Frontline:Credit Project is BACK!

Frontline:Credit Project is BACK!

Hurray! The Frontline Credit Project is back up and running! The :Credit project lowers barriers to moving value through mobile, whether through mobile money, airtime, or voucher codes. We research mobile money trends and insert ourselves in markets around the world so that we know where strong and upcoming markets are currently and can predict where they will create huge impact in the near future. 

A mobile phone text messaging service and a new webportal are bridging the information gap on diabetes in Kenya, where the disease annually kills more people than HIV/AIDS

By P-B Halberg, International Media Support (IMS), and Sandra Sudhoff, CartONG A new project aims to improve diabetes awareness and reliable communication about the disease throughout Kenya through mobile phone technology and a webportal.

Kicking conflict into touch with FrontlineSMS - a post from National Geographic

Kicking conflict into touch with FrontlineSMS - a post from National Geographic

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. 

FrontlineSMS helps The Busara Center for Behavioral Economics cut 16 hours of work down to 30 minutes

FrontlineSMS helps The Busara Center for Behavioral Economics cut 16 hours of work down to 30 minutes

The Busara Center for Behavioral Economics is a research laboratory in Nairobi, Kenya focused onproviding researchers around the world with an opportunity to conduct studies in a variety of behavioral sciences with a strongly under-represented subject pool. Headed by Johannes Haushofer, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University and the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), the Busara Center strives to replicate the controlled lab settings in a novel environment. Busara is housed under the Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA), a non-profit organization focused on developing and evaluating poverty alleviation programs around the world.

FrontlineSMS Survey Results: Can we build accessible software? Yes we can, say our users!

FrontlineSMS Survey Results: Can we build accessible software? Yes we can, say our users!

Here at FrontlineSMS, we love data. Like, a lot. If data had its own Facebook page, we’d ‘like’ it and if we took a picture with data out one night, we’d probably make it our profile picture. Data empowers, and we’re all about empowerment o/. In fact, to empower people is the why for the what we do. One thing we’re always wanting to know, of course, is how we are doing. Well we SMSed our friend data to find out – Welcome to the 2013 FrontlineSMS survey results post!

Kenya: From the ‘phone booth’ to widespread mobile adoption in Silicon Savannah

Kenya: From the ‘phone booth’ to widespread mobile adoption in Silicon Savannah

I had my first mobile phone in 1999, a metallic blue Motorola M3888. Its street name was “phone booth” because it was the cheapest mobile phone available, even though it was a luxury. It cost 14,000KES ($160) – a gift from my father bought during a Safaricom Valentine’s Day special. I could make calls - for 40KES (50 cents) per minute, and send SMS, and that was it; I loved that phone!

FrontlineSMS at 7: ActionAid in Kenya, Nepal and London

In the seventh and final post in our FrontlineSMSat7 series, our CEO Laura Walker Hudson highlights a FrontlineSMS use case that makes her happy - ActionAid's award-winning, bi-continental pilots of FrontlineSMS in Africa and Europe.

FrontlineSMSat7: Your Health is in Your Hands

In the fifth of our seven blog posts celebrating the month that FrontlineSMS turns 7, Sila Kisoso, our Community Support Manager, shares her first inspiring encounter with FrontlineSMS - at her previous role with the Innovations for Poverty Action Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (IPA-WASH) Benefits Project in rural Kenya. 

In Kenya, microfinance is going mobile - Part 2

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) [1].

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.

Interview with European Journalism Centre Magazine: Is FrontlineSMS:Radio Advancing Social Change in Africa?

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.

Read more on the FrontlineSMS:Radio blog.

Information provides real benefits for drought-hit communities and ActionAid alike

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.”

Stop Stockouts: Accountability of Health Services Improved by FrontlineSMS

By Kavita Rajah, FrontlineSMS Community Support Assistant Stop Stockouts is currently using FrontlineSMS in their campaign to increase access to medicines in public health institutions in Uganda and Kenya. Recently we’ve spoken with Denis Kibira, National Coordinator for the Stop Stockouts Campaign in Uganda, about how FrontlineSMS software has helped to achieve campaign objectives.

