"Genius happens when you plan something else" FrontlineSMS Founder Ken Banks features in Wired magazine

FrontlineSMS Founder Ken Banks was recently invited by Wired magazine to write an article for their "Ideas Bank" column. You can find an extract of the article below. The full version is available via Wired's website here.

Depending on how much of a sweet tooth you have, you might not rate chocolate-chip cookies, ice-lollies or crisps as Earth-shattering product inventions, but they do all have one thing in common. Along with microwave ovens, penicillin and Teflon, the ideas behind them came about entirely by accident. Despite this, a common perception of innovation remains one of men and women in white coats crowded over laboratory equipment and mainframe computers. Though this may be generally true for big-ticket items and big pharma, today you may just as likely trace a lot of the smaller -- but equally high-impact -- discoveries and inventions back to someone's garden shed.

The field of ICT4D - information and communication technologies for development - tasks itself with figuring out how to apply many of our everyday technologies for the greater social good, often in the developing world. Ironically, despite the tens of billions spent each year in official aid, some of the more promising ICT4D innovations also happen to have come about by chance. Many of the people behind them didn't consciously set out to solve anything, but they did. Welcome to the world of the "reluctant innovator"...

I would also count myself as a reluctant innovator. In 2004 I found myself working on the fringes of Kruger National Park in South Africa, trying to help the authorities improve communications with the local communities. Mobile phones were beginning to appear there and we considered using SMS to send group texts to community members. The problem was that no group-SMS technology worked in those kinds of hard-to-reach places. A few months later, the idea for a text-messaging platform was born one Saturday night over a bottle of beer and Match of the Day. The result, FrontlineSMS, today helps non-profit organisations in over 70 countries communicate critical messages with millions of the most marginalised and vulnerable people.

To read the full version visit the Wired magazine website.

The Toronto Star: "How the Developing World is Using Cellphone Technology to Change Lives"

FrontlineSMS has recently been featured in an article in the Toronto Star, which provides an overview of information and communication tools being used for development (ICT4D). You can find an extract of this article below, and the full version is available online here.

In Nigeria, a young girl can ask questions about sex discretely through SMS and get accurate information. After the earthquake in Haiti, survivors in remote towns could receive money for food straight to their cellphone. In Senegal, election monitors sent updates on polling stations through their mobile phones, revising an online map in real time with details about late openings or worse. Projects like Learning about Living in Nigeria, MercyCorps in Haiti and Senevote2012 in Senegal are just a few examples of how the rapid spread of mobile technology has changed life in the global south.

Many places are jumping straight from paper records to mobile information because they are getting cellphone towers before Internet connections or even traditional phone lines. This means that for the first time it’s possible for a doctor in Guatemala City to monitor a newborn baby in a rural part of the country...

In 2001, just eight out of 100 people in the developing world had a mobile phone subscription. Now, nearly 80 out of 100 do...


This software allows anyone to set up their own communications hub to send mass messages, manage automated SMS systems and collect data from the field. FrontlineSMS allows users to connect their mobile phone to a computer, transforming communication into something more powerful and manageable.

“If you go to the developing world and you look at how cellphones are being used you can really see that people are already doing this kind of organizational management, communicating with stakeholders, communicating with people they’re working with and for,” said spokesperson Laura Hudson.

The system enables easier management of SMS messages and also allows users to set up mailing lists, collect data and code automated reply systems. Traditional procedures involved checking in over the phone with remotely dispersed members of, for example, an aid team.

“Instead of that they can send an SMS. It’s cheaper for them, it saves time and the data can go straight into their report,” said Hudson.

FrontlineSMS was used to coordinate aid response after the 2011 floods in Pakistan and to manage reconstruction in Haiti. It has also been used to remind HIV patients of best practices and nutritional information.

Many other valuable technologies are featured in the full article from Toronto Star.

Uganda Speaks: Al Jazeera use FrontlineSMS to hear from Ugandans on Kony 2012

FrontlineSMS has been featured in an article from Fast Company's co.Exist blog, which covers how Al Jazeera's "Uganda Speaks" campaign is making innovative use of communications technologies, including FrontlineSMS. You can find a short extract of the article below, and the full article can be found here.

The groundswell of focus on Uganda and Joseph Kony continues today with the launch of Uganda Speaks, an ambitious project from Al Jazeera that will allow ordinary Ugandans to post text messages - via local SMS numbers - to let the world know what their country is really like (instead of just the #kony2012 version).

Hundreds of users, most of them Ugandans with Internet access, have already posted tweets with the #ugandaspeaks hashtag. Most of these criticize the worldwide response to the Kony 2012 video, which many of the Ugandans (and worldwide observers) claim grossly simplifies a complicated war. Al Jazeera’s Riyaad Minty told Co.Exist that “we launched Uganda Speaks to get responses from people across Uganda via text message, email, Twitter, and Facebook. The idea is to have ordinary Ugandans talk about the [Kony 2012] video in their own voice, as this has largely been missing from the conversation.”

