Rapid Prototyping and Tech Stewards: reflections on recent field work

Rapid Prototyping and Tech Stewards: reflections on recent field work

At the heart of our project is the community of practice concept, which refers to a group of like minded people connected through a process of social learning. A CoP does not necessarily conform to organizational boundaries but rather to interests and interactions, and during our meetings we discovered some important relationships between organic farming movements in Sri Lanka and other organizations, including the Department of  Export Agriculture.

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.

SMS Story Research Project, Papua New Guinea

SMS Story Research Project, Papua New Guinea

We are using Frontline SMS in Papua New Guinea (PNG) to send stories and lesson plans every day to elementary teachers in rural areas. The SMS story team includes international volunteers working with Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) and the research project is funded by the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) through the Economic and Public Sector Program (EPSP).

Josana Academy Becomes the First School to Use PaymentView

Last week, the FrontlineSMS:Credit team returned to one of our favorite cities in Kenya, Kisumu. This time around we were ready to install PaymentView at Josana Academy and Safe Water and AIDS Project (SWAP). Josana Academy is the very first school using PaymentView, and SWAP is the first organization to make use of PaymentView’s “Targets” functionality (more on that later). PaymentView is a prototype based on version 1 of FrontlineSMS – we are currently looking at building this functionality, with improvements, onto Version 2. More on that in a future post. Our first visit was to Josana Academy, where we met the head teacher, secretary, bursar, and IT support person. The first step was to install PaymentView on the secretary’s computer, as she will be the primary user. Next, we trained the secretary, bursar, and IT support person on how to use the software. Josana Academy will be using PaymentView to enable easier processing of fee payments made via mobile money. Josana is a private primary school, so fees are collected every term. Currently, parents who live far from school and/or cannot easily access a bank branch will ask the school if they can pay via M-Pesa. These payments are either received by the secretary or bursar, or they are received by a child’s classroom teacher. Once a payment is received, the receiver must go into town to cash out and then deposit the money into the bank. PaymentView will streamline this process by enabling all payments to go to one, centralized place. This new process minimizes the number of trips to town made by the secretary or bursar, and prevents teachers from having to make trips to M-Pesa agents for withdrawal.

Josana Academy will also use PaymentView to send out notices to parents via SMS. The current process is time-consuming, as the secretary, must type up a notice and print out copies for all 477 students at the school. She normally prints multiple notices on the same sheet and must then cut the pages into multiple small sheets. The students are responsible for bringing the notices home to parents, and, as we imagine happens in every school in the world, notices are left behind or lost and never reach parents. By sending out notices via SMS directly to parents, Josana Academy can ensure that parents are receiving important messages, while saving the school time, money and resources.

Read more here.

Data-mining our download records - what download registration did, and didn't tell us about our users

By Kavita Rajah and Laura Walker Hudson FrontlineSMS software is used in such a wide variety of sectors that often people are surprised to hear that the inspiration for FrontlineSMS originally came specifically from conservation work. Throughout 2003 and 2004, FrontlineSMS Founder Ken Banks was working to find ways to help authorities engage and communicate with communities in wildlife conservation in South Africa, without relying on the Internet. Ken realised he needed a system that could send, receive, and organize text messages through a mobile device and a laptop without needing the Internet, and from that the original concept of FrontlineSMS was born. The software was developed in the summer of 2005 and made available online that October.

Six years on, despite the very context-specific inspiration for the software, FrontlineSMS has now been downloaded nearly 27,000 times and is in use in over 80 countries, in 22 different areas of social change work. Until the recent release of FrontlineSMS Version 2, users were asked to fill in a form telling us who they were and how they were planning to use FrontlineSMS before being given a download link. Following up on this data gives us the links with users that lead to our case studies and FrontlineSMS in Action blog posts. We recently analyzed the whole dataset to learn more about how, why and where people seek to use our software. What we were able to glean from it was interesting. Among other fun facts:

  • The top 3 sectors in which FrontlineSMS is being used most are Education, Health and Civil Society
  • The country that has downloaded FrontlineSMS the most is the United States, followed by Kenya and then, India - we think that a lot of downloads from North America and Europe are intended for use elsewhere
  • Africa accounts for 35% of all downloads - more than any other continent. 25% of downloads are from Asia, and 17% from North America.

Interestingly, some geographic regions have large numbers of downloads in certain sectors. For example, West Africa has the highest number of downloads in Election Monitoring and Engineering, while Europe has the highest number in Arts and Culture. Asia has the highest number of downloads in the Media sector.

However, the limitations of this dataset got us thinking about how we gather information on our users.

Gathering data about how FrontlineSMS is used is critical for us on a number of fronts - it helps us to improve the software, enables us to report to our donors and the public about the impact of our work, and helps inspire others to use SMS in their work in new and more powerful ways. Although the download data was useful, it could only give us a snapshot of a user's intention at the time they downloaded FrontlineSMS - it was difficult to link this with data about actual use, from the statistics-gathering module in version 1.6 or later, or from our annual user survey, and many users didn't go on to use FrontlineSMS as they'd intended. The most informative element of the form was a freetext section which allowed users to give us potentially quite a bit of information about our plans - but is hard to parse and analyze and often included hardly any data. The only way for users to download anonymously was to give false or junk information on the form.

