A positive message for diverse communities

Re-posted via the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO)

Who would have thought text messaging could be used to strengthen social change projects the world over? There are now six billion mobile phone connections globally, and many more people own a mobile handset than don’t. In large part due to this mass availability, mobiles are now being used to strengthen many non-profit initiatives.

FrontlineSMS is a social enterprise which enables projects to use the power of text messaging to their advantage, by providing free and open source software that gives the ability to turn a laptop and a mobile phone in to a mass messaging communications hub. Here in the UK, FrontlineSMS is being used by a nationally award-winning voluntary organisation called FolesHillfields Vision Project to strengthen their work building strong bridges between diverse communities in the city of Coventry.

The area that  FolesHillfields  works in is both “blessed by diversity, and struggling with disadvantage” (http://foleshillfields.org). This combination of factors can lead to tensions, which if not addressed can cause serious problems. When there is high competition for work in deprived areas people can often feel the need to blame those they perceive as separate to themselves; those who are living in the same area and sharing the same resources, but may be from a different country or religious background.

Diversity can clearly enrich societies, yet it can also be a source of tensions and animosity between people from different ethnic backgrounds, faiths, and areas of the world. Thus FolesHillfields works to counteract this kind of tension in Foleshill and Hillfields, two central Coventry neighbourhoods. The Project facilitates community events and activities which promote social inclusion by bringing different groups together to interact, listen to each other and develop an understanding of their differences and commonalities.

Often the Project will hold structured discussions in which people talk directly about their views on relevant topics, such as racism. Those present will be asked to actively listen to what each other are saying and give everyone a chance to speak, thus ensuring all views are heard. Some discussions focus on how local tensions relate to international issues, thus addressing the global context of any potential community tensions. In addition to these structured discussions the Project hosts lots of informal meet up opportunities for people to have lunch, do some gardening, and share tea together. These activities help to encourage a shared sense of social acceptance and understanding.

One major commonality amongst the diverse population in Coventry is that most people own a mobile phone. Therefore FolesHillfields Vision's organisers make use of FrontlineSMS to send out mass text messages to reach out and bring people together.

The free and open source software allows a single message to be sent to the hundreds of people the project is working with at the click of a button. The messages could be to remind people of key events, to inspire people to stay involved, or to send best wishes for many different types of holidays local people celebrate. For example, on the 21st March a text was sent to say ‘Happy Newroz’; the Iranian New Year. In addition FrontlineSMS allows the Project to split their contacts out in to different groups and text all of the women in the group, for example, with a reminder of International Women’s day celebration, or all of the volunteers with a reminder about the details of a particular event. “FrontlineSMS helps to strengthen the sense of community we are creating, and keep people involved and connected with what we are doing” says Mark Hinton, one of the Project’s founders.

FrontlineSMS software has been downloaded nearly 14,000 times and is being used in over 70 countries for many different purposes including provision health information, mobilizing human rights campaigns, and even monitoring elections. It is great to see effective use of the software here in the United Kingdom, to help support the important work of the FolesHillfieldsVision Project.

To find out more about FolesHillField Vision Project go to http://foleshillfields.org/.