SFCG Nigeria is part of Search for Common Ground, one of the first and largest conflict resolution focused NGOs. To support the reconciliation and reintegration of ex-militants in the Niger Delta, the Tomorrow is a New Day (TND) project was implemented with the support of the European Union from December 2011- June 2013. The project was carried out with five local partners, who were instrumental in SFCG Nigeria’s ability to work directly with seven local communities in the Delta.
From Colombia to Ghana to Canada, communicating with members of parliament, tracking city council spending, and advocating for environmental oversight of extractive industries are among a wide range of governance activities that have become possible for anyone with access to an internet connection, a computer, or a smartphone. That’s a lot of people, but not nearly enough.
Tomorrow has arrived, but not for everyone. A digital divide persists, even in seemingly connected countries like the United States, where some twenty percent of the population, or sixty million people, don’t have Internet access at home. Those on the wrong side of the divide—the poor, the elderly, the geographically dispersed— are already marginalized, and tend to have a more critical need for specialized legal services, whether to resolve a conflict, acquire a land title, seek asylum, or escape an abusive situation.
The University of Alberta, MARS lab and the Centre to End All Sexual Exploitation (CEASE) have been using FrontlineSMS in a ground-breaking pilot to assess the impact of using SMS to engage women who are trafficked and exploited in Edmonton, Canada. They have very kindly collaborated with us on an in-depth case study, looking at how the system was designed and set up, its impact, and what's happening next.
Citizen reporters broke much of the news, though they still needed broadcast media to help spread it. In some cases, citizens were able to capture iconic photos of events. Others were able to tell compelling stories about how the emergency affected their lives, including obeying the "stay in place" request by government officials during the manhunt. It has been widely reported how quickly social communities also got information wrong, including falsely accusing suspects. But I've seen a nearly equal number of reports showing how quickly these communities were able to self-correct their own misinformation.
This case study looks at how Plan International, a global organization dedicated to improving the lives of children around the world, integrated FrontlineSMS into their work in Benin. Plan International's use of FrontlineSMS for violence tracking was piloted in Benin, and this case study demonstrates the role FrontlineSMS software played, and lessons learned from the pilot. Click here to read the full case study.
This program has now expanded to include 'Zemidjan', or 'Zem', the motorcycle riders that are common in Benin. Zem are trained to report violence against children through SMS sent to Plan Benin's FrontlineSMS installation. This is then mapped using Ushahidi and passed on to government officials. You can read more about it in this blog post from our Foundation Board Member, Linda Raftree, and watch a video made by Plan Benin about the program! Don't forget to check out the case study, too.
An interview with Rebecca Chiao, co-founder of HarassMapBy Florence Scialom, FrontlineSMS Community Support Coordinator
Harassment is disempowering. Victims of harassment often feel they have had their voice taken away from them. One of the main aims of HarassMap - a recently founded organisation which uses FrontlineSMS and Ushahidi to map harassment on the streets of Egypt - is to provide victims with a way to be heard. “Sometimes you can shout and scream at someone for harassing you in the street, and it just makes their behaviour worse,” Rebecca Chiao, founder of HarassMap, tells me. I recently met with Rebecca at FrontlineSMS’s London office, where we discussed the formation of HarassMap and the involvement of FrontlineSMS in their work.
Having lived in Egypt for 7 years, working specifically on issues of gender discrimination, Rebecca is able to speak from experience about the frequency of harassment in Egypt, and attitudes towards it. “There is a social acceptability surrounding harassment on the streets; people will often stand by and let it happen” she says. Feeling the need to challenge this kind of tolerance for intimidation on the streets of Egypt motivated Rebecca and a like-minded group of 3 Egyptian friends to start HarassMap, with the help and support of tech partner, NiJeL.
Since launching in late 2010, HarassMap have used FrontlineSMS and Ushahidi to map the trouble spots on Egypt’s streets. Victims of harassment can send an SMS, showing their location, which is captured in FrontlineSMS and fed in to an online map via Ushahidi. HarassMap then organises groups of volunteers to go to the areas in which the most incidences have been reported and raise awareness about the problem on the streets. Volunteers hand out flyers with HarassMap’s SMS number, so people know they can contact someone if they feel threatened. In addition, HarassMap volunteers have one to one conversations with people in the neighbourhood, and run community based events, with the purpose of openly discussing the issue of intimidating behaviour in the area. The HarassMap team thus directly question the acceptance of harassment, and encourage neighborhoods to take more responsibility for activity on their own streets.
