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Posts from — May 2009

Having fun with the future

PC World

“Few companies innovate with the intensity and frequency of those working in mobile, and today’s present is a future that only a handful of people would have predicted just a few short years ago. While most of us happily soak up rampant innovation as mere consumers, a handful of people in the hallowed corridors of mobile R&D labs are already working on the next big thing – the phones we’ll be carrying around in our back pockets in 2012 and beyond”

Check out my latest PC World column for a few off-beat, random, fun thoughts on the future of mobile.

May 31, 2009   2 Comments

Unintended consequences

This is a subject which always fascinates me – “potential negative outcomes” from “perceived positive acts”. I’ve seen this kind of thing in the field before, but today found a blog which brings it much closer to home and, as a result, makes it far more relevant to far more people.

On her inspiring “Good Intentions are Not Enough” blog, Saundra Schimmelpfennig gives us “5 questions you should ask before donating goods overseas”:

Is the donation appropriate for the local climate, culture, and religion?
Do they actually need the donation?
Are the goods available locally?
Will the people receiving the goods be able to afford to fix or replace the donated item?
Will donating this item do more harm than good?

This reminded me a little of the opening of one of my older posts, which shared some application development observations in the social mobile space:

Understanding is important

Sometimes we think we’re doing the right thing because our intentions may be good, but things don’t always turn out that way.

Saundra is currently taking a year off to write “Beyond Good Intentions: How to Make Your Disaster Donations Do the Good You Intended”. Her book and blog are an attempt to start a conversation about the endemic problems in aid and how we, as donors, can impact its quality. I can’t wait. In the meantime, you can follow Saundra on Twitter.

May 29, 2009   27 Comments

The Social Mobile Long Tail explained

What follows is a short extract from the recent “Soul of the New Machine” human rights/technology conference hosted by UC Berkeley, in which I explain my theory of the Social Mobile Long Tail.

This video is also available on the FrontlineSMS Community pages

Social Mobile Long Tail

A full video of the session – PDA’s and Phones for Data Collection – which includes presentations from InSTEDD, Ushahidi, DataDyne and Salesforce.com, is available via the FORA.tv website.

May 23, 2009   105 Comments

FrontlineSMS, media, and the Malawi elections

It doesn’t quite make the headlines in the same way as elections in Nigeria, the DRC or Zimbabwe, but today the people of Malawi are awaiting the results of a general election which many are saying is too close to call. A peaceful and orderly outcome is crucial. Malawi has one of the fastest growing economies in the world (although it is starting from near-bottom, admittedly) and continued stability is vital if progress is to continue.

Access to balanced and unbiased election information is often a key problem at crucial times like these. The logistical challenges of running nationwide elections is often compounded by a lack of election-specific knowledge among local media, which can often lead to misreporting, misinformation and – in worse-case scenarios – civil unrest. The availability of ICT tools for local journalists can also be problematic, compounding the problem yet further.

Malawi elections, courtesy http://www.flickr.com/photos/malawielectionspix/

The African Elections Project (AEP) Malawi focuses on developing the capacity of the media through the use of ICTs, and mobile-enabled AEP Malawi team members are working across the country, using voice and SMS to stay in touch with a central newsroom based in Blantyre. This newsroom is equipped with a copy of FrontlineSMS, which is helping manage incoming and outgoing SMS to and from newsroom members, and helping auto-manage and disseminate news via SMS to subscribers.

FrontlineSMS is free software that turns a laptop and a mobile phone into a central communications hub. Once installed, the program enables users to send and receive text messages with large groups of people through mobile phones.

To receive regular election updates and certified results from the Malawi Electoral Commission, log on to www.africanelections.org/malawi. Malawians can text “subscribe” to +265 884 583 980 or email their mobile number to malawi@africanelections.org.

Updates are also available on Twitter by following @malawivotes2009

The African Elections Project (AEP) Malawi is co-ordinated by the International Institute for ICT Journalism working hand in hand with key partners, with funding from the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) and Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA).

May 20, 2009   69 Comments

Hope meets phones.

It’s been another landmark day in the short history of FrontlineSMS:Medic. For those of you who don’t know, today saw the launch of their latest initiative – Hope Phones – which, generally speaking, encourages people to dig out their old phones and give them a new lease of life in the hands of a community health care worker (CHW) in a developing country.

Hope Phones

Hope Phones will make use of the nearly 450,000 cell phones discarded every day in the United States, and allows donors to print a free shipping label and send their old phone in to The Wireless Source, a global leader in wireless device recycling. The phone’s value allows FrontlineSMS:Medic to purchase usable, recycled cell phones for  health care workers. According to Josh Nesbit:

Hope Phones lets you give your old cell phone new life on the frontline of global health. That’s powerful. Just one, old Blackberry will allow us to purchase three to five cell phones for health care workers, bringing another 250 families onto the health grid via SMS. Old phones can help save lives

Why it’s not about the phones

What really excites me isn’t the simplicity of the idea, or the great execution, or the branding (more kudos to our good friends at Wieden+Kennedy), wonderful as all those things are. It’s not even the number of retired phones this could rejuvenate, or the impact that all of this could have on the ground, incredible as it promises to be.

