Change and Healthcare Tool
Today, FrontlineSMS is used in over 80 countries. Not surprisingly, its usage remains concentrated in developing countries where mobile technology continues to increase dramatically. According to this report, the number of globally-sent texts tripled between 2007-2010. The numbers add up to 6.1 trillion texts, all told, or 200,000 texts sent each second. Mobile technology is a powerful communication tool in the developing world, and FrontlineSMS has had no trouble tapping into it.
“If you go to the developing world and you look at how cellphones are being used you can really see that people are already doing this kind of organizational management, communicating with stakeholders, communicating with people they're working with and for,” Laura Hudson, FrontlineSMS CEO, stated.
A recently-released survey confirms the organization's growth and success. Currently most users are located in Africa, but there is a growing presence in Asia, India, the Philippines, Malawi, and Pakistan. Around 78% of FrontlineSMS users belong to grassroots non-governmental organizations (NGOs) operating in developing countries. As an open source product, FrontlineSMS is highly adaptable and thus valuable in situations and projects requiring low costs and ample flexibility. The fact that no Internet and only basic tools are required (laptop and mobile phone for the initiator; mobile phone for the receiver) is also an immense help. This arrangement allows the software to be used on the road or during power outages, for instance. Thanks to FrontlineSMS, NGOs have been better equipped to address human rights issues, manage natural resources, provide disaster relief as well medical care and supplies to remote regions, organize political protests, collect field data, conduct public surveys, educate the public on various topics, and much more.
Take Burundi as an example. In an African country where political elections often provoke violence and catch ordinary citizens in the crossfire, FrontlineSMS has proved useful. During election season, the Great Lakes Region of Africa (AGLI) teamed up with the Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC) program and created the Burundi Election Violence Prevention Program. The 750 participants used FrontlineSMS on their mobile phones to monitor election sites by reporting arrests or violent incidents, sending out alerts if irregularities or unsafe situations arose, and keeping each other up to date on the situation. In one instance, participants communicated with the police via FrontlineSMS to secure the release of an innocent citizen who had been arrested.
Likewise, in Indonesia, rural farmers in West Kalimantan have used FrontlineSMS to “report, connect, and raise awareness of their issues” in an area dominated by a contentious palm oil industry whose activities have sometimes caused problems for the farmers. By partnering with the local news station, Ruai TV, farmers have raised awareness of the situation and made their voices heard; by using FrontlineSMS, farmers are able to keep each other up to date on situations, back each other up during conflict, and mobilize as a unified group.
Or consider an offshoot organization like FrontlineSMS:Credit. In Africa, where economic development is severely hampered by lack of rural banks and stable monetary systems, mobile payment through SMS services is a huge development that eliminates problems caused by delivering cash payments over long distances. Without mobile money, for example, farmers wait “weeks or months” before receiving payment, and the employees who deliver those cash payments must travel long distances--sometimes through unsafe areas. FrontlineSMS:Credit saves time and reduces the risk of traveling with large amounts of cash, increasing efficiency and allowing workers in all sectors to focus on farming, delivering quality healthcare, or whatever their jobs entail.
The system also works as a kind of rudimentary SMS Craigslist. Users of the full suite and post notices of the products and services they offer or are seeking. This has been a boon, for example, for farmers who have significantly expanded their market and thus can obtain better prices while buyers are able to purchase high quality food at fairer prices. By supporting free market local economic activity, FrontlineSMS makes highly nutritional food more available and helps alleviate food shortages.
It may be relevant to our readers that FrontlineSMS, in addition to being used as an agent for social change, maintains a powerful presence in the healthcare sector as well. Almost right from the start, it was used to improve care coordination at a poverty-stricken health clinic in Malawi. Since then, its application to healthcare has only expanded. Consider these examples:
- In Cambodia, Sophie Baron is working on a pilot study to monitor and contain animal diseases that present a significant threat to agricultural livelihoods. In conjunction with the CIRAD, IPC and VaVRI, Baron is testing a system designed to monitor animals' deaths and diseases in local farming areas. Weekly reports allow workers to track diseases, discover the source of an outbreak, and keep tabs on the general situation. According to Baron, “Receiving regular data via SMS—and being able to manage this data within FrontlineSMS—helps enable NaVRI to adopt more timely and effective response mechanisms to breakouts of animal diseases.”
