Tech4SocialChange Projects in South Africa

I recently visited South Africa, a place which I hold close to my heart, as it is from here that my parents immigrated to London during the apartheid era for politcal reasons.  It still feels like a second home.  The country has made a remarkable transformation since then and is buzzing with an air of potential and excitment, a drive to steer the future down a positive path.

During my recent trip to South Africa, I wanted to see how technology could contribute to that journey.  I came across a variety of organisations which are using technology in interesting ways to stimulate enterprise, improve health outcomes, remove barriers to accessing technology and to strengthen civil society.

Cell Life is a well established organisation in South Africa that has produced a wide range of tech based solutions aimed at tackling issues around HIV/AIDS.  They have developed software to manage the efficient dispensing of ARVs (anti retroviral medication), enable rapid data collection and send health messaging and reminders to those on ARVs.  They have also empowered the National Aids helpline to provide counselling through Jamiix and conduct randomised control trials to evaluate the impact of mhealth and ehealth projects.  They are currently exploring ways in which to empower NGOs in Khayelisha township to utilise technology to maximise their impact and reach.

The newly opened mLab in Pretoria aims to encourage co-innovation at the bottom of the pyramid.  They work on both social and commercial applications, focussing on the mobile space.  They are working on several agriculture applications and an application that will enable remittances to be paid by mobile.  They run a wide range of training programmes and a mobile application seed fund.  Interestingly, they are running an innovation prize for applications aimed at improving local service delivery and I look forward to seeing what comes out of this.

Translate.org.za is an organisation which focuses on the localisation or translation of Open Source software into South Africa’s 11 official languages.  In a country where only 8% of people speak English as their mother tongue and a 1/3 of the population can’t speak English at all, this is critical work.  They have successfully translated OpenOffice.org, Firefox and Thunderbird.  They have also been involved in terminology development and they’re developing a platform which simplifies the role of human translators.  They’ve also been digitising books in local languages.

SANGONeT is one of South Africa’s leading networks for the not for profit sector.  Its key mission is to support the effective use of ICTs in South African civil society organisations.  They host NGO Pulse, which provides information to the NGO sector and the Prodder Directory of NGOs.  They have trained citizen journalists in collaboration with Hivos, run a Tech distribution programme which aims to empower charities to make effective use of technology and they host an annual ICT for Rural Development conference.  They are supporting organisations on a variety of technology driven programmes, including the development of a lactation record system and index based insurance product.

If anyone knows of any other exciting projects which are making a social impact through technology driven interventions, please get in touch.