Wireless Technology for Social Change in BizCommunity.com

Posted by admin on May 29, 2008

This article is a review of the UNF/Vodaphone report Wireless Technology for Social Change: Trends in NGO Mobile Use, written by Katrin Verclas of MobileActive.org and Sheila Kinkade.

From BizCommunity.com: How mobile technology is facilitating development work
by Zachary Ochieng

The advent of mobile technology has transformed and facilitated the work of a number of NGOs involved in various forms of development work, mainly relief and advocacy. Nothing attests to this better than a report recently released by the United Nations Foundation and The Vodafone Group Foundation.
The UN Foundation-Vodafone Group Foundation Partnership is a leading public-private alliance using strategic technology programmes to strengthen the United Nation's humanitarian efforts worldwide. The Partnership has three core commitments: to develop rapid response telecommunications teams to aid disaster relief; to develop health data systems that improve access to health data thereby helping to combat disease; and to promote research and innovative initiatives using technology as an agent and tool for international development.

Emerging trends in mobile activism

Sheila Kinkade of ShareIdeas.org and Katrin Verclas of MobileActive.org have co-authored the report titled: Wireless Technology for Social Change: Trends in NGO Mobile Use. The report examines emerging trends in 'mobile activism' by looking at 11 case studies of groups active in the areas of public health, humanitarian assistance and environmental conservation.

Key highlights of the report include two conflict prevention projects, both active in Kenya. Oxfam-Great Britain and the Kenyan umbrella group PeaceNet created a text messaging 'nerve centre' that collected alerts about violent outbreaks during the recent civil unrest and mobilized local 'peace committees'. The project served as a vital tool for conflict management and prevention by providing a hub for real-time information about actual and planned attacks between rival ethnic and political groups.

The report says that the GSM Association, together with a handful of non-profit and private sector groups in Kenya, developed another conflict prevention project that allows farmers to preserve their crops while protecting wildlife. The programme monitors instances when elephants approach farmed land, and provides an early warning system via mobile that is reducing the incidence of human-elephant conflict in an area where as many as five humans and 10 elephants are killed each year.

The report, the second in the Access to Communications Publication Series, produces studies that give governments, NGOs and the private sector research and recommendations on how to use technology and telecom tools to effectively address some of the world's toughest challenges.

Technology use for NGOs

Also highlighted in the report are the results of a global web-based survey of NGO mobile technology use. According to the survey, 86% of non-governmental organisation (NGO) employees use mobile technology in their work, and 25% believe it has revolutionised the way their organisation or project works. While the most common uses of mobile technology by NGO workers are voice calls (90%) and text messaging (83%), more sophisticated uses, such as mapping (10%), data analysis (8%) and inventory management (8%) also were reported.

The survey notes that while voice and text messaging are still the most common applications of mobile technology among NGO workers, respondents report using wireless technology in a number of other ways, including photo and video (39%); data collection or transfer (28%); and multi-media messaging (27%). The survey also notes that the amount of money invested in mobile technology correlates to a higher diversity of application; those NGOs that spend more use this technology for higher-end functions. Users of mobile technology on projects with a health focus are also more likely to use mobile technology for data purposes.

Mobile use in Aftercare programme

The management of South Africa's ART programme provides a perfect example of such a project. Cell-Life, a non-governmental organisation based in Cape Town created its 'Aftercare' programme to work with the public health system and its health workers to provide home-based care for HIV/AIDS patients receiving ART treatments. The mobile technology-based Aftercare programme supports the effective treatment of HIV/AIDS patients, and covers other aspects such as voluntary counselling. Each Aftercare worker is assigned to monitor 15 to 20 patients. The worker visits the patient in his or her home, and in a one-on- one session discusses the patient's current treatment. Using their mobile phones for data capture, Aftercare workers record information about patient medical status, drug adherence and other factors that may affect a patient's ART therapy.

Aftercare workers then relay this information via text message to a central Cell-Life database. The data sent via text message reaches the Cell-Life server, where a care manager uses a web-based system to access and monitor the incoming patient information. The manager can also respond to Aftercare workers' questions and provide supplemental information to improve patient care. The information collected not only facilitates individual patient care, but is also used to build a database of information on the severity and prevalence of the South African AIDS epidemic in these regions. "The goals of the programme include reduction of treatment errors, increased volume of patient data, and increased comfort for the patients as they receive HIV/AIDS care," the report notes.

Post-election lifeline

Mobile technology also came in handy during the post-election violence that rocked Kenya recently. "In the wake of a government ban on live broadcasting of incidences of violence, the SMS Centre became a lifeline for information by linking Nairobi to incidences as they happened on the ground," says Barasa Mang?eni, PeaceNet-Kenya programme officer. "The initiative encouraged local level dialogue and mediation to stop violence and facilitated communication to security forces, the Kenya Red Cross, and UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Civil society actors were linked to peace processes at the community level, enabling them to contribute to nonviolence advocacy."

Worldwide impact

Around the world, mobile phones are being used in the environmental arena - from efforts to promote wildlife conservation to environmental advocacy to educating and influencing consumers about the environmental impact of their purchasing decisions. In the area of conservation, mobile phones are used to track wildlife and provide an early warning system designed to mitigate human/animal conflict.

Wildlife monitoring

According to the report, mobile technology is also being used to monitor wildlife. One pilot project initiated by Save the Elephants in Kenya employed Global Positioning System/Groupe Sp├ęciale Mobile collars to track elephant movements. Unlike the more expensive satellite/very high frequency tracking systems, mobile communication inexpensively pinpoints the elephants' location and text messages the coordinates back to the researchers. "These efforts are in the beginning stages but show great potential for making animal tracking easier and more precise," the report observes.

Mobile technology has particularly been used to solve human-worldlife conflict in Laikipia District of north central Kenya. Laikipia comprises a patchwork of small farms, large ranches, privately owned conservancies, and government land. Some 5,000 elephants, the second largest elephant population in the country, inhabit the region. As farmers, ranchers, and these animals struggle to co-exist, the region has gained a reputation for being one of the worst areas for human?elephant conflict, with more than 3,000 incidents occurring annually.

"The tension [in Laikipia] stems from communities having their crops damaged by elephants," explains Dr. Max Graham, Associate at the Department of Geography, University of Cambridge (United Kingdom), who has been studying and working in Laikipia for almost a decade. "There's a perception that the elephants belong to the government and ranchers, both of whom benefit from tourism. Meanwhile, communities suffer. Farmers get killed. Elephants get speared or poisoned."

In association

Believing that mobile technology could offer a solution, the Groupe Sp├ęciale Mobile (GSM) Association (GSMA) Development Fund, together with Safaricom Ltd., Wireless Zeta Telecomunicaciones (Wireless ZT), Nokia, the Nokia Siemens Networks, and local conservation organisations, collaborated in launching a pilot project in Laikipia. Using GSM technology, the project sought to facilitate cost-effective communication among local communities, government wildlife service personnel, and private landowners through an early warning system that would allow farmers to preserve their crops while protecting wildlife.

The pilot utilized 'Push to Talk on Cellular (Phones)' (PoC) technology, which combines the functionality of a walkie-talkie or two-way radio with a mobile phone. PoC enables communication between two individuals, or a group of people, and is particularly useful in connecting a user group intermittently over a period of time (e.g., a working day).