When a pharmacy or health center runs out of a medicine, this is referred to as a ‘stock-out’. Stock-outs often include medicines that are used to treat common but serious diseases such as malaria, pneumonia, diarrhea, HIV, TB, diabetes and hypertension – all of which are among the highest causes of death in Africa. In African countries such as Uganda and Kenya, stock-outs can frequently occur and it can be weeks or months before the stock is replenished. Patients needing these medicines are then forced to travel long distances in search of alternate sources, pay high prices for medicines from the private sector or they are forced to do without – ultimately facing life or death circumstances.

The Stop Stockouts campaign lobbies African governments to meet their obligations to provide essential medicines by increasing the national budgetary allocation for the purchase of these medicines and by ensuring efficiency and transparency in the procurement, supply, and distribution of medicines. The campaign is an initiative of Health Action International (HAI) Africa, Oxfam, and a number of African partners – with the support of the Open Society Institute (OSI).

Stop Stockouts was introduced to FrontlineSMS by OSI, who promoted FrontlineSMS as a very useful tool for advocacy and quick monitoring of medicine availability. Since then, Stop Stockouts has been using FrontlineSMS to aid in campaign communications. They use FrontlineSMS to send information to members, to remind partners about meetings and to update stakeholders on advocacy events.

Stop Stockouts also use FrontlineSMS in their monitoring activities such as ‘Pill Checks’; where researchers visit public health institutions to check on the availability of essential medicines. Researchers send an SMS containing the results to a common server, and the incoming data is managed via FrontlineSMS. These results are then reflected in an online map of the country, produced using mapping tool Ushahidi, and showing areas where medication is out of stock. This map provides real time evidence about the stock-out situation on a national level and serves as a compelling lobbying tool to the relevant authorities. The visual mapping of these ‘pill checks’ have increased visibility of the Stop Stockouts campaign which has contributed to the success of the campaign.

Stop Stockouts state that FrontlineSMS has greatly improved their communications. Denis explains “it has reduced the turnaround time in which we get and respond to issues in the communities where we work, and the "pill check" map has added impact to our advocacy and technical reports.” Denis says that the online mapping system using FrontlineSMS and Ushahidi is especially powerful because it comes from the people. He asserts that using FrontlineSMS as part of their campaign communications has helped to reach at least 1,000 people every year. The results have been very impactful that governments are also currently using SMS to collect its own data and monitor facilities. Additionally, there has also been an increased demand for use of technology for monitoring government activities as well as new relationships for information sharing with other NGOs in different countries.

Stop Stockouts are also currently exploring using FrontlineSMS in their complaints and compliments desk which is a feedback mechanism for communities in which health service delivery, in particular human rights violations, can be reported.

We look forward to staying in touch with Denis and the rest of the Stop Stockouts team as they continue to make powerful use of FrontlineSMS software. o/

FrontlineSMS User Meet-up in Nairobi: A Mosaic of Social-Technology

The FrontlineSMS user community has seen a growing number of user meet-ups across the world in recent months. It is exciting to see community members come together and share opinions and experiences on our software. In this post, FrontlineSMS user Joseph Owuondo shares his experience of attending recent meet-up in Nairobi, hosted at the FrontlineSMS offices.

The FrontlineSMS meet-up held in Nairobi at the beginning of April brought together a number of organizations, individuals and experts who focus their work on elections and conflict resolution-related issues; and who all have an interest in the potential use of FrontlineSMS for monitoring Kenya’s upcoming 2013 elections. Over lunch, we talked about how to manage a FrontlineSMS system from both a program-design perspective and a technical perspective.

My attendance at the meet-up was motivated by my own desire to use technology to reshape and reconstruct patterns of social interdependence, and thus have a positive influence on peace and stability. Being a self-made technologist, I have worked to train communities on both FrontlineSMS and the Crowdmap and Ushahidi platforms. I have found great satisfaction in training others to perform important communications tasks with the support of community participation; and all enabled through technology.

It is important to connect with others using technology for social change, because technology does not, in itself, make an enterprise; relationships do! Daudi, of Ushahidi, emphasized that during the meet-up, saying that technology makes up less than 10% of social tech projects; human partnerships and relationships play most significant part in engendering transformational social and economic change in the long-term.

I think it’s true that the most exciting breakthroughs in our time will not occur because of technology as such, but because of our expanding ability to support each other. This can be enabled through technology, but it is the people themselves who make it happen.

