NEWS: “Cometh the Hour, Cometh the Technology” new PC World column online

For NGOs and developers alike, the ICT4D space can be a tough nut to crack. While NGOs generally struggle to find the tools to meet their particular needs, developers face the opposite problem – getting their tools into the hands of those who need them the most. Attempts to connect the NGO and developer communities – physically and virtually – continue to this day with varying degrees of success. There is no magic bullet

kiwanja’s latest PC World column – “Cometh the Hour, Cometh the Technology” – discusses some of the challenges in getting an ICT4D project to ‘market’, and looks at four projects which have taken a successful “rapid prototyping” approach to the problem

NEWS: Open Source in Mobile (OSiM) conference appearance

Next week will speak at the Informa Telecoms and Media-organised Open Source in Mobile (OSiM) World conference in Berlin. kiwanja was invited to present following a well-received keynote address at this years’ Mobile Messaging Congress in Cannes, another Informa event. OSiM, the only mobile-specific open source conference and exhibition in the world, boasts a line-up of over a hundred speakers. kiwanja’s Ken Banks will talk about the social impact of mobile technology in the developing world, and the challenges – and increasing opportunities – for mobile applications development in the social mobile space

NEWS: writes for “Microfinance Insights” magazine

A guest article written by has been published in the latest edition of Microfinance Insights magazine. The article – Mobile Telephony and the Entrepreneur: An African Perspective examines grassroots economic activity triggered by the arrival of mobile technology, and is based on earlier articles for PC World and the Boston Review. Microfinance Insights offers in-depth analyses and commentary on the microfinance sector, updates on the latest trends, and profiles of global sector players

Message pending

I’ve just spent the weekend in Paris. Lovely you might think – and you’d be right – but not because of the sightseeing or famous French cuisine (although we did get a taste of the latter). A few of us got together to share ideas and thoughts on Freedom Fone, a Knight News Challenge-winning project building a media distribution platform providing news and public-interest information via land, mobile or Internet phones. Since the “social mobile” space isn’t a particularly big one, sharing project-level ideas and experiences over an intensive weekend workshop made a lot of sense. There was particular interest in the decisions and processes which lead to the redevelopment of FrontlineSMS, something I’m always happy to share, particularly with good friends and colleagues (old and new).

Today, activities such as this sit in stark contrast to the early kiwanja days, where I’d be largely asked to comment on what other people were doing. The last couple of years has seen a gradual shift, so much so that I’m now at the point where I rarely get invited to speak at a conference if the topic isn’t FrontlineSMS, social mobile or grassroots mobile activity (see Staying Connected. And Relevant). With a number of new projects in the pipeline it’s looking like this trend is set to continue.

Getting a social mobile product to ‘market’ can be a challenging and time-consuming business. The FrontlineSMS concept is well over three years old, but only now do we have something significant to offer grassroots NGOs (the earlier version was more a proof-of-concept). The challenge has now shifted from concept design, fundraising, project management and launch, to one dominated by outreach and promotion. Fortunately, people seem to want to hear what we have to say.

The next ten weeks are busy and exciting in equal measure, with a flurry of conference and workshop activity starting with a Telecommunications Industry Partners Strategy Meeting at the World Economic Forum in New York this week. Shortly after comes Open Source in Mobile (OSiM) in Berlin, where we’ll be sharing our experiences developing mobile applications in the social mobile space. It’s a new topic for the conference, and great that the organisers, Informa Telecoms, are beginning to take more of an interest in the subject.

Later this month sees a return to New York for the Clinton Global Initiative (CGi) annual meeting where we’ll be announcing the new “FrontlineSMS Ambassadors” initiative. An invitation to sit on the technology panel at Social Capital Markets 2008 in San Francisco on 15th October is followed by an appearance in Maine for Pop!Tech. October comes to a close in London where I’ll be talking at a Chatham House event – “Technology: a platform for development?” – about my take on non-profits and mobile technology.

Finally, November kicks off with the fascinating A Better World By Design gathering in Rhode Island, where twenty-five speakers have been invited from all fields to discuss a wide range of world challenges and issues. Then, after an invitation to sit on the panel of a public meeting at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, we finish off with something completely different with a presentation of our Silverback mobile phone game at Net Impact in Philadelphia. A nice way to end, for sure.

These are still early days (if you forget the last three years!). The new FrontlineSMS is beginning to make considerable inroads in the NGO world, and with increasing numbers of non-profits planning FrontlineSMS implementations, this is certainly not the time to take our foot off the gas.