- Cleopa Otieno, National Coordinator of KenTel, uses FrontlineSMS to text people living with HIVin Kenya. The program is (or was, as of November 2011) still in the works, but a pilot study enabled telehealth centers to provide victims of HIV with information concerning health and prevention of infection and disease. As it grows, the program will become more and more interactive, encouraging participants to make the most out of the resources available.
- In Kenya and Uganda, Stop Stockouts is lobbying for the African governments “to meet their obligations to provide essential medicines” by increasing the national budgetary allocation” for purchasing medicines and “by ensuring efficiency and transparency in the procurement, supply, and distributions of medicines.” Stock-outs (which occur when a health center or pharmacy runs out of a medicine) can significantly delay treatment and subject patients to serious and aggravated health risks. Stop Stockouts relies on FrontlineSMS for campaign communication and monitoring of medicine availability.
- In 2011, the Institute for Reproductive Health partnered with FrontlineSMS to provide an mHealth service called CycleTel, which “helps women take charge of their reproductive health and use an effective family planning method” by empowering them with knowledge about their days of fertility and so forth. IRH used FrontlineSMS to manually test the CycleTel program in two Indian cities, Lucknow and New Delhi. The software proved to be “a crucial and practical step in the technology development process” and contributed to the overall product.
FrontlineSMS: The Ongoing Story
The idea for FrontlineSMS began with a conservation trip to South Africa in 2004. Ken Banks, working with authorities to establish better communication with nearby communities, realized the need for tools that would enable information exchange in remote areas. In places like Africa, NGOs typically lack money, expensive equipment, and reliable access to Internet and electricity—but they do carry mobile phones. At the time, there was no group-SMS system in existence that could operate in remote locations, so Banks decided to make his own: “I wrote the software in five weeks at a kitchen table,” he says in this article for National Geographic. “I made it a generic communications platform that could be used for almost anything, and I made it free.”
Although he wrote the software to fix a specific problem, Banks also focused on creating software that was adaptable to different situations and purposes: “I also felt that other disciplines – health, agriculture, education and human rights among them – were no different, so FrontlineSMS did not seek to solve a particular problem in a particular place, but sought to be an all-purpose tool, and be all things to all people.”
FrontlineSMS has successfully scaled communication barriers and provided catalysts for social change and healthcare improvement in more than 80 countries worldwide. (Not bad for an organization that hired its first employee in 2009.) Made available online in 2005, FrontlineSMS was transferred to an open source platform in 2008. The same year, Banks started working with Josh Nesbit (co-founder of Medic Mobile) on a project to improve management and patient care at a clinic in Malawi. The project stirred up a wave of eager interest and encouraged other people and NGOs to adopt FrontlineSMS for their own projects and organizations.
Since then, the software has continued to garner praise and recognition. The year after Ken Banks worked with Nesbit at the Malawi clinic, FrontlineSMS won the Silicon Valley Tech Award and received funding from OSI, the Hewlett Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation. In 2010-2011, founder Ken Banks was named an Ashoka Fellow as well as a National Geographic Emerging Explorer, and carried off the Pizzigati Prize to boot. Meanwhile, FrontlineSMS won the Curry Stone Design Award in 2011. The software has been downloaded over 25,000 times, and has had a profound impact upon the lives and livelihoods of many communities in developing countries, especially Africa.
Meanwhile, FrontlineSMS is passing by another milestone in its history. This May, founder Ken Banks announced his intention to step back and take a more relaxed role in the organization, choosing to focus on other projects which a full-time commitment to FrontlineSMS had prevented him from developing (details will be posted on his blog). Laura Walker Hudson and Sean Martin McDonald, future CEO of kiwanja Foundation and CEO of kiwanja Community Interest Company, respectively, will lead FrontlineSMS forward to the next stage of its development.
Regarding that next stage, Banks is optimistic: “It’s an incredible time to be working in the field of technology-for-social-change, and I’m excited about the future for FrontlineSMS, its users and the team behind it,” he reflects in his transition announcement on the FrontlineSMS website.