When we came to plan the release of the new software, we thought very differently. Version 2 of the software is a one-click download that asks users to register when they install. Information collected in this way is sent back to us over the web, when the system sees the internet - we'll be adding support for registration via SMS later. We are committed to allowing users to maintain their anonymity, as we know many are activists (if you are one of these people, you should read our Data Integrity Guide!). You will always be able to opt-out of in-app registration - although it means we get fewer registration records, we know we can trust the data we get. In future, we'll also be building better ways for users to keep in touch with us and each other, and share information about what they're doing with FrontlineSMS, using the website.

We'll keep analyzing the data and posting updates here - in the meantime you can read the analysis of our 2010 and 2011 user surveys here.

FrontlineSMS:Credit takes on Kisumu

By Enock Musyoka, Project Assistant, FrontlineSMS: Credit

A few weeks ago, the FrontlineSMS:Credit team and FrontlineSMS M&E Intern Juliana embarked on a trip to Kisumu to meet FrontlineSMS users and potential PaymentView users. After an early morning flight, we met Joseph Achola, head teacher at Lake Primary School, and one of the leaders of the local primary school head teachers’ association. Joseph arranged for us to meet head teachers from three local schools to discuss the potential of using PaymentView to enable parents to pay for school fees with mobile money. Schools using PaymentViewwould enable easy management of incoming school fee payments and would allow schools to manage installment payment plans for school fees.

The meeting with the four head teachers was very successful. All were positive about the impact that PaymentView could have on their operations and we scheduled follow-up meetings with Josana Academy and Aga Khan Primary School for Tuesday.

To read more please click here.

FrontlineSMS:Learn Now Available (in Beta)!

By Cathryn Paine, Operations Manager

The FrontlineSMS:Learn team is excited to announce that our new software is now out in beta and available for download!

FrontlineSMS:Learn is a version of the FrontlineSMS platform that uses SMS- text messages—to provide learning and evaluation support to educators and development programs all over the world.  The FrontlineSMS team, in partnership with the USAID-sponsored SHOPS Project implemented by Abt Associates, Jhpiego, and Marie Stopes International, designed this tool to help local schools, trainers, and educators increase knowledge retention, facilitate long-term changes in behavior, and, ultimately, improve the quality of education and training in the last mile.

This beta launch comes at an exciting time for FrontlineSMS:Learn. There are a number of educators, international institutions, and capacity building initiatives that are ready to begin exploring the potential of mobile engagement.  Our partnership with the SHOPS project—in particular, the work of Pamela Riley and James BonTempo—has resulted in an innovative pilot test and alpha version, and we’re excited to see what innovators will do with the next version of the platform. We are also engaging with the international education community, including the Hewlett Foundation’s education program at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society.

To download FrontlineSMS:Learn’s newest product, visit our software page. If you need help, you can reach the team via the FrontlineSMS community site. Sign up for an account and join the Education Group to connect with other people interested in using FrontlineSMS, and FrontlineSMS:Learn, in education, training, and learning. If you have a technical support issue, please post your question in a new thread on the community site and our developers will try to help resolve your issue as soon as possible.

Please note, however, that this is a beta FrontlineSMS:Learn product and not a full release, meaning that we’ve done our very best, but the software is not complete and may contain a few bugs.  At this stage, we’re hoping that users will download and test FrontlineSMS:Learn, finding new and interesting ways to improve, break, and help us finalize the software in advance of a complete release.  It is important that users understand that we cannot take responsibility for loss of data or malfunction and we are only able to provide limited user support and resources, at this time. We do appreciate your feedback you have on the software, which we’re hoping you’ll email to along with any other questions or concerns.

Thank you for your interest in FrontlineSMS:Learn. We can’t wait to see what you’ll do with it.


Ericsson Business Review: "Lessons on Learning"

FrontlineSMS Founder Ken Banks was interviewed by The Ericsson Business Review last year, and this interview has now been made available online. The interview focuses on how we often define innovation too narrowly, and why “development issues such as education require us to start with the problem, not the technology”.  A summary is available on the Ericsson “Networked Society Blog” here, and the full interview is available in pdf format here. You can find an extract of the interview below:

What role can mobile technology play in development?

Mobile networks open up the possibility of reaching communities that would otherwise miss out on any meaningful connection with the rest of the world, and allow them to engage, make themselves heard and to be empowered by information.

You have been involved in many fruitful mobile-centered development initiatives. What separates the successful projects from the unsuccessful ones?

The single most important thing is starting with the problem and not the technology. It is quite common for people to grab the latest smartphone or iPad or whatever happens to be hot at the moment and try to figure out how it could be used in a development context. This approach can work, but most of the time it is destined to fail. If you go in with technology as your main objective, you will end up shoehorning it into contexts where it will not always work. The solution to a development question could be pencils or paper – it does not necessarily need to have anything to do with ict. I think that the correct sequence should instead be problem-people-technology. By “people” I mean the individuals at the grassroots who usually understand the problem better than anybody else.