Al Jazeera began working on Uganda Speaks on March 5--two days after the Kony 2012 video first went online. The project is using two pieces of technology for the backend: FrontlineSMS for the SMS-to-Twitter conversion, and Ushahidi to visualize and map data. The station’s The Stream program solicited a video Kony 2012 response from Ugandan journalist Rosebell Kagumire of Channel 16 as well.

To read the full article, please visit Fast Company's co.Exist blog.

SMS Builds the Radio Star

FrontlineSMS:Radio was recently featured on PBS Idea Lab - a group weblog by innovators who are reinventing community news for the Digital Age. Authors are winners of the Knight News Challenge that focuses on reshaping community news and Participation. The post by Amy O'Donnell, Radio Project Manager, is republished below or you can read the original post here.

Radio's history has spanned over 100 years and it continues to reach billions -- even in remote and underserved regions. So when UNESCO announced that the inaugural World Radio Day was to be celebrated on February 13, one question on many people's lips was: Why now?

A diverse World Radio Day panel gathered in London last month to demonstrate that, if anything, radio is growing in importance. Discussions about radio are more relevant than ever because innovations are rejuvenating radio programming, particularly in opening up channels for participation. Technology to spark this change need not be on the cutting edge either; it's just as exciting to realize how radio stations around the world are employing existing tools in new and ingenious ways.

Sixty-five percent of the world's population is not online, according to an ITU report. But people are demonstrating that they need not have an Internet connection to have a voice in the discussions that affect them. By using their mobile phones, audiences are increasingly able to contribute opinions to discussions or news tip-offs for reporters, making radio programming responsive, relevant and appropriate.

This reinvention of radio sparks recognition of the fundamental importance listeners place on radio as a participatory and localized platform. While voice calls bring richness to a show, the number of contributors is limited by time. SMS, on the other hand, has almost no limit, allowing space for engagement which represents more people. Crucially, incorporatingSMS feedback allows radio to reflect local debate and concerns.

In an era where every revolution has a hashtag, we must remind ourselves that community radio has been a forum for collective dialogue for more than 100 years. By a generous estimate, Twitter has 500 million users. Juxtapose this with the 6 billion active mobile subscriptions and 95 percent of people who have access to the radio.

Radio is particularly important for those who aren't online or able to get a newspaper delivered. Radio requires minimal electricity (a negligible amount with a windup or solar radio) and tuning in is free. Applications using SMS with radio -- two of the world's most used platforms -- is proving that mobile technology has the power to create new possibilities by transforming radio from a one-way broadcast to a two-way dialogue with listeners.

FrontlineSMS's free, open-source software, which assists with the management of text messages without need for the Internet, is being used in radio contexts in more than 80 countries.FrontlineSMS:Radio is a tailored version of the software developed with this in mind. The tools we've built are designed to assist with the analysis of aggregating of text message data so that DJs can relay opinions to audiences while live on air. We now have 20 stations across Africa taking part in the trial, and one of them has received 16,000 messages in just three months. The large regional, cultural and economic variation in platform adoption is why at FrontlineSMS we're focusing on the ways that traditional platforms can be used to complement each other.

At the World Radio Day panel in London, speakers stressed the importance of the decentralization of radio: a need to ensure that ownership of programming is in the hands of communities. The penetration of mobile coupled with innovative applications of FrontlineSMS allow radio managers to incorporate audience feedback and lean on listeners' insights to shape audio content.

Another theme identified on World Radio Day was that for many, radio is the most trusted information source -- second only to word of mouth -- and this is based on the personal connections people feel with radio presenters by interacting with them. As communities themselves are able to determine topics up for discussion, these can lead to actions that dramatically change lives. The change in relationship between radio stations and their communities is fostering an evolution in even traditional (or institutional) broadcast environments. It is this need for local dialogue which underlies the motivation of FrontlineSMS to support radio stations that engage with listeners.

It's great that radio gets one day a year to enter into a global conversation. But for me, it's important these discussions happen more often to build momentum in people interested in sharing and innovating around the radio -- in particular, how to make radio interactive and preserve space for locally appropriate discussions to thrive. Neither video nor social media have killed the radio star. In fact in many places -- when coupled with SMS -- locally representative radio is taking central stage.

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.

"Mobile Education Requires Smart Ideas, but Not Smart Phones"

FrontlineSMS was recently the focus of an article from IIP Digital, a site for all the latest news from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Information. You can find an extract below, and read the full article here. Latin American education leaders who gathered at a TechCamp workshop in Montevideo, Uruguay, late in 2011 learned this and much more from technology experts who demonstrated ways they could use cellphones to extend education to almost anywhere.

TechCamp is part of Civil Society 2.0, an initiative aimed at helping communities around the world gain access to practical and affordable technology to solve local problems. The needs of the communities determine the types of technology presented.

Because mobile access far exceeds Internet access in many developing countries, governments, nongovernmental organizations and communities are eager for effective ways to use cellphones to reach underserved areas on a large scale.

