On the same day that the Global Journal announced us as their pick for “#1 Tech NGO in the world”, my laptop died. As my coworkers celebrated our newly-bestowed honor, I relished the irony of my technological failure and felt what has come to define my time working in the non-profit world: humility.
In the third of our seven blog posts celebrating the month that FrontlineSMS turns 7, Trevor Knoblich, our Media Project Manager reflects on how Al Jazeera, the media house, gave the people of Uganda a voice, via SMS, in response to the controversial Kony 2012 video which went viral a few months ago.
"As the media project manager at FrontlineSMS, I've heard many inspiring stories of journalists and media organizations deploying the software in creative ways. One of my favorites is relatively recent: the FrontlineSMS component of Al Jazeera's Uganda Speaks program. Members of Al Jazeera's New Media team felt Ugandan voices were lacking from the global debate around the controversial Kony 2012 viral video. To help connect Ugandan voices to the debate, Al Jazeera established an awareness-raising campaign, which consisted of showing the video and then inviting Ugandans to post their reactions to the debate via Twitter, e-mail and SMS. They even connected the responses to a map, allowing people from around the world to see where respondents were located.
"I had the pleasure of meeting one of Al Jazeera's New Media team, Soud Hyder, pictured here, and asked him about the project. Specifically, I was curious about the value of SMS in such a campaign. He told me that SMS allowed Al Jazeera to reach people who had no other option for participating in the debate - a voiceless population. 'Text is an equalizer that allows us to elevate more voices, which amplifies the conversation,' Hyder said.
"I've heard similar reactions about our software globally. Many people worldwide have an increasing ability to share and participate in news, but millions more are left out of this conversation. FrontlineSMS, combined with the proliferation of mobile phones around the globe, opens new possibilities for citizen engagement."
We’re collecting photos of our users telling the world how they use FrontlineSMS. If you want to get in on the act, take a photo of yourself or your team holding a piece of paper or a whiteboard telling the world what you do with FrontlineSMS. For example: ‘I monitor elections’, ‘I safeguard children’ or ‘I make art’. You can see a slideshow of the photos we’ve had so far on our Flickr page.
It doesn’t matter what language it’s in as long as it’s legible and if possible you should be able to see from the photo where it was taken, so, if you can, get out of the office!
You can: - post to Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #FrontlineSMSat7 - email the picture and we’ll post them - post the picture on our Ning network and we’ll post them - post them on Flickr or any other web service and let us know where they are
Our twenty-sixth guest post comes from the lovely James at the White Ribbon Alliance, who piloted FrontlineSMS in campaigning in a particularly innovative and fun bit of awareness-raising - offering free transfer tattoos at Glastonbury Festival... The White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood is a coalition of individuals and organisations that campaign to make pregnancy and childbirth safe for all women and newborns. With members in 148 countries, I had thought for a while that FrontlineSMS could be a very useful tool for many of our members, so was keen to "road-test" the software when the opportunity presented itself.
Glastonbury Festival seemed like a great opportunity to do so. For the second year running, we were running a campaign to raise awareness of Maternal Health - by offering people the ultimate way to show how much they love their mum - by coming to our "tattoo parlour" and having a classic "mum" heart tattoo.
In the first year, we were taken aback by the amazing response and the vast number of people that got a tattoo and signed up to be part of our movement. However, this left us with thousands of people's handwritten contact details to type up onto the computer for our mailing lists, which made it really difficult for us to get back to them quickly and simply.
So, this year, I downloaded FrontlineSMS, bought an old electric pink Sony Ericsson phone and USB cable from the Queensway Computer Market (for any London dwellers, this is a veritable Aladdin's cave of old phones, computers and parts), and a SIM card, so that people could text us their email addresses instead.
I had a couple of hiccups setting up FrontlineSMS with the phone - firstly, drivers weren't available for, or didn't work with, Windows 7 - which meant that computer that I'd been putting off upgrading from Windows XP was suddenly my least favourite machine in the office no more - and then the first set of drivers that I downloaded for the phone didn't allow FrontlineSMS to see the handset.
However, a quick search for the phone's model number on FrontlineSMS's forums turned up a link for alternative drivers, which linked the phone up and meant it could send and receive texts perfectly.
Not wanting to risk taking a laptop to the muddy fields of Somerset, I anxiously left the computer in the office running FrontlineSMS with my fingers crossed that it wouldn't crash and that no-one turned it off whilst I was at the festival.
Happily though, when I returned, everything was still running - and a couple of minutes later, I had exported all the email addresses into a nice .csv file ready to be imported into our mailing list server! Unfortunately, we still had thousands of handwritten signups to transcribe. Whilst I don't think we'll ever eliminate this, FrontlineSMS seems like a really effective way to reduce the use of paper, offer easier ways for people to ask for more information about our campaigns, and for us to get back in contact with them.
