MobileActive's Blog

Scaling Mobile Services for Development: What Will It Take? A White Paper

Posted by KatrinVerclas on Jan 11, 2010

Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) for social and economic development in emerging economies have long been a focus of governments, the private sector, and most certainly donors and international development agencies.  Yes, despite all the attention garnered on this field, we are seeing a checkered history of ICTs as a tool for development, with both successes and significant failures littering the landscape.

With the phenomenal growth of mobile technology in the last ten years, the attention of donors, governments, and multi-lateral and international agencies has now turned to the telecommunications sector and mobile technologies as channels to deliver services and products to citizens at the bottom of the economic pyramid.

January Events Round-Up

Posted by AnneryanHeatwole on Jan 04, 2010

The new year is kicking off with an assortment of events on the development and techie sides. Here are some of the events that we found to be noteworthy:

Mobile Tech Salon,  20 January, New York: Hosted by, it's a regular gathering of people passionate about mobile technology for social change. Motto:  We bring the beer (and wine)!  Bring your projects, passions, tools, and conversation. This month's theme:  Mobile Campaigning and Tools on a Shoestring: What is Possible?  Advisable?

International CES 7-10 January, Las Vegas, USA: CES is the world's largest technology trade show, attracting more than 2,500 exhibitors and showcasing over 20,000 new products.

Happy Holidays, the Mobile Way!

Posted by KatrinVerclas on Dec 23, 2009

It's been a pleasure and a joy to work with all of you this year!  It's been a great year in this growing field of innovators, technologists, and social change-ists, and we are happy and proud to be part of it. Thank you!

Experience Mobile Mobile from James Théophane Jnr.

Mobile Mobile is an interactive chandelier/mobile made from old mobile phones that plays Christmas jingles. It is built by James Théophane Jnr, an interactive designer. He notes that "to add a little xmas spice to the mix, you can go online and enjoy annoying the hell out of people" waiting around in the reception room where the mobile hangs, by playing the thing live from your web browser.  Happy Holidays!

Deconstructing Mobile: Show Me The Data About Mobiles, Rape, and the Congo

Posted by KatrinVerclas on Dec 21, 2009


We have been rather quiet in our "Deconstructing Mobile" series as other projects have taken priority. We are picking up the thread again to continue to demystify the many myths surrounding mobiles in development and shed facts, evidence, and data on many of the over-hyped projects and ideas. One area with much hype is the recent debate about "mobiles and rape" in the Congo. Laura Seay, an assistant professor of political science at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, recently wrote on her blog a great post that looks for actual evidence linking rape and mobiles. We wrote about this campaign a while back already but her post goes deeper in looking at the facts. It is aptly entitled:  Show me the Data. We are reposting it here with her permission. 

Show me the Data by Laura Seay

A couple of months ago, a certain grad student/atrocity humor blogger who shall remain nameless emailed with the following question: "Could you point me towards anyone who's done research on the linkage / lack thereof between the mineral trade and sexual violence?" It seems that in her graduate school endeavors, solid research requires actual evidence to support the "cell phones/minerals cause rape" thesis that's become quite popular due to efforts of various activist groups, most notably the Enough Project.

It just so happened that this particular email arrived just a few days after I gave a talk on the subject of minerals and violence in the Congo, so I had already been searching for such evidence.

Long story short: there isn't any. As far as I can tell, there has as yet been no published report that systematically demonstrates a rigorous causal relationship between the mineral trade and the epidemic of sexual violence in the eastern Congo.

Betavine Urban Security Challenge

Posted by SteveWolak on Dec 21, 2009

Global Regions:

The Betavine Social Exchange project has taken a step foward today by launching the "Chembe Challenge".  The winner will receive a US $5,000 prize and the chance of a further US $5,000 to deploy the solution in the local market.

The Chembe Challenge is all about finding mobile solutions to personal security concerns in urban areas of Africa.  The challenge is hosted on the Betavine Social Exchange and anyone can propose a solution but Chembe require that a local partner is engaged in the solution from Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa or Tanzania. 

The Betavine Social Exchange seeks to bring together people in the community with ICT challenges and mobile developers or local entrepreneurs that can help solve those challenges.  It is important that the solutions have a local link and the way to deploy the solution locally is clear and planned.

Feedback from Innovations in Mobile Data Collection for Social Action: "If this is the Future, I like it"

Posted by KatrinVerclas on Dec 17, 2009


After coming back from Amman, Jordan, where we co-hosted a workshop on mobiles, data, and social action, we heard from many of our colleagues who have been blogging about their experience. We also combed through the evaluations and tweet and other social media streams to evaluate this unique workshop. Here are some excerpts.

Robert Soden from Development Seed writes

Last week I got the chance to present some work we're doing on Managing News and SlingshotSMS at the Innovations in Mobile Data Collection for Social Action workshop in Amman, Jordan. It was an eye-opening event that brought together representatives from the Iraqi government's Central Organization for Statistics and Information Technology (COSIT)UNICEF Innovation, and several dozen of experts on the cutting edge of mobile technologies, data visualization, and mapping.

