FrontlineSMS Sister Projects

Build a Better Campaign

Build a Better Campaign

90% of all SMS are read within 3 minutes of being received. In the last few days of a campaign, getting your message seen by the right people is key. What can you do to make sure the people who are going to support you show up to the polling station on the day?

Piloting SMS for Legal Aid

Piloting SMS for Legal Aid

Legal aid in the United States is broken. Legal Services Corporation (LSC), the country's primary funder of legal aid organizations, estimates that about half of eligible clients are turned away from the organizations it funds, and about eighty percent of the civil legal needs of low-income Americans remain unmet.

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow

Tomorrow has arrived, but not for everyone. A digital divide persists, even in seemingly connected countries like the United States, where some twenty percent of the population, or sixty million people, don’t have Internet access at home. Those on the wrong side of the divide—the poor, the elderly, the geographically dispersed— are already marginalized, and tend to have a more critical need for specialized legal services, whether to resolve a conflict, acquire a land title, seek asylum, or escape an abusive situation.

FrontlineSMS case study featured in new Rockefeller Foundation report: Learning from experimentation

The Rockefeller Foundation recently launched a new website, Capacity to, which examines lessons from a number of organizations including Ushahidi and Internews, and encapsulates them in three short reports which are well worth a read. FrontlineSMS is featured in the 'Learning From Experimentation' report, available from the website. Here's an excerpt, but we really recommend the whole report as a very readable and thought-provoking set of examples.

The Unheard Millions: A New Audience Joins Global News Conversations

On Friday, August 31st 2012 PBS featured a blog post written by Trevor Knoblich, our Media Project Manager. The post focused on our plans to integrate journalism tools into FrontlineSMS, enabling news-gatherers all over the world to integrate SMS more easily into their work. Thanks to PBS for allowing us to repost the piece here - you can find the original on the PBS Media Shift website. If you are interested in hearing more about our work, please email to get in touch with the team.

By Trevor Knoblich, Media Project Manager

The field of journalism has faced a number of technology-driven changes in the past decade, including the advent of blogs, the generating and sharing of news via social media, and the tentative move by many governments to provide open data.

So many elements of news have evolved that many experts think we're on the verge of a revolution in digital journalism, including Google's director of news and social products, Richard Gingras. "The media landscape is in the process of being completely transformed, tossed upside down; reinvented and restructured in ways we know, and in ways we do not yet know," Gingras argued recently during a keynote address at the annual conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass and Communication. "The process of change is far from over. Indeed, it will never be over."


When thinking about all of these changes, I find one shift particularly inspiring: the growing concept of news as a participatory process. In the past, news was produced largely by media outlets and consumed by readers, viewers, or listeners -- a passive audience. Of course, now we view news as a lively and active discussion, in which former "consumers" participate in sharing stories, providing news tips, raising questions, and adding depth and context to stories.

Chris Lehmann, former chief of Yahoo News, recently told the New York Times' David Carr, "News is an activity, a verb really." He was primarily referring to the editorial room, but I think this now equally applies to all people who regularly read, share, write, and contribute to news. We live in an active news culture, in which stories are rarely static, breaking news reaches the world in a matter of seconds, and average citizens have access to many tools to provide news tips, content, and context nearly instantaneously.

This access has been described as public, participatory or citizen journalism, with varying definitions for each -- and no definition that everyone can agree on. That said, regardless of the title we give to this shift in news culture, the combination of ways in which people can contribute to news is encouraging. The more people are seeking, discussing, and shaping information, the closer we may get to a common understanding of the issues and challenges we face in our community, region, nation, or planet. This shift also allows information to spread quickly, and reach more people.


With this in mind, I accepted my role at FrontlineSMS with a specific purpose: to extend global participation in news to people who otherwise would be left out of this shift, meaning those with no or infrequent access to the Internet. Lack of Internet access should not exclude people from receiving, discussing, and shaping the news that affects their lives. And while many people still lack Internet access, nearly everyone has access to a mobile phone, and by extension SMS.

SMS is the most pervasive digital communications platform in existence. As such, news outlets can use SMS to invite more people to participate in news in a variety of ways. Participants may be trained citizen journalists, eyewitnesses sharing news tips or photos, or even commentators on important stories.