“You have this enormous communications platform, but the question is, what do you do with it, and how is it that people are interpreting it,” Sean McDonald, operations director for FrontineSMS, said. Students, many of whom already use the technology, provide a promising opportunity for determining what works.

“After you’ve taught something, how do you know after the student has gone back to their environment that the student has absorbed the information and it is making an impact?” he asked. “You can create questions and quizzes. The system will automatically grade the quizzes, and then map them to the contact, which you are able to track over time.”

FrontlineSMS is an open-source group messaging software platform that has multiple applications. In Montevideo, McDonald presented a version of the software called FrontlineSMS:Learn that is tailored for use in remote or distributed education settings.

To read the full article, please visit IIP Digital here.

The Guardian: “If Organisations Don't Have Changemakers They'll Get Left Behind”

FrontlineSMS was featured in an article from The Guardian which advocates that successful social solutions are achieved by generating active problem solvers and changemakers in society rather than co-dependents. You can find an extract of the article below, and the full article can be found here.

"After many battles, the green movement has come up with such a principle that underpins even the most complex measurements and certifications. Every child learns that we must not use more resources than the planet can provide and regenerate. Sustainability is the gold standard of green. Can there be anything remotely as simple for social impact?

Yes. In the same way that we must preserve nature's capacity to sustain itself in the face of growing resource demands, we must also reinforce our communities' ability to solve the inevitable social challenges that come with ever faster change. And solving more problems requires more active problem solvers.

Like an ecosystem in a downward spiral, any group that does not manage to generate changemakers for the good of all is going to be left behind, regardless of how much money it may throw at its problems. Because, after all, money is not a renewable resource like changemaking is.

It is this ability to inspire, empower and multiply active problem solvers that lies at the heart of the success of every great social solution from the Grameen Bank to FrontlineSMS, from TeachFirst to Roots of Empathy (or many other leading social entrepreneurs in Ashoka's network). Whether the challenge is lifting people out of poverty or empowering young people, a true social solution breeds more co-creators to propel itself forward, not more dependants."

To read the ful article, please visit The Guardian here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

World Radio Day: An Opportunity to Celebrate an Unsung Hero

We have been excited to play a role in celebrating the first ever World Radio Day here at FrontlineSMS, through our sector project FrontlineSMS:Radio. Our Radio Project Manager, Amy O'Donnell, has been central to proceedings; helping to organise a successful World Radio Day event in London and attracting significant media attention, too. Below is an article Amy wrote about World Radio Day for the Guardian Development's Poverty Matters blog. You can view the original post on the Guardian website.

By Amy O'Donnell, Radio Project Manager, FrontlineSMS

World Radio Day celebrates radio's role in empowering people in remote communities – not just as a source of information, but increasingly as a way to make their own voices heard.

In a world of increasing opportunities to participate in public debate online via social media, the blogosphere and comments on news sites, the first World Radio Day on 13 February, organised by Unesco, reminds us to celebrate the radio as an unsung hero that is steadily empowering people to access information and – crucially – to respond to what they hear.

Radio is the predominant source of information in areas of the world that are sometimes too remote to get a newspaper delivered, let alone access the internet. This is why Unesco has noted that radio is a "low-cost medium, specifically suited to reach remote communities and vulnerable people".

Attention given to technology for information communications has recently been captivated by web-based applications, especially "new" or "social media". But about 65% of the world's 7 billion people do not use the internet. In addition to those who are offline due to lack of access, there are also those who are unaware, unable or simply do not want to use social media.

People listen to the radio in their cars, on the move and at work. Radios don't require large amounts of electricity, and wind-up radios don't need an electrical source at all. Moreover, radio reaches large groups of people, being easily shared among families or listener groups. It is a medium often used as a focal point for community discussion on subjects including politics, elections and service provision. Radio efficiently reaches large audiences in real time. But can radio – a one-way broadcast platform – ever replicate the participatory impact of Twitter, Facebook or Google+?

Different technologies are changing the ways in which radio is used as a platform for engagement. At the end of last year, the ITU 2011 report revealed that there are almost 6 billion active mobile phone subscriptions. The ubiquity of mobile technology presents an exciting opportunity even for those in "last mile communities" to interact with radio shows using a tool they already have.

Take "The Organic Farmer" in Kenya, for example. The radio show gathers questions from its listener community of agriculturalists. On one occasion, reports surged in via text message about a disease affecting chickens in the area. In response, the radio show invited an expert to analyse the crowd-sourced evidence, diagnosed the cause as "Newcastle disease" and helped to organise vaccinations.

Similar to social media, the most important aspect of successful radio programming is participation. Seeking feedback from listeners helps to generate and guide content, which in turn increases local relevance and stimulates dialogue. Radio stations are increasingly reliant on audiences to be their eyes and ears, as they seek new tips to mobilise journalists who report from the field. More importantly, this enables more people to have a voice in the discussions that affect them. Mobile interaction "closes the loop", enabling audiences to listen to a discussion, contribute insight, and then hear their views encourage additional participation.