To read the full interview, please click here.

Talking with Texts: How Cellphones Empower Deaf Children in Uganda

FrontlineSMS Founder, Ken Banks, produces a blog series with National Geographic called Mobile Message. This series is about how mobile phones and appropriate technologies are being used throughout the world to improve, enrich, and empower billions of lives. This week, Mobile Message featured a post from an inspiring FrontlineSMS use case, as you can read in the re-post below. Kids text all the time – at school, on the bus, even when you’re trying to talk to them. It can be annoying. But imagine if a child couldn’t communicate at all – that’s when a mobile can become a lifeline. In some developing countries, children who are deaf don’t have access to special education, technology or even sign language teaching.

In this edition of “Mobile Message”, Cambridge to Africa’s Sacha DeVelle, explains how her organisation has been using mobile phones in specially designed education programmes to help deaf children in Uganda communicate. By getting everyone in their schools to help out, the projects also happen to be making them the coolest kids in school.

By Sacha DeVelle

Kato and Kakuru are deaf twins. They have just arrived at the Child Africa International School in Kabale, Uganda. I am running a teacher training course at the school, and spend my lunch hours in the playground with all the children. But I am perplexed by the twins. They have fallen asleep in a far corner of the grounds, lying uncomfortably on some old wheat pallets, joined at the hip but completely isolated from the other children. This is a self-imposed exile, one they have lived in for years. For a week I watch them. They do not move from the pallets. Their clothes are dirty and ripped. They have no shoes and have not washed for a long time. Kakuru cries a lot, however the look on her face says she’s not someone who cries for attention, but out of frustration.

The girls are very different heights. It’s hard to believe they are twins. I ask the other teachers why they are so difficult to reach psychologically, why they are crying. “They have lice, they can’t sign, have no language skills, they have come down from the mountains and don’t understand this environment. They only have each other” explains one teacher.

There are nine other deaf children at the school, although they have had time to adapt and integrate. Dodi is a real character – he has a mother, loves to dance and has some sign language skills. The one deaf teacher working at the school provides a lifeline to these children. By the time I leave, the twins have joined the class, they are starry eyed and excited about their new uniforms.

Back in the UK I think a lot about Kato and Kakuru. What it’s like to be deaf in East Africa. Without a voice deaf females face a triple stigma: gender, poverty and disability. Many girls are violated because they cannot speak out. They may learn to use a pidgin signing system from the village, but are not fluent in any language (tribal, signed or English). Deaf girls are often abandoned. Their disability is seen as a curse on the family. Others are locked up in back rooms to hide the family shame. Those that make it to a school setting are the lucky ones.

One of our trustees tells me about a presentation she has just seen, using FrontlineSMS in developing contexts. It was this conversation that gave me the idea to run a mobile phone social inclusion project in Kabale: integrating deaf children into the mainstream environment.

We launched our pilot study in 2010. The wider challenges of carrying out such a scheme are complex. The management of existing prejudice and communication barriers must be factored into the design.

We have a methodology. Six deaf children have a hearing buddy, with a total of 12 students contributing to the study. We provide separate training to both groups for three days. Then they are brought together, with the hearing children playing a buddy role. We learn that the hearing children’s sign language skills and patience are far superior than we realised. We also learn that deaf children do not have much patience with their deaf counterparts! Our six pairs are given written instructions on scraps of paper. They must text messages to another pair somewhere in the playground, and wait for a response. They love this game. The deaf children are very vocal, a lot of frantic signing and suggestions for written responses.

Kakuru is one of the deaf participants. She is in awe of her new mobile phone, how messages fly in from nowhere. She likes to receive them, but is not too keen on writing – it’s hard for her. We learn that their written skills are very low – they are used to rote learning, straight from the blackboard. Now they must produce authentic, instantaneous text on a range of different topics.

Our preliminary findings are very exciting. The SMS social inclusion project has united the school, developed the children’s confidence, and highlighted the need for more communicative literacy skills in the classroom. Most importantly, it has raised the status of the deaf children as Caroline explains:

I can now visualise a bright future because I am far better than what I was when I was still shabby in the village four years ago. Those who used to laugh at me in the village now see me as a star because most of the rural community members do not know how to use sign language or mobile phone SMS facility

Phase 3 of our SMS social inclusion project will be launched in 2012. We will work with new schools in Kampala that integrate deaf children into the Ugandan primary school curriculum. Self empowerment, social cohesion and improved literacy skills were all key outcomes from our previous phases. However, there is still much work to be done to further integrate deaf girls into the community. As Docus clearly states: “All my village mates used to laugh at me because I could not hear what they could say and also I did not have any way to speak to them. Can you imagine an orphan like me using a mobile phone SMS facility at the age of ten to communicate to educated people like you? God is great”.