FrontlineSMS has created a customized platform, which can be used to connect with and target communications with local people. During the meet-up we explored the need for improved collaboration between those seeking to monitor the Kenyan elections using FrontlineSMS and other open source technology tools. It was highlighted that it’s important for groups to share key information to avoid duplication of efforts. Continued networking and communication is needed between all stakeholders.

To keep this collaborative ethos on track, a few days after the meet-up a Google group for was formed which will help to provide a platform to share information and developments of various organizations working around Kenya electoral issues.  The Google group will help people to stay connected, but as highlighted; technology does not drive change, it enables change. We should all use this and other channels to share details of our own work, if the group will reach its potential.

Meanwhile, the demand for innovative technology grows, and I continue to train community-based organizations. Soon I will be moving from Kenya to the US, where I hope to join FrontlineSMS user community members based there and continue to exchange shared learning!

If you would like to join the Google Group for FrontlineSMS users based in Kenya planning to monitor upcoming elections click here. You can also engage with our use community on our support forum, and if you’d like to suggest a meet-up in your region or find out where other FrontlineSMS user meet-ups are happening across the world then join our Meet-Ups group on the forum today! o/

Coordinating FrontlineSMS Use in the Upcoming Kenyan Elections

By Dave Algoso

Kenya’s upcoming elections will mark a pivotal moment in the country’s history. As in many countries, elections in Kenya become boiling points for interethnic conflict. The last presidential election, in December 2007, led to the worst violence the country has seen in recent history: over 1,300 Kenyans died and hundreds of thousands were displaced.

Although calm was restored within a few months, the country still faces several obstacles on its road to peace. The International Criminal Court will soon move to trials for four political elites accused of instigating the post-election violence. This increase in accountability may dampen future violence, but it also stokes tensions: two of the four intend to run for president, and their supporters smell politics behind the court’s process.

Another complicating factor is Kenya's new constitution, approved in a contentious but peaceful vote in August 2010. The new constitution decentralizes the government and puts more constraints on executive power. This lowers the stakes of winning the presidency, which should reduce the incentive for violence. However, decentralization also brings a potentially bewildering array of new offices to vote for, throwing a monkey wrench into political allegiances as well as election administration.

With the next general election now set to occur in March 2013, peacebuilders and democracy advocates in Kenya are looking for innovative ways to monitor election results and violence. Kenya’s high levels of mobile penetration and literacy create ideal conditions for a platform like FrontlineSMS.

One peacebuilding group, the African Great Lakes Initiative (AGLI), is building on its experience using FrontlineSMS to monitor Burundi’s 2010 elections. Working with its Democracy and Peace Groups in Burundi, AGLI provided cell phones and training to 160 citizen reporters in 9 communities. The citizen groups used the phones to report on election irregularities and violence, and used FrontlineSMS software to redistribute their reports to a larger group of community members.

AGLI plans to replicate and expand on this model in Kenya. The organization plans on recruiting and training one thousand citizen reporters in western Kenya. AGLI is also partnering with local government officials and other organizations to ensure effective responses to the information gathered. These types of relationships were critical to the system’s success in Burundi, as described by AGLI’s David Zarembka.

FrontlineSMS has been working to promote partnerships that make good use of the platform in Kenya’s elections. This has included hosting an online discussion where AGLI was joined in discussion by Konrad-Adenauer Foundation (KAS) and KAS’s partner Nyanza Partners for Peace Alliance, who are both part of the Partnerships for Peace project. The groups discussed effective ways to engage citizen reporters, as well as the benefits of open versus closed networks of reporters. Dave (AGLI) made the point that even a small-scale system can have a large impact. Hanna Carlsson of KAS and Joseph Owuondo of Nyanza Partners for Peace Alliance discussed the potential of pairing Crowdmap and FrontlineSMS together, and how this can create a powerful tool for advocacy, particularly at the international level.

To promote more collaboration, FrontlineSMS will host a meet-up in its Nairobi office (FF16 Bishop Magua Centre, Ngong Road, Kilimani) on 4 April, 1-2pm EAT. Representatives from various groups will be able to share ideas and coordinate action in the lead up to the elections. The ultimate aim of these efforts is to provide Kenyan and international actors with the information they need to ensure honest elections, combat political manipulation, and resolve conflicts before they turn violent. Given the negative impacts that further violence would have on Kenya and the region, this moment calls for creative ideas and dedicated implementation.