This may include challenging decision makers or service providers, which can be particularly powerful when feedback is democratically obtained. Pamoja FM has used listener input to challenge water cartels in Kibera, Kenya; Breeze FM in Zambia has held discussion on its "Issue of the Day" programme about upcoming elections; and Malawi's Mudzi Wathu FM has taken health questions from listeners to ministers, and relayed the answers on air.

Calls are a powerful way of getting opinions across – but there's only so much airtime. For those who can't get through, SMS is a digital and asynchronous way for listeners to express themselves, and this increases engagement. For example, DJs can ask listeners to respond to SMS polls, enabling them to get many points of view without requiring significant airtime. When using software such as FrontlineSMS, this can be automated and visualised, making these real-time interactions easy to understand and rebroadcast. Over time, radio stations can use this kind of digital data to analyse audience behaviour and the popularity of different shows.

In a "Twitter like" way, radio, combined with the ubiquity of mobile, can be a platform for community discussions that change people's lives. Radio stations are being called upon to embrace new technology, but it is fundamentally important to make use of tools that are available locally, engaging people on the platforms they already use. As radio stations and tool providers all over the world are discovering, it is possible to do smart things with dumb phones.

This post was originally seen on the Guardian Development's Poverty Matters blog.

How Journalists Are Using FrontlineSMS to Innovate Around the World

This post was originally shared here on Media Shift's Idea Lab blog. By Flo Scialom, FrontlineSMS Community Support Coordinator

So much can be said in 160 characters. As we've started to look at tailoring FrontlineSMS software for journalists, we've realized just how much potential there is to use text messaging as a news source.

As FrontlineSMS's community support coordinator, I interact every day with people and organizations that are using SMS in innovative ways. Increasingly, I've come across uses of FrontlineSMS as a journalistic tool, and this is particularly exciting for us as we embark on building new mobile tools to help increase media participation in hard-to-reach communities.

FrontlineSMS is a free and open-source tool, so its most interesting uses have always come from motivated, engaged users who discover and experiment with ways to use SMS to improve what they do. When we talk about using SMS for journalism, some people immediately jump into thinking about how they could cram an entire newspaper into 160 characters. Obviously, that would be a bit tight. What our users have found, however, is that there are lots of ways to use shorter communication to enable effective journalism.

In fact, FrontlineSMS users regularly demonstrate how a wealth of information can fit into 160 characters. It's through the creative ingenuity of our users that the impact of using SMS as a news sharing tool really comes to life. The following are some examples of our users that answer the question: What difference can SMS make for the media? Read More


Equal Access is an innovative organization focused on using media and technology to help support development. In Chad and Niger, Equal Access runs interactive community radio shows that feature topics such as politics and religion and discuss how to overcome community tensions. With listeners keen to discuss these topics, Equal Access needs an accessible way to manage regular audience interaction. FrontlineSMS enables users to manage large numbers of incoming and outgoing SMS, providing the ability to view multiple messages on-screen, set up auto-replies, and divide contacts into groups depending on their interests. Using these functions, Equal Access sets up a way for audiences to text into its radio shows, and is able to effectively manage incoming audience text messages while on-air.

The Equal Access team talked about the value of this in a guest post on our blog, saying, "We use FrontlineSMS to create interaction ... and this shows listeners that they are being heard. In closed communities, or those struggling with violence or intolerance, the act of engaging in an interactive dialogue ... can help people feel engaged and included."

Equal Access' use of SMS demonstrates that 160 characters can be enough to enable audience engagement. And it's not just radio audiences that engage in this way (although the combination of radio and SMS is prominent, as seen through our work on FrontlineSMS:Radio).


In the Democratic Republic of Congo, SMS has been used to engage opinions from audiences of a television drama broadcast called "Rien que la Vérité" (meaning "Nothing but the Truth"). One of the aims of this broadcast, which isn't just your standard entertaining drama, is to raise awareness and challenge stereotypes on HIV/AIDS. Viewers of "Rien que la Vérité" were given the option to interact with the show's producers via text message. In this case, hearing from the audience via SMS helped demonstrate whether opinions on HIV/AIDs are being affected by the show's content.

For both Equal Access and "Rien que la Vérité," using FrontlineSMS software enables more efficient audience interaction, making text messages easier to manage, respond to, and analyze.

Ongoing audience interaction is clearly important, and in today's changing media landscape the audience is now a major news provider, too. Even in areas where there's no Internet connection -- where the power of social media has yet to reach -- citizen journalists are still playing a key role in the production of media content.


Harry Surjadi, a Knight International Journalism fellow, is enabling citizen journalists from remote offline communities in Indonesia to break news in 160 characters. Surjadi has used FrontlineSMS to set up a system in which incoming reports from citizen journalists can be forwarded via SMS to groups of subscribers who would not necessarily have access to news from other sources; the result is a truly innovative and powerful SMS news service which is proving successful already.