Sacha DeVelle is the founder and managing director of Cambridge to Africa, a UK registered charity that provides funding and educational expertise for projects in East Africa. Sacha has a PhD in Linguistics from the University of Queensland, Australia and currently lives in London where she works as an international education consultant.

This post was originally published as part of the Mobile Message series on the National Geographic blog. You can view the original post here.

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.

FrontlineSMS is shaped by our diverse user community: We want to hear from you!

By Florence Scialom, FrontlineSMS Community Support Coordinator

“Focus on the user and all else will follow,” has been one of our main mottos here at FrontlineSMS ever since the original version of our software was built in 2005. Yet it is undeniable that, as we gear up for a big year in 2012, the face of the FrontlineSMS user is more diverse than it was when we first started out. Ken Banks, the Founder of FrontlineSMS, has often said to the team here that he was excited when one person downloaded FrontlineSMS back when he first made the software available; at the end of 2011 the number of people who had downloaded FrontlineSMS passed the 20,000 mark.

As our user base continues to grow, our user-focused ethos is more important to us than ever. We strongly believe that our direction should continue to be guided by our passionate, innovative, and richly varied user community. That is why we would love to hear your views in our latest FrontlineSMS user survey. We want to hear your feedback on our user resources and our software, so that we can feed your opinions into our planning for 2012. Even if you aren’t using FrontlineSMS actively at the moment, your opinions still matter to us, and we’d love to hear any views and experiences you’d like to share about FrontlineSMS in our survey.

We have seen our software used in so many different ways – election monitoring, maternal health support, citizen engagement, education, coordination of humanitarian response, to name just a few – and in so many placesKenya, Nigeria, the Philippines, Kyrgyzstan, Cote d’Ivoire, Canada, the UK are just some of the locations we’ve documented use of FrontlineSMS in within the last year. This is both very exciting and somewhat challenging for us; we would like to ensure that FrontlineSMS software and user support continues to meet the needs of our users, whatever those users now look like. The fact that our user community is growing makes it even more important for us to hear feedback, so we can serve increasingly varied and changing user needs.

And we’d like to say thank you - fill in the survey, and you’ll be in with a chance of winning a limited-edition FrontlineSMS T-shirt. For the next four weeks we will also be choosing one lucky survey respondent each week to win an unlocked, FrontlineSMS-compatible USB GSM modem. In addition, we will choose another lucky prize winner to get a copy of the well-known book, SMS Uprising, signed by our very own Ken Banks.  (All those who have filled out the survey already will also be in with a chance of winning these prizes). So, as well as the opportunity to feed in to our 2012 strategy you could win some very exciting prizes! All this for just 5 minutes of your time - what have you got to lose?

There are many faces we see regularly in our user community. Those who are part of a small community based group, seeking to keep people informed about valuable yet hard to access information. Those who are part of a large NGO seeking coordinate communication with disparate staff, monitor the effectiveness of their work, and hear feedback from the communities they serve. Those starting a sustainable business in a developing economy, and wanting a way to keep in touch with all key stakeholders in areas where there is little or no internet access available. And even those in economically developed countries, who are working to engage vulnerable communities via the accessibility of SMS.

Do any of these descriptions sound like you? If so it would be great to hear your views and experiences with our software and resources. If you don’t feel you are represented in the above list (which is certainly not exhaustive), then we need to hear from you too! If you’re using or have thought about using FrontlineSMS then please fill out our survey and let us know who you are!

Last year’s survey results helped us to shape the major release of our software due out in 2012 – FrontlineSMS Version 2 – and it also helped us to understand that our users want to connect with each other more, and learn from each others’ use cases. Hence we worked throughout 2011 to document more use cases on our blog and have engaged members of our community to volunteer with us as FrontlineSMS Heroes, too. Recently one of our Heroes, Tom Marentette, has helped start an exciting trend of user meet-ups, certainly something we will seek to continue to build upon in 2012.

Now the team here is wondering, what will this year’s survey tell us? You can shape the answer to this question by filling out our survey, and helping us better understand the diverse face of our FrontlineSMS user community! o/

Supporting Education through SMS in Kyrgyzstan

IREX is an international non-profit organization working on education, independent media and civil society development. Recently, they have been using FrontlineSMS as a tool for efficient management of their Global Connections and Exchange (GCE) and Digital Youth Dialogue (DYD) programs in Kyrgyzstan. In this guest post IREX's Myahriban Karyagdyyeva and Tynchtyk Zhanadylov explain how their use of FrontlineSMS is making a difference in their work on these programs:

IREX has been implementing our Global Connections and Exchange (GCE) and Digital Youth Dialogue (DYD) programs in 22 schools and 3 librariesthroughout Kyrgyzstan. The GCE and DYD programs aim to equip students and the teachers with technology and training, in order to enhance classroom learning. In each school or library IREX has an appointed teacher who is responsible for coordination of activities between IREX and the institution. This set up requires IREX and teachers to have constant communication, in order to be able to keep up with dynamic program activities.