The workshop was organized by Mobile Active with the goal of bringing new technology to bear on the challenges involved in Iraq's efforts to meet the Millenium Development Goals. We focused on using mobile phones for data collection around child malnutrition and school attendance. The Iraqi government and UNICEF are looking to collect this information so they can better design and target their interventions.

Several participants have blogged elsewhere about the difficulties on the first day of bridging the jargon-gap between the technologists and the development workers. Yes, the geeks spoke too fast and focused too little on storytelling during the first day's Ignite Talks. True, the development folks could have communicated more effectively about the goals of the project or the context in which they were working. As someone who has tried hard throughout my career to straddle these worlds, I can attest to a few painful moments.

But that's not the story here.

When Development Seed was first getting started seven years ago, this sort of event would have been unthinkable. For me the chance to participate in passionate, intelligent, and creative discussions with high-level representatives of a government and the United Nations about how technology can be utilized to solve some of the world's most challenging development problems was amazing. Even better, many of the tools and strategies discussed will be piloted early next year and rolled out in the months following that. This workshop was the real thing. Real decision-makers working with leading technologists to design and implement a project that would be rolled out in the real world on a scale big enough to matter.

We had great discussions about strategies for verifying data, making mapping participatory, visualizing data, and incentivizing participation in crowd-sourced data collection projects. The range and depth of experience of the attendees ensured that the conversations were peppered with examples of previous work conducted across the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. COSIT deserves a lot of credit for their willingness to adopt these tools as well as their active and critical participation in the group discussions. The UNICEF Innovations team also deserves recognition for spearheading the development and deployment of these technologies in a famously slow-adopting UN system. If this is the future, I like it.

Cory Zue from Dimagi notes:

Imagine, for a moment, putting a member of the Iraqi Ministry of Planning next to an MIT researcher working on creating distributed micro-networks of peer to peer communication through cell phones. Now say: “You two – go work together for Iraq’s children!”

Does this sound like an impossible task? The Iraqi is concerned about the unique challenges facing their operations. How to build trust in a government among a skeptical population base. How to tackle the problem of daughters being forced into early marriages, and thus never having access to a proper education. How to reduce violent crime by getting kids off the streets. And how to make policy decisions without access to good data, and difficulty coordinating among ministries.

Meanwhile the researcher is thinking about network modeling, asynchronous communication channels, and extracting meaningful information from a vast, complicated space of data.

Neither person has any domain knowledge of what the other person does or is interested in. Throw in a language and cultural barrier on top, and how can these two people possibly be able to work together effectively?

Well this is exactly what happened at the Innovations in Mobile Data Collection for Social Action in Iraq and the Middle East (tumblr, netvibes) workshop last week in Amman.

The key to solving this seemingly intractable problem was, as it often is, the right people. See, it wasn’t just the technophiles and the Iraqis in the room. There was an incredibly broad spectrum of people ranging from the uber-techies, to the tech-for-dev crowd (like us and the Ushahidi guys), to the UNICEF crowd of devs and program managers, to the local and regional UNICEF experts, to the team of ministry officials from Iraq. What this meant was that there was a perfect bridge of communication between every different group, and information flew readily from end to end along this bridge. Everyone in the room contributed to this process.

During the conference’s excellent IGNITE talks, we got an overview of all the different projects being executed around the world, and a picture of how these projects succeed and fail and how they might be brought together began to emerge among the community. At the same time we got to see several of UNICEF’s programs, both tech and non-tech. The convergence of these ideas, with the goal of applying them to help Iraq’s children, was one of the primary objectives of the conference. The ministry officials were supposed to pick and choose from what they saw and decide how best to apply technology for the kids.

But it wasn’t working. The geeks were talking too fast. The translators, struggled with the excessive techo-babble and NGO-acronym-speak. The team from Iraq struggled to keep up. And the techies couldn’t understand what the the team from Iraq needed from them.

This was where the bridge came in. A group broke off from the main session with the goal of framing the discussion in a way that the Iraqi officials could relate to, and providing them an environment to communicate their needs that they were comfortable in. With this bridge in place, each party was able to reach that a-ha! moment where they understood how they could work together.


For the Iraqis it came after an excellent talk about the RapidSMS Malnutrition Project in Malawi by Merrick Schaefer, and then a second presentation (in Arabic!) from Jacob Korenblum on Souktel’s mobile offerings in the Middle East. After a vibrant Q&A session, several of the Iraqis approached me for a RapidSMS demo, and when they saw actual messages coming to and from their cell phones and then showing data on a map they got it. They started talking excitedly about how this could be used in their own programs, and I found it one of the most rewarding moments of the conference.

