Taking on the grassroots challenge

Over the past four years FrontlineSMS has taught us a lot, and I write about it frequently (see my recent misconceptions and observations posts). One of the biggest – and most underestimated – challenges is outreach. If you’re building a tool for grassroots NGOs, particularly those working on the margins, promoting social mobile tools to them is inherently tricky.

Over the past year, and over the past few months in particular, increasing numbers of local, national and international NGOs have begun promoting FrontlineSMS themselves, to their own field offices, partners and NGO friends. This is hugely significant for us, amplifying our own efforts considerably. This short video, courtesy of United Methodist Communications (UMC), shows a handful of delegates at a recent crisis management conference talk briefly about their thoughts on the software.

They may only be a few words, but for us they speak volumes. We took on the grassroots challenge, and it’s great to see others joining in to help us.

After all, it doesn’t matter how good your mobile solutions are if no-one knows they exist.

Update: Domestic violence – An SMS SOS

This update is the twelfth in our series of FrontlineSMS guest posts. Here, Anthony Papillion – Founder of OpenEMR HQ – shares the latest news on its use in his Oklahoma home town, where the software is helping provide relief to women suffering domestic violence

Anthony Papillion“In late May of this year, I assisted a local crisis center in deploying a solution we’ve now dubbed “FamilyFIRST“. FamilyFIRST is an SMS based system that allows victims of domestic violence to reach out to police, crisis counselors, and to document abuse incidents all via simple SMS messaging.

When the project first began, neither I nor the agency involved were sure how it would be received or if it would even be used. Educating victims to think pro-actively in crisis situation is a difficult thing. Their first reaction is to simply hide or get out of the situation if possible. This often means running without a purse or mobile phone.

So the agency decided to tackle the deployment in two phases: Technical and marketing. Technical, thanks to FrontlineSMS, was incredibly easy. By integrating the software along with a bit of custom software written by me, I was able to get a working system up and running bug free in less than a week. It includes message routing and archival, and is structured in such a way that the evidence stored inside of it has been deemed acceptable by the court.

Then, came the marketing side. Obviously, the agency didn’t have a lot of money so doing a huge PR blitz was out of the question. So they went about spreading word about the system in local PSA’s, victims groups, in seminars, and through area counselors working with the abused population. Because this was all very grassroots, they were able to accomplish this with a near zero budget and we were all totally shocked by the response it received.

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

In the last two and a half months, FamilyFiRST has processed over 4,000 messages from victims of violence, not only in our local area, but around the state of Oklahoma. Evidence stored in the system has been used to help successfully prosecute 9 offenders and has resulted in combined sentences of over 110 years being handed down in those cases.

All in all, the system is a success and it couldn’t have happened without FrontlineSMS. Even though I’m a software engineer by trade, I wouldn’t have had the time or knowledge to build such a robust system from scratch and FrontlineSMS reduced ‘building the system’ to writing a few pieces of tie-in software and setting up a database.

Our future goal for the system is to work with other agencies in deploying in in health care (our core competency), domestic violence, and education. Thanks to this experience with FrontlineSMS, I’m confident that a robust system can be built quickly, easily, and very affordably (under $700 USD).

Thank you Ken and all the developers of FrontlineSMS. You’re helping to change the world, one download at a time”.

Anthony Papillion
Founder
OpenEMR HQ
www.openemrhq.com

(This post is also available on the FrontlineSMS community pages. Anthony’s original FrontlineSMS guest post, which describes the thinking behind the project, is available here. Congratulations to everyone at “FamilyFIRST” for such a great, inspiring and hugely valuable initiative)

SMS registration for Maker Faire Africa

Attendees of next month’s Maker Faire Africa will be able to register their attendance by text message, thanks to a clever hack by  Henry Barnor and Henry Addo, two Ghanaian developers.

Maker Faire AfricaIn the true spirit of Maker Faire, the two Henry’s have built the system using a phone with a Zain SIM card connected to a laptop running FrontlineSMS. When the software receives an SMS it sends the data via HTTP to a python web application running on Google’s App Engine infrastructure, where it’s processed and a registration code sent out to the originating handset. It’s another great use of the software and kudos goes out to the guys behind it. You can read their full post here.

Maker Faire Africa (MFA), a celebration of African ingenuity, innovation and invention, will take place between August 14th and 16th at the Ghana-India Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence in ICT in Ghana’s capital, Accra. Wish I could be there.  :(