Enabling the inspiration generation

During one of my many epic walks around Palo Alto last week, I stopped and tapped this into my phone:

Note

Let me explain.

When I started out in mobile almost seven years ago, there were very few people working in the space, which meant there were very few people to turn to for support, guidance or advice. In fact, there were so few people with any meaningful experience I was offered my first major piece of mobile work based on my IT knowledge and conservation/development experience alone. Today, there would have been dozens – if not hundreds – of applicants for that job and it’s unlikely I’d have stood a chance.

But getting a chance is what it’s all about. When kiwanja.net officially came into being towards the end of 2003, it took me almost four years to get any serious traction, let alone funding. Emails went unanswered, requests for charity-rates at conferences were snubbed, begging letters to mobile operators and handset manufacturers were blanked. It may be hard at the top, but it’s harder at the bottom. That’s why, today, I never forget what it was like when I started out. And that’s why I never take anything for granted, and why I never forget to make time to help students, researchers, NGOs, organisations – anyone from all walks of life, in fact – who find themselves working their way off that first rung of the mobile ladder.

UN Youth AssemblyLast Friday I attended the UN Youth Assembly in New York. If there’s one thing I love – other than having my own name plate, of course – it’s talking to a room full of fearless students. I spent the best part of this morning following up on their emails, the fallout of my short talk on kiwanja.net and FrontlineSMS.

If we can help anyone on their journey, then we should. Whether that be giving advice or a positive critique on an idea, helping raise awareness through blog posts, giving tips on fundraising, making introductions to other projects and people with the same interests, or offering to be a future soundboard as their ideas grow and develop. These are all things I didn’t have when I started out, and using them productively now that I do is one of the biggest contributions I believe I can – and should – make to the future growth of our discipline. Our legacy shouldn’t be measured in the projects or tools we create, but in the people we serve and inspire.

In the mobile world we talk a lot about project sustainability, but little about human sustainability. If we’re to have any chance of ongoing success then we need to attract the brightest young minds to the “mobile for development” field, and then give them all the support they need to keep them there. Empowerment isn’t just something we do in a distant land. There’s plenty we can be doing on our own doorstep.

It’s a different kind of empowerment, but that doesn’t make it less valuable. If anything, it’s more so.

Outreach, health and SMS in Ukraine

Earlier this year, IATP Ukraine launched three pilot projects using FrontlineSMS. In this, the thirteenth in our series of FrontlineSMS guest posts, Yuriy Selyverstov – the Dnipropetrovsk Representative from the Internet Access and Training Program (IATP) – describes two of the projects

Tamarisk, a Ukrainian NGO,  plays the key role of resource center for local third sector organisations in the Dnipropetrovsk region. It organises and conducts training for NGOs, and hosts joint round table events for mass media, local authorities and other NGO representatives. Because of this it is important that Tamarisk be able to inform their target audiences about upcoming events. E-mail lists, a web portal for local NGOs, phone calls, and personal contacts have been traditionally used for this purpose.

Tamarisk NGO gathering. Photo: IREX

In March this year, Tamarisk – in co-operation with the IATP program – launched a pilot project that uses FrontlineSMS to disseminate information to target audiences via SMS. By June there were over a hundred NGO subscribers with additional numbers being added regularly. Subscribers are organised into several groups depending on the field of their activities, and since the start of the project over 300 messages have been sent. The effectiveness of SMS sending is well illustrated by the International Renaissance Foundation, who held a presentation at the Tamarisk offices in April. About 60% of the participants found out about the event via SMS.

The following conclusions were drawn after the first three months of using FrontlineSMS:

  • Almost all SMS messages were read compared to e-mail, which is not checked regularly by many NGOs
  • Bulk SMS sending saves time in comparison to phone calls or personal contact
  • SMS did not exclude other traditional tools for disseminating information, but complimented them very effectively

Tamarisk now plans to increase the use of FrontlineSMS in its work.

In the second project, “Doroga Zhizni” (Road of Life) applied FrontlineSMS in the field of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis transmission prevention and treatment. The target audience are injecting drug users and former prison inmates.  “Doroga Zhizni” is part of the all-Ukrainian “Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS“.

"Doroga Zhizhi" Manager Iryna Pryhodko. Photo: IREX

For two months starting in March 2009, a pilot group of users with mixed HIV/TB diagnosis received scheduled text messages twice a day reminding them to take their pills. After the two months were up, feedback was collected from the group asking their opinion about the effectiveness of the service. In total, 90% of the group replied that SMS effectively helped them not to forget to take their pills, and that they wanted to receive SMS in the future. Only 10% said SMS was not helpful. Overall, 50% of the group noted positive psychological benefits – the messages made them feel that they were not alone and that somebody cared about them. The project concluded that FrontlineSMS was effective in improving patient adherence to prescribed treatment.

“Doroga Zhizhi” now plan to recommend using SMS reminders with all of its clients, starting this summer. To make this scaling possible they plan to request additional funding from their donor to cover the cost of the messages.

IATP is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by IREX, an international nonprofit organisation that delivers cross-cutting programs to strengthen civil society, education, and media independence in more than 50 countries

Yuriy Selyverstov
Dnipropetrovsk Representative
Internet Access and Training Program (IATP)
www.ua.iatp.net

11 days, 12000 miles, progress, and sheep.

Eleven days and 8,500 miles ago I stepped on a plane to Washington DC (I’m about to do a final 3,500-odd miles back to London). It’s been a hectic but very productive few days.

To kick things off, I spent a couple of days with the Institute for Reproductive Health helping them design a prototype “standard days method” texting service using FrontlineSMS. It was exciting and interesting work, and I’m looking forward to following their future progress.

The following day saw me speak to around 150 leaders from Latin America who had gathered for a workshop at George Washington University. It was the first time I’d spoken to an exclusively foreign audience accompanied by a live translator, but at least I now know my jokes translate well. Next I headed to the west coast and spent the weekend working with an interesting bunch of computer scientists who had gathered at Berkeley. You can read my thoughts and reflections on that in a blog post here.

UN Youth Assembly

After spending a couple of extra days catching up in Palo Alto and San Francisco (one of my favourite places for taking photos, incidentally), I headed back to Washington DC to speak about innovation on a panel at the UN Youth Assembly. It was the first time I’d been to the UN, let alone spoke, and it looked and felt exactly as I’d expected (see photo, above). It was a great experience, and after the short talk I was totally cleaned out of \o/ badges by the delegates.

Today saw a final – and slightly random – parting event when I featured on the BBC “Test Match Special” cricket website, which had earlier in the day been discussing the demise of Tophill Joe, a championship breeding sheep. The image (below) comes from an earlier tweet of mine in the week when I saw what can only be described as a “niche” publication in a bookshop in Palo Alto, California.

"Beautiful Sheep"

It was a nice way to end a fun and productive – if not tiring – eleven days on the road and in the air. Next stop Cambridge, i.e. home.