From rural villages to bustling urban centres, Global North and Global South alike, more than six billion people are connected through mobile phones. At the touch of a button, millions of people can be reached. This unprecedented level of mobile connectivity means direct, instant communication with broader groups of people is possible, presenting new opportunities for informed, participatory development work.
There are a plethora of organizations using mobile technology to facilitate or enhance development. This two-part article of Innovate Development’s technology and humanitarianism series will focus on two: Text To Change (TTC) and Trilogy Emergency Relief Application (TERA).
Through TTC, a cellphone becomes a tool for researchers, allowing them to collect widespread survey data, and for educators, giving them a platform to send information to targeted populations. Founded in 2008, it was developed for an interactive HIV/AIDS education campaign in Uganda. The first campaign saw 15,000 people receive educational text messages, and the rate of HIV testing doubled.
TTC has since greatly diversified its campaigns by partnering with other organizations, such as Health Child, Orange telecommunications and Mukuba University in Gambia, among many others. Programs are in place across five continents. How the technology is used depends on the nature of the program. In some instances, mobile users are sent surveys and may be rewarded with air time as a result of their participation. A partnership with the World Bank, for instance, collected data from more than 5,600 surveys in 11 countries on intra-regional trade commitments in Africa – all within a six-month period.
Education programs send out information via text on health, hygiene, agriculture and government accountability, for instance. A local organization in Bolivia has partnered with TTC to send out information to farmers about disease prevention for crops, weather notices and other tips. In Tanzania, TTC is facilitating what a spokesperson calls the “biggest interactive SMS campaign ever”: the Healthy Pregnancy, Healthy Baby campaign. It has reached 500,000 women in the past year, including those in remote locations, with more than 32 million free texts with information about maternal health. This includes information about when it’s important to have check-ups (which many women do not seek), for instance, as well as tips on the delivery and post-natal period, with the aim to reduce infant and maternal mortality. Registration is voluntary and free of charge.
While phone ownership is a critical element of these programs, literacy is not. Participants can call in to a toll-free number to access an Interactive Voice Response system that will take them through the information. This is often advertised by radio.
Text to Change has had 107 projects with 50,149,254 texts sent and an uptake percentage between 40 and 65 per cent. This certified B-Corporation is currently working on an Ebola awareness campaign with the government of Mali.
Check back tomorrow for part two of this series featuring the Trilogy Emergency Relief Application (TERA).