Whilst in Rwanda, I was able meet up with Search For Common Ground‘s Vice President Steve Utterwulghe and Rebecca Besant, the Country Director SFCG is a large international NGO which focuses on peace-building. They work in 30 countries including 15 in Sub Saharan African. They work at all levels, including policy and advocacy work, capacity building of local civil society and grassroots interventions. They employ approximately 400 people, with an annual budget of $30 million.
They recognise the huge influence of community radio in peace building and they are interested in increasing two-way communication with audiences using SMS based interventions such as FrontlineSMS. In Burundi, Sierra Leone and Liberia, they have linked radio stations to a central editorial office, with an online portal, which has increased their independence and resulted in more accurate, consistent and less biased news stories. They have also developed a website (radiopeacebuildingafrica.org) to provide resources to community radio including examples of radio programmes on issues surrounding peace-building, podcasts which can be broadcast directly on the radio and a variety of other resources.
They also run a mobile radio programme for University youth in Rwanda, Burundi and DRC, which is streamed through existing radios and focuses on issues including cross border trade, election violence, uniting youth regardless of their political allegiance, good governance and strengthening service delivery. People can interact with the radio via SMS, email and Facebook, where more in-depth discussions are initiated.
They are also working on a video game which will be used by teachers to explore conflict resolution for primary 4 and primary 5 children in Rwanda and use films to initiate discussions with the military in the DRC around issues relating to human rights, conflict resolution and prevention of gender based violence. In Burundi, they have developed a soap opera aimed at youth which tackles issues such as domestic violence and getting involved in the democratic process. It is one of the few programmes on TV which stimulates discussion through a hotline and SMS polls and discussion.
Another project involves video clips with famous football teams which tackle corruption issues which is shown on the TV before the news with the aim of influencing decision makers.
They have used the Ushahidi platform (a well-established Kenyan platform which enables citizens to make reports on SMS which are mapped onto Google Maps-a technique known as ‘crowd sourcing’) to report on violence in Liberia and land grabbing throughout East Africa and they are considering using it for issues around oil conflict in Uganda.
I met with Eliachim Ishimwe, Country Manager at Voxiva is an International for-profit with its head office in Washington DC. They have developed TRACnet which helps government to collect and analyse data related to HIV at the clinic and individual patient level for policy making, monitoring and early warning purposes. They have also developed systems which enable the national laboratory to send Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) results to health centres by SMS or internet and for surveillance of a wide variety of diseases, which has been implemented in approximately 500 health centres. Their systems support multiple platforms including Interactive Voice Response (IVR), web and SMS.
They are also working on a more grassroots project, m-Umubima which has trained 60, 000 community health workers to collect data and receive education messages through mobile phones.
Voxiva also developed Esoko, which provides mobile access to agricultural market information and stock counts. They have launched Text2Quit, which provides mobile support for those trying to quit smoking and Text4babies which provides mobile advice to new mothers.
I’m looking forward to watching the tech4social change space evolve in Rwanda as the local tech community grows and the government implements their well devised ICT strategy.