in (mid-year) Review: What We Do, Have Done, and Why

Posted by admin on Aug 10, 2010

With close to 5 billion mobile subscriptions worldwide, over half of the world's population now has access to mobile phones. The ubiquity and widespread use of mobile technology presents a unique opportunity for civil society organizations and communities by increasing access to information for and interaction with people in countries around the world.

Our mission - to provide resources to and connect a global network of people who use mobile technology for social change - has been the core of our work during this year of growth. We've built up our comprehensive mDirectory, hosted more than a dozen events worldwide, conducted bottom-up mobile surveys in multiple countries, and ran several large technical assistance projects.

We've received attention along the way, both from the press and in the form of contracts and grants, while expanding our portfolio and adding (finally!) paid staff to our team of now four hard-working people and two amazing m-interns.

As we have grown, we have taken on increasingly more direct projects, including providing direct techical assistance, and project implementations in nearly twenty countries around the world.

Our supporters, partners, and clients have included in the last year: UNICEF, United Nations Office of the Secretary General, U.S. State Department (Bureau of Democracy, Rights & Labor), The James L. Knight Foundation, USAID, and the National Democratic Institute.

We think it is time in the waning days of summer to take some stock and sum up what we have been doing in the last ten months or so.  And herewith, it goes!'s Strategic Approach's online resources are available to any organization interested in using mobile technology in its work. On our blog, we regularly cover innovative uses of mobile technology in areas as diverse as poverty alleviation, health care, elections, accountability and governance, natural disaster recovery, advocacy and fundraising, mobile journalism, and human rights advocacy. We publish how-to guides and strategic tool-kits for NGOs and civil society practitioners wanting to use mobile phones in their work. 

We also maintain the ever-growing mDirectory, a comprehensive database of information on projects, programs, and mobile tech tools for social change. We run trainings and workshops to increase organizational capacity for strategically and intelligently using mobile technology. We maintain a rich social media presence, interacting with our community on our website, via Twitter and Facebook, and on the Discussion List comprised of highly skilled practitioners, technologists, campaigners and strategists who are collaborating and sharing information.

Finally, because we believe that our community of practice is created through participatory and peer-driven gatherings where people can meet and begin to trust each other, frequently organizes international events, workshops, trainings, and mobile camps. 

By maintaining a deep awareness and knowledge of the different projects and programs that are implemented around the world, functions as a connector - bringing together the right people and resources to advance social goals with mobile tech. 

Our Vision and Goals's vision is to help organizations make use of the most ubiquitous communications technology in the world with data, tools, and how-to resources; build a network of practitioners and technologists in a supportive community of practice; and highlight and explore the many innovative campaigns and projects built around mobiles.

Our mission

  • Expand access to knowledge, ideas, and experiences about the use of mobile technology to make the world a better place;
  • Reduce learning costs for deploying mobile technology for civil society organizations;
  • Accelerate the use of effective strategies and tactics of mobile use for NGOs;
  • Provide a comprehensive platform for building partnerships, and for facilitating access to technology, know-how, and funding.

Online Content

One of the key ways in which the MobileActive community of close to 20,000 practitioners, researchers, technologists, donors, and private sector leaders share content is through the website and database. We maintain the mDirectory, that anyone can contribute content to about mobile software tools, research, case studies and how-to guides to. All of our content is licensed under Creative Commons license and can be user with attribution by anyone in our community.

The mDirectory includes as of the time of this writing:

Other content that we produced recently includes:

Reports/White Papers

"Scaling Mobile Services for Development:What Will It Take? A Mobile Active White Paper" (Jan. 2010)

This paper discusses the opportunities and critical success factors for scaling m-services – services and products for development delivered over the mobile platform. It covers barriers for scaling m-services and addresses how industries, donors, and civil society organizations can move from some of the many promising pilot projects in m-health, m-agriculture, and m-payments to economically viable m-services that increase the quality of life and drive economic growth for the poorest of people.

"Mobile Benchmarks 2010" (with M+R Strategic Services) (March 2010)

The 2010 Nonprofit Text Messaging Benchmarks report is the first of its kind: an analysis of mobile advocacy and mobile fundraising metrics for nonprofit organizations. A joint venture between M+R Strategic Service and, the aim of this study was to provide benchmarks and metrics by which nonprofit organizations can measure their success with text messaging and to illustrate the various ways organizations are using text messaging.

