CorinneRamey's Blog

Mobile Citizen Project Launches: Incubator Fund for Mobile Projects in Latin America

The Mobile Citizen Project, which aims to fund and support mobile initiatives for social change in Latin America, launches today. The program is a project of the Science and Technology Division of the Inter-American Development Bank, with the support of the Italian Trust Fund for Information and Communication Technology for Development. MobileActive.org is a media partner, powering the Program's "Ideas Box."

According to the project's press release, the "Mobile Citizen Program aims to accelerate the development and implementation of mobile services to address acute social and economic problems. We will provide support to develop citizen-centric solutions that target low-income groups in urban and rural areas of Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) region."

15 Years Later, Still No Sexual Health Services, And a Mobile Petition

For the International Planned Parenthood Federation, the number 15 just made sense.  It is now 15 years since the Cairo International Conference on Population and Development, when 179 governments agreed on a yet-unfulfilled plan to provide universal sexual health services by the year 2015.  With the children born the year of the conference now 15 years old, the foundation felt it was time to act.

So the campaign 15andcounting was born. The campaign aims to engage young people in sexual health advocacy, mainly by having them sign a petition and complete a survey accessible both on the web and on a mobile WAP site. The petition will be presented to the United Nations in mid-October.

"They need access to condoms and high quality information, and all these services that were talked about in 1994," said Chris Wells, creative design director of the International Planned Parenthood Foundation, of the 15-year-olds born the year of the conference.

Prenatal Care Through SMS

In India, especially in rural areas, men are often in charge of the family mobile phone.  But Subhi Quaraishi, CEO of ZMQ Software Systems, thinks that phones are a great way to reach women as well.

"The goal of our program is to use technology to empower women," said Quaraishi, of ZMQ's new pilot program.

ZMQ is currently running a program to provide women with information on prenatal care via SMS. The messages, which are all in Hindi, contain information on vaccinations, exercise, diet, medication, and how to deal with emergencies that arrive during pregnancy. This is the only program of its kind in India, although other programs -- like a Grameen Bank sponsored program in Ghana -- also use SMS to give advice on prenatal care.

A Global Wake-Up Call

At 12:18 p.m. today, thousands of mobile phone alarms went off all over the world.

"It creates a ringtone symphony, and people find each other," said Ben Wikler, spokesman for advocacy group Avaaz.org. "Then they simultaneously call government offices."

The alarms, and subsequent phone calls, were meant to draw attention to climate change legislation on the eve of the United Nations Climate Summit, held this week in New York City.  At each event, a flashmob of people all set their phone alarms for 12:18, held their phones above their heads when the alarms went off and then found the other participants.  Flash-mobbers then used their phones to take pictures, and called government offices. There were about 1500 flashmob events in 130 countries, said Wikler.

"It's a global climate wake-up call," said Wicker.  Although the event that Wikler attended, in New York's Union Square, had only about 30 attendees, an event in India had more than 1300.

When People, not Computers, Sort SMS Data

Currently, most SMS surveys have questions that ask people to respond to a menu of multiple choice answers.  But Textonic, an open-source tool that helps sort open-ended text responses, seeks to change that.

"I think it's potentially a major shift in terms of the way we do social research," said Thomas Robertson, one of the lead developers on the project.

Textonic, which has yet to be actually used, was developed as part of a graduate class taught by Clay Shirky in the Interactive Telecommunications Program at New York University. The tool is a way of connecting RapidSMS, the data collection platform used by UNICEF, with Amazon Mechanical Turk.

Do Mobiles Level the Playing Field?

We'd like to think that mobiles are a great economic equalizer, decreasing the gap between rich and poor.

But in a case study [PDF] published earlier this year about cloth weavers in Nigeria, authors Abi Jagun, Richard Heeks and Jason Whalley contest the conventional wisdom that more mobile phones result in a more equal society.

"There were few signs, then, of mobile telephony levelling the playing field; and more signs that it had been a technology of inequality," the authors wrote.

The study, which looked at the use of mobiles by the aso oke cloth weaving sector in Nigeria, found that mobiles did help those who had them. "By substituting for some journeys, plus in-person meetings, we can see that phone calls have reduced the time and financial cost of information-gathering, often by several hours and several U.S. dollars respectively per call (not to mention the opportunity cost gains)," wrote the authors.

When Radio Meets Mobile in Pakistan

In Pakistan even the cheapest mobile phones, those without cameras or other advanced features, come with the ability to listen to FM radio. Every day, and especially during cricket matches, people walk around the streets with their phones pressed to their ears, tuned into their local stations, says Huma Yusuf, a journalist based in Pakistan.

Saving (or destroying) public radio on a mobile phone

Is the iPhone app Public Radio Player the good guy or the bad? The critics aren't so sure. Marshall Kirkpatrick's post on ReadWriteWeb, "How One iPhone App Could Save Public Radio" took the superhero stance, but Rafat Ali opted for the villain with "Public Radio Dangerously Close To Making Public Radio Obsolete" on PaidContent.org.

Public Radio Player, the new version of the old Public Radio Tuner, is a free application that allows users to access over 300 public radio stations across the United States. With a few swipes to the screen of an iPhone or iPod Touch, users can listen to live shows or recorded podcasts from locations of their choice.

Mobiles for Health - American Style

Although nonprofits in the United States has been slower to embrace mobile phones for health purposes than the rest of the world, mobiles are catching on as a way to reach diverse populations across the U.S.

“Mobile provides a fantastic channel for communication,” said Erin Edgerton, senior social media strategist at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “It’s always on, always with you and provides personal access to information.”

Nonprofits and government agencies are using this ubiquitous device for health purposes including monitoring, education and instant alerts and communication.

Mobile monitoring

For diabetes patients in Georgia, mobile phones have facilitated an instant connection to help and education. In several different pilot studies, participants used cell phones to document aspects of diabetes treatment ranging from glucose readings to snapping photos of the meals that they ate. Participants then sent the photos, readings, or other questions to a diabetes education center, where a diabetes educator could instantly respond to questions.

Mobile giving gets cheaper in the U.K.

Where Ideas Navigate, or WIN, a technology service provider in the U.K., has said they will waive SMS fees for charities that use their services.

Hannah Jordan writes in Third Sector:

A company that provides charity text donation services is believed to be the first to waive its commission on donations to third sector organisations. Win handles ‘short code transactions', or texts to numbers of about five digits, between charities and donors. It usually receives between five and 10 pence per standard £1.50 text donation, but has said this week that it will waive the fee for charities and other not-for-profit organisations using its services. About 30 per cent of every text donation made to sector organisations in the UK is taken in charges by third-party service providers and mobile networks.