Click here to listen to a short audio interview with Rebecca
The group behind HarassMap identified the need for people in Egypt to have a way to not just speak up, but feel heard when they get victimised on the streets. A mobile phone provides a very personal, accessible form of communication. “Everyone in Egypt has access to a mobile,” Rebecca explains, “even in poorer areas of the country most people have access to a mobile phone via street kiosks and by sharing phones.” Furthermore, Rebecca does not accept that most women do not have access to a handset, stating that “yes, some statistics show most mobile contracts are registered in a man’s name. However, that is often just for convenience because men are more likely to have paperwork needed to get a mobile contract; my phone for example, is registered in the name of a male friend” she tells me.
The fact is using text messaging as a form of communication makes reporting an incident to HarassMap an instantaneous option for a wide audience. Having the immediacy of being able to report an incident helps prevent a feeling of powerlessness. “The law can often seem a distant and inaccessible form of support when you get harassed; having a reporting system in place provides people with the agency to respond to the way they’ve been treated” Rebecca explains. In addition to mapping and recording reports the HarassMap team send back an automated SMS response through FrontlineSMS, with information on accessing support; ranging from accessible free legal advice to psychological help services.
What effect have recent political events had on HarassMap?
The political situation in the region of the Middle East and North Africa remains extremely tense, and the recent revolution in Egypt inevitably had an effect on HarassMap’s work. “At first, with the internet, phone lines, and power down, the revolution was a massive hindrance to our operations” Rebecca explains. “But the enthusiasm the revolution produced motivated more people to engage in taking care and ownership over their streets, and treating each other with respect, so once Egypt was back online interest in HarassMap surged.”
Women played a prominent role in the political events, and there was reportedly a sense of openness and respect on Egypt’s streets during the celebrations around the departure of Hosni Mubarak. Yet the streets of Egypt got in to the press for all the wrong reasons when American CBS journalist Lara Logan got assaulted in Cairo. In some ways this incident could be seen to underline the need for a service such as HarassMap all the more. “What happened to Lara Logan really did feel like the first slap in the face of a new Egypt; the people who contacted us were really shocked and saddened by the fact that this could happen,” Rebecca states, “and it has certainly motivated more people to become involved in helping HarassMap strengthen our service.” Extreme incidences of assault on Egypt’s street, such as what happened to Lara Logan, are relatively rare compared to verbal harassment and are thus a shocking occurrence; it is services such as HarassMap which can help to keep it that way.
What’s does the future hold for HarassMap?
It isn’t just Egypt that is in need of a service such as HarassMap; Rebecca and the team have received requests for the service to be replicated in over 15 countries, including Lebanon, Yemen, Pakistan, South Africa and many more. At present HarassMap is fully run by dedicated volunteers, so the next step is to fundraise in order to then get a full time member of staff in post to manage the massive demand they are receiving for their service.
HarassMap is using technology to both challenge the idea that harassment is acceptable, and to provide information on for victims of harassment to reach the services they need. Tools such as FrontlineSMS and Ushahidi are enabling the HarassMap team to tackle both casual attitudes towards the acceptability of harassment, and the detrimental impact harassment has on victims. This is an example using appropriate technology in a way that strengthens other local structures and civil society organisations. In this way HarassMap really is an amazing organisation, which has potential to be replicated in many other contexts.
With many thanks to Tactical Technology Collective for letting us re-post this blog from their site. One of the major challenges with sexual harassment and tracking is the difficulty of collecting accurate data. A lack of reporting can provide limited numbers and make the problem seem smaller than it is. A group in Egypt called Harassmap is creating a movement using a mashup, Ushahidi, to provide a place for women and other victims of sexual harassment to report instances of harassment on the streets of Cairo. Using a number of methods to gather the information, people can submit reports via SMS [using FrontlineSMS], email and a web form.