Yes, this brings with it the challenge of vetting information, verifying senders, and devising clever mechanisms for being inclusive of a variety of different voices. But I believe we can meet those challenges, and the result will be a more robust audience participating in news in a more informed way. In fact, I've already seen inspiring examples of this from our user base at FrontlineSMS.

In one example, Al Jazeera noticed that while many people around the world were discussing the viral, controversial Kony 2012 video, there was a glaring gap in input from people in Uganda, where much of the discussion is focused. In response, Al Jazeera established the Uganda Speaks program, allowing people in Uganda to join the conversation in a variety of formats, including SMS, e-mail, Twitter and Facebook. For those without Internet access, SMS became a critical channel to weigh in on the global dialogue.

In another example, Indonesian television station RuaiTV trained citizen journalists in a method for texting information on illicit activities by palm oil companies. Citizen journalists would text or call with information about suspected wrongdoings, and RuaiTV would follow up on the news tips. In this manner, citizens were actively working to hold companies and governments accountable to the local legal framework.

At FrontlineSMS, we are motivated by these and similar user stories. These organizations are working to lower the barriers for participating in news debates, whether they are local or global. Via SMS, we can now invite many more people to receive news, share new ideas, and foster discussion around topics that are important to them. In many cases, people have this type of access for the first time in their lives. Thanks to the creativity of our users, potentially millions of new voices are now invited to participate in news. It will be thrilling to hear what they have to say.

Trevor Knoblich works as Project Manager for FrontlineSMS, a 2011 Knight News Challenge winner. He began his career as a federal policy reporter in Washington, DC,then spent 5 years working as a humanitarian specialist. He currently works on issues at the intersection of journalism, technology and developing countries. At FrontlineSMS, he is building tools to help journalists and media outlets around the world improve their ability to gather, track and share news.

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.

Making Mobile Money More Inclusive

FrontlineSMS:Credit is a sister project of FrontlineSMS, which aims to make every formal financial service available to the entrepreneurial poor in 160 characters or less.

Recently, FrontlineSMS:Credit re-launched their website, where you can find out more about their work. The FrontlineSMS:Credit team have also taken on two Social Impact Fellows to research new opportunities for enterprise use of mobile payments, and the accessibility of mobile payments in East Africa. They will be sharing their findings on the FrontlineSMS:Credit blog over the summer.

Here, Nathan Wyeth, FrontlineSMS:Credit Project Director, shares some of his own ideas on how to make mobile money inclusive.

"During a recent trip to Washington, DC, I met with a range of people working with NGOs and private organizations interested in mobile money in various forms.  I spoke with them about applications of FrontlineSMS software to make it easier for development programs to use mobile money; both for work with beneficiaries as well as for internal administration. But one of the most interesting questions I got was: How can mobile money systems be designed to be more financially inclusive, and what would a financial inclusion 'wish list' look like for mobile money platforms? I spoke with my colleagues in Nairobi about this, and identified the below ideas.

1. If bank involvement is required, enable agency banking and keep requirements realistic for rural areas.

If bank involvement is required, agency banking contracted to mobile money operators, combined with KYC requirements that are realistic for rural areas, can keep mobile money systems accessible. Requirements like photocopies of ID cards do little if anything to promote security of the banking system and simply create a serious barrier to rural customers.

2. Encourage mobile money for commerce by creating small businesses accounts.

In many cases nothing exists between personal accounts and corporate accounts for bill payment and the like. This means that small and medium enterprises will accept mobile payments, but to personal accounts of employees and within the transaction limits set for individual users. While mobile money can easily be a tool for improved financial and business management and customer interaction, paying to personal accounts creates headaches at best and opportunities for fraud, theft and customer mistrust at worst.

A small business account would be an easy thing for mobile payment operators to create. This could include features like:

  • Opened in the name of the business by the owner or authorized agent
  • Higher daily account limits – for example, to pay salaries – with option for account owner to set custom limits below this to prevent fraud/theft.
  • Retrieve account history via SMS for security and financial management

3. Make it easy to get an enterprise connection to a mobile money account.

It is not enough to make it possible for urban, sophisticated banks and corporations to build real-time, web-based connections to payment systems so that they can handle transactions at volume. Account updates should be easy to obtain via web and SMS and in formats (APIs, etc.) that make it possible for any organization using payments at volume that do have their own electronic recordkeeping to bring this data directly into such systems.

