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.

36 thoughts on “Hope meets phones.

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  2. Jason Harris says:

    Hi. My name is Jason and I’m a mobile writer over at
    techcraver.com. I’m very interested in stories such as this. Portland Oregon is my hometown and I see you’ve been working with Weiden+Kennedy (also based in Portland, OR). I’m wondering if there’s a name of a contact I could talk to W+K to feature a story about frontlinesms on my website.


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  15. kiwanja says:

    Thanks for all the Tweets and Retweets, guys. :)

    @Jason – Have fun talking with Renny! And thanks for your interest. Looking forward to reading your post

    @Joe – Thanks for the kind comments on your blog, and for helping spread the word on Hope Phones. I know the FrontlineSMS:Medic team will be grateful

    @SoCap – Wonderful commentary re: Josh on your blog…

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  18. hash says:

    Great post Ken. I hope this campaign brings in the resources and exposure to get FSMS:Medic even further. It has such promise.

    I’m a big fan of what Josh and Lucky are up to, as I think it’s a lot about taking care of a problem that’s “right now”. While I think there is room for top-down and large-scale government approaches to these kinds of issues, we can’t wait for that to happen, which is why FSMS:Medic is so needed.

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