Wireless Technology for Social Change: Trends in NGO Mobile Use

Posted by KatrinVerclas on Apr 29, 2008

Mobile technology is transforming the way advocacy, development and relief organizations accomplish their institutional missions. This is nothing new to readers of MobileActive. Our recent report Wireless Technology for Social Change: Trends in NGO Mobile Use, released today by the United Nations Foundation and The Vodafone Group Foundation, brings this point home.

Wireless Technology for Social Change: Trends in NGO Mobile Use was written by Sheila Kinkade (ShareIdeas.org) and Katrin Verclas (MobileActive.org), and commissioned by the United Nations Foundation-Vodafone Group Foundation Technology Partnership. 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.

Among the programs highlighted are two conflict prevention projects, both active in Kenya. Oxfam-Great Britain and the Kenyan umbrella group PeaceNet created a text messaging ‘nerve center’ 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 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 program 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.

The report also highlights the results of a global web-based survey of NGO mobile technology use developed by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, and distributed via the email networks of eight partner groups reaching a geographically and thematically diverse group of NGOs: Idealist.org, InterAction, International Youth Foundation, MobileActive.org, New Tactics in Human Rights, OneWorld, SANGONeT, and ShareIdeas. Responses were collected December 10th, 2007 through January 13th, 2008, and generated 560 surveys completed by representatives of NGOs working in all parts of the world.

The global survey found that 86% of non-governmental organization (NGO) employees use mobile technology in their work, and 25% believe it has revolutionized the way their organization 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.

Please download the entire report here. For individual chapters and more information, please also visit the UN Foundation/Vodafone Group Foundation site.

Full survey results are available here: Executive Summary and Memo and Presentation with highlights.

Cover, Wireless Technology for Social Change
MobilizingSocialChange_full.pdf1.1 MB

using mobile phones in data collection

Dear Katrin, 
Recently I was in BAVC Producers' Institute Sanfransisco and had a chance to meet Matt Berg, who said that my work could be done more effectively with the help of the mobile. Can you guide me in this regard?
Amlan Ganguly                                                                                                      


Amlan Ganguly is organizing children in slum areas in West Bengal to become peer leaders/educators bringing about ‘lifestyle’ changes within their communities. Focusing primarily on preventive health, sanitation and hygiene these children (calling themselves ‘area health minders’) are changing the physical and social environment within which they live. 


New idea


Amlan Ganguly has developed a unique model based on children’s right to participation and development wherein the children of slum areas act as change agents themselves by forming groups and spreading awareness on health, hygiene and sanitation within their community.  These ‘area health minders’ are supported in their work by Amlan and his organisation Prayasam by providing information, first aid training, developing IEC material that are then used for awareness campaigns as well as in helping these children become real advocates for their cause and approach the local governments for infrastructure needs and requirements. 


These children have now tied up with more than 60 schools to help in the formation of more such groups of ‘area health minders’ in the adjacent Municipal area effectively reaching out to more than 5000 students and their families.  Amlan believes that the idea of forming ‘area health minders’ from amongst local children have been established as a model this was further strengthened by the recognition received by members of this group when they were chosen as the only representative from India in Unicef’s global publication ‘A Life like Mine’ a book showcasing innovative programmes on of children’s right to participation and the changes it can bring across the world.



The problem


Poverty, violence, rapid social and economic changes, lack of education, inadequate or total absence of health services, and a lack of clear policy direction, contribute as much to the increase in cases of cancer, diabetes, or cardiovascular diseases, as they do to AIDS and malaria.


The most pressing concern of any developing country is its health services. India is no exception. Health services available at present fall grossly short of requirement. Therefore the adage, ‘prevention is better than cure’ becomes all the more important.   Article 24 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1989 states “Children have the right to the highest possible standard of health, and to access to health and medical services” and state who have signed the Convention (includes India) are bound to honour the statutes enshrined in the Convention. Yet we have ever increasing cases of malarial and diarrheal deaths, deaths that are eminently preventable.


The onus of providing basic health facilities is on the government, which often falls short of the minimum due to lack  of finances, resources as well as infrastructure.  If the primary health care centres in rural areas are over stretched, the health clinics operated by the municipalities for the urban poor is in a worse state with most of the budget of the urban local government being set aside for infrastructure developments like roads, street lights, water and waste disposal, services such as education and heath are neglected.  Exacerbating the problem are the new policy decisions being taken by municipalities based on the dictats of foreign donors who are providing large grants for ‘improvement’ of urban slums.  As per the new directives, education and health services are to be eased out of the ambit of local governments since there is very little revenue earning from these free services.


In this context it becomes increasingly important to put systems in place within the poor communities living in urban India to be able to access information and skills to ward off serious diseases to the extent possible.  This will not only help them to be healthy but will impact their economic condition since disease rob these daily wage earners their income and then they end up spending large parts of their meager income on medicines.



