2011 Finalist: FrontlineSMS
"When something becomes ubiquitous, crowd intensive, transparent and broadly used—it’s more about how it’s used rather than what it is. This is exciting! FrontlineSMS is a Design Science Solution." – Bonnie DeVarco, 2011 Challenge Juror
– Bonnie DeVarco, 2011 Challenge Juror
FrontlineSMS empowers frontline social organisations to leverage the power and reach of mobile technology to enable positive change. We provide organizations in remote, rural regions of the developing world with software that turns a laptop into a mass messaging hub, without any need for Internet connectivity.
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Critical Need Being Addressed
FrontlineSMS is a key part of the communications revolution underway in the developing world, giving social organizations tools to leverage the power of the mobile technology in their community. Our work accelerates the rate at which poor communities will be able to take advantage of the nearly limitless potential of pervasive mobile technology.
Description of Initiative
FrontlineSMS began life when Ken Banks – an anthropologist, software developer and conservationist – was consulting in South Africa with an international conservation organisation. During one of many field trips he began thinking about how the park authorities could use mobile technology to communicate with local communities living around Kruger National Park, many of whom were beginning to acquire mobile phones. Frustrated by the domination of web-based communications tools – it was impossible to connect to the Internet in many of the places these communities lived – Ken began working on a communications solution that would offer its users the maximum amount of accessibility and simplicity. To reflect the reality in the field, this meant no Internet and no technology more advanced than a low-cost laptop and the basic mobile phones already in the hands of community members.
In the late summer of 2005, armed with a laptop, programming guide and an assortment of cables, phones and GSM modems, Ken went to work on developing a prototype of what was eventually to become FrontlineSMS. In the intervening years, the software has been refined, our user base has expanded to more than 8,000, and we’re reaching millions of people in more than fifty countries around the world. FrontlineSMS software has been used as the backbone of nationwide election monitoring systems in Nigeria and elsewhere, as an agricultural market information system by the FAO and other organizations, and as a channel to inform and monitor potential targets of human trafficking networks in Southeast Asia, among many applications.
Despite our success, we believe there is much more ahead of us. Users' needs drive our work, and that means constantly improving the core software, delivering a thriving and useful community to help new users figure out how to implement successful systems, and anticipating the future needs of a sector that didn't exist a decade ago.
Resources + Updates Since Entering The Challenge in October 2010
-PROJECT PRESS RELEASE: PDF
-BFi Assessment Summary
NEW DEVELOPMENTS - FRONTLINESMS:RADIO
Since we first applied for the Buckminster Fuller Challenge, interest around the FrontlineSMS platform has continued its extraordinary growth. The latest development has been the start of a partnership with Cambridge University in the UK, leading to the creation of FrontlineSMS:Radio, an effort to work closely with community radio stations throughout the developing world, starting in sub-Saharan Africa. As our web site at radio.frontlinesms.com puts it, “FrontlineSMS:Radio is developing software which will assist community radio stations to interact dynamically with audiences by harnessing the power of SMS text messaging. Radio represents the dominant media source for many and SMS is increasingly being used by radio stations to facilitate two-way communication with listeners.” Many community radio stations already use FrontlineSMS in their work, and this is an opportunity to not only develop tools targeted at their work, but also cultivate a strong community of support around this critical application. FrontlineSMS:Radio mirrors similar initiatives we’ve undertaken in microfinance and public health, and our collaboration with Cambridge researchers means we will have a strong idea of the impact of new communications tools on the effectiveness of radio programming and journalism among our first users.
THE START OF DEVELOPING VERSION 2
We have also begun the first pieces of developing version 2 of our core software. This new version will be lighter-weight, capable of handling many more contacts and messages at once, and offer users features they have been seeking for a long time, like the ability to smoothly send and receive multimedia messages, with photos or video clips, in addition to text. It will include more user-friendly access to advanced features of the software, like keyword-based automation, and, critically, a more open plugin architecture so that the open-source community can easily create custom modules or improvements into the software itself. Support from organizations like the Buckminster Fuller Institute helps us continue to make these sorts of improvements, and we would not be able to give the NGOs and other organizations we serve the tools they need without it.