If you’re interested in this topic and/ or in attending the upcoming meet-up in Kenya please email to let us know. You can also join this forum discussion about the meet-up and the use of FrontlineSMS in the Kenyan elections.

This post was written by Dave Algoso, who is a development professional and writer based in Nairobi, Kenya. Dave normally blogs at Find What Works.

PaymentView Now Available in Public Beta!

The FrontlineSMS:Credit team is excited to announce that the public beta version of our new software product, PaymentView, is now available for use in Kenya! PaymentView is a mobile money management tool that makes it easy for organizations and businesses serving the base of the pyramid to use mobile money. The software enables any organization – including those in rural areas with limited internet access – to turn a computer plus a USB modem into a hub for using and managing mobile money.

PaymentView is an extension to FrontlineSMS, meaning that as well as new payments functionality it includes all of the benefits of the core SMS communication platform, such as easy communication with staff members or clients and the ability to send reminders and auto-replies. The public beta release version is configured to work with Safaricom’s M-Pesa system in Kenya, and can support any SMS or STK-based payment service with a bit of software development.

The beta version of PaymentView is already being implemented to:

Since FrontlineSMS:Credit's last update, the team have been working to bring on a variety of testers, including an agricultural information provider that is collecting subscription fees for market information services, and a research project that is disbursing financial incentives to intervention assistants.

At present, PaymentView is not a full release but a ‘beta’ release, which means it is in a testing stage of development. We are currently seeking organizations in Kenya that want to partner with us to test the software. You can visit the FrontlineSMS:Credit software page to download PaymentView, and get access to the user guide to help you get started. We are also offering some free user support via the FrontlineSMS user forum; you can sign up for a forum account and join the Mobile Money group to connect with others interested in PaymentView and mobile money. If you have a technical support question, please read through our FAQs first. If you do not find what you are looking for, post your question on the user forum and we will do our best to get back to you as soon as possible, and generally within 24 hours.

This launch is the start of many exciting things to come for FrontlineSMS:Credit. We are continuing work on our next software release, which can support any mobile payment system (with a bit of software development), enabling organizations to adapt PaymentView for use anywhere in the world. Later this year, we’ll be building a more powerful version of the software that will focus on using FrontlineSMS for managing mobile money accounts, airtime accounts, and mobile vouchers all from one interface.

To access the beta of PaymentView software, and to find out more visit FrontlineSMS:Credit's website. If you are based outside of Kenya and wish to use PaymentView, you can join the FrontlineSMS our mailing list to receive updates. We would also love to hear your feedback, bith on the software and our future plans! Send us an email at to let us know what you think, or to give suggestions for features you’d like to see in future releases.

The FrontlineSMS:Credit Story

By Sharon Langevin, FrontlineSMS:Credit Project Manager

Mobile money is spreading quickly across the globe. The ability to transfer funds from a mobile handset has been hailed as the key to extending financial services to the base of the pyramid. While a mobile money account is valuable to an individual for securing savings and easy money transfer, there are many ways that the use of mobile money can create efficiency in the operations of organizations. Through the FrontlineSMS:Credit project, the FrontlineSMS team has been thinking about how to provide a tool that makes it easy for our users to get started using mobile money in their organizations.

FrontlineSMS:Credit is currently preparing for the beta launch of our very first software product, PaymentView, which will be available for public download from early March. PaymentView is an extension to FrontlineSMS that allows the user to send, receive, and manage mobile payments. The software is currently configured for use with M-PESA in Kenya. We are now testing the software with a variety of different organizations, from agribusinesses, to microinsurance providers, to financial services associations. The road from the beginning of FrontlineSMS:Credit to today has been a long one, and not without some setbacks, but we are proud of how far we have come since the project began.