If the past is any indication of the future, there's good reason to feel excited. In just a few years, FrontlineSMS has built a strong history of continued growth, successful problem-solving, cultural outreach and technological advancement. Innovative, low-cost, and flexible, FrontlineSMS is uniquely poised to make a difference in the developing world. And the good news is, it already has. So here's to the new and improved FrontlineSMS.
Late last week, ActionAid won a Technology4Good Innovation Award for their work using FrontlineSMS to communicate with staff and communities in Isiolo, Kenya, during the response to the recent drought in the Horn of Africa. Together with our partners, Infoasaid, who supported the deployment, we are very proud to be associated with their ground-breaking and crucial work. Bravo ActionAid!
Below is an extract from a blog post describing the programme and the impact FrontlineSMS has had - you can read the full post here.
When disasters strike, people need information as much as they need shelter, water and safety. By providing, the right information, at the right time, from the right source, lives and livelihoods can be saved.
At the same time, if people have access to useful information during disasters they can make their own choices and decisions, and become more active participants in the process of their own recovery and claiming their rights. They can feed back, complain, voice their opinions and, in doing so, hold agencies like ActionAid - and other bodies like local and national government - to account.
Since May 2011, ActionAid has been partnering with a consortium called infoasaid to mainstream communications with disaster-affected communities in our emergency preparedness and response.
As part of the partnership, ActionAid is implementing a pilot project in Isiolo, Kenya, where ActionAid (in collaboration with the World Food Programme) provides vital food rations to over 80,000 people every month. Distribution of the supplies is handled by community members themselves through self-organised “Relief Committees”, and overseen by Food Monitors employed by ActionAid.
Broadly, the project aims to help combat food insecurity amongst communities affected by last year’s drought. It uses innovative technology – FrontlineSMS and Freedom Fone – to transmit information simultaneously to multiple recipients from a laptop computer, and to provide a channel for communities to feed back to ActionAid staff.
The project provided basic mobile phone and solar chargers to 250 Relief Committee members, and 30 Jave-enabled mobile phones to ActionAid Food Monitors, regional office staff and others including warehouse owners and food truck drivers.
A recent review of the project found that it had brought benefits for both drought-affected communities and ActionAid, by;
Boosting household income
Edward, Relief Committee Secretary: “A man asked ‘how is the livestock price in Isiolo?’ I told him it is lower, he immediately called people in Nanyuki so that they could go to buy [in Isiolo] and sell in other towns. He bought so he could sell at higher price.”
Improving relations between communities and ActionAid
Fatumah, ActionAid Food Monitor: “We used to argue. The community wanted to know why I had not told them about the distribution dates. Now they have time to prepare. Within 30 minutes we are done. Before we had to ask neighbouring villages to help with off-loading - that could take 2-3 hours.”
Increasing the speed and efficiency of food distribution
Community member in Oldonyiro: "There is a big change now. Long before, food used to stay overnight because there was no communication. Now we get information immediately even when the trucks are still in Isiolo. We are aware that food is arriving tomorrow, and we go ready for distribution."
Food Monitors also report that the use of Frontline SMS has reduced the need for frequent travel to rural communities for face-to-face meetings – in one case from 24 per month to just 12 – saving time and money.
Enabling community members to better plan their time
Halima, community member: “In the past we saw the [food] trucks arriving and we might have gone to attend to other works. Now, we get [information] one or two days before, we can put off our jobs and come to collect food.”
Providing information on when food distributions will arrive means children no longer have to leave school to tell parents the trucks are on the way, as was the case previously.
Enabling communities to link with the outside world
Salesa, community member: “When one [child] was bitten by the snake we used the phone to call the vehicle to help take them to hospital.”
Improving the speed and efficiency of data collection
Thomas, Food Monitor: “The Frontline SMS forms are very easy to fill. They do not consume even 10 minutes. The information goes to the hub and…it is secure. Before, I gave the information on paper which can disappear.”
BBC Click aired an interview with FrontlineSMS founder Ken Banks and its CEO Laura Walker Hudson, on June 12th 2012. To listen in on the interview, please click here.