4. Ensure that mobile payments conform to financial industry standards

Employing industry-wide standards will hasten the adoption of mobile money alongside the existing architecture of the financial industry and increase the comfort that regulators have with this new form of money transfer. This includes standardized data format methods for enterprise connections (ISO 8583) and data security standards in line with those used by payment cards (PSI-DSS).

Read more on making mobile money inclusive in the full version of this post on FrontlineSMS:Credit's blog.

Reaching Communities Through The Airwaves

By Hussain Abdullah, Reposted from the FrontlineSMS:Radio blog
The simplicity of radio causes many to overlook its power as a communications tool. Yet as Joseph Sekiku discovered, radio plays a powerful and life-changing role in isolated communities. From a corner of his living room, Joseph pieced together his own radio station called FADECO Radio in Tanzania. The small desk, complicated with wires and radio equipment, hides the very simple set up of FADECO Radio. Using only his laptop, a mixer, a small transmitter and his mobile phone attached to FrontlineSMS with a custom made wire, Joseph Sekiku’s show reaches an audience of over 200 people. Using this homemade set up, he is able to share information on diverse topics, from agricultural advice to market information.

FADECO Radio is based in the Karagwe district of Tanzania, near Lake Victoria. The community development enthusiast in Joseph saw a serious need for an information infrastructure, since prior to his work, there were no newspapers, TV or internet meaning that the community of Karagwewas completely cut off from information flows. Read more on the FrontlineSMS:Radio website

Facilitating Dialogue on Governance in Africa

By Hussain Abdullah. Reposted from the FrontlineSMS:Radio blog

The increasing penetration of mobile telephony in Africa is widening opportunities for people to take part in discussions about governance. Radio is a widespread medium through which communities can tune-in to listen to debates on topics such as health, the environment and politics. FrontlineSMS:Radio is a software which is being designed to help facilitate radio listener interaction via text message.

The FrontlineSMS:Radio project is generously supported by the Cairns Charitable Foundation which was founded by Lord Simon Cairns. Simon was the chairman of Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) between 1981 and 1992, chaired the Overseas Development Institute between 1995 and 2002 and is currently a board member of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. Created by Mo Ibrahim, a Sudanese businessman, the Foundation is focussed on enabling African civil society to hold their governments to account and improving the quality of governance across the continent. Simon also has a longstanding interest in mobile telephone technology, and he was appointed chairman of the African telecommunications company Celtel in October 2007.

Amy O’Donnell met Simon in the Mo Ibrahim Foundation offices, just off Oxford Street, to speak with him about how he thinks new technologies, such as FrontlineSMS:Radio, can help African citizens to influence processes of governance which affect them. The interview is written up here by Hussain Abdullah from FrontlineSMS:Radio.

Simon began the interview by recollecting a discussion he had with Mo Ibrahim many years ago, which eventually led to the creation of the Ibrahim Index of African Governance: a framework enshrining the foundations of good governance. “Mo Ibrahim and I both had, from our separate standpoints, views on why certain countries worked and why certain countries didn’t work.” Simon explained, “We found that it came to thinking in terms of ‘have you got the right leader?’ Then almost everything else will follow. In due course countries can build good institutions, but in the first instance they have to have good leaders... We then got together with the Kennedy School of Governance At Harvard to try to describe what made good governance.” (Read more)

A Newer and Newer Liberia

By Sean McDonald. Reposted from the FrontlineSMS:Legal blog

In an unfortunately familiar near-panic, negotiating with a would-be immovable airline desk agent, I learned something about Liberia in specific, and progress in general.  Solutions are better than rules and the new will never succeed without building on the old.

I was in Monrovia to attend the first ever Mobile Innovations Conference (MICO), which focused on ways to use mobile phones to augment the work of Liberia’s burgeoning civil society. The Conference, which was hosted by the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX) and USAID, brought together media organizations from all over the country, election officials, the nation’s largest mobile service provider, USAID, cabinet ministries, civil society representatives, superintendents’ (governors) offices, and a handful of technology organizations.  Through presentations and brainstorming sessions (and, as with any conference, lunch), we began to talk about both the opportunities and the challenges that face Liberian civil society.