However, efficient communications on these programs initially proved challenging. Every day, the IREX team based in Bishkek need to send out different announcements and instructions to teachers, and at first we were doing this via email only. Yet  we soon found that teachers often aren't able to check their emails during the day, therefore relying on email to communicate was resulting in delays. Our team often had to call each teacher individually in order to ask them to check their email. This took up a significant amount of staff time, and was also an inconvenience to teachers. In addition, we also have a need to receive information from teachers every day, and so there was a clear need for a quick and interactive communications channel which could make this process more convenient all round.

The teachers and students we’re working with are attached to their cell phones, and therefore our team decided to experiment with text messaging as a method of communication. FrontlineSMS software enabled us to use mass text messaging, which streamlined our communication and allowed us to use time more efficiently. It only takes about a minute to send out text messages to all of our teachers through FrontlineSMS, whereas in the past staff were making individual calls which took a lot longer.

Currently FrontlineSMS is used in many different ways to help us administer daily tasks in our programs. This includes sending reminders to check emails or prepare for upcoming deadlines, as well as interaction between our team and teachers on any urgent questions. Using FrontlineSMS helps to improve the speed of communication, which in turn ensures that program deadlines are met and results in less time being needed for coordination of activities in different regions.

We have found that there are many other advantages to using FrontlineSMS, too. Internet speed is low outside of in Kyrgyzstan’s urban centers and connection problems are a constant challenge. Few people have internet in their homes, yet everyone has mobile phones and so using SMS makes regular communication accessible to more of those we work with. When we ask teachers how they like working with SMS, they say that they find it very convenient, useful and flexible. It helps them to implement tasks faster, and helps them stay always informed in areas which are offline. When working with different communities who don’t have regular access to internet or email, SMS is clearly a useful solution for ensuring fast two-way communication.

Moving forward we plan to continue using FrontlineSMS for communication with teachers, and we will also be using FrontlineSMS in new ways too. We plan to collect SMS feedback reports from our program participants on how often they attend IREX trainings and where trainings are being held. We will then map these reports using online mapping tool Ushahidi, and this will allow us to visualize our impact. In addition, the GCE program is also planning to use FrontlineSMS to conduct polling and short surveys among students and teachers, which will help us to further understand the value of our program and the needs that program participants have. We’re really excited about all we have planned, and will continue to build up the use of FrontlineSMS in our work.

To find out more about IREX visit

Supporting disaster affected communities in Haiti using FrontlineSMS

Guest post from Andy Chaggar, Executive Director of European Disaster Volunteers (EDV) who are using FrontlineSMS in Haiti:

European Disaster Volunteers' mission is to help disaster affected communities worldwide achieve sustainable recovery. This means doing more than simply addressing the damage caused by disasters; it also means addressing the underlying, long-term factors that made communities vulnerable in the first place.

We’ve been working in Port-au-Prince, Haiti since June 2010 and have placed a high priority on education since the beginning. EDV has rebuilt or repaired 36 classrooms in eight schools, are providing scholarships to 50 primary school children, and also run free English classes for adults.

Having originally graduated with a degree in electronic engineering in 1999, this work is a major change in direction for me. However, given my previous career it’s probably not surprising that I’ve retained a strong interest in technology, particularly in its application to disasters and development.  So, when I heard about FrontlineSMS, I immediately saw its usefulness to EDV’s current work in Haiti.

From the outset I knew FrontlineSMS would be particularly helpful for our English Education program. English is a key vocational skill for Haitians seeking employment and, almost as soon as we arrived, we started getting requests from our community for language support. Over the past 17 months, what began as informal classes has developed into a structured program that includes 120 students in eight weekly classes at four different levels.

Managing communications in the program was a challenge from the outset.  In addition to the students, we have to coordinate our Haitian teachers and international volunteers. Everyone needs to be kept informed of the time and location of meetings and scheduled classes are prone to disruption.

In a country like Haiti, everyday issues like teachers being ill are compounded by problems of instability. Potential hurricanes, political unrest or simply a particularly heavy rainstorm all have the ability to disrupt class, so the ability to communicate is vital.

Very few Haitians have regular access to the Internet so group emails aren’t an option.  Before using FrontlineSMS, we would often have to scramble to call, or text, everyone affected to reschedule a class. In some cases, such as during heavy rain, an unlucky volunteer would have to walk to a class where we knew very few students would turn up simply to apologise to the few who did and tell them to try again next time.

Now, by using the software’s ability to create contact groups, we can very quickly and cheaply text all students in a given class or call all of our Haitian teachers in for a meeting.

Our English program is very popular and also has a big waiting list.  When spots in our various classes recently opened up, we were also able to use FrontlineSMS to text over 100 prospective students and invite them to take a placement test so we could fill the classes with students at the right level.

Overall, this simple but effective technology has made managing our English Program much easier.  Without FrontlineSMS, we would still be using chaotic, time-consuming and inefficient methods of communicating, all of which would distract and disrupt the actual work of teaching.