On Tuesday June 12th, we celebrated the release of FrontlineSMS Version 2 at launch events in Nairobi, Kenya and Washington D.C., US. The London launch event is set for Monday June 18th and is expected to attract an audience of donors, partners, users, and journalists, and will include talks from FrontlineSMS users, Ken, Laura, and one of our most significant donors, the Omidyar Network.
FrontlineSMS has come a long way since October 2005, when our founder Ken Banks launched the very first open-source SMS management software. The team at BBC Click, including Gareth Williams and Bill Thompson, have always been supportive friends of FrontlineSMS and welcomed Laura and Ken to studios in Nairobi and Cambridge to talk about the launch and what it means for the future of the platform.
On 12th June The Next Web recently featured FrontlineSMS as we launched Version 2 of our software. Below is an extract of the blog, and you can also find the original post by clicking here. "For all the fancy messaging systems that are available across smart phones and feature phones, there is one thing that can communicate across them all, aside from the voice call, and that is the humble SMS.
FrontlineSMS recognised the ubiquity and resilience of this type of communication back in 2004, when founder Ken Banks was working in Kruger National Park in South Africa. He saw the need for park authorities to get local communities involved in reporting poaching. No-one in these communities had access to the Internet, but all of them had mobile phones.
Since then, the open-source SMS-messaging software has been downloaded over 25,000 times, and helps organizations in over 80 countries to overcome their communication challenges.
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:Medic, FrontlineSMS:Credit, FrontlineSMS:Learn, FrontlineSMS:Legal and FrontlineSMS:Radio.
Each project began developing user relationships, partnerships, and software aimed at improving mobile integration in their industry, while acting as advocates for FrontlineSMS.
Today the company is launching a new version of its software through events taking place in Nairobi, Kenya, followed by an event the same day in Washington, DC. On June 18, the European launch will be held in London, hosted by the Guardian.
With 6 billion active mobile phone connections across the world and an increasing number in emerging markets, there’s a pretty good opportunity for finding ways to connect communities, especially in remote regions."
For the full article, click here.
The launch of FrontlineSMS Version 2 featured in the Times LIVE on Monday 11th June 2012. See an extract below and read the full piece online here. The greatest communication mechanism in the world is arguably still SMS - the short message service sent over cellphones...
One of the most remarkable communications platforms is FrontlineSMS, which lets grassroots users and NGOs communicate by SMS.
It was founded by Ken Banks after a trip to the Kruger National Park in 2004 and has since gone global. It has a number of spin-off projects aimed at providing educational, legal and medical advice, and offers mobile money management.
"Mobile is everywhere. If you could use it to organise and put it in the hands of community organisations, who know what they want to do with it, they could use it," said Laura Walker Hudson, CEO of the foundation that provides the open-source FrontlineSMS software.
"So we hear every second Tuesday about how SMS is dead and will be dead by 2015, and how this is linked to the rise of mobile data," said Walker Hudson, who is based in Nairobi, Kenya.
"But there are places where the only communication you can receive is by SMS. The most vulnerable people in society are still using low-end handsets, and SMS is still the most powerful" form of communication.
"It's very direct and engaging," she said, and people understand how much it costs them.
"It's very intimate because you get the message straight to a person, which makes it more powerful than e-mail."
FrontlineSMS has grown significantly since I first saw it a year ago. Version 2 of the software will launch tomorrow with a whole new range of features that will make it even more useful.
Interestingly, FrontlineSMS's parent organisations use what's known as a hybrid structure so it can have both for-profit and not-for-profit services. By charging organisations that can pay for the services, it is able to provide it for communities who can't.
The ubiquity of SMS means other services can be built on top of it, such as the mobile payment system that has become synonymous with Kenya's mobile success, M-Pesa.
Cellphones have become the most-used devices in the world, having long since overtaken computers and are growing at exponential rates, with remarkable results.
New communication technologies have always brought great change to the world. It started with the printing press, the telegraph and the telephone. They were the analogue precursors to the telephone network, the internet and now cellphones.
They are evolving into smartphones but the vast majority of people still use them for their primary functions: voice calls and text messaging.
SMS is still the king of communication.
Long may it reign.
This article was featured in The Times LIVE. You can read the original version here.