I just finished reading the Wireless Technology for Social Change: Trends in NGO Mobile Use report issued by MobileActive.org and written by Katrin Verclas and Sheila Kinkade. The report is based on case studies of the use of mobile technology around the globe including Uganda, Kenya, Zambia, Ghana, South Africa, Argentina, Syria, Indonesia, Peru, the United Kingdom and the United States. A survey of over five-hundred NGOs was developed by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research as part of the research project.
There is an estimated 3.5 billion mobile phones in use throughout the world and 86% of the NGO employees in the survey use mobile phones as part of their work. Not surprising, mobile phone use at work is more common among NGO employees in Asia and Africa than it is in developed areas with more wired infrastructure.
Reading the individual case studies was fascinating. A few highlights but there are a lot more in the actual report:
Point-of-care access to health information is provided in Kenya and Zambia using EpiSurveyor, a free mobile software application that was developed by DataDyne, a non-profit consultancy founded by a medical doctor and an ex-Red Cross IT consultant. EpiSurveyor not only delivers information to the device, it allows the easy creation of custom forms for download to the mobile device. The user-friendly interface has allowed organizations to collect diagnostic health information from people in the field and improved the monitoring of diseases. One of the challenges facing organizations deploying these field applications is the aggregation and analysis of large amounts of data. This is an area in need of scalable solutions.
In South Africa, an info-line service allows people to text their location to a phone number and receive the location of the nearest clinic testing for HIV.
HeathToys.org lets parents enter the name of a toy and receive back whether lead or other toxins that may have been found in it.
The Open Medical Records System (OpenMRS) is a free and open source electronic medical record application for developing countries.
There is growing evidence that mobile phones can move people to action more effectively than other media. A number of campaigns reported to the authors show a response rate of 20 to 45 percent for text appeals, which is considerably higher than that recorded for email alerts. The report also noted that, in the commercial market, people have an increased likelihood of purchasing a product or service when notified by text message, and that reliable data is not yet available for the non-profit sector.
Greenpeace Argentina created a powerful advocacy system by maintaining a database of 350,000 mobile phone numbers. Other Greenpeace offices are planning on testing the Argentina method of mobile activism of advocacy in 2008. Greenpeace Argentina is planning on expanding its mobile infrastructure with a more robust platform.
The report is available here. Thanks to the authors for this valuable report.