The fact that FrontlineSMS is free is also very appealing to us. While we’re a growing charity, we’re still fairly small and love to save money by using free technology. Beyond this, however, an important principle is at stake. EDV is committed to working with disaster survivors to build local capacity to meet local needs. This partly means connecting survivors with tools they can use themselves. Even if we could afford to buy expensive, licensed software, the survivors we work with never could. As a result, we always prefer to use technology that is as accessible to survivors as it is to us.

We’re in the process of handing over leadership of the English Program to our local teachers and a Haitian school administrator. As part of this process, we’ll be providing a computer with the software and contact groups installed so that our communications solution is transferred. We’ve found using FrontlineSMS to be very intuitive so we’re confident our school administrator will continue to retain and develop use of the technology.

We have other future plans for use of FrontlineSMS in addition to our English Program, and see many ways it can help us operate more effectively. We currently also use the technology for our own internal messaging which is critical in Haiti due to security issues. Political demonstrations can be dangerous and can happen with little warning, so being able to quickly text all of our in-country volunteers and tell them to return to base immediately helps keep everyone safe.

We’ll definitely continue to use FrontlineSMS internally in other disaster zones, and we will continue to explore other potential project-related applications for the technology as well. For example, a couple of years ago I visited a community group in the Philippines who provided early warning alerts to its members living in typhoon and flood prone areas of Manila. While doing an amazing job, they were reliant on an aging infrastructure of radios and loudspeakers and this process could have been strengthened using FrontlineSMS.

I see the need for such early warning systems time and time again and I’m fairly confident that in the future such work could be complemented and improved by using FrontlineSMS to quickly text those in danger. Moving forward, I’m excited to see how FrontlineSMS, and technology overall, can be applied to solve important real-world challenges and both help to save and improve lives.

English in Action: Mobile Learning in Bangladesh

This post is the latest in the FrontlineSMS Mobile Message series with National Geographic. To read a summary of the Mobile Message series click here.

In her role as the Content Producer for the SOCAP conference series, Amy Benziger has the opportunity to interview innovators from around the world on how they are changing the landscape of social enterprise.

For this installment of Mobile Message, she interviews Sara Chamberlain, project director for BBC Janala, an initiative based in Bangladesh that incorporates on-screen English tutoring through a television drama and a game show combined with English lessons via the mobile phone that build on the content in the programs.

Mobile Message is a series of blog posts about how mobile phones are being used throughout the world to improve, enrich, and empower billions of lives.

By Amy Benziger

Most people know of the BBC as a source of reputable news from around the globe. Most don’t know about the action arm called the BBC World Service Trust, which uses the “creative power of media to reduce poverty and promote human rights.” I was first introduced to and amazed by the BBC World Service Trust through The 2010 Tech Awards where BBC Janala was honored as one of the winners of the Microsoft Education Awards.

BBC Janala educational fair in Chittagong, Bangladesh. Copyright BBC World Service Trust. (Used with permission).Janala is part of the English in Action campaign, which launched in November 2009. The initiative based in Bangladesh incorporates on-screen English tutoring through a television drama and a game show combined with English lessons via the mobile phone that build on the content in the programs. Janala’s three-minute mobile English lessons are equivalent to the cost of a cup of tea and accessible to those living on less than two dollars a day.

In my role as the Content Producer for the SOCAP conference series, I have the opportunity to interview innovators from around the world on how they are changing the landscape of social enterprise. I spoke to Sara Chamberlain, project director for BBC Janala, to learn more.

How did the BBC Janala program come about?

The Bangladeshi government was concerned about falling behind their neighbors, specifically India, because of a lack of English. The BBC World Service Trust was commissioned along with two other organizations to implement the “English in Action” program with a mandate to teach 25 million people English. I flew over to Bangladesh in 2007 to start the initial research.

The Janala program specifically targets adult education outside of the classroom. The goal is mass media saturation. We link the new lessons on the television show to written quizzes in the largest Bangladeshi newspaper to audio mobile lessons three times per week. Visual, writing, auditory learning create a fantastic package so that whether you are picking up a newspaper, turning on the TV or using your phone, there is engaging content available.

Mohammad Noor-e-Alam Siddiqui – 26 years old/Ghoshnogora, Tangail:

Siddiqui‘s father used to be a primary school teacher and always aspired for his son to be well-educated. However, due to financial constraints, Mohammad wasn’t able to pursue higher education. “Since my father always encouraged me to become highly educated, I still regret that I couldn’t achieve the optimum level although I had strong desire to. As a result I still consider myself as a learner and try to educate myself utilizing every opportunity I get.” Siddiqui has been using BBC Janala 3 times a week. He added, “In addition to ‘Essential English,’ I like the lesson of ‘How to Tell a Story.’ I can actually relate the stories to my real life and later tell my own stories in similar way.”

Why make English lessons available via mobile phone?

What is quite historic about BBC Janala is that we negotiated contracts with all 6 mobile operators in the country, so the service can be utilized on any handset, at any location and at any time. It opens up access that didn’t exist before for millions of people because once they left primary or secondary school, they’ve had no educational opportunities available.