Likewise, in the last session of the conference the Iraqis presented their visions for potential systems they could build to help the Iraqi children. This time it was the geeks who lit up. A lively discussion of how to build the systems ensued, asking and addressing questions that spanned from the current state of cell phone coverage and costs in the region, to defining specific user and service models, to the unique-to-the-region questions around building the population’s trust and working in an environment where security is a huge concern.

Word visualization of the talks with the Iraqi officials

In this way we were able to expand our small tech-for-dev community’s core of interested parties to both the hard-core techies and the Iraqi officials, and successfully build the bridges of communication to bring the most unlikely of partners together.

We greatly appreciates the thoughtful, smart, passionate people who were able to come together for the three days in Amman to critically and constructively engage, share, and plan together. If this is the future, we like it, indeed. 


Photo: flickr user katrinskaya

Scenes from Amman: Mobiles and Mapping

Posted by AnneryanHeatwole on Dec 14, 2009

"Innovations in Mobile Data Collection for Social Action," a workshop co-hosted by and UNICEF Innovation in Amman, Jordan, featured Ignite Talks -- five minute presentations by inspiring people who are using mobiles for social action -- and interviews with key participants.

Igniting the attendees, Brian Herbert presented Ushahidi, a crowdsourcing platform that allows users to map crisis information from their mobiles. In an interview, JD Godchaux discussed NiJeL: Community Impact Through Mapping, which helps organizations share information and tell stories through maps.

Scenes from Amman: Mobile Data for Social Action in the Middle East

Posted by AnneryanHeatwole on Dec 09, 2009

"Innovations in Mobile Data Collection for Social Action," a workshop co-hosted by and UNICEF in Amman, Jordan, featured Ignite Talks -- five minute presentations by inspiring people who are using mobiles for social action in the Middle East -- and interviews with key participants.  Jacob Korenblum describes the work of Souktel in Palestine, and Erica Kochi from UNICEF Innovation, the co-host of the event, illustrates why data collected by mobiles is so important for their work in Iraq. 

Innovations in Mobile Data Collection for Social Action

Posted by KatrinVerclas on Dec 07, 2009

We will be blogging and twittering this week from a workshop we are co-hosting on Innovations in Mobile Data Collection for Social Action in Amman, Jordan.

Co-hosted by UNICEF’s country office in Iraq, UNICEF Innovation, and, this three-day gathering is bringing invited experts from around the world together to explore some of the key issues related to using mobiles for data collection and analysis of some of the toughest social issues.

Why are we hosting this event?

With the ubiquity of mobile technology, data collection and monitoring of key indicators from the ground up by affected populations is now possible. Mobile technology in the hands of people can now be more than a person-to-person communication medium but can be used for capturing, classifying and transmitting image, audio, location and other data, interactively or autonomously.

New Releases of Mobile Data Tools: ODK and EpiSurveyor

Posted by KatrinVerclas on Dec 03, 2009


Two of the fastest-growing and popular mobile data collection tools have recently seen some exciting upgrades in newly released versions. 

Open Data Kit recently released v1.1 of ODK Collect. Open Data Kit (ODK) is a suite of tools to help organizations collect, aggregate and visualize their data. ODK Collect is powerful phone-based replacement for paper forms. Collect is built on the Android platform and can collect a variety of form data types: text, location, photos, video, audio, and barcodes. ODK Collect can be downloaded in the Android marketplace or here. The developers also have a demo video that describes the new features of the release. Open Data Kit is a member of the Open Mobile Consortium of which is a founding member.

Some of the new features of ODK Collect include barcode scanning, image/audio/video capture and playback, editing of saved forms, and device metadata (phone number, IMEI, IMSI) support. GPS acquisition and form processing is a faster, and the developers added review data entry. The user interface has been field tested and reworked to make training and use much easier. ODK Collect also supports question grouping, repeats, constraints, complex logic, and multiple languages.

ODK is currently deployed for HIV counseling with AMPATH in Kenya, user feedback gathering for Grameen's AppLab in Uganda, war crime documentation with the Berkeley Human Rights Center in the Central African Republic, and forest monitoring with the Brazilian Forest Service.

Meanwhile, our friends over at Datadyne have released version 2.0 of their popular mobile data collection platform EpiSurveyor.  For some of the very cool GPS features of that, see the video below. EpiSurveyor is a free, user-friendly mobile-phone-and-web-based data collection system.  Version 2.0 has many new features such as GPS (users with GPS-enabled phones (like the Nokia E71) can automatically create a "GPS stamp" for every record collected AND automatically see the results on a Google map, all within, advanced logic, including skip logic; numeric range limits for data entry; and a much better user interface for the web-backend. 

EpiSurveyor is used by organizations around the world.  One organization, TulaSalud in Guatemala, uses EpiSurveyor for maternal health. The video below (en Espanol) explains how the organization is using the tool.

Video informativo de TulaSalud, sobre la aplicación del sistema de monitoreo epidemiológico aplicado con la tecnología de EpiSurveyor, el cual pretende tener a tiempo real el reporte epidemiológico de las comlunidades.