Harassmap says: “This tool will give women a way to anonymously report incidences of sexual harassment as soon as they happen, using a simple text message from their mobile phone. By mapping these reports online, the entire system will act as an advocacy, prevention, and response tool, highlighting the severity and pervasiveness of the problem. The project will utilise FrontlineSMS and the Ushahidi Engine.”
This project combines several digital tools into a mashup in order to an advocate against harassment on the streets of Cairo. Cairo is notorious for the amount of sexual harassment that occurs.
The Harassmap team recently held a volunteer community outreach day, where volunteers came together to learn about harassment issues, how to respond to harassment, and what steps to take. In addition, Harassmap has provided a space to discuss these issues and how to respond to them.
In an interview co-founder Rebecca Chiao said that managing the project on a volunteer basis is a very difficult task. Rebecca says, “we don't have any money, so we have to be creative. We love working on a volunteer basis, but it also means we all have other commitments like jobs and families, so it takes a lot of effort from us all to coordinate our little bits of free time to work together and make things happen.”
“I'm actually surprisingly happy with the outcome so far,” Rebecca said. “I think I would have changed the amount of time I spent on trying to figure out how to legally register HarassMap in the beginning. It took maybe 3 or 4 months and the requirements were prohibitive. So we ended up deciding to run with volunteers and not have any funding.”
Recently, they released data from the website where they analyse some of the information they’ve collected and some interesting trends appeared. Victims are not limited to Egyptian females, but included males, foreign women, and children. Harassment locations varied from the neighbourhoods of Cairo, to private cars while driving and including educational institutions such as schools and universities. Reports were collected from these neighbourhoods, in order of submissions: Downtown, Dokki, Al-mohandseen, Nasr City, Zamalek, Giza and Maadi.
For the Harassmap team, it isn’t just about mapping harassment on the streets of Cairo, but also about engaging the community. In addition to the volunteer day, they have hosted a workshop where young people were invited to come share stories of harassment and violence. The workshop discussed the relationship of gender and storytelling. They have also hosted outreach days where volunteers descend on the streets and encourage people submit reports.
And Harassmap isn’t stopping to celebrate their initial successes. They have weathered the Egyptian Revolution in style, and are capitalising on the positive energy in the streets. “I'm excited about the discussions we're planning now with the public to decide how we can carry Harassmap forward after the revolution,” Rebecca said. “There's an exciting spirit now and people have seen what it's like to not have harassment as a problem. So we're excited to see how we can build on that.”
In addition to growing in Egypt, their future plans see Harassmap going worldwide. Rebecca says, “We're also going to globalize this year, to about 10 countries hopefully! Wish us luck!”
TOOLS USED: Ushahidi, FrontlineSMS, Facebook and Twitter
REACH: International. The story was picked up by bloggers and websites before being picked up by the international press.
COST: Most of the work was done pro-bono by tech partners, NiJel.
TIME: 100’s of hours
RESOURCES: We have 4 founding partners and our tech team - we're all volunteers. We also have about 100 other volunteers doing various things together.
LEVEL OF DIFFICULTY: 4 out of 5. Using Ushahidi as a platform and building around it a community can be very difficult. Utilising Facebook and Twitter to build support around the initiative are basic tools, but require time and effort.
Pictures courtesy of the Harassmap website.
For more information on the Tactical Technology Collective, who originally posted this piece on their blog, visit their website: http://www.informationactivism.org
We're delighted to announce the publication of the first in our series of in-depth case studies of FrontlineSMS implementations, from Plan International, documenting their work in Benin to develop and pilot a Violence Against Children SMS helpline. Linda Raftree, who many of you will know as @meowtree on Twitter, has written extensively about the programme on her blog, but the case study tries to pull out a bit more of the institutional processes and the technical pitfalls they overcame in the process.
About the programme
In early 2009, Plan was working to strengthen both local and national reporting of trafficking and violence in Benin, West Africa. They were looking for a way to lower children’s and community members’ barriers to reporting, including the risk of reprisals and stigma, communications challenges, and access to places where violence could be reported. The Plan team theorised that collecting reports via SMS, which is anonymous and low-cost, would encourage reporting and allow for a better understanding of the nature and the quantity of violence that was happening.