Case Studies

As part of our work in for the MobileActive network, we highlight and feature projects so that people and organizations can see how mobiles are used for social impact around the world, learn from each other's successes and failures, and use the existing experience and knowledge in their own work. Our case studies are not only in-depth guides to mobile implementation, but also a showcase of the versatility of mobile technology and the lessons learned in implementations. Our case studies cover mobiles in: 


ChildCount/ChildCount+: Monitoring Children's Health Through SMS 

• Pesinet: Mobile Tech and Micro-Insurance for Child Health in Mali

• Airtime for Selling More Condoms: Social Marketing Tricks and Tips from Tanzania

• Mobile Quizzes for HIV/AIDS Awareness: Zain and Text to Change 

• Praekelt Foundation: Young Africa Live/TXTalert/SocialTXT 

• Enabling Data-Driven Decisions with the Open Data Kit (ODK)

• Texting with a Purpose: Catholic Relief Services in India

• GUIDE: Getting Medical Information into the Hands of Community Health Workers

Citizen Media

• Gaon Ki Awaaz: News Alerts for Rural Villagers 

• CG Swara: Audio-Based Citizen Journalism

• Voices of Youth: Text Messages to Radio

• Voices of Africa: Citizen Journalists Report with Mobile Phones

• Rede Jovem: Wikimap


BridgeIT: Mobiles in the Classroom

Livelihoods and Economic Development:

• Souktel: SMS Connections

• BabaJob: Bringing Jobs to People at the Bottom of the Pyramid

• Avaaj Otalo: A Voice-Based Community Forum

• IFFCO: Cell Phone Messages with Farmer Advice


Mobile Myths Series

Our Mobile Myths series is's way of breaking through the mobile hype to get at the real story behind the effects and uses of mobile phones. In this series, we tok a hard look at some of the prevailing myths around mobiles – from the idea that mobiles are a panacea for gender inequality, to the role of mobiles and the future of journalism, to the correlation between mineral mining for phones and sexual violence in the Congo, to a definitive guide to election monitoring with mobiles and crowd sourcing and the difference between the two. 

Women and Mobile: Is It Really a Global Opportunity?

Reviewing "The Big Thaw" - Where is Media Going? 

Can m-Health Fill the Gap of Underdeveloped Health Care Systems

Show Me the Data About Mobiles, Rape, and the Congo 

Myths and Realities about Women and Mobile Phones 

Cutting Through the Hype: Why Citizen Reporting isn't Election Monitoring

How-To Guides

These recent How-To Guides a detailed look at the best way to incorporate mobiles into projects. 

How to Mobile-Optimize a Wordpress Website

How to RapidSMS

Mobile Audio Recording in the Field

Mapping SMS Incident Reports: A Review of Ushahidi and Managing News

A Guide to Mobile Security for Citizen Journalists 

How to Set Up an SMS System

Setting up an SMS Campaign from your Desktop 

SMS Hub Comparison Matrix 

Mobile Surveillance: A Primer

Most Popular Blog Posts is constantly posting fresh content on our blog. The variety of subjects covered shows the broad reach of mobiles - events listings, analyses of breaking news, and showcases of innovative uses of mobiles. Our most popular blog posts cover a range of topics and offer a taste of what the blog has to offer:

BlackBerry Messenger: Hand Us Encryption Code or Face Ban

How to Roll Your Own FailFaire

• The Face-Off: Why the Mobile Web (and Not Apps) is the Right Choice

A Lightweight SMS Gateway on a Stick: Slingshot SMS 

Earthquake in Haiti: How You Can Help and Learn More 

1 Million Tweetshirts: How to Fail Fast & With Scrutiny

Fundraising with a Mobile 

Deconstructing Mobiles: Myths & Realities about Women and Mobile Phones

Practitioner Video-Interviews

Mobiles and Mapping (Ushahidi and NiJeL) 

Mobile Data (Souktel and UNICEF Innovations) 

Christelle Scharff: Teaching with Mobiles

Human Rights (Nathan Frietas and Guardian, Enrique Piraces and Human Rights Watch, Emily Jacobi and Handheld Human Rights)

Mapping Incidences and Disease Surveillance (Humanitarian FOSS Project and EpiCollect)

Tiago Peixoto: Participation Through Mobiles 

International Events, Conferences & Workshops

To complement our online resources, we believe that it is essential for us to get together around the world in a peer-supported community.  As a convening network, we host innovative events, designed to bring together a cross-section of people and disciplines. Our participatory and user-driven workshops, trainings and camps allow people to interact with each other for peer-to-peer knowledge sharing and network building. The ultimate goal is to build capacity and an active community while learning how mobiles have been used in the field. We hosted these events in 2009 and early 2010:

  • Tech Salons (semi-monthly, co-hosted with Digital Democracy, New York University's ITP Program and others, New York)
  • Open Mobile Camp, organized with the Open Mobile Consortium (Oct 2009, New York)
  • Mobile Tech for Social Change Camp (Oct 2009, CapeTown, South Africa (here is more info on all Mobile Tech 4 Social Change camps from around the world organized by local communities themselves.)
  • Innovations in Mobile Data Collection, co-organized with UNICEF (December 2009, Amman, Jordan) (feedback)
  • New Tools for Better Elections: Citizen Technologies and Electoral Accountability, co-organized with the National Democratic Institute (Feb 2010, Washington, DC)
  • Mobilize Your Cause Bootcamp, organized for the Personal Democracy Forum (June 2010, New York)
  • FailFaire, to discuss learnings from failure in ICT and Mobiles for Developement, co-hosted with The Open Planning Project (April 2010, New York) and the World Bank (July 2010, Washington DC)

Implementation Projects

In 2010 we have been also project leads in a number of new media and mobile project implementations around the world. These are projects where we do - rather than talk about what other people do (which we love, of course, in this amazing network!)  But we walk the talk in our own project work implementing mobile solutions for organizations working on governance and accountability.