FrontlineSMS:Credit originally started as CreditSMS. The project was instigated by Ben Lyon in 2009, and inspired by the growing potential of mobile technology in Africa, especially mobile money and M-PESA. Ben had the original idea for using FrontlineSMS’s interface as a mobile money management tool, and was able to connect with Josh Nesbit of FrontlineSMS:Medic (now Medic Mobile). When they met, Ben pitched the idea of FrontlineSMS + M-PESA, and Josh said to go for it. Josh provided valuable encouragement for the idea, and Ben started building out the concept under the name CreditSMS. Eventually CreditSMS became a project of FrontlineSMS, called FrontlineSMS:Credit.

In January 2010, Ben met Nathan Wyeth, who would later become the second director of FrontlineSMS:Credit. Nathan was investigating the mobile money sector around the world, and interviewed Ben for a blog post about FrontlineSMS:Credit for Soon after, he volunteered to help Ben work on the project. Around the same time, Ben began to develop the very first version of PaymentView with a global network of volunteers. He then applied for, and won, Vodafone’s Wireless Innovation Project competition, which provided the initial funding for PaymentView.

The first pilot of PaymentView took place in Freetown, Sierra Leone, in May 2010 and proved to be a real learning experience. The team quickly gathered that the solution they were offering did not fit the organization they were partnering with. PaymentView allowed the user to both send and receive payments, even though the partner MFI had only asked for the ability to accept loan repayments. In addition, PaymentView linked to a different MIS than the one the partner MFI was using, and the difference between the two was not trivial. The challenges of the pilot helped to inform the further development of our software, our approach to selecting and working with partner organizations, and most importantly, our ability to design appropriate projects.

After the pilot ended, Ben headed to Boulder, CO to attend the very first Unreasonable Institute, an accelerator for social entrepreneurs. He met other talented and driven social innovators and connected with advisors and investors. He worked on FrontlineSMS:Credit all summer, further developing the idea and making plans for future expansion, which led to his Pop!Tech Fellowship in the fall of 2010 and significant press attention for the project.

Through his experience at Unreasonable Institute, Ben made the decision to hand over FrontlineSMS:Credit to Nathan and move on to a new position, as founder of a company called Kopo Kopo, where he is now the Vice President of Business Development. He says he is grateful for his time at FrontlineSMS because it helped to shape his career path and taught him how to lead a successful project.

Nathan took over fully by late fall 2011, and moved the project to Nairobi, Kenya, one of the epicenters of mobile money, where he planned to build a user community before expanding the project internationally. (Side note: Funny enough, Nathan and Ben lived together and worked in the same co-working space, the iHub, for several months during 2011).

Nathan hired new developers and began building the version of PaymentView we’ll soon be releasing. Nathan re-thought the role that PaymentView could play in the Kenyan context and began building the software based on some of the lessons of the original pilot, but strongly tailoring the software for the growing community of potential users in Kenya. By June, the staff began to expand with three summer fellows and me, the new FrontlineSMS:Credit Operations Manager.

Over the next few months, the summer fellows delved into a variety of sectors to learn more about how mobile money could be used, and I worked on securing beta users for the PaymentView software we have been building. We interviewed potential users in agriculture, financial services, and health to find out how mobile payments could increase efficiency and cut costs. We found that the possibilities were endless; from enabling loan repayments to be made remotely, to distributing payments for farmers’ crops without the farmers having to meet at a central point, to paying community health workers’ salaries with mobile money. Mobile money allows organizations to provide better services to their clients and save on operating costs. Some of the savings groups we are working with have reduced travel time for repayments from a full day to under an hour, and cut the cost of the transaction in half.

Fast forward a few months, and we’re ready to release the PaymentView beta into the world for live testing. The FrontlineSMS:Credit team is now moving full steam ahead, building on the foundation that Nathan built over the last year (Nathan has since moved on, and I’ve taken over as Project Manager). We are hard at work expanding our user base and adding USSD support to PaymentView so that a developer anywhere will be able to build an integration into any mobile money system in the world (currently we can only support SMS and STK-based systems).

We are currently seeking testers in Kenya who are willing to use the software and provide feedback to us. If you are interested in helping us to test the software, please contact the FrontlineSMS:Credit team for more information. If you are based outside of Kenya and want to learn more or be notified when we the international version is ready for testing, please visit our website and join our mailing list to stay updated.

