New team member for FrontlineSMS

Promoting FrontlineSMS has, up until now, been a slow and patient process. Over the past four years we’ve relied on the good will of many friends from many disciplines to help us get word out. It’s been a great joint effort, and it’s clearly worked as we hit our 3,500th download last week.

But, as from today, things are going to receive a welcome boost and become a little more proactive.

Thanks to the joint support of the Open Society Institute (OSI), and first-time donor Hivos, we’re bringing on-board a new team member to help accelerate adoption of FrontlineSMS, and to begin developing targeted materials and outreach for a range of key sectors where the software is proving particularly strong. These include – among many others – health, the media, agriculture, human rights and election monitoring. As always, it’s been the users who dictate where we concentrate our efforts.

Josh Nesbit: Photo courtesy IREXFor those of you familiar with FrontlineSMS, our new team member isn’t so new after all. It’s Josh Nesbit, the brains behind FrontlineSMS:Medic and Hope Phones. Josh was the original inspiration behind the creation of targeted FrontlineSMS communities of practice when he started applying the software in health, making him the ideal candidate for what we’re calling the FrontlineSMS Ambassador Programme.

We’re incredibly excited to have Josh on board. He’s achieved amazing things in a very short space of time, and his ability to motivate and inspire others is going to be key in encouraging and fostering the creation of further communities of practice. There are already two more underway, and Josh will report on these as his – and their – work progresses.

Josh is also looking forward to the challenges ahead:

I couldn’t be happier. It’s now in my job description to interact with FrontlineSMS users, who I’ve found to be some of the most inspiring people on the planet. I’m also very happy that this grant will let me continue work with FrontlineSMS:Medic, which has shown me how FrontlineSMS could be applied to and shaped for the field of healthcare. I know that users in other fields will rally around the software, and I’m here to help facilitate those communities

Josh will be working with us initially for two years, thanks to the incredible support of OSI and Hivos. This work also represents the starting point of our Clinton Global Initiative commitment made last year in New York. Josh will regularly write and blog about his progress, either here on the blog or over at his own site at

From everyone in the FrontlineSMS community… A very warm \o/ welcome, Josh!

About Hivos. A fair, free and sustainable world – that is what Hivos, the Humanist Institute for Development Cooperation, wants to contribute to. Together with local organisations in developing countries, Hivos strives for a world in which all citizens – both men and women – have equal access to resources and opportunities for development. On the web at

About OSI. The Open Society Institute works to build vibrant and tolerant democracies whose governments are accountable to their citizens. To achieve its mission, OSI seeks to shape public policies that assure greater fairness in political, legal, and economic systems and safeguard fundamental rights. OSI places a high priority on protecting and improving the lives of people in marginalized communities. On the web at

Poverty, pain and the politics game

As a keen cyclist for most of my life, I’ve always been shocked at how little many car drivers care or care to understand the challenges of two wheels in heavy or fast moving traffic. This lack of respect is not only frustrating – it can also be dangerous. In my younger days I thought I had the answer. Force all learner drivers to spend a month on a push bike before issuing them their licence. There’s no better way than learning by experiencing, after all.

As I’ve got older I realise that my bike riding solution may not have been the most practical, but the “learning by experiencing” point is as strong and relevant as ever, particularly in the world of international development. You can’t beat experience. Pretty-much everyone I respect and turn to for guidance – both spiritual and practical – has got their hands dirty in the field at some stage. I feel at times that a stint in the field should be compulsory. How else can you truly understand the problem?

One of the down-sides to a discipline which doesn’t insist on “compulsory” fieldwork is the rise of a culture of politics. Losing sight of the bigger picture and becoming embroiled in competitive, overly critical behaviour can be a huge distraction and hugely destructive. Development suddenly becomes a battle of “a versus b” or “x versus y” and not about the alleviation of poverty and suffering that it should be. I steer well clear at every available opportunity, and draw on much of what I’ve seen and experienced over the past sixteen years to do so.

War DanceI also have my “War Dance” DVD. One of the toughest films I’ve ever seen, “War Dance” – based in the camps of Northern Uganda – puts everything into perspective. For those of us who have seen this kind of suffering it’s a stark reminder – and a cry – to remain focused. Get a copy and watch it each time you need reminding why you’re doing what you doing. Politics has no place in a world like this.

It doesn’t have a place here, either. Whether you agree or disagree with the approach, this recent Medecins Sans Frontiers video drives home a message not a million miles away. It may be messy, it may be challenging, and it may be confrontational – but if this is the reality for everyone on the ground then we need to be having these conversations.

Be warned: It’s difficult to watch (well, listen to), as is “War Dance”. But it’s powerful, and it’s a reminder to all of us that we need to focus on what matters, where it matters. Poverty is not about politics, and should not be driven by it. It’s about people. Every single one of them.

Mobiles, innovation, Africa

“Innovation around the mobile phone is particularly interesting in Africa, often because it is born out of necessity”.

Over the past week, the BBC have been covering the arrival of the Seacom fibre optic cable off the coast of East Africa, focusing on Kenya initially and today moving on to Rwanda. Their excellent coverage – video, news, blogs, photos and opinion – is all brought together in a new “Connected Africa” section of their website.

BBC Online

A few weeks ago, the Editor of the BBC News Technology site asked if I could contribute an article highlighting the innovative use of mobile technology in East Africa. With all the excitement around the new bandwidth revolution, it might have been easy to forget the mobile revolution. As the BBC put it, “If you want to see how east Africa may respond to the arrival of high-speed internet links, look no further than the mobile phone market”.

The featured article, or ‘Viewpoint’ – “Mobiles offer lifelines in Africa” – can be read here.