This in turn could be used to raise awareness around the severity of the problem, advocate for the necessary resources to prevent it, and develop better and more targeted response and follow-up mechanisms. The ability to visualise the data on a map could also have an impact on decision makers and might be a tool that children and youth could use to generate dialogue and advocate an end to cultural practices that allow for violence against them.
The case study covers the training and piloting process, combining Ushahidi and FrontlineSMS, results and key learning to date, and some of the challenges they faced - such as finding appropriate modems, and getting people to SMS, rather than calling, the helpline number.
Seeking new case studies
We hope to produce many such case studies, which are aimed at staff looking to implement SMS or FrontlineSMS in their work, but also can be passed on to managers and donors to help them understand the concepts and challenges involved - if you would like to be one of them, get in touch!
To read more about the programme, download the case study here: Plan International VAC case study, [pdf 1MB].
January 2010 is National Slavery & Human Trafficking Prevention Month. In this, the nineteenth in our series of FrontlineSMS guest posts, Aashika Damodar – Founder of Survivors Connect – gives some background and context on the challenges of fighting human trafficking, and talks about the impact FrontlineSMS has had on their anti-trafficking efforts"The telephone is used to connect between the commune, district, or the province and throughout the country. When we didn’t have the telephone, it was very difficult to communicate. I had to send men by boats or bicycles. It would take at least one to five days" Mr. Khao Phorn, 62, Commune Chief
"There is no electricity in this commune. People use oil lamps, batteries, and dynamos. I recharge my telephone at my mother’s house with a fueled dynamo. Using the telephone is very important to communicate with family or relatives, and is quite cheap. Without the telephone, if we want to visit them, we would spend 40,000-50,000 for transportation each time" Mrs. Phally, 30
"The Telephone is very important for our society. If there was no telephone, everything would be slow" Mr. Seng Sareth, 53
"These are just some of the thoughts of people throughout SE Asia on the introduction of mobile phones in their daily life. With mobile phone usage on the rise, our team at Survivors Connect has been brainstorming: "How can such a small but powerful globalized tool of communication be used to address human rights concerns?". We found it thanks to FrontlineSMS.
RaFH was established in 1993 as a non-profit organization, focusing on the fields of social health science, gender equality, women’s and child rights, reproductive health and family planning and the Northern and Southern most provinces of Vietnam, especially in rural, mountainous and remote areas where ethnic minorities and disadvantaged groups reside. Their mission is to contribute to national poverty reduction programs, deliver primary healthcare in target areas and improve human rights conditions.
Most recently RaFH, along with many non-profits in the region, have seen an increase in the trafficking of young women and children up to China for the purpose of domestic servitude, forced marriage and often times commercial sex and other forms of labor. This has been particularly problematic in the North where the Vietnamese-Chinese border is porous for locals, resulting in regular migration upward.
When the international community on anti-trafficking, as well as several NGOs like RaFH first took notice of this phenomenon, groups flooded into the region to start raising awareness in "vulnerable communities" along the border. Often this entailed skits, presentations, and material handouts that discuss what human trafficking looks like, who is a trafficker, what are popular job scams a trafficker may tell you and how to stop it. Many NGOs were satisfied with this work and were able to tabulate that they reached several hundreds of villagers.
However, this did not reduce incidents of people going missing, or trafficking. What we learned over time was that many of the activities of these NGOs were anti-migratory in nature and in their messaging. Without working with communities and building better education infrastructure, access to proper health care, and skills training, rarely would we be able to stop an individual from leaving their community or village for another job opportunity. Our question then became, how could we make migration safer and stop human trafficking from happening to others? This involves understanding the broader system of human trafficking, and an understanding of everything that happens between points of origin to points of destination.
This brought us to Lao Cai, a border province with Guangxi, China, with two international border gates and several paths by which local people travel regularly, and even daily for work. It is a busy commercial center, also popular for tourism. Lao Cai has 25 ethnic minorities such as the Hmong, Thai, Dao, Tai, Muong to name a few, accounting for 75% of the whole population there. These ethnic minorities have little access to education and major resources. With its geographical features, such as high mountains and remote and widely spaced communities, trafficking in women and children has been increasing. Lao Cai also borders with Ha Khau district in China where there are several brothels receiving victims of trafficking from Vietnam. Up to 2008, it is estimated that 341 women were trafficked up to China for commercial sex, and many more for marriage.