At the Forefront of Development: A Look at the Potential of FrontlineSMS in India

FrontlineSMS featured in an Indian newspaper named The Financial Chronicle this week, in an article entitled At the Forefront of Development. You can read the article below, or view the print version of this article here [pdf]. By Brij Kothari, The Financial Chronicle

The hardware is rudimentary. An ordinary mobile phone connected to a laptop with a cable. But who would have thought that this simple set up could actually be turned into a central communication hub, and in the hands of civil society, become a powerful communication tool for people’s empowerment? Ken Banks’ FrontlineSMS, a free and open-source software, is allowing groups at the frontline of development to do some extraordinary things. And yet, all that FrontlineSMS does, is that it “enables users to send and receive text messages with groups of people through mobile phones”. Perhaps, the power of FrontlineSMS can be grasped best by the stories of its use in the hands of others.

A woman in rural India gets an SMS on her mobile Asurakshit din or “Unprotected day”. She is, thus, informed that she is likely to be fertile that day. The information is specifically intended to empower her to make a reproductive choice. Similar reminder SMSs ping through days eight-19 of her reproductive cycle, fertile days as per the Standard Days Method (SDM) of family planning, based on awareness of the menstrual cycle. How does CycleTel, an SMS-based system put in place by Georgetown University’s Institute for Reproductive Health (IRH), keep track of her cycle? The woman herself keeps CycleTel regularly informed of the onset of her cycle, simply by sending an SMS from her mobile to a dedicated number. FrontlineSMS provided the basic architecture upon which a more customised system is being developed through field trials.

HarassMap is a group in Egypt, started by two women who themselves faced harassment quite routinely on their way to and from work, that uses FrontlineSMS to capture the location and gravity of incidents of sexual harassment. The key idea is to get women to report harassment episodes in real time by sending an SMS to a dedicated number. Place and time information is then mapped with another amazing software, Ushahidi, to draw patterns from what would otherwise have been left as isolated data points. Hot spots are then targeted with community activism, awareness campaigns and tools to empower and support women individually and collectively.

In Nigeria, voters who also registered themselves as volunteers for the Network of Mobile Election Monitors (NMEM), took it upon themselves to SMS instantaneously into a FrontlineSMS central hub, any untoward incident of tampering or rigging they might observe. Human Em­ancipation Lead Project (H­ELP), a Nigerian NGO helped set up this citizen monitoring system, independent of the official monitoring groups and European Union observers. Observations by two or more volunteers in an area were verified, and if necessary, shared with the official monitoring agencies. Banks ter­med the Nigerian case a “breakthrough deployment” of FrontlineSMS.

FrontlineSMS was made available online as recently as 2005, and made open source two years later. In 2009, Banks hired his first employee. The spread of FrontlineSMS to more than 80 countries is, thus, nothing if not astonishing. A variety of uses by country popup on a world map at With a strong presence in Africa, the top countries of deployment are Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. Banks offered three reasons, the last using a popular acronym of the Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D) community: “This is likely down to: a) Me having historically focused my blog and attention on Africa; b) FrontlineSMS being closely associated with the continent (the concept came out of field work in South Africa); and finally, c) There being a growing developer and ICT4D community on the continent (through innovation hubs, among others) keen to build on top of tools like ours.”

India, it would seem, is an ideal adoption ground for solutions like FrontlineSMS. Of the 1.2 billion population, only around 100 million have access to the internet, although, this is projected to grow to 300 million over the next three years. The mobile growth story is far ahead. The total subscriber base at the beginning of 2012 was 894 million, with an active subscriber base of 647 million. Wireless teledensity, the number of subscriptions per 100 people, was 161 in urban and 37 in rural areas. Several estimates put the number of smartphones in India at no more than 30 million, and one could safely assume, mostly in urban areas. The majority of active mobile handsets are, therefore, very basic but well-suited for voice and SMS. For civil society organisations working with low-income groups, in rural and urban areas alike, a platform like FrontlineSMS presents exciting communication possibilities.

As compared with African countries, the uptake of FrontlineSMS in India is still nascent. Lack of awareness may be the key issue. What would Banks like to see happen? “We’ve recently had user-organised meet ups in Haiti and Uganda, with others springing up around the world. It would be great to see this happening in India — our ethos and focus is that users should drive deployment of FrontlineSMS, and user-organised meetups are a large part of this.”

If you are using, or interested in using FrontlineSMS in India, then we'd love to hear from you! Please contact us to share your own questions and experiences.