The system is run with Ruai Citizen Journalism Training Center, part of a local television station in Indonesia called RuaiTV, and was set up with support from Internews. Surjadi's motivation in setting this system up was to enable remote indigenous communities to actively engage in producing media content, and due to the accessibility of SMS, he is achieving his news-sharing goals.

It's exciting to see how FrontlineSMS is allowing people to engage at a wider community level. Our users have demonstrated the wealth of potential uses of SMS in the media. Through our community, I've seen that 160 characters can speak volumes -- facilitating dialogues, providing a voice to isolated communities, and, ultimately, providing access to information that can help improve lives.

Image courtesy of Ken Banks of

FrontlineSMS Listed at Number 47 in the Global Journal's "Top 100 Best NGOs"

FrontlineSMS is excited and honoured to be featured in The Global Journal's list of Top 100 Best NGOs, which was announced earlier this week. It is fantastic to receive this acknowledgement for the important role FrontlineSMS is playing in leveraging mobile technology to support social change across the world.  We have lots planned for 2012, and so this announcement is a great start to what is going to be a big year!  For more information on this announcement please see below or you can visit the Global Journal webpage, too. Here is how the Global Journal announced their 'Top 100 Best NGOs' list:

"The Global Journal  is proud to announce the release of its inaugural ‘Top 100 Best NGOs’ list. The first international ranking of its kind, this exclusive in-depth feature will no doubt stimulate debate, while providing academics, diplomats, policymakers, international organizations and the private sector an insight into the ever changing dynamics and innovative approaches of  the non-profit world and its 100 leading actors.

Recognizing the significant role of NGOs as influential agents of change on a global scale, The Global Journal has sought to move beyond outdated clichés and narrow conceptions about what an NGO is and does. From humanitarian relief to the environment, public health to education, microfinance to intellectual property, NGOs are increasingly at the forefront of developments shaping the lives of millions of people around the world."

This is what they said of FrontlineSMS, and the reason why we are in the list:

"In 2005, Ken Banks [FrontlineSMS Founder] was working to help authorities engage and communicate with the public on wildlife conservation efforts in South Africa without relying on the Internet. Realizing he needed a system that could send, receive, and organize SMS text messages through a mobile device and laptop, the original concept of FrontlineSMS was born.

For remote areas in developing countries where individuals can at best access a mobile phone signal, the simplicity of FrontlineSMS is central to its appeal. A free, open-source software platform that works without an Internet connection by connecting a device such as a cell phone or GSM modem with a local phone number, FrontlineSMS has been downloaded 20,000 times and is being used in 70 countries worldwide. From facilitating the real-time dissemination of market data to coffee farmers in Aceh, to supporting Iraq’s first independent news agency and being used to monitor elections and prevent vote rigging in the Philippines, Afghanistan and Nigeria, users have driven the development of new features to support positive social change in over 20 sectors.

As the FrontlineSMS community has expanded, so too has the ‘family’ of sector specific projects the organization has, which are adapting and extending the software for specialized use in finance, education delivery, healthcare, community radio and legal services."

You can read more about this announcement on the Global Journal website here.

The Huffington Post: "Haiti Earthquake 2 Years Later: Rape Survivors Support Abuse Victims In Displacement Camps"

FrontlineSMS was featured in an article from The Huffington Post about sexual violence in displacement camps in Haiti, where almost half a million people are living after the 2010 eartquake.  The full article can be found here. "'Since the earthquake, Haitian women and girls in the displacement camps have faced an epidemic of rape. They have lived without adequate security, lighting, shelter or privacy,' MADRE, KOFAVIV's partner organization, said in a statement.

KOFAVIV was founded in 2004 and set up services in 22 camps after the earthquake to respond to the rise in sexual violence. The organization provides medical, legal and psychological support services to victims [...].

Volunteers monitor the camp and have an alert hotline and FrontlineSMS system to notify authorities of abuse. Trained psychologists volunteer their time and accompany women to the doctor, ensuring they're checked within 72 hours of being raped. Lawyers also volunteer their services in navigating the process of bringing charges against an attacker."

To read the full article please visit The Huffington Post website here.

DevEx: "Three trends to watch in international development for 2012"

FrontlineSMS was featured in an article from DevEx this week, as part of a piece on the trends to watch in international development for 2012. You can find an extract of the article below, and the full piece can be found here. "As the world adjusts to seven billion people, and begins its creep toward eight billion, doing more with less will become increasingly important. Continuing economic stagnation and budgetary concerns in OECD countries will also put stress on existing commitments of foreign assistance and hamper new initiatives. Greater efficiency and effectiveness in development is paramount. Below are three trends to watch in the coming year that can help improve development outcomes.

1) mHealth and mGovernance

Applying mobile phone technology to global health challenges has huge potential to improve health outcomes. In previous blogs I’ve given a few examples of how mHealth is making a difference: in remote areas of Afghanistan, health workers are getting training through SMS; in South Africa, Project Masiluleke sends text messages with important information about HIV; in South Asia pregnant women are receiving important maternal health information also via text messages. Here are few more instances: FrontlineSMS, a free online text messaging system that sends texts between groups of people and online mapping systems like Google Earth, allows health workers in Cambodia to report cases of malaria in real time. This has permitted the government to track outbreaks and allocate resources more effectively. Previously, it took up to a month for cases to be registered."