MATADOR (Media Assistance Utilizing Technological Advancements and Direct Online Response) Program, supported by USAID and Counterpart

With the MATADOR Program, provides short-term mobile and new media consultative assistance to NGOs and independent media organizations in developing countries to enhance their communication and/or coordination efforts. In early 2010, we have worked on civil society projects and new media in Zimbabwe, Bosnia, and Peru on a mobile audio news service, a mass-communiations SMS platform, SMS gateways, and interactive social media apps for issue advocacy.

Data Collection Inventory [Funded by UN Global Pulse] ran a survey of mobile data collection projects in order to better understand how mobile phones are used for data collection around the world. This inventory, the first of its kind, is of interest to UN Global Pulse, a new initiative under the Deputy Secretary General's Office of the UN, in its work to determine whether certain data points may be helpful for early warning/detection of crisis and instability. The completed inventory is here.

Thanks to the MANY individuals and organizations in the community who contributed their time to input details about their projects!

UN Global Pulse Mobile Survey

We also ran a mobile-based survey for UN Global Pulse in six countries that asked for direct feedback from everyday citizens about their views on the global financial crisis in their country and how they are coping with the downturn in their communities and households. This was, in many ways, an experiment in rapid data collection over mobile phones. project managed the surveys and worked with partner organizations with the capability to deploy large-scale SMS surveys in Mexico, Iraq, Peru, Ukraine, India, and Uganda.  Initial data from the surveys is being visualized now and will be made available online later this summer.

Mobile Media Tool Kit [Funded by John L. James Knight Foundation] has been developing content for the Mobile Media Toolkit, a resource that provides detailed how-to guides, tools, and a plethora of case studies on how mobile phones can and are being used for reporting, news broadcasting, and citizen media participation. The Toolkit is designed to help professional journalists, citizen journalists, and media organizations find, evaluate, and effectively deploy the right tools for their specific mobile reporting needs. The Mobile Media Toolkit is for anyone who wants to produce or disseminate media and content via mobile devices. It will be available freely online in English in August 2010, and translated into Arabic, Spanish and French thereafter.  We have made pre-release content available on

Panels & Press

In an effort to spread the word about the potential of mobiles, highlight great projects, and articulate the challenges and barriers of harnessing the power of mobile phones in social impact work around the world, the team frequently speaks at conferences and panels, and is called upon by the media to describe trends and issues in our community. staff and researchers regularly contribute to the PBS MediaShift blog - IdeaLab. In addition, a few of our recent engagements include: 


Expert Meeting on Mobile Media - Hosted by UNESCO (December 2009, Paris)

New Media & Web 2.0 in Activism - Hosted by NDI & the Aswat Network (February 2010, Istanbul) 

The Media Consortium Annual Meeting (February 2010, NYC) 

Lift Conference 2010 (May 2010, Geneva)

Social Mapping and Social Change: An Ideation Workshop - Hosted by PopTech (May 2010, Chicago) 

Global Voices Citizen Media Summit - Hosted by Global Voices Online (May 2010, Santiago) 

Games for Change Festival, "Reaching The Hardest-To-Reach: Mobile Games in The Developing World" Panel (May 2010, NYC)

Future of News & Civic Media Conference - Hosted by The Knight Foundation and MIT's Center for Future Civic Media (June 2010, Boston)

Personal Democracy Forum, "Open Source Crisis Response" Panel (June 2010, NYC)


We have been featured in a number of media outlets during the past year: 

Nokia Responsiveness Campaign in collaboration with TED Fellows 

Le Monde: "En Afrique, le développement du téléphone mobile ne fait pas de miracles"

Dan Rather Reports: "Talking Text"

Public Radio International: The World: "Text Donations Aid Haitian Relief Efforts" 

Time Magazine: "Without A Trace"

Financial Times: "Mobile Phones are Harnessed to the Wisdom of Crowds" 

CNN: "How Apps, Texting Can Improve Your Health"

• Our profile of Matt Berg in Time magazine's list of the Time 100 Most Influential People. 


Last August, was honored to be among the nine winners of the 2009 Knight Foundation News Challenge for the development of the Mobile Media Toolkit (release date August 2010). We won contracts for several projects, and one large grant that we will be going public about in the next month. was also on the jury for the "Mobile Premier Award in Social Change" in Barcelona.  Staff members also serve on various committees such as the grants committee for the Mobile Innovation Labs of the World Bank and the New Media and Technology Comittee for the US Summit on Citizen Diplomacy, and the U.S. State Department's Civil Society 2.0 Initiative.

In Summary

The community has shown unique innovativeness and flexibility - experts and organizations can break through silos and collaborate professionally in meaningful ways. It is rare to have telecommunications executives engaging with civic youth groups, or large scale UN agency portfolio managers and donor agencies in conversation with top-notch programmers in emerging economies, but within the network, they break through their boundaries to come together in conversation to share common challenges and solutions, failures and successes, and to learn from each others' experiences.  We are very privileged to be part of this vibrant and amazing community. Thank you!