Faster Channels of Communication: A Radio and SMS Initiative in NE Kenya

Infoasaid has recently shared some news about an initiative with Save the Children in Wajir, Kenya, which is using FrontlineSMS to communicate with field workers and community representatives. Meanwhile, the radio is being used to share information about health, education and food security.

The objective of Infoasaid - a consortium of Internews and the BBC World Service Trust - is to improve how aid agencies communicate with disaster-affected communities. The emphasis is on the need to deliver information, as aid itself, through the most appropriate channels. You can read more about Infoasaid's work on their website

The article is republished below with permission, or read the original post here.

Infoasaid has helped Save the Children to improve its two-way communication with half a million drought-affected people in Northeast Kenya.

The project uses mobile telecommunications and community radio to establish new and faster channels of communication between the aid agency and remote rural communities.It was launched in Wajir County, close to the Somali border, in the fourth quarter of 2011 and will run during the first six months of 2012.

Save the Children runs vital health, nutrition and food security projects in Wajir County, a semi-arid region which has been devastated by three years of drought and serious food shortages. Its operational centres in Wajir and Habaswein will use SMS messages to exchange information with health workers, relief committee members and community representatives in outlying areas.

Save the Children will also sponsor special programmes on Wajir Community Radio, the local radio station. The radio station broadcasts in Somali, the main language spoken by local people. It commands a large and loyal audience within 150 km radius of Wajir town.

Most people in Northeast Kenya are semi-nomadic pastoralists. They depend on their herds of camels, cows, sheep and goats to feed their families and generate a small cash income. Infoasaid therefore set up weekly radio programmes that will inform local people about the latest animal prices and market trends in the area’s two main livestock markets; Wajir and Habaswein.

It also helped Save the Children to design a weekly magazine programme on Wajir Community Radio. This will focus on key issues related to the aid agency’s emergency aid programmes in the area. The radio programmes, which include a phone-in segment, will focus on issues such as health, education and food security and alternative livelihoods.

The mobile phone element of the project will establish FrontlineSMS hubs at the Save the Children offices in Wajir and Habaswein. FrontlineSMS is free open source software that turns an ordinary computer into a text messaging exchange.It will enable Save the Children to broadcast SMS messages simultaneously from the computer to a variety of different contact groups in the field.

Each message is drafted on the computer, which then uses the FrontlineSMS software to send it by SMS to a large group of recipients.In this way, the same short message can be sent rapidly to a group of 50 or more people through a simple operation that takes less than two minutes to perform.

Previously, Save the Children staff would have had to telephone or visit each of the targeted individuals personally to deliver the same message. That process could have taken several days to complete

The FrontlineSMS hubs in Wajir and Habaswein will not only send out vital information. They will also capture and record incoming messages from people in the field. Each incoming message will be evaluated immediately and passed on to the appropriate person for a timely response.

Infoasaid supplied 240 basic mobile handsets and solar chargers to facilitate the establishment of these two SMS messaging networks. The equipment is being distributed to collaborators and community representatives in every location where Save the Children provides local services.

To read the original article please click here.

Empowering communities through Technology: Map Kibera visit FrontlineSMS office

Post by Kike Oyenuga, FrontlineSMS Community Intern

“Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya, was a blank spot on the map until November 2009, when young Kiberans created the first free and open digital map of their own community. Map Kibera has now grown into a complete interactive community information project.”

Jamie Lundine, Executive Director of Map Kibera, stopped by the FrontlineSMS office in London to meet with our London team whilst she was visiting the UK. We had a great conversation with Jamie about the way different types of technology can be used to help empower vulnerable communities. She discussed the role Map Kibera plays in community building in Kibera, one of the largest informal communities in the world located on the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya. She also shared her experience of providing training to youth groups in Kibera, on different types of participatory tech tools including FrontlineSMS.

Map Kibera was started in 2009 as an effort aimed at creating an open street map of the informal settlements of Kibera. This project was significant because mapping hadn’t been carried out by any official source previously. The process of mapping was completed by community volunteers and over the course of three weeks in late 2009, using hand held GPS devices and the Open Street Map open source mapping platform. The mapping itself was done by young ‘digital surveyors’, who were recruited locally and trained to report on their local area. The city mapping project has been so successful that it has since expanded to involve several other communities in Kenya, including Mathare, Mukuru and Kwale.