Liberia is a country that is still hamstrung by the ravages of their civil war. Literacy hovers at 30 percent. The poverty is staggering and pervasive. There is little-to-no infrastructure. The better-off have reliable electricity provided by privately owned generators that run on scarce and expensive fuel. The undersea cable that is hoped to bring an affordable Internet to Liberia won’t make landfall until at least next year.  It seems bleak.

Just like that day at the airport........(read more on the FrontlineSMS:Legal blog)

FrontlineSMS:Radio. Giving Radio Listeners a Voice.

Building on the core FrontlineSMS platform, FrontlineSMS:Radio will optimise the software for community radio stations, helping them to interact dynamically with their listening audiences. An increasing number of stations across the world are already using FrontlineSMS to receive and manage messages on issues such as health, politics and the environment, allowing them to wave ‘hello’ to two-way radio ~/. Now, FrontlineSMS:Radio’s targeted pilots will run alongside research conducted by Cambridge University, allowing us to understand the impact of interaction. Amy O’Donnell has recently joined the FrontlineSMS team and is leading the FrontlineSMS:Radio project. Here she shares her ideas about the power of coupling SMS with radio and her expectations for the project.

“When I spent some time in Mchinji in Malawi, I had to walk for an hour from the village to the boma (town) and pay 200 Kwatcha only to spend an hour clicking ‘refresh’ on a dial up internet connection. In contrast, my telephone signal was mostly fine and alongside the eggs, bread and bottles of pop I could always buy Celltel credit at the small village shop. Most people I met had a mobile and it wasn’t email which people swapped on their business card, but their phone number.

This is exactly why I’m so interested in how common sense technology which utilises existing tools and structures can offer appropriate and simple solutions. With over 5 billion global mobile phone connections and a mobile phone penetration rate of 52% across Africa (Source Wireless Intelligence) , the tools are already in peoples’ hands. FrontlineSMS helps people to manage and organise text messages in their own projects to facilitate communication and interaction with their communities.

Meanwhile, 90% of African households own a radio, and the medium is widely accessible. With an explosion of wind-up radios which negate the need for electricity, farmers can listen while they are in the field, meanwhile drivers can tune into in-car radios. Barriers of illiteracy are mitigated as people don’t need to read significant amounts of text to understand key messages. FrontlineSMS is being used in the context of radio beyond Africa, in countries including Mongolia, Uruguay, Indonesia, Cambodia and Australia.

It is exciting to see how FrontlineSMS:Radio will be used and I can’t wait to see its potential develop. Our new website will become a central place for community radio stations to meet and share experiences and resources, particularly regarding the interaction with audiences. For the most recent information, check out our new website – - where you can read blog posts and quotes, see a user map and learn more about the status of the software."

To read this post in full, please click here

FrontlineSMS:Radio. Giving Radio Listeners a Voice. ~/

FrontlineSMS:Legal - Running Justice’s House

By Sean McDonald. Re-posted from FrontlineSMS:Legal blog "Every day, dozens, if not hundreds, of people line up in front of each Justice House, seeking help to resolve life’s challenges.  They wait, patiently, for hours, to approach the information desk, where they receive a simple intake form (name, age, gender, address, mobile phone number, cause of complaint, etc.).  This form is then handed back to a lone information desk attendant, who dutifully enters all of these details into an Excel spreadsheet (and not the fancy kind), to form a simple list of visitors.  Each client is independently referred to the service provider, or providers, best suited to their needs.  There, they wait in another line, for the service provider to be available. It is first-come-first-served, because that’s the only way for it to be fair. This process repeats for every client, across every claim, and for every visit.

It is a wonder, with all that waiting, that much of anything gets done... Still, with FrontlineSMS:Legal at each information desk, these Houses could deliver so much more justice. Clients could fill out intake forms and schedule appointments via SMS, saving thousands of hours of wait time a week. Service providers could have a schedule that told them what they were doing when they went to work and show clients the respect of keeping appointments. Read more on the FrontlineSMS:Legal blog

FrontlineSMS:Medic becomes Medic Mobile

FrontlineSMS:Medic is now Medic Mobile. From the start, FrontlineSMS:Medic implemented and extended FrontlineSMS to bridge gaps in healthcare delivery systems. After a successful pilot, the FrontlineSMS software and community acted as a launchpad for an organization that uses open source software to support health services across the globe. The launch of a new name, Medic Mobile, reflects the growth and trajectory of that organization. Medic Mobile will continue to be one of the most emphatic champions of FrontlineSMS – contributing code, user experiences, and peer-reviewed research back to the community. Here, Isaac Holeman and Josh Nesbit, co-Founders of FrontlineSMS:Medic, walk us through the history of the project, and where they see Medic Mobile heading in the future.