BBC Janala educational fair in Chittagong, Bangladesh. Copyright BBC World Service Trust. (Used with permission).

There are English courses available from private tutors, but they are prohibitively expensive. On average each course costs 1500-6000 taka which is roughly $20-$80. Our service is 1.5 taka per lesson. The total cost of our course is 240 taka, which is under 5 dollars. It’s much more affordable and the quality is high. Having that flexibility to provide access to education at a very low cost is groundbreaking.

How do you measure success?

We have reached 4 million people in last 15 months via the mobile phone. You have to remember; we are targeting people who only very recently got access to mobile phones. Only 8-9% had received or sent SMS texts, so the quick uptake is amazing.

We are now a third of the way through the program, and we’ve started doing surveys of 8000 people in 4 out of 7 districts in Bangladesh. We are running a mobile specific panel giving participants oral tests every six weeks. We’ve been really pleased by their ability to reproduce the language and have conversations. They are scoring at 70% so there’s no doubt that the mobile service is teaching English.

Shafiqul Islam – 30 yrs old/Living in Mirpur:

“When I was in school English seemed very difficult to me and the village schools did not have teachers who were experts in English. They would just teach for the sake of teaching. Then BBC Janala came along and I saw the advertisements in TV. That’s when I started dialing 3000 and now I am a regular user. My willingness to learn English has led me to BBC Janala…English is always necessary; it doesn’t depend on past or future. We always need it. Now is the Internet time and in the future, the Internet will be used even more widely. If I want to pursue a teaching profession, I would want to use the Internet to collect all the latest information relevant to this field and to help my students. How will I do that if I don’t know English?”

BBC Janala educational fair in Chittagong, Bangladesh. Copyright BBC World Service Trust. (Used with permission).

How do you see mobile phones changing the learning landscape the developing world?

Many Bangladeshis have had a negative experience with education. Although the government is working towards the Millennium Development Goals of getting kids into the classroom, the challenge is that the quality is poor so they are dropping out as quickly as they’re going in. There is a very authoritarian approach to education so the fact that they can learn in private on a device that’s always with them when they’re waiting for a bus, walking home or for the few minutes at the end of the day is revolutionary.

Amy Benziger is the Producer focusing on content development for the SOCAP conference series. She is responsible for researching the social enterprise landscape, tracking trends and identifying thought-leaders to present at the annual event. For three years, SOCAP has brought thousands of individuals from over 40 countries to San Francisco to explore innovation in impact investing, venture philanthropy, design thinking, mobile technology, international development, public-private partnerships and food systems. Amy is a founding team member and strategic advisor to the Hub Bay Area, an incubator for social entrepreneurs dedicated to building solutions for social, economic and environmental sustainability as part of a global Hub community with 22 international locations. A lifelong traveler, she has lived and worked in Mexico, Spain, Argentina and Thailand. She currently lives in San Francisco, CA.

Mobile Message is produced by Ken Banks, innovator, anthropologist and National Geographic Emerging Explorer. He shares exciting stories in Mobile Message about how mobile phones are being used throughout the world to improve, enrich, and empower billions of lives. Read all the posts in this series.

Global learning at the speed of a text message

In a rapidly changing, globalised world education can help young adults to understand life beyond their own national borders. Here, in our thirtieth guest blog post, Alex Monk, School Linking Officer at Plan UK, discusses how FrontlineSMS is being used to support a project called Plan-ed. This project links schools across the globe, and thus helps deepen young people’s understanding of our world today.

“The Plan-ed School Linking programme has been running since 2008 and connects young people aged between 7 - 14 in the UK with their counterparts in China, Kenya, Malawi, Senegal and Sierra Leone. Schools exchange pen-pal letters, e-mails, videos and local artifacts. The Linking programme also allows children to share examples of work on mutually relevant topics such as climate change, successful enterprise and Children’s Rights. This helps the young people involved to learn about others their age living in different areas of the world; to recognise their similarities and appreciate their differences.

The Plan-ed project uses a variety of communication methods to help linking schools stay in touch, including sending post, video conferencing, interaction through their website, and more recently text messaging. Over the past six months schools in Malawi, Sierra Leone and the UK have been using FrontlineSMS to communicate with their partner schools. The schools use FrontlineSMS to send texts confirming receipt of posted letters and material. They also exchange text messages about ideas for new projects, and to organise travel for teacher exchanges as part of the linking project, and even to wish each other happy holidays.

The videos here show Headteachers from two schools who have been linked together as part of this Plan-ed project.

Orphent Kawonga (Zombwe School in Malawi) and David Lodge (Countess Anne School in the UK) have been on teacher exchanges to each others schools, to help strengthen their link. Here they discuss the benefits of the use of FrontlineSMS to support their link projects.

Ophent from Zombwe school on School Linking and FrontlineSMS from Plan UK on Vimeo.

David Lodge, Headteacher Countess Anne School from Plan-ed on Vimeo.