To read the full article please visit the DevEx website here.

NYT: "A Quest for Hybrid Companies That Profit, but Can Tap Charity"

FrontlineSMS was featured in an article in the New York Times this week! You can find an extract of the article below, and the full piece can be found on the New York Times website here. "A new type of company intended to put social goals ahead of making profits is taking root around the country, as more states adopt laws to bridge the divide between nonprofits and businesses...

Charities seeking ways to reduce their reliance on donated dollars are increasingly developing programs that could be mistaken for businesses, and for them, such a structure solves a number of headaches. It gives them access to the capital markets, allows them to pay higher compensation levels and provides potential exit strategies, all unavailable to nonprofits...

Frontline SMS ... organized as a community interest company, or C.I.C.’s, the British corporate designation that has inspired many of the new hybrid in corporation laws passed in the United States. C.I.C.’s are required to have a social purpose like health care and their assets are locked, limiting what can be distributed to shareholders, employees and others.

FrontlineSMS was spun out of, a California nonprofit whose mission is to develop technology to help nonprofit groups deliver services. 'The value proposition is inherently defined in terms of social benefit,' said Sean Martin McDonald, of FrontlineSMS. 'That reduces a lot of concerns you might normally have from traditional financial investors by making it clear that your mission is primarily social, not primarily about making profits.'"

To read more check out the full article on the New York Times website here.

FrontlineSMS 2011 Curry Stone Design Prize Winners

FrontlineSMS is excited to announce that we have been awarded the Curry Stone Design Prize, a prestigious award which recognizes the valuable contributions of social design pioneers across the world. The award "was created in the belief that designers can be an instrumental force for improving people’s lives and the state of the world". The FrontlineSMS team is honoured to be recognised as one of the prize winners. According to Ken Banks, FrontlineSMS Founder:

We're honoured, surprised and excited to win this Prize, particularly when you consider most Curry Stone winners over the years have concentrated on physical design. This Prize, combined with our recent Buckminster Fuller Challenge "honourable mention" and last year's National Geographic "Explorer" award, see us taking FrontlineSMS - and the mobile-for-development sector in general - into new territory.

There's a growing realisation that socially-focused mobile tools can be part of the socially responsible design world, particularly if they are user-focused, and built around appropriate technologies which allow communities to build and design their own solutions to their own problems. This is an approach we have been championing for years, and it is wonderful to receive such recognition.

Warm congratulations to Hsieh Ying-Chun, the Grand Prize Winner, as well as Atelier d’Architecture Autogérée (AAA), also winners of the prize along with FrontlineSMS - we are honored to be recognized alongside them.

For further details about the Prize, and the other winners please see below press release, published today on the Curry Stone website:

The 2011 Curry Stone Design Prize Winners were announced today with an official presentation ceremony to follow on November 7th at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Hsieh Ying-Chun is the Grand Prize Winner; he will receive $100,000 from the foundation with no strings attached. Hsieh is a leading Taiwanese architect who for over a decade has deployed his talents in rural areas decimated by natural disaster. Hsieh works throughout Asia, training villagers to build locally appropriate dwellings in response to devastation such as the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, the 1999 Nantou earthquake, and the 2009 Morakot typhoon in Taiwan. Through Hsieh’s hands-on education process, villagers reconstruct their own community foundation, knowing they will live in buildings with greater safety, structural integrity, and sustainability.

Two additional 2011 Winner Prizes, of $10,000 each, will be awarded to Atelier d’Architecture Autogérée (AAA) and FrontlineSMS.

Atelier d'Architecture Autogérée is a collective of architects, designers and social scientists who transform urban spaces through collaborative endeavors. Based in Paris and founded by Romanian architects Constatin Petcou and Doina Petrescu in 2001, AAA has become an engine for engaging citizens in shaping their own cities through building, farming, and artistic intervention. AAA acts as a creative instigator, empowering local communities to carry out and sustain their own ideas for urban regeneration.

FrontlineSMS was founded in London by Ken Banks in 2005 to enable effective communications channels for communities in the developing world. FrontlineSMS leverages the ubiquity of mobile phones and familiarity of text messaging to turn an offline laptop into a communication hub. The simple innovation empowers villagers, aid agencies, and news services to exchange information easily among groups.

The Curry Stone Design Prize was created to champion designers as a force for social change. Now in its fourth year, the Prize recognizes innovators who address critical issues involving clean air, food and water, shelter, health care, energy, education, social justice or peace. Nominees for the Curry Stone Design Prize are selected by an anonymous, rotating group of leaders representing broad fields of design, as well as humanitarian advocates from related disciplines. A jury reviews the nominations to choose one Grand Prize Winner and two Prize Winners. Emphasis is placed on emerging projects and ideas that may not have yet been taken to scale. The Curry Stone Design Prize was founded by Clifford Curry, an architect and recognized pioneer in senior housing, and Delight Stone, a historic archaeologist and social justice activist. Dr. Louisa Silva and Gary Feuerstein serve as board members.