No. It’s all about mobilisation. To take and adapt a phrase:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed students can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has

FrontlineSMS:Medic, and Hope Phones, has come out of nowhere, and it’s challenging our perceptions of what’s possible. Sure, global health is a seriously big beast to deal with, and few of us – if any – will ever have the muscle needed to tackle that particular monster. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do anything. Indeed, there is a lot we can do.

Photo: Mobiles in Malawi/Jopsa.org

Talk is cheap

While large multinational donors and governments battle it out, dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s, people need help. Every day. These people can’t wait. And people like Josh, who have spent time on the ground understanding how rural hospitals tick, know all-too-well the impact that a simple cellphone can have in the hands of a committed CHW. With little more than passion, drive and an amazing ability to mobilise and motivate, Josh has pulled together an incredible team of equally committed individuals – students – from universities all across the United States. While adults generally critique and find reasons not to do things, they’ve gone out and done.

We all know what we can’t change. The real challenge therefore is not only figuring out what we can, but acting on it. Talk, like politics, is cheap. Lives are not.

It’s about time we challenged old models. And that time is now.

May 18, 2009   36 Comments

Why does this picture trouble me?

Image: International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth (IPC-IG)

I wonder.

Is it because it looks staged? Or because it reinforces our perceptions of the “old” and the “new”, the “developed” and the “underdeveloped”? Is it because it likely shows the beginning of the end of a complex relationship going back generations between a people and their culture?

We have so much to learn from traditional, indigenous societies, yet technology and knowledge transfer is almost universally one way – “us” to “them” – and is almost always portrayed in eye-catching images like the one above. In our world this is what progress looks like, neatly caught in the lens of a travelling laptop owner.

The picture tells us that development is on the way.

I wonder…

May 17, 2009   45 Comments

Conservation friends win Award

I’ve been friends with Lawrence and Gladys Zikusoka – founders of Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH) – for a few years after meeting them in Stockholm at an ICT4D conference. Our meeting was particularly exciting because of our shared interest in technology and primate conservation, and because of my previous conservation work in Uganda, the country where they’re based.

Today Lawrence sent me an email with news that Gladys had won an award. This is fantastic news, and incredibly well deserved. I’ve been an admirer and supporter of their work for some time, and it’s great to see them continue to get great traction and recognition for their efforts.

CTPH promotes conservation and public health by improving primary health care to people and animals in and around protected areas in Africa. You can see a video of Gladys and her work below, courtesy of the Daily Telegraph website.

(Gladys, Lawrence – remember you owe me a trip to Bwindi!)

May 15, 2009   7 Comments

Tackling domestic violence: An SMS SOS

This is the seventh in our series of FrontlineSMS guest posts. Here, Anthony Papillion – Founder of OpenEMR HQ – discusses his initial thoughts on being introduced to the software, and outlines his plans for its use in his Oklahoma home town to help women suffering domestic violence

“I only recently became involved with the FrontlineSMS project as an addition to a national project my company, OpenEMR HQ, is doing with a small African country. But, since discovering the software, I’ve been busily thinking of good ways it could be put to use by organizations in my own community and I’ve come up with a few I believe are viable. Today, I want to share one of those ideas and how we’re going to use FrontlineSMS as a tool to help combat violence against women in the United States, specifically, in the small community of Miami, Oklahoma.

Cause for concern

Every year, millions of American women face domestic violence at the hands of those that are supposed to love and protect them. These women often feel powerless and suffer continued abuse without ever reaching out because they either don’t know the resources are out there or because they’re scared nothing will be done to their abusers if they do come forward thereby encouraging even more abuse. Community crisis centers serve as a front line of defense in these situations often shuttling abused women out of dangerous situations and into safe houses, interfacing with police to make sure victims get the services and protection they need, and providing the much needed emotional support those who’ve escaped violent situations are so desperately in need of.

Domestic violence (http://www.helenjaques.co.uk)

Unfortunately, none of those things can be offered until the victim reaches out and getting abused women to take the first step can be a large part of the battle. Many women don’t think or have a safe way to catalog the abuse, don’t know how to report it, and don’t want calls to crisis numbers showing up on the mobile phone bill. The end result is the complete isolation of these women from any help at all.

Seeking solutions

As I’ve been playing around with FrontlineSMS, I’ve been thinking about ways it could be used to address these situations and I’m slowly starting to piece together a system called CPR that I hope to soon have deployed locally as a test bed for a larger, maybe statewide system.