The FrontlineSMS:Medic Story


FrontlineSMS:Medic was preceded by two independent projects, Mobiles in Malawi and MobilizeMRS. Josh Nesbit initiated Mobiles in Malawi in the summer of 2007, working at a rural Malawian hospital that serves 250,000 patients spread 100 miles in every direction. To reach remote patients, the hospital trained volunteer community health workers (CHWs) like Dickson Mtanga, a subsistence farmer. Dickson had to walk 35 miles to submit hand-written reports on 25 HIV-positive patients in his community. The hospital needed a simple means of communication, and in the summer of 2008 Josh returned to the hospital with mobile phones and a laptop running FrontlineSMS to provide it.

MobilizeMRS was born with a focus on electronic medical records, and the notion that the technology could be extended to engage CHWs in structured data collection. Isaac Holeman discovered Mobiles in Malawi and contacted Josh online, and in late 2008 they decided to join forces. Isaac brought the key characteristics of MobilizeMRS with him – a commitment to extending OpenMRS, the initiative to formalize their projects as a venture, insistence that the venture should have a distinct brand and leadership authority, and commitment to developing innovative software.

In February of 2009, Josh, Isaac, and a group of students from Stanford and Lewis & Clark founded FrontlineSMS:Medic together. The mission was to help health workers communicate, coordinate patient care, and provide diagnostics using low-cost, appropriate technology.


In six months, the pilot in Malawi using FrontlineSMS saved hospital staff 1200 hours of follow-up time and over $3,000 in motorbike fuel. Over 100 patients started tuberculosis treatment after their symptoms were noticed by CHWs and reported by text message. The SMS network brought the Home-Based Care unit to the homes of 130 patients who would not have otherwise received care, and texting saved 21 antiretroviral therapy (ART) monitors 900 hours of travel time, eliminating the need to hand deliver paper reports. You can read more about this pilot in the Journal of Technology and Health Care publication.

After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Josh reached out to FrontlineSMS users on the ground and connected with mobile operators. Soon after, FrontlineSMS:Medic helped coordinate The 4636 Project, an effort to create an emergency communications channel. Working with the Office of Innovation at the US Department of State, technology providers, Digicel, and Voila, a system was created to process text messages expressing urgent needs from the ground. Using crowd-sourced translation, categorization, and geo-tagging, reports were created for first responders within 5 minutes of receiving an SMS. Over 80,000 messages were received in the first five weeks of operation, focusing relief efforts for thousands of Haitians.

In less than one year, FrontlineSMS:Medic expanded from 75 to 1,500 end users linked to clinics serving approximately 3.5 million patients. Growing from the first pilot at a single hospital in Malawi, they established programs in 40% of Malawi’s district hospitals and implemented projects in nine other countries, including Honduras, Haiti, Uganda, Mali, Kenya, South Africa, Cameroon, India and Bangladesh.

A growing toolkit

In 2010, the FrontlineSMS:Medic team expanded and began creating new mobile tools. Software developers built on the FrontlineSMS platform to create a lightweight patient records system, PatientView, and a text-based information collection module, TextForms.

Developed by volunteers in less than two days, the initial 4636 system combined a number of technology platforms. Most recently, FrontlineSMS:Medic developers worked on a messaging module for OpenMRS, a project that had been in the works since the MobilizeMRS days prior to FrontlineSMS:Medic. It became clear to the team that building upon and implementing various open source tools was the best way to serve users and achieve impact.

Next Steps

FrontlineSMS acts as a catalyst for new projects – incubating ideas, teams, and software for legal systems, education, financial services, radio, and other fields. The model replicates FrontlineSMS:Medic’s sector-specific approach and builds on a community of users innovating every day

Medic Mobile continues FrontlineSMS:Medic’s team, values, and mission – using mobile tools to create connected, coordinated health systems that save more lives.