Grand Prize Winner, Hsieh Ying-Chun establishes a cooperative network of designers, contractors, and residents that supports local needs. His simple designs ensure that every villager can have a hand in building their own home. His work has generated job opportunities and environmental awareness, while protecting local diversities and cultural traditions. After completion, he makes the design plans available in creative commons. Hsieh’s work has helped thousands of people.

Prize Winners:

Atelier d’Architecture Autogérée (AAA), Paris, France Collective Urban Architecture

FrontlineSMS, London, England Community Solutions Through Mobile Technology

CURRY STONE DESIGN PRIZE FESTIVAL, Harvard Graduate School of Design

Prize Ceremony & Presentation: Monday, November 7th, 2011 6:30-8:00pm Harvard GSD, 48 Quincy Street, Cambridge, MA RSVP

Three Workshops at the GSD: Tuesday, November 8th, 2011 12pm-2:00pm, CSDP Prize winners Hsieh Ying-Chun, Constantin Petcou and Doina Petrescu, and Ken Banks will each lead a workshop.

The Curry Stone Design Prize Festival is presented in partnership with the Loeb Fellowship and the Department of Urban Planning and Design, Harvard Graduate School of Design. For more information on the Curry Stone Design Prize, Events and Winners, see: or Twitter @currystoneprize.

“Africa’s quiet digital revolution” FrontlineSMS:Radio featured on BBC

FrontlineSMS:Radio was recently featured in an article written by Jane Wakefield for the BBC’s technology page. Below is an extract and you can find the full article here. “For many in Africa, getting information still comes from a very low-tech device – the radio.

Ken Banks hopes to unite the power of radio with his already well-known FrontLineSMS, a text service that has provided key information to people caught up in emergencies such as the earthquake in Haiti.

Now he wants to see the project more embedded into daily lives, offering listeners to radio stations in Kenya and Zambia the chance to really engage with the topics discussed on their favourite radio stations.

'Clearly rural radio and mobile technology are a potent mix. Independently, both are making significant contributions – both directly and indirectly – to the communities they seek to serve. Together there is every chance they could achieve yet more,' he said.

Listeners will be able to text in to radio shows, allowing stations to aggregate content, identify the trends that are concerning people and build shows around specific topics.

Ida Jooste, who works for Internews, a non-governmental organisation that trains many of the DJs who run such radio stations, thinks it will be an invaluable tool.

'When texts are read on air they may not be representative. SMS Radio will aggregate material around themes such as poverty or cholera and allow the DJ to know what the concern of the day is,' she said.”

To read the full article on the BBC News website please click here.

Wired: Data could fix philanthrophy's accountability problem

FrontlineSMS recently attended an event called hosted by the Indigo Trust, the Institute for Philanthropy and the Omidyar Network --  called 'The Power of Information: New Technologies for Philanthropy and Development'. Wired wrote a follow up piece on a panel at this event, which featured FrontlineSMS and our founder Ken Banks, who spoke on the panel Wired chose to focus on. Below is an extract from the Wired article, and you can find the piece in full on the Wired website here.

"There is a lack of accountability within philanthropy because the people who provide the resources aren't sufficiently well-connected to the beneficiaries they are supposed to be funding. Technology can change that, according to a panel speaking at an event ... called 'The Power of Information: New Technologies for Philanthropy and Development'.

The panel -- which included the Indigo Trust's Will Perrin; Owen Barder, senior fellow at the Centre for Global Development;  MySociety's Tom Steinberg; Kiwanja's Ken Banks and Sodnet's Philip Thigo -- argued that data collected by NGOs tends to only serve to make donors feel better about their philanthropic efforts. That means that the data describes allocation of funds and supplies photogenic case studies, rather than focusing on the quality of the execution of that aid....

Ken Banks from Kiwanja talked about empowering local communities to take action, with systems such as Frontline SMS, a free, open-source piece of software that allows you to distribute and collect information to the masses via SMS with just a mobile phone and a computer. As Banks describes: "The software turns a low end laptop, mobile and dongle into a two-way messaging system."

The system is now used in conjunction with the radio stations -- the most wide-reaching media channel in many African countries -- to allow people to send feedback to radio stations via SMS."

To read the article in full visit the Wired website here.

ReliefWeb: Using text messaging as weapon in malaria war in Cambodia

ReliefWeb have recently reported on FrontlineSMS being used to help to contain the spread of malaria in Cambodia. This story has also received coverage from IRIN, the news service of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The FrontlineSMS blog featured a guest post about this use of our software, too, which you can read here. Below is an extract from the ReliefWeb coverage:

"TA REACH, 6 September 2011 - Cambodian efforts to contain the spread of malaria have been strengthened by a pilot project using text messaging and web-based technology.

