FrontlineSMS @ Netsquared/USAID

Two FrontlineSMS-based projects have been entered in the 2008 Netsquared/USAID challenge. The challenge is sponsored by The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and aims to find the best in mobile innovations for good. Voting is carried out by the NetSquared community, and fifteen finalists will be chosen. A panel of judges, selected by USAID, will then select the winners. The first place winner will receive a grant of $10,000, the two runner-ups will receive grants of $5,000 each. All three winners will have the opportunity to present their ideas to senior USAID officials, experts, and the public in Washington D.C.

The first FrontlineSMS-related project - Providing Business Opportunities Information to Farmers and Producers via SMS - aims to help Salvadorian agricultural and agro-industrial producers sell their products in local markets for better prices and obtain better profit margins, thus mitigating the effect of intermediaries or middlemen. The primary target is better marketing of vegetables and garden crops.

The system will allow producers and buyers to post "buy/sell" offers through SMS messaging directly to mobile phones, or through a call centre managed by the project (where operators will log information from semi-literate or illiterate farmers). Then summaries of these "classifieds ads" will be sent through SMS and e-mail to service subscribers. Additionally, communities of buyers/sellers with Internet access will be able to see these offers on a project website as well as through different RSS feeds via other web sites. As a result, producers and buyers will be able to interchange information and develop commercial activities directly without the need for intermediaries.

The second project - Mobile Application for Virtual Community Based Complementary Currencies - will develop a mobile phone m-banking application aimed at enabling the creation of community based complementary currencies. The application will operate in very much the same way as Wizzit and m-Pesa.

A complementary currency is a currency which operates in conjunction with the national currency. It does not replace the national currency - they merely create additional opportunities for the real economy to operate in times of greatly reduced credit and financial liquidity (for example, poor communities with under-employment). The idea, implementation and value of a creating a community-based complementary currency are well documented. There are over 1,900 community-based currencies around the world, including Ithaca Dollars, Time Banks, and the lesser known but extremely successful WIR based in Switzerland.

And finally - not a FrontlineSMS-related entry but a project which does use the software - is Ushahidi, a piece of open source software that solves communication and visualization challenges during crises situations through mapping and crowd sourcing. (Ushahidi hit the pages of the BBC News website today).

To vote for your favourite projects, visit the Challenge website.