The basic idea is to give women a quick, easy, and safe way to report and catalog abuse, and reach out for either police or crisis worker help, all without ever making a traceable phone call. Piecing together a system that consists of a laptop running FrontlineSMS, a mobile phone, and a few PHP scripts sitting on an Internet connection, I’m creating a system where women can send messages to various help authorities or just record instances of abuse for later use in court. For example:

C <A message that she wants to send to a crisis counselor>
P <A message she wants to send to a police officer>
R <A message she wants to be recorded for later use in court detailing an abusive incident>

FrontlineSMS keywordsUsing the CPR system, women in dangerous situations can quietly and safely reach out for help when a phone call simply isn’t possible. Using FrontlineSMS will allow both police and crisis agencies to have two way communication with the victim thereby ensuring the communication loop is never broken.

Building the vision

Since I’m still developing the system, I’ve not deployed an installation of it yet but I’ve been getting great feedback from various agencies I’ve spoken to. Eventually, I’d like to implement a way for victims to send pictures, video, and audio, and have it automatically attached to their case file within the CPR system for later use in court. That will come later and probably with some community help.

None of this would be possible without FrontlineSMS. While I am a professional software developer, I probably would never have developed a system like FrontlineSMS and the fact that it’s available as open source makes it incredibly accessible.

I’ll be sure to keep everyone up to date on how this project is coming along as it progresses. I’ll also be sure to blog about how we’re using FrontlineSMS in our Vision Africa project being launched very soon. Until then, feel free to send your feedback or make comments to this post. Thank you”.

Anthony Papillion
Founder
OpenEMR HQ
www.openemrhq.com

(This post originally appeared on Anthony’s “CajonTechie’s Mindstream” blog, and is republished with permission)

May 11, 2009   92 Comments

Human rights, SMS and the power of film

Tonight sees the screening of The Reckoning” – a film about the battle for the International Criminal Court – at The Soul of The New Machine human rights conference in Berkeley, California. In this – the sixth in our series of FrontlineSMS guest posts – Paco de Onis, the films’ Director, talks about how they plan to use FrontlineSMS as a way of engaging their audience as the film is shown around the world

"The Reckoning"The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague represents the most ambitious attempt ever to apply the rule of law on a global scale to protect the most basic human rights. It emerged from and reflects a world where sovereign nations are increasingly interdependent and at risk. In order to increase awareness of the ICC and highlight the essential role that justice can play in moving societies from violent conflict to peace and stability, Skylight Pictures produced the feature-length documentary film The Reckoning.

To accompany the release of The Reckoning, Skylight Pictures and the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) are co-producing IJCentral, designed to be the core of a global grassroots social network and resource for the international movement to bring perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide to justice. IJCentral will implement a multi-platform strategy with online mapping technology to visualize the movement, aggregating blogs, news feeds, short films and media modules created for education and advocacy.

One of the most exciting features of IJCentral will be FrontlineSMS two-way “listening posts” that will allow us to hear from concerned citizens around the world using their mobile phones to join the global conversation about justice, and respond to calls to action coming from the IJCentral social network. These “listening posts” will be deployed through the global network of our strategic partner the Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC), an umbrella organization of 2,500 NGOs and civil society groups that has been at the forefront of the international justice movement since 1995.

IJ Central

A high school class in Indianapolis will be able to have a real-time SMS exchange with an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in Uganda, for example, or in a presentation to Congress the IJCentral map could light up with geolocated SMS messages calling for an effective international justice system. As it accumulates content from users engaged with international justice, IJCentral will become an invaluable database for defending human rights around the world, and a powerful action tool.

For more than 25 years Skylight Pictures has been committed to producing artistic, challenging and socially relevant independent documentary films on issues of human rights and the quest for justice. Through the use of film and digital technologies, we seek to engage, educate and increase understanding of human rights amongst the public at large and policy makers, contributing to informed decisions on issues of social change and the public good. We see FrontlineSMS as a hugely valuable tool in enabling us to open the debate further, and to include individuals and communities who may have otherwise been excluded.

The International Center for Transitional Justice assists countries pursuing accountability for past mass atrocity or human rights abuse. The Center works in societies emerging from repressive rule or armed conflict, as well as in established democracies where historical injustices or systemic abuse remain unresolved.

Thank you. You can also follow our work on Twitter via @pacony and @IJCentral

Paco de Onis
Director, “The Reckoning”
www.thereckoningfilm.com

May 5, 2009   86 Comments

Caught on camera

They say a picture paints a thousand words, and that may be the case. But if they cost the earth or you don’t have permission to use them, they end up painting nothing much at all.

When my mobile ‘career’ kicked off in 2003 with research trips to South Africa and Mozambique, I took the opportunity to start taking and collecting mobile-related photos. Back then people were beginning to take an interest in the impact of mobile phones on the African continent, and NGOs were looking to use photos on websites or in project proposals and newsletters.

kiwanja Mobile Gallery

That collection now stands at almost 150 photos, and covers everything from people around the world texting or making calls to pictures of shops, signs, mobiles themselves and other interesting examples of mobile entrepreneurship in action. The images are free to use by non-profits or any other organisation seeking to profile the social impact of mobile technology. Visit the kiwanja Mobile Gallery for the full gallery of images, and for details on how to credit.

May 4, 2009   19 Comments