Map Kibera has now become a spring board for other projects too, including Voice of Kibera which is an interactive citizen reporting program started in 2010. “Voice of Kibera is operated largely by residents of Kibera, and allows community members to reports news events in the area by SMS and by travelling to the local office to make reports,” Jamie explains. This news is then posted to the map of Kibera, and made available online for others to access. The reporters at Voice of Kibera are locally-recruited youth who are trained in reporting techniques. Jamie discussed with us how “Map Kibera is a program that aims to help the Kibera youth have their voices heard.” The journalists, along with the mappers and incident reporters are all youth members of the Map Kibera Trust and are involved with directly involved in managing its programs.

The Voice of Kibera system does not use FrontlineSMS software directly, but the Map Kibera team do encourage others to use our software if it is helpful. “We encourage youth and community members to use the best ICT solution for their current needs and available resources,” Jamie explains. This means training youth on a range of solutions and allowing them to choose the most appropriate (which is sometimes no ICT at all, and rather some sort of offline communication strategy).

Map Kibera offers training on a range of open source technologies to help youth reporters. Jamie highlights that, “the training specifically targets youth because they are eager to adopt new technologies and are invested in the improvement of their community.” The technologies they train on include OpenStreetMap to map the communities, Wordpress for blogging and Ushahidi for mapping incident reports. They also train on FrontlineSMS, showing people how our software can be used to send, receive and manage mass SMS messages. The team train local youth groups, NGOs and community organizations to use FrontlineSMS in order to help other social change projects. In fact it was through Map Kibera training at Plan Kenya that the Jipange youth project in Kenya first heard about FrontlineSMS, and then began exploring ways they could use it for their work as we reported on our blog previously.

The impact of Map Kibera’s work can clearly be seen through the empowerment of youth reporters. The young men and women that are involved receive training, acquire skills and, as a result, a sense of pride and accomplishment as they learn to produce their own media work. The uses of the mobile and media platforms can be determined directly by the reporters as well. For example, one project started by the mappers documented  girl's security and they track danger zones in the community as a guide to women. This was a need defined by the needs of the community and met by the community reporters themselves using technology.

Future plans include moving Map Kibera beyond online access only, and towards using the map data in public displays to help everyone in the local community. A map of Kibera, displayed prominently, could help residents to locate and access services within it. In Kibera, businesses and public service providers are not necessarily formalized. They can move locations or shut down suddenly, it is useful to have a dynamic map that can be readily changed to reflect to most up-to-date version of Kibera.

It was exciting to meet with Jamie, and learn more about Map Kibera’s future plans. Here at FrontlineSMS we are always keen to see how technology is being used in different ways to empower communities. Thanks to Jamie for her visit, and we look forward to keeping in touch with the Map Kibera team as they progress with their work.

For more information on Map Kibera visit:

FrontlineSMS:Radio Trial continues in Kisumu

Following from the post in September, “FrontlineSMS:Radio Trial Begins,” Geoffrey Muchai, one of our FrontlineSMS developers gives an update on his visit to one of the radio stations which is taking part in the trial. By Geoffrey Muchai, FrontlineSMS Developer

I have been working on the FrontlineSMS developer team based in Nairobi and have recently been involved in the customization of our SMS management tool for radio stations. Radio Nam Lolwe, a radio station in Kisumu, northern Kenya has been participating in the FrontlineSMS:Radio trial and a few weeks ago I went to help with an onsite evaluation of the newly installed system.

Radio Nam Lolwe is the most established radio station in the region and it receives a significant amount of SMS messages from its listeners. Previously, the station had problems storing significant numbers of text messages and the presenters often had to delete older messages from their former system when it hit its 1,000 message capacity. Contrast this with the fact that the morning show at Nam Lolwe receives on average more than 500 messages – and that’s on a bad day. In seeking a different solution, Nam Lolwe have been taking part in the trial of FrontlineSMS:Radio since August 2011 and I went to Kisumu to see how they were getting on. During the four days I was there, there were 1,300 messages received by the newly installed FrontlineSMS:Radio!

To read the post in full, please see the FrontlineSMS:Radio website