Tools to Produce Social Change: FrontlineSMS

Another speaker at last night’s Net Tuesday was Ken Banks of He is currently a fellow at Reuters Digital Vision Program at Stanford and has been involved in bringing Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to Africa to improve conversation and development.

The mobile network has grown in Africa and is becoming a powerful tool for dealing with breakdowns. Examples Ken gave included:

  1. tracking animal populations via signal transmitters that can be picked up by cell phones
  2. antibiotic pill containers containing a device which sends a signal to a doctor whenever the cap is opened to ensure that antibiotic treatment is followed all the way through
  3. health text messages on HIV/AIDS sent out to cell phone owners
  4. individual market prices sent out to phones so fisherman and farmers can know which markets have the best prices or which one is full
  5. Mobile for Good, which sends texts about city job notices to those in rural areas so that they have a chance of getting to a job before it fills up
  6. environmental disaster warnings

Ken is developing a program called FrontlineSMS, providing non-profits with text-messaging services to coordinate their programs across large distances. And he is planning to make the program Open Source, pending a grant from a major US foundation.

In Africa, it seems that cell phones are the major networking tool for individuals. And the network that is being built is vast. For example, Ken said that in South Africa, 98% of individuals have are in cell phones coverage areas. The presentation, and once again the potential of networks, impressed us. Now, how can we learn from and enrich this network?

Note: Changes made thanks to Ken Banks checking for accuracy.


One thought on “Tools to Produce Social Change: FrontlineSMS

  1. One small factual error to correct – 98% of the population in South Africa live in cell phone coverage areas. Actual ownership of mobiles is much less

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