Below are four examples from just the past few months of the incredible work FrontlineSMS users are doing worldwide. Since the platform is free and so easy to use, NGO staff across sectors can easily adapt it to their needs and get on with the important work they do every day.
-Election Monitoring in Nigeria-
Last month, the Nigerian grassroots organization ReclaimNaija used FrontlineSMS to collect citizen reports during the country’s elections. In an election season that seemed fraught with postponements and confusion, the SMS-based hotline was a useful source of information for ordinary people and the country’s independent electoral commission. As Nosariame Garrick, a Nigerian voting activist put it, “Reclaim Naija is allowing eyewitness accounts from average citizens to be collected on the actual happenings during elections, and people understand that their reports are not falling on deaf ears.”
More here: http://www.frontlinesms.com/2011/04/15/nigerians-mobilize-for-free-and-f...
-Improving Maternal Health in the Philippines-
The Philippines’ Molave Development Foundation is using FrontlineSMS as part of their new Mobile e-Health System for Safe Motherhood program, described on National Geographic’s Web site this month. The program uses SMS messages to inform, educate, and interact with pregnant mothers around key health topics. Project leaders are enthusiastic about the early results. According to project manager Irma Saligumba, “Our initial assessment shows that the program has influenced the parent’s decision to use a health facility instead of their home for childbirth … [and] helps midwives prepare and plan for the pre- and post-natal care activities in the village. This more efficient and interactive information management system can ultimately contribute to improved maternal care, and thus decreased mortality levels.” In the wake of early success with a research pilot, the program is in the process of applying for funding to expand throughout the country.
More here: http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2011/05/10/safe-motherhood-mobil...
-Monitoring Water Quality in Haiti-
In Haiti, aid workers are using FrontlineSMS to collect critical water-quality data in cholera-struck regions. Deep Springs International, along with UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health, are treating drinking water with chlorine and using SMS to report water quality data from the field back to the main office. This process ensures treatment systems get to the right places quickly, and minimizes lapses in clean water availability. According to a Scientific American story on the project, the technical lead on the project chose FrontlineSMS because of the tool’s track record of working successfully in low-infrastructure environments, including post-earthquake Haiti.
More here: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=haiti-cholera-clean-wat...
-Tracking Drug-Resistant Malaria in Cambodia-
The Malaria Consortium is pioneering a malaria tracking and early-warning system in Western Cambodia’s Ta Sanh district. Community health workers carry out directly observed treatment (DOT) on malaria patients, collecting blood samples at the start of treatment and again 72 hours later. These samples are delivered to the local health center, where they are analyzed for the presence of malaria. If a Day 3 sample is found to be positive, an indication of drug resistance, health center staff immediately send an SMS message to a FrontlineSMS hub linked to a central database, where it is automatically recorded and mapped. These data serve as a critical resource for WHO and other national staff to track trends in the spread of the disease and plan coordinated treatment and prevention efforts
More here: http://www.frontlinesms.com/2011/04/20/malaria-diagnosis-in-real-time-vi...
PEOPLE: Ken Banks, Founder FrontlineSMS
Between 2006 and 2007 he was based at Stanford University as a Visiting Fellow on the Reuters Digital Vision Program, and in 2008 was named as one of sixteen Pop!Tech Social Innovation Fellows. In 2009 he was named a Laureate of the Tech Awards, an international awards program which honors innovators from around the world who are applying technology to benefit humanity. In 2010 he was named a National Geographic Emerging Explorer, a Program which "recognizes and supports uniquely gifted and inspiring young adventurers, scientists, photographers, and storytellers - explorers who are already making a difference early in their careers."
FrontlineSMS, an initiative of the Kiwanja Foundation, empowers frontline social change organizations throughout the world to harness the power and potential of mobile technology to enable positive change. Our software platform enables NGOs and other organizations in remote and underserved areas to turn a laptop computer and a mobile phone into a mass communications hub, enabling two-way SMS communications with large populations without the use of the Internet. The FrontlineSMS team, which spans the Atlantic Ocean, is made up of leaders in designing and developing SMS-based systems and processes for the organizations we exist to serve, with expert advice on use cases from election monitoring to agriculture to the transformation of rural media and journalism. We combine technical expertise, knowledge of mobile technology and applications, and on-the-ground experience working with remote rural NGOs to deliver all-round system design and support to our users.