Last week, the Nominet Trust included us in their top 100 social innovations list. A little over a month before, Frontline celebrated its 9th birthday, making us one of the older initiatives to receive recognition. But you know what? Nominet is right on time.
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.”
The Tech Awards is a prestigious Silicon Valley-based international awards program that honours innovators from around the world who are applying technology to benefit humanity. In 2009, FrontlineSMS was the recipient of a Tech Award in the "Equality" category.
Read more about the Award in a blog post here.
Tonight in Santa Clara, California, several thousand people will be standing on the stage with me as I collect a Tech Award for FrontlineSMS. It's been an incredible four years - the last two in particular - and it's amazing to think how far we've all come. FrontlineSMS stirs genuine enthusiasm and excitement everywhere I go, and people resonate just as much with the story as they do with the simplicity and impact of the technology. The Tech Awards is a prestigious Silicon Valley-based international awards program that honours innovators from around the world who are applying technology to benefit humanity. This is the second time FrontlineSMS has been nominated, snapping up one of three awards handed out this year in the "Equality" category. Fifteen awards in total are being given out on the night, along with one to Al Gore who's being honoured with the "Global Humanitarian Award 2009".
I may be the one picking up the FrontlineSMS trophy, but this is very much a team effort if ever there was one. This would never have happened without the faith of donors, an incredible (and growing) user community, volunteers, partners, numerous bloggers and members of the media, academics, advisors, designers, lawyers and solicitors, photographers, competition judges, programmers, members of the public, students, techies, and friends and family. There are simply way too many to mention. Remove just one piece and it all comes crashing down.
This Award is also, more importantly, a celebration of the art of the possible. It shows what's possible if you build tools for underserved places - where they're often most needed - and what's possible if you remain totally focused on your goal. It also shows what's possible if you don't lose sight of your users, and if you focus on building solutions and not just technology for technology's sake. And it shows that you don't need significant amounts of money or abundant resources to build tools which can have real impact.
The story behind social mobile tools are an important motivator to budding entrepreneurs, and I'm happy to continue sharing that story for as long as people find FrontlineSMS an appropriate, useful and relevant tool in their social change work. Thanks to everyone for making the journey as rich and exciting as it has been, and I look forward to continuing to work with you all as ours - and your - work continues. There is still much to do.
Yesterday the Tech Museum at Santa Clara University announced the 2009 Tech Awards Laureates. The Tech Awards is a prestigious international awards program that honours innovators from around the world who are applying technology to benefit humanity. FrontlineSMS / kiwanja.net was one of three Laureates honoured in the "Equality" category, and one of only fifteen in total. Established in 2001, The Tech Awards recognises Laureates in a total of five categories - environment, economic development, education, equality and health. Laureates are recognised as having developed new technological solutions or innovative ways to use existing technologies to significantly improve the lives of people around the world. The Awards are sponsored by a wide range of partners which include Nokia, Intel, Microsoft, Accenture, eBay and Google.
The fact we knew about our Award a couple of weeks ago didn't make Tuesday's announcement any less exciting. It's always a great feeling to have your efforts acknowledged, and if anything this shows, at the very least, that we're heading in the right direction. A lot of work has gone into FrontlineSMS, and this Award is very much down to the efforts of a fantastic user base of NGOs big and small, incredible donors - the MacArthur Foundation, Open Society Institute and the Hewlett Foundation - an amazing team of developers at Masabi, the inspiring work of spin-off organisations such as FrontlineSMS:Medic, the faith and belief of the many bloggers who regularly write about and promote our work, the efforts of talented designers, and unlimited encouragement from friends and supporters in the social mobile space.
This Award is for all of you.
Thanks also to the person who nominated FrontlineSMS, whoever and wherever you are, and to the judges and organisers of the Tech Awards for putting their faith in our work.
I've always maintained that it's not technology that excites me, but what happens when you put technology in the hands of people. If it wasn't for the tireless work of increasing numbers of NGOs - each of whom has adapted and applied FrontlineSMS in their own unique way - we'd simply be sitting on thousands of lines of benign code.
FrontlineSMS has always been about empowerment, about lowering barriers to entry and giving people the tools they need to carry out their own social change work. This 2007 quote from the Africa Journal still spells out the ethos of FrontlineSMS better than anything:
FrontlineSMS provides the tools necessary for people to create their own projects that make a difference. It empowers innovators and organizers in the developing world to achieve their full potential through their own ingenuity
Of course, it's also helped that we've been patient - the software has been over four years in the making, and remains very much a work in progress. We know more than anyone that there's still a very long way to go. What's also key is that we've remained totally focused in an industry which innovates at such a rate it's easy to be distracted. Back in 2005 we picked a specific problem and set out determined to solve it. It's fair to say that we never quite expected things to take off as they have, and today's announcement is yet another highlight in what is becoming an incredible journey.
But the work goes on, and it's all eyes back on the next big release, due out later this month. In the ICT4D world, complacency is a killer.
Finally, it goes without saying that congratulations also go out to the other fourteen Laureates. I'm looking forward to meeting them in November, and seeing what we can all learn from each others work. It promises to be an inspiring week. o/