Earlier last year, RaFH held several training courses for 136 representatives of local authorities in the region such as police, health workers, women’s unions, from provincial and grassroots level, owners of hotels, restaurants and more. They were brought together to create what is popularly called (in anti-trafficking circles) "community intervention teams" (CITs), equivalent to US-based human trafficking task forces. They were taught all about human trafficking, major issues unique to Lao Cai and how each of them could respond from their vantage point if a case were to arise. From there, 8 CITs formed, each including about 7 members from the police, justice, health centers, women’s unions and others. Their main tasks are to identify trafficking cases and intervene, rescue and support victims. They also disseminate information in the community to raise awareness about the issue and teach others how to protect themselves from trafficking.
RaFH has created a formal center at the Provincial Lao Cai Womens Union, equipped with computers, books, as well as trained staff to counsel and support victims of trafficking. These types of centers can be found all around the world and prove to be most effective when they use the energy, talent and skills of all types of members in the community, from teachers to social service workers. It is in this space that Survivors Connect found an opportunity to support their CIT through the use of FrontlineSMS.
Why are we calling it Helpline SMS Networks? We’re using FrontlineSMS to coordinate CITs better and equip them with an easy and cost effective tool to respond to the needs of victims and survivors faster than they currently do. Their primary goal is to help victims, survivors and support the healthy functioning of a referral system/alert-response network. To have a well-concerted and coherent strategy to deal with human trafficking, which is mired in complexity, it is essential that all relevant agencies (both state and non-state) act as partners in effort, and are able to use their capacity to respond appropriately to all situations, like gears in proper alignment.
The referral system we’re building (with FrontlineSMS as the core platform) is essentially a network of agencies and individuals that provide support and services for a victim or survivor in a trafficking or unsafe migration situation. By using FrontlineSMS, they go beyond being a normal network - they are becoming a fast and efficient system for communication and information sharing.
So, how does the Helpline SMS Network work?
RaFH Counseling centers operate FrontlineSMS from their in-office laptop. All CIT members are equipped with a mobile phone that is strictly used for the Helpline SMS Network. From their computer, they have contacts organized based on location in Lao Cai, whether they are members of the CIT, or constituents/villages they have done awareness presentations to, health care workers, police, border patrol etc. They regularly send messages to their constituents about human trafficking, alerts on latest activity and cases. Villagers can text back, ask questions, be a part of the dialogue, and report to the CIT if there is an incident of violence, a sudden disappearance of a child, arrival of outsiders into a village, or simply if someone is planning to leave Vietnam.
This information is kept on the CIT’s radar and regular checks are made to see if he/she has made to their destination, or if there may be trafficking involved. If any of the members of the CIT find something in the field, they report their findings back to RaFH. They also use FrontlineSMS to stay in touch with their clients receiving services at the Counseling Center, in order to monitor the progress of every survivor and to ensure their safety in the rehabilitation process. It is these very survivors that also inform the messages, tactics and strategies used by the CITs because they know first hand what trafficking is and what the experience is like.
Below is a summary of the networks core functions:
Helpline SMS: "Ending Slavery one SMS at a Time"
Victim Identification: This aspect of RaFH’s work focuses on victim identification through a combination of community education and awareness-raising activities as well as implementing direct outreach strategies. RaFH collects the mobile numbers of people in their target areas so that they are first point of contact for a potential victim or for an individual wanting to migrate.
Distribute Information: The Helpline SMS network regularly sends mass texts to their target communities about latest trafficking cases, popular scams, offers a trafficker may make, and information about events and resources in their area.
Victim Services & Protection: Once victims are identified and out of his/her situation, they immediately present a wide variety of service needs. An adequate response to these needs requires a comprehensive service program including the power and skills of law enforcement, social service providers, health care workers and human rights advocates. These very people make up the CIT/SMS Network. When an individual or client is in some emergency situation or needs assistance either going to the hospital, police, or even a courtroom, he/she can contact the SMS Network or CIT to get that support.