The benefit of using FrontlineSMS for the schools involved is that they have a way to regularly stay in touch with each other, and keep a record of their communications. FrontlineSMS has proved particularly helpful in the schools in Malawi in which the internet is not easily accessible, and the post can take a while to get through. Sending and receiving text messages is a quick and convenient way to stay in touch that helps the teachers maintain momentum in the linking school project, thus building sustainable connections between the schools.

Moving forward teachers in Malawi, Sierra Leone and the UK will continue using FrontlineSMS to support their connections with their Link schools. In addition, Plan-ed hopes to explore further ways to utilise FrontlineSMS. For example we are investigating the idea of using FrontlineSMS for more operational purposes; to help Plan-ed’s country coordinators stay in touch with the schools more regularly. It really is a great help to have a piece of technology such as FrontlineSMS, which helps facilitate quick communication in otherwise hard to reach areas of the world.”

For more information on Plan-ed visit:

ECOCARE Maldives: Project Mobilize

Our twenty-seventh guest post comes from ECOCARE Maldives, an NGO working for the protection and sustainable development of the environment, writing about how they've used FrontlineSMS in their environmental awareness programme with local school children. It's an incredibly simple use case, but it helps them to continue offering the service, and making a difference on the ground...

ECOCARE was introduced to FrontlineSMS software by during one of their SMS projects, Project Mobilize. After the October 24, 2009 event we used the software in one of our environmental awareness programs.

At the beginning of 2000, an ongoing environmental awareness program, called the Sonevafushi Nature Trip, was launched to create awareness among the primary school children of Malé and Baa Atoll. Baa Atoll lies about 96 miles to the north of Malé. Transporting 100 school children and teachers to the atoll was quite a challenge. School children from Malé and islands in Baa atoll work as colleagues to study the environmental issues such as mangrove ecosystem, coral reefs, beach erosion, biodiversity, natural vegetation, and waste in the atoll. We run the six-day program every year, during the school holidays.

The project makes it possible for children from Malé, who don't have the opportunity to experience greenery in the dusty, smoke-laden city. They are given a chance to learn what the environment is and what could be done to protect and preserve the environment for sustainable future development. They learn about the dependence that the fishing industry and tourism have on the coral reefs and life around it, and the great importance of protecting the reefs. At the same time, school children and the community in the islands of Baa atoll learn from their counterparts from Malé the extent of the environmental degradation that Malé has gone through in its urbanization, and understand the consequences if Baa follows in Malé's footsteps. In future, these children will become the citizens making the decisions to turn away from a path of environmental damage.

While the participants spend almost one week away from their family and concentrate only on the environment, we send important updates and other information via SMS to the mobile phones of their family members and other authorities, using FrontlineSMS. We've found it to be much more reliable than other softwarewe've used.

We’re still using FrontlineSMS on Project Mobilize and also we’ll be using it on our future Sonevafushi Nature Trips. FrontlineSMS is great software that we all at ECOCARE Maldives salute!!

Sitcoms+SMS: Tackling HIV/AIDS in the DRC

In this, the first of a series of guest posts on how FrontlineSMS is being used around the world, Becky McLaughlin - Marketing Director at Rien que la Vérité - talks about their current use of the platform, and the impact it has had on their work "Based in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rien que la Vérité was born in 2006 when some of the finest musicians in the Congo united to produce a CD of songs speaking against the spread of HIV/AIDS. Since 2006, the Rien que la Vérité platform has produced 14 music videos, a documentary, and an all-day stadium concert. In its present incarnation, Rien que la Vérité is touching the lives of the people of the Congo through their television screens as they follow the lives of a Kinois family on a locally-produced TV drama.


Rien que la Vérité - the TV series - launched nationally on November 30th, 2008 and first implemented FrontlineSMS in the airing of its second episode on December 14th. Each episode broadcast is accompanied by short talk-show segments during which a host introduces music clips, talks to well-known musicians and actors, and interviews representatives from local NGOs and organizations whose message dovetails with a theme introduced in the show.

During the December 14th show, the audience was invited to participate by sending an SMS with the name of their favorite character. The responses were collected using FrontlineSMS. This simple first step allowed Rien que la Vérité to test the software and to begin an exploration of our audience's perceptions and preferences. As the show continues we plan to introduce more simple polls that will help tailor the show to the audience's tastes, and give viewers a sense of ownership of the program.


This, however, is the most basic use we foresee. We are now launching a drive to support fan clubs, so that people who watch the show can find each other, meet, and talk about the show and the topics it introduces - a process that will begin to normalize conversation about HIV/AIDS. We'll use FrontlineSMS to collect contact information from interested fans, then broadcast messages with times and locations for local club gatherings. We also intend to use FrontlineSMS in our research for measuring the impact the show has on our target audience. We'll send out questions via SMS to fans before and after each show, measuring any changes in attitude, knowledge, or self-reported practices due to exposure to the show's messaging.

FrontlineSMS will be a critical tool in our goal to entertain and educate. Like its television format, Rien que la Vérité's future development must remain grassroots, and FrontlineSMS is an excellent vehicle for this."

Becky McLaughlin Marketing Director Rien que la Vérité