"My work is definitely easier," said Sophana Pich, 41, one of 184 village malaria workers (VMWs) now trained in three provinces (Kampot, Siem Reap and Kampong Cham) since the project launch earlier this year.

She typically diagnoses five to six cases of the often deadly virus each month during the rainy season between May and October.

"Before, it would take a month before this information was reported to the district health level. Now it's instantaneous," the mother-of-three said from her home in Ta Reach, a village of 200 households in Kampot Province, about 150km southwest of Phnom Penh.

There are close to 3,000 VMSs in 1,500 villages across Cambodia, described by many as the "foot soldiers" in the country's fight against malaria.

As part of a larger US$22.5 million malaria containment effort launched by the government in 2009 and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the volunteers receive three days of training in the early diagnosis of malaria and treatment.

In addition, they are given a bicycle, a pair of boots, a bag, a flashlight and a cooler box for medicines, as well as a small travel allowance.

Under the pilot scheme now under way, they are also given mobile phones.

Using FrontlineSMS - an open-source software enabling users to send and receive text messages with groups of people - VMSs can now report in real time all malaria cases in their villages to the Malaria Information and Alert System in Phnom Penh with a simple text message, including the patient's name, age, location and type of virus."

To read the full article visit ReliefWeb. Climate Information Alerts Boost Poor Farmers in Zambia has published a guest post today, by Riedner Mumbi and Polly Ghazi, about the work of RANET (Radio and Internet for the Communication of Hydro-Meteorological Information), who are considering use of FrontlineSMS in Zambia.

Below is an extract of the post. To read the full post visit

"As climate change intensifies, bringing more extreme weather, as well as seasonal and longer-term changes, effective adaptation for rural regions of Africa will depend on timely and accurate advance information. Early warnings will enable farmers to shelter their animals and protect their income and families. In addition, the collection and distribution of local rainfall information can help smallholder farmers to adjust their crop production methods to changing seasonal precipitation patterns.

The Zambian government has been one of the first in Africa to recognize this need. Through its RANET (Radio and Internet for the Communication of Hydro-Meteorological Information) Project, the Zambia Meteorological Department is tapping remote communities across several provinces to collect climate information. In the past four years, some 3,060 farmers have been provided with rain gauges to take rainfall measurements which are then fed back to the meteorological service's local weather stations through mobile phones. Farmers are also encouraged to report other local weather observations. To motivate farmers taking part, RANET periodically recharges their phones with free airtime, and project managers are now testing the FrontLine SMS software to help minimize the service cost."

Read the full post at

Kelly Sponberg from RANET has previously written a guest post for the FrontlineSMS blog, about RANET using FrontlineSMS in their work. Click here to read this post.

The FrontlineSMS message reaches new audiences

It has been an exciting few days for FrontlineSMS in terms of media recognition for the work we do. Recent coverage of FrontlineSMS has included an article in Wired magazine, a guest opinion piece in CNN World, and an interview with FrontlineSMS founder, Ken Banks, in National Geographic Traveler magazine too.  As a result of all this attention there has been a dramatic rise in downloads of FrontlineSMS, with almost 200 people downloading our free and open source software over the last two days - nearly five times more than normal. If you would like your own copy of FrontlineSMS you get it here today!

Check out brief extracts from these various articles below, and follow the links to read more!

Wired Magazine: Look Ma, No internet! Free Software Gives Text Messaging New Reach

"Back in 2005, all Ken Banks wanted was a simple way to use his cellphone to reach the community around South Africa’s Kruger National Park. Little did he know that his brainchild would help monitor nation-wide elections in Nigeria, provide market price information to fisherman in Indonesia, and just last week, become a finalist in the Buckminster Fuller Challenge for socially responsible projects and initiatives."

The National Geographic Traveler: Leapfrogging the internet

"Ten-dollar cell phones are easier to obtain than Internet access in many parts of the developing world. And now, thanks to software conceived by Ken Banks, a National Geographic Emerging Explorer, cheap phones are making the Internet unnecessary in those places. Grassroots groups are exchanging vital information from laptop to cell phone in areas the Internet doesn’t reach."

CNN World: The Reluctant Innovator

"The story of innovation is not complete without an appreciation of "real world" innovation, much of which is grassroots-driven and much of which goes unnoticed. It’s this “real world” innovation that I’d like to discuss... The rise of the Internet – followed more recently by the mobile phone – presents us with opportunities to solve human problems like never before.... I would also count myself as a reluctant innovator – FrontlineSMS (a piece of software being used by non-profits all over the world to run text message-based networks) was never planned – and the team behind Ushahidi would likely feel the same. They were simply responding to a crisis in their country. None of us went out looking for something to solve. A problem found us, and we felt compelled to solve it. This is a different kind of innovation to that taught in schools or harnessed in laboratories."

If you would like to read these articles in full follow the links below:

Wired Magazine: Look Ma, No internet! Free Software Gives Text Messaging New Reach

The National Geographic Traveler: Leapfrogging the internet

CNN World: The Reluctant Innovator