Referrals: Lets the CIT/network know that a client is on his/her way for help and communicates the nature of the problem. Referrals can be for medical care, a legal advocate, police or anyone with the relevant skill set in the network.
Status Update: Allows CITs to stay in touch with individual clients/survivors and support them through the rehabilitation process.
Support Groups: The network connects survivors and clients receiving care at the counseling center with others and provides information on location for meetings and resources.
Campaigns: RaFH soon plans to use FrontlineSMS to run formal campaigns and surveys to determine how effective their services/quality of care is.
We have learned a lot about both human trafficking and the power of community-based approaches in combating modern-day slavery. By establishing a set of links between existing available resources and services, the system is regularly highlighting new gaps in services and allowing the network to improve. Overtime, its built-in "self improvement" character will help us understand why unsafe migration and trafficking occurs.
Thanks to the power of FrontlineSMS, we can build more effective human rights networks that cost little, deliver results, and combat trafficking better than we have ever seen. This software provides timely access to services, channels of information to those that need it, migrants, potential victims as well as agencies trying to serve them. We hope to replicate this model in other countries where rural trafficking is a great problem and hopefully make a serious stab at slavery in our lifetime".
Tonight sees the screening of "The Reckoning" - a film about the battle for the International Criminal Court - at The Soul of The New Machine human rights conference in Berkeley, California. In this - the sixth in our series of FrontlineSMS guest posts - Paco de Onis, the films' Director, talks about how they plan to use FrontlineSMS as a way of engaging their audience as the film is shown around the world
The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague represents the most ambitious attempt ever to apply the rule of law on a global scale to protect the most basic human rights. It emerged from and reflects a world where sovereign nations are increasingly interdependent and at risk. In order to increase awareness of the ICC and highlight the essential role that justice can play in moving societies from violent conflict to peace and stability, Skylight Pictures produced the feature-length documentary film The Reckoning.
To accompany the release of The Reckoning, Skylight Pictures and the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) are co-producing IJCentral, designed to be the core of a global grassroots social network and resource for the international movement to bring perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide to justice. IJCentral will implement a multi-platform strategy with online mapping technology to visualize the movement, aggregating blogs, news feeds, short films and media modules created for education and advocacy.
One of the most exciting features of IJCentral will be FrontlineSMS two-way "listening posts" that will allow us to hear from concerned citizens around the world using their mobile phones to join the global conversation about justice, and respond to calls to action coming from the IJCentral social network. These "listening posts" will be deployed through the global network of our strategic partner the Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC), an umbrella organization of 2,500 NGOs and civil society groups that has been at the forefront of the international justice movement since 1995.
A high school class in Indianapolis will be able to have a real-time SMS exchange with an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in Uganda, for example, or in a presentation to Congress the IJCentral map could light up with geolocated SMS messages calling for an effective international justice system. As it accumulates content from users engaged with international justice, IJCentral will become an invaluable database for defending human rights around the world, and a powerful action tool.
For more than 25 years Skylight Pictures has been committed to producing artistic, challenging and socially relevant independent documentary films on issues of human rights and the quest for justice. Through the use of film and digital technologies, we seek to engage, educate and increase understanding of human rights amongst the public at large and policy makers, contributing to informed decisions on issues of social change and the public good. We see FrontlineSMS as a hugely valuable tool in enabling us to open the debate further, and to include individuals and communities who may have otherwise been excluded.
The International Center for Transitional Justice assists countries pursuing accountability for past mass atrocity or human rights abuse. The Center works in societies emerging from repressive rule or armed conflict, as well as in established democracies where historical injustices or systemic abuse remain unresolved.
Paco de Onis Director, "The Reckoning" www.thereckoningfilm.com
In this, the second of a series of guest posts on how FrontlineSMS is being used around the world, Dr. Mohammad Akbar and Kenneth Adam - Director and Business Advisor respectively at Media Support Partnership Afghanistan (MSPA) - talk about their current and planned uses of the platform, and the impact it is having on their work "A recent special edition of a radio programme for young people in Afghanistan was devoted to one topic – the shocking recent acid attack on girls attending school by violent extremists allied to the Taliban. The impact on the audience was recorded in some 300 phone calls from listeners – a record for the long running programme "Straight Talk", produced by a team of young broadcasters from Media Support Partnership Afghanistan (MSPA).
