Celebrating the art of the possible

Tonight in Santa Clara, California, several thousand people will be standing on the stage with me as I collect a Tech Award for FrontlineSMS. It’s been an incredible four years – the last two in particular – and it’s amazing to think how far we’ve all come. FrontlineSMS stirs genuine enthusiasm and excitement everywhere I go, and people resonate just as much with the story as they do with the simplicity and impact of the technology.

The Tech Awards is a prestigious Silicon Valley-based international awards program that honours innovators from around the world who are applying technology to benefit humanity. This is the second time FrontlineSMS has been nominated, snapping up one of three awards handed out this year in the “Equality” category. Fifteen awards in total are being given out on the night, along with one to Al Gore who’s being honoured with the “Global Humanitarian Award 2009”.

The Tech Awards

I may be the one picking up the FrontlineSMS trophy, but this is very much a team effort if ever there was one. This would never have happened without the faith of donors, an incredible (and growing) user community, volunteers, partners, numerous bloggers and members of the media, academics, advisors, designers, lawyers and solicitors, photographers, competition judges, programmers, members of the public, students, techies, and friends and family. There are simply way too many to mention. Remove just one piece and it all comes crashing down.

This Award is also, more importantly, a celebration of the art of the possible. It shows what’s possible if you build tools for underserved places – where they’re often most needed – and what’s possible if you remain totally focused on your goal. It also shows what’s possible if you don’t lose sight of your users, and if you focus on building solutions and not just technology for technology’s sake. And it shows that you don’t need significant amounts of money or abundant resources to build tools which can have real impact.

The story behind social mobile tools are an important motivator to budding entrepreneurs, and I’m happy to continue sharing that story for as long as people find FrontlineSMS an appropriate, useful and relevant tool in their social change work. Thanks to everyone for making the journey as rich and exciting as it has been, and I look forward to continuing to work with you all as ours – and your – work continues. There is still much to do.

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Ushering in the Advisors #2: Larry, Jenny

Following the launch of the FrontlineSMS Advisory Board last month, we’re honoured to announce news of our latest two appointees – Larry Diamond and Jenny Aker. Larry and Jenny join previous recruits Jan Chipchase and Erik Hersman.

Rather than formulate a general board of Advisors, we’re trying to be strategic by appointing individuals in areas we consider key for the ongoing success and growth of the project. Jan and Erik were chosen because of their user focus, and their experience in the field, and Larry and Jenny join us as strong and widely respected members of the academic community. Both have a strong interest in ICTs and their impact around the world. FrontlineSMS has many unanswered questions – not to mention presenting some meaty research opportunities – and we hope they will be able to help us figure those out, and move our analysis and understanding of its impact forward.

Larry DiamondLarry Diamond is based at Stanford University and is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, where he also directs the Center for Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law. During the first three months of 2004, Larry served as a senior adviser on governance to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad. Since then, he has lectured and written extensively on U.S. policy in Iraq and the wider challenges of post-conflict stabilization and reconstruction, and was one of the advisors to the Iraq Study Group.

During 2004–5, Larry was a member of the Council on Foreign Relations’ Independent Task Force on United States Policy toward Arab Reform. With Abbas Milani, he coordinates the Hoover Institution Project on Democracy in Iran. Larry has been a strong FrontlineSMS supporter over the past two years, and continues to advise, promote and explore the use of the software in the promotion of democracy and the rule of law.

Jenny AkerJenny Aker is an Assistant Professor of Economics at The Fletcher School at Tufts University.  She obtained her PhD in agricultural economics from the University of California-Berkeley, a M.A. from the Fletcher School (Tufts University) and a B.A. from Duke University.  In addition to her work at Tufts, she is also a Non-Resident Fellow at the Center for Global Development and a Visiting Professor at the Center for Studies and Research in International Development (CERDI) at the University of Auvergne.

Jenny’s research focuses on the impact of information, particularly information technology, on individuals and households’ behavior, agricultural markets and producer and consumer welfare in low-income countries, with a primary focus on sub-Saharan Africa. Based upon her previous work in Niger on the impact of mobile phones on agricultural markets, she is currently partnering with Catholic Relief Services on Project ABC (Alphabetisation de Base par Cellulaire), a project which uses mobile phones as a platform for functional literacy and for obtaining price information via SMS.  She is also working on a mobile-phone based civic education project in Mozambique. Both of these projects utilise FrontlineSMS, making Jenny – and her focus areas – an ideal Advisory Board candidate.

We’re incredibly excited to be able to draw on the considerable experience of our new Advisory Board members, each of whom will help steer and direct our technical, marketing and organisational development. With software downloads now in excess of 4,000 and the imminent launch of a FrontlineSMS Developer Community, not to mention the emergence of new spin-off organisations such as FrontlineSMS:Medic and FrontlineSMS:Credit, there’s without doubt plenty to be getting on with.

The Board of Advisors will all be profiled on the FrontlineSMS website once all appointments have been made. Two more will be unveiled in the coming weeks.

Welcome Larry and Jenny! \o/