Perhaps more importantly, it proved itself a reliable tool that I think has the potential to be really useful to our members around the world - and we look forward to introducing them to it and hearing their thoughts and ideas of how they might use it for their own work in support of Maternal Health.
In case you missed it, here's our inaugural user newsletter, reproduced in full for your reading pleasure. Sign up on the right to receive updates from us (no more than once a month). Welcome to our first ever user newsletter. We hope you find it useful - and don't forget you can start your own discussions at our FrontlineSMS Community page!
FrontlineSMS 1.6 released
The new version of FrontlineSMS is out, packed with new features: an HTTP Trigger which allows you to use the software to send SMS to other applications; a plugin framework to make FrontlineSMS easier to adapt; new translations including Arabic, Bengali, Hindi, and Bahasa; and improved code behind the scenes.
Read more about these features and our plans for the future on our blog.
Feature in our new video!
We love the photos you've been sending in of your teams and supporters with their arms in the air, FrontlineSMS-style - o/ ! We love them so much, in fact, that we want to devote a whole video to them. Send in your photos to firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll set them to music - and the first ten to send their photos get a free FrontlineSMS badge!
Get your stories, pictures and videos featured on the FrontlineSMS website!
FrontlineSMS is 100% funded by donors. Their support helps us continue to improve the software, and support you through our online community. But it's your stories that keep us going, and which shape our story, helping donors see how their money is making a difference out in the world. Telling us how you use the software and what impact it's had on your work, is one way you can help keep FrontlineSMS going - and in return, we can profile your work on our website and our blog. Submit your photos and stories by email to email@example.com (or just tell us you're interested!) and we will start working with you to showcase your work in the most appropriate way. That might be a glossy, jointly-branded PDF case study aimed at donors; a guest post on our blog; a starring role in a video about FrontlineSMS; or even a visit from a journalist. We can't wait to hear from you!
News update: FrontlineSMS gets new funding, Ken gets an award from National Geographic, and our core team is growing
It's been a busy time at FrontlineSMS. In May we were awarded significant new funding from the Omidyar network, which will allow us to increase our support to our user community; grow our developer community; and help us grow our communications and fundraising capacity so that we can become more sustainable. The following week, our very own Ken Banks was honoured with a National Geographic Emerging Explorers Award. And since March we've expanded the team, welcoming Morgan Belkadi, our new programmer, and Laura Hudson, our Project Manager.
We hope you've enjoyed the newsletter - we'd love to hear what you think. Let us know your views, your requests for future newsletters, and any other comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Josh Nesbit's Mobiles in Malawi project has been featured on the 'Technology' pages of the CNN.com website. Josh travelled to Namitete over the summer to install a text-based communications network using FrontlineSMS. Josh, who is about to return to Malawi, was interviewed along with kiwanja's Ken Banks for the article, which can be read here
The work of kiwanja.net, and specifically FrontlineSMS, will be featured on a special edition of SHIFT Radio on Friday 5th December. SHIFT Radio is an informal, lively internet radio channel hosted by Chris Melissinos. "Each week he talks about the latest in tech gadgets, interviews leaders in the video game and rich media industries and cuts up revolving guests, hosts and live callers". Ken Banks was contacted by the station after taking part in a Net Impact discussion on social mobile gaming, and the recent launch of kiwanja's Silverback gorilla game
The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation have today announced a major grant in support of kiwanja's ongoing activities. The grant, worth a total of $400,000 over two years, will see the ongoing support and development of FrontlineSMS, the creation of an MMS (multimedia messaging) version of the platform, FrontlineSMS outreach, the creation of a non-profit online text messaging aggregator, and the scaling of the nGOmobile competition
The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation makes grants to address the most serious social and environmental problems facing society, where risk capital, responsibly invested, may make a difference over time. The Foundation places a high value on sustaining and improving institutions that make positive contributions to society
The grant also represents the official launch of The kiwanja Foundation, a US non-profit organisation founded last year with the support of Perkins Coie. The kiwanja Foundation will act as a wider fundraising mechanism for kiwanja's work and, in the future, aims to become a source of seed funding for innovative "social mobile" projects
The Hewlett grant announced today follows previous grants from the MacArthur Foundation and the Open Society Institute. You can follow all the latest project news and updates via Twitter and/or the FrontlineSMS Supporters Group (on Facebook)
An interview given by Ken Banks earlier this year at the Supernova conference in San Francisco has just been aired on Danish Radio's 'Harddisken' technology show. During the interview, Ken talks with Henrik Fohns about FrontlineSMS and the wider impact of mobile technology in the developing world. Parts of the actual interview remain in English, with added Danish translation and context. Since airing, dozens of requests to use FrontlineSMS have been submitted by Danish NGOs