This audience response provides an example of what is possible given the enormous growth in mobile phones in Afghanistan, well over 6 million and rising at over 100,000 a month. Young people in the troubled south often feel isolated and bored, trapped in a conflict which shows no sign of going away. Development activities have largely been suspended because of insecurity. They want to hear and view programmes on issues important to them, and to contribute to the debate, and with 84% of households possessing working radios and 38% TVs, there is great potential in this approach.
MSPA will be using FrontlineSMS as one of the tools in a new project as part of a British Government-funded media initiative to engage with young people specifically in conflict affected regions though interactive radio programming, tied in with a national competition for young people to produce short video films on their mobile phones. FrontlineSMS will play a key role in the competitive process of selecting the individuals to be given the new mobile phones and trained in their use. This project is planned to start in April 2009. Initial trials using the software are underway, with a view to collecting information on listeners’ views on a variety of topics and feeding these back to them with the help of FrontlineSMS. This will allow active dialogue on issues as varied as the activities of NATO forces in the country and whether Afghans should bear arms, to commenting on education and health services.
Another important application this year will be in the run up to the Presidential Election in September. The media is key to informing the population about the rights of voters, and about the policy of different candidates. FrontlineSMS could be used to elicit the views of listeners in different categories and feed back the results to listeners, prolonging the debate and in so doing capturing the interest of people who are actively engaged in the debate".
Dr. Akbar, MSPA Director Kenneth Adam, MSPA Business Adviser Media Support Partnership Afghanistan (MSPA) www.mspa.org.af
The future of Zimbabwe hangs on a knife edge this morning, as it seems to have done for the past week (or the past few years, depending on your perspective). Like many people with an interest in the country, and like many others with friends or relatives living and working there, I've been closely following events on TV and online. International news sites such as the BBC have been as good as ever, but I've also been spending increasing amounts of time on local sites which, I feel, often give a 'truer', more personal sense of what's going on. One of the best sites for this has been Kubatana.net Back in the summer of 2006 I was fortunate to spend three weeks in Zimbabwe working with them. A local NGO seeking to promote human rights and good governance, Kubatana were the very first users of FrontlineSMS when it launched back in 2005, starting a trend which has seen the software used for similar activities in a number of other countries around the world. In their own words, FrontlineSMS finally opened up the possibilities for text messaging in their work, and I knew they had plans to use it during the 2008 elections. This is what they've been doing.
In addition to their SMS election line (promoted on their home page, above), they have been running a "What would you like a free Zimbabwe to look like?" initiative. Zimbabweans have been incredibly responsive, with many people saying that the question gave them hope in uncertain times. According to Kubatana:
It's also been a real learning experience for us, reminding us that ordinary Zimbabweans have a wealth of good ideas to contribute, and our political and civic leadership must work on building a more participatory environment
A combination of SMS and email were used in the initiative, with text messages such as "Kubatana! No senate results as at 5.20 pm. What changes do YOU want in a free Zim? Lets inspire each other. Want to know what others say? SMS us your email addr" sent out to their mobile subscriber lists. FrontlineSMS was used to blast the messages out, and then used collect responses which were then distributed via an electronic newsletter and on the Kubatana Community Blog (see below).
According to Kubatana, "Without FrontlineSMS we would not have been able to process the volume of responses we have received, and we would not have been able to establish a two-way SMS communications service in the way that we have".
In the event of a Presidential run-off, Kubatana plan to produce a broadsheet with the feedback they've received from Zimbabweans in order to remind them what each other wanted, and to inspire them to go out and vote (again). After the election, they hope to produce a booklet with a page on some of these ideas and include an editor's comment, a cartoon or even a set of postcards carrying the most unique, original and practical ideas.
Unlike the Nigerian elections, where FrontlineSMS was used as a monitoring tool, in Zimbabwe it has been effectively used to mobilise and inform civil society during and after the election process. In both cases, the real success story has been the NGOs themselves - NMEM in Nigeria and Kubatana in Zimbabwe - who have both demonstrated the power of mobile technology in civil society initiatives, and what can be done when the right tools make it into the hands that need them the most.