The strategy


In 1998 while working with the Lutheran World service (I) I realized that several children are often absent from the school and cultural programmes run by LWS (I).  Bent on investigating the reason for the absence Amlan visited the homes of some of the children and saw that they suffered from chronic ailments some of which are very serious such as diarrhea and malaria.  Amlan also witnessed the dependence on quacks to avoid costs of medicines and the near complete lack of preventive health care in these slums that are in the middle of the ‘mega city’ of Calcutta.


Since Amlan was familiar with most of the children already he decided to bring them together and experiment with them.  With the help of a few friends Amlan sat down with the children to develop a questionnaire to collect information on health related issues as well as information on how much money was spent on medicines etc.  The children were each given a red bag and armed with the questionnaire they set off to conduct their own home grown survey.  The results were startling.  It appeared that each family spent a major part of their income of medicines and treatment of illnesses that can be easily prevented through some simple measures.  Amlan decided that he needed to concentrate on finding ways to work with the children themselves to improve health standards in their communities.  And he wanted to do this his own way, so he resigned from LWC and with a few friends started Prayasam, a registered NGO with the vision to make ‘health for all’ a reality while ensuring children’s right to participation and development and demonstrating the social mobilisation skills of the children starting in the extremely poor slum of Rishi Aurobindo Colony in the Lake Town region of North East Calcutta.


At the beginning of the year Prayasam members sit down with Ekjot members to develop a plan for the year based on the health need requirements and how special religious and social occasions can be used to organize special events for awareness raising and information sharing.  With this annual plan at hand Prayasam staff spend one day every week with the members of ‘Ekjot’ the 25 member team of ‘area health minders’ going over the information collected by them from the community pn health and together they develop new campaigns, tools and plans on what issue needs to be taken up (example – if there is a immunization date in the next month then the children concentrate on spreading information on immunization) and how they are going to plan their week.  The children give a couple of hours three times a week and most of the day on Sundays for their role as health minders.  During this time they wear a tunic and carry a special bag with their ‘kit’ comprising of leaflets, posters, etc.


Ekjot members also discuss whether they need to approach authorities for any of the problems they encounter such as lobbying with the municipality conservancy department to collect garbage and to clear stagnant water and clean the open drains which are the breeding ground for mosquitoes.  If there is a need to approach the municipality then Ekjot members request some of the adults from their community to accompany them.  The work of Ekjot are often supplemented by the girls group called Alhadi also formed by Prayasam to provide the girl children living in the slum areas the opportunity to perform songs and dances simply as a recreational activity which they miss in their day to day living.  Alhadi members help the area health minders to develop special programmes to mark world health day etc. 


Prayasam members are always present to provide the support needed and resource persons are invited on a regular basis to the weekly meetings as well as to specially organized workshops to enhance the skills of these children.  In the last 3 years the 25 member team of Ekjot have grown into mature health workers with training in first aid and orientation in ways to combat superstitions – these were in collaboration with other organisations such as St. Johns Ambulance, West Bengal Science Communicators Forum etc.  For the immunization drive Ekjot members have worked steadfastly with Unicef and are a shining example of the power of children in mobilizing community support and participation so much so that these children were the only representatives featured in ‘A Life like Mine’ a worldwide Unicef publication celebrating examples of innovative programmes of children’s participation for social change.


Rishi Aurobindo Colony is now a model slum with clean alleys, hardly any incidence of malaria and diarrhoea and the children are proud to be neatly turned out as described in one of the rhymes (translated from Bengali) penned by Ekjot members “we bathe daily and try to be neat, or else we will fall sick and our fun will be beat”.


Based on the success of the Ekjot model Amlan is now taking the idea to other urban areas of the state through the local government system.  Using the municipalities as the base Amlan has developed a strategy to reach the municipal schools starting with three municipalities of South Dum Dum, Kamarhati and Bidhhannagar.  2 Ekjot members along with two staff from Prayasam visit the municipal schools (average of 50 –60 in each municipal area) two times a week initially and then once a week and finally once a month over a period of six months.  These visits are made during school hours to ensure that the school authorities also slowly gain ownership of the idea.  This was made possible by the support of the municipality.  During these sessions Ekjot members explain their work through role plays, songs and simple narration of their experience.  Based on the response from the individual schools they return, the usually have to return to most schools.  Some of the children from the municipal schools who are most interested are then trained by Ekjot members and are even taken on visits to Ekjot residential areas to make them see the change in the slum environment there.  For them to be able to compare their own slums and community living conditions with that of Rishi Aurobindo Colony.


