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)

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.

Computer science, meet global development

What happens when you put computer scientists, user interface (UI) specialists, human-computer-interaction (HCI) designers and non-profit work together? You get ICT4D, surely? Well, maybe not as it turns out. I just spent the weekend trying to help figure out that very question at a gathering at UC Berkeley, where people from all backgrounds got together to discuss the role of computer science in global development.

I particularly enjoy workshops which bring together a mixture of people who might not ordinarily get together. On the one hand there were out-and-out computer scientists, techies and members of academia from universities all around the world, but on the other a range of people who occupy something of the middle ground. People such as Gary Marsden, Mike Best, Nathan Eagle, Kieron Sharpey-Shafer, Jonathan Jackson and others.

It was a fascinating two days. Here are a few thoughts on the tweets, tensions and takeaways from the event.

Tweet #1

It became apparent early on that there were ‘tensions’ between high-tech implementations and a need for solutions to be ‘appropriate’, i.e. simple to adopt, use and maintain. It was noted that many computer scientists – given the choice – prefer to tackle problems that are more complex, but this didn’t mean that the end solution had to be.

Tweet #2

One of the bigger obstacles was the lack of developing country experience among many computer science students and graduates, and this was seen as a major problem for the discipline. To be fair, this situation exists in the wider ICT4D and mobile fields, too. It was noted that some of the more interesting work originated from people with field experience, and that many computer science students soon realised that their earlier ideas were doomed to failure once they’d had a chance to visit the places where they hoped to implement.

Tweet #3

A question that didn’t end up being asked openly, but one that Kieran whispered to me during a wider discussion. It turns out there are all sorts of loaded terms in ‘ICT4D’ – should it be ICT in development or ICT for development, for example, and how are we defining ICT and how are we defining development? This is one I’m happy to let others thrash out.

Tweet #4

One of the more fascinating and probing questions, this time from Tapan Parikh, one of the workshop organisers. It wonderfully encapsulates one of the bigger ‘computer science for global development’ dilemmas. Does it chase down the best and smartest technologies, or simply go for solutions which promise the biggest and widest impact?

Tweet #5

Anyone who knows me will know why I make that choice. There are too many organisations spending significant amounts of time trying to stay alive and relevant, and it detracts from where their real focus should be – impact on the ground. Many of the people I know in the NGO world have dedicated their lives to their work, and they’d gladly stuff envelopes or flip burgers to keep on track. As soon as funding and ‘ownership of a space’ become higher priorities than the work itself, alarm bells begin to ring.

Tweet #6

One of the more fascinating people at the workshop was Anil Gupta, who runs the Honey Bee Network (an Indian version of AfriGadget, I guess). Anil gave an inspiring and passionate speech about the importance of grassroots innovators, and among many of the takeaways was his challenge to the proponents of scale. (If enough of us say it, maybe people will take notice).

Tweet #7

You can generally tell when things are beginning to seriously drift off-topic when people call for more conferences as the solution. I think we need to learn how to make more of the ones we’ve already got, thank you.

Tweet #8

Towards the end of a very productive two days, a topic which I expected to be deep and complex turned out to be deeper and more complex than even I expected. Just like a babysitter who hands the baby over at the end of the evening, I was grateful not to have to deal with some of these issues as I headed out the door. Sometimes it felt like there was never going to be an easy fit, but there were some very smart people in the room.

If anyone can work through these problems, they can.