Ekjot members have so far approached 60 schools in these three municipalities and the children have formed already more than 30 Parent Teacher Associations – which is a necessary first step for the larger community to ‘buy into’ the ideas being implementd.  Amlan estimates that from the initial 60 schools approximately 7900 children will be exposed to Ekjot’s model and about 3500 children are expected to join as ‘area health minders’.  Amlan is leveraging several new programmes being undertaken by the municipalities in West Bengal using funds from the British DFID to spread this model to 40 other municipalities in South Bengal.  At the same time, through another programme targeting child labourers and their families in brick kiln industries in central Bengal (Purulia and Bankura districts) Prayasam has started introducing Ekjot’s model in these very poor and remote areas.  The model has to be appropriately altered for the brick kiln children since their situation differs from that in urban slums.  Having presented his model in a nation wide workshop on ‘children’s right to participation at work’ organized by Unicef and attended by several national level NGOs and government agencies Amlan has been requested to take his model to North Eastern states. 


In developing the ‘Ekjot’ model Amlan has partnered with many private organisations. Managed to raise resources from the citizen sector and managed to garner support form the media.  Prayasam’s activities are always in the news and its public programmes are attended by famous personalities from all sections of society, which is one way to spread awareness about its work as well as generate resources.



The person


A qualified lawyer Amlan began his career as an apprentice to the most reputed criminal lawyer in Calcutta.  He was soon disillusioned with the legal process that allowed little justice for the poor who could not pay lawyer’s fees and have the patience to withstand the long drawn legal process.  Amlan decided to make a complete switch and joined an International Implementing Agecy in 1996.  In 1999 Amlan registered Prayasam together with a few friends with the intention to actually find ways for children to participate in the decisions and factors that affect their lives.  He is the organizer behind Prayasam, which focuses on the development of children and the promotion of their rights. To raise money for the first activities Amlan approached his past employer and also set up a boutique that would sell clothes to raise funds.  Personally Amlan continues to raise money for Prayasam through consultancies, imparting Life Skill trainings, conceptualizing, planning and manning events for the national / overseas Agencies (UNICEF, UNDP, World Vision India, LWS(I), Vikramshila Education and Research Society), Corporates (Exide, Eveready, Amul India, TATA Steel) and Government organizations and hosting radio and television programmes. Amlan is the Meena Resource Person of UNICEF, Kolkata. Ashoka, a global association of the world’s leading social entrepreneurs, has recognized him as an individual whose innovative solutions to social problems have the potential to change patterns across society, and has awarded him the title of Ashoka Fellow in 2006. In July 2007, Amlan was invited by the Rockefeller Foundation to attend the Global Summit on Urban Population Health in Ballagio, Italy.


Prayasam’s award-winning Area Health Minders were subsequently cited as a successful local solution to public health in Century of the City: No Time to Lose, a Rockefeller Foundation publication.  This past year, Amlan was selected as one of eight public health leaders to be profiled in Revolutionary Optimists, a documentary film project headed by Stanford University’s Center for Biomedical Ethics, Program in Bioethics and Film. In the year 2010 Amlan has been awarded Indian Achievers’ Award for Social Service from Indian Achievers Forum, New Delhi.

Prayasam continues to introduce its peer education and child empowerment concepts to impoverished sectors of society.  Notably, Prayasam is working with the West Bengal government to uplift brick kiln migrant worker communities – the first such collaboration between government and NGO in India – through its signature “Multiple Activity Centres.”  In addition to his work in West Bengal, Amlan facilitates leadership, soft skills and gender trainings across India, most recently with World Vision India and the Xavier Institute of Social Sciences in Bangalore, India.


Good news ... but will there be good results?

Technology has progressed quite amazingly over the past several decades ... but socio-economic impact globally has been quite modest. Why?

It took mainframe technology several years before it produced a net gain for corporate performance. In the case of PC (personal computer) techology it was several years again before there were productivity increases ... some called it the PC paradox. In recent ICT experience, the increase in technological performance has been used much more to improve the telco profit performance than to optimize socio-economic performance.

This is what the present state of "market information" demands. The only metrics that are used by capital market investors are those that relate to corporate profit and stock value ... there is nothing that relates to the associated value destruction or value creation in society as a whole. Why not?

After several decades of MBA style education, there is a huge community of people with expertise in corporate accountancy and profit optimization ... and very few with an appreication of how these techniques can be applied to society as a whole.

The latest developments in mobile technology have the potential to make it possible to establish data flows at very low cost ... and modern relational databases and the web make it possible for these data to be aggregated and analyzed in very informative and useful ways. Now it is possible to have cost effective accountancy for society rather than just the corporate entity ... and it will be interesting to see what this shows.

This is what Tr-Ac-Net's Community Impact Accountancy (CIA)does. I hope it will be possible for the mobile industry to facilitate this initiative ... but I am not holding my breath. CIA uses all the basics of corporate accountancy and management information, but applies it to the commuity as the reporting entity rather than the corporation, and does not limit itself to money expenditures and revenues to determine performance (profit) but also includes, the related value destruction and value creation that impact the community and society as a whole.

As a former CFO, I am aware how little operating managers want independent accounting ... so why should society at large be any different, or the not for profit community, ... or government decision makers? CIA does not aim to be popular ... it does, however, intend to be effective.


Peter Burgess

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