Whilst in South Africa early last year, I came across a wide range of organisations which are exploring the ways in which technology can empower citizens and improve social outcomes across a wide range of social sectors.
The Citizen’s Movement for Social Change is a relatively new NGO which is focusing on making the journey from subject to citizen or in other words, they are trying to create an ‘active citizenry’ which responds to social challenges through non-violent means. They believe that most citizens are hugely disempowered, predominantly due to South Africa’s turbulent history. They focus on education, health and youth development and aim to work largely through capacity building, bringing together and supporting partner organisations.
Whilst they do not focus solely on tech interventions, many of their areas of focus include a tech component. For example, they’ve set up a Facebook page focusing on healing the wounds of the past and encouraging social cohesion. They’re also exploring how to support MPs to interact more effectively with citizens using technology.
They’re piloting projects which are using tech to improve educational outcomes. They showed me a remarkable video of students using a gaming platform to improve maths outcomes and the rate at which the kids were responding to questions was astonishing. It’s shown to have led to major improvements in literacy and numeracy with pupils achieving higher results than the year above. It’s also resulted in huge improvements in student motivation as well as improved teacher engagement and they use the feedback to tailor activities to the learner.
Based in Khayelitsha township, Whizz is a small, community based organisation which is run by development practitioners who aim to demonstrate that tech can have a role in addressing poverty alleviation, crime and inequality. For three years they have been training staff and volunteers who work in community based organisations in basic ICT skills using a train the trainer approach. They then help them use ICTs to improve their organisations.
They have trained youth in the use of social media for campaigning and have helped Early Child Development Centres (ECDCs) to set up a website for fundraising and to improve their internal communications and communications with the international community and government which has attracted funds. They hope to expand their services to providing training to community leaders in how to use technology more effectively in their work.
Based in Stellenbosch and headed up by Marlon Parker, Mxit Reach has approximately 120 staff and focuses on developing social tools for the Mxit platform, focusing on Education, Health, Agriculture, Women’s Empowerment and Economic Development. Their user base is 18-25 and example projects include Baby Info which provides timely information to pregnant women and mothers, Fundza’s mobile literacy site, Dr Maths, English and Science which provide quizzes and tutorials to almost 1 million users, Everything Maths and Everything Science (with 300,000 users collectively) with full text books for age 16-18, Jamiix counselling platforms, Mac 911 which connects people to the right emergency service and a whole range of other services.
In Pretoria, I was able to meet with the Afroes team again. If you’re an avid reader of our blog you’ll know that Afroes has built several games and applications to help reduce child abuse and violence against women with funding from the UN and Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund. They also developed a game for Young Africa Live exploring issues around date rape and life skills.
They are still providing games for organisations but have shifted their focus towards becoming a mobile learning academy. They aim to develop a platform focusing on skills development where young people can access information and games on issues affecting their lives including health, well-being, education, GBV etc. whilst also accessing opportunities for fun and social networking.
Additionally, they wish to build a platform called Ongoza, which can be used by social organisations to build their own solutions to social challenges. The platform will enable people to carry out needs assessments around a particular issue, build work flows into their design process (e.g. how to identify key issues in a community) and enable NGOs/CBOs to add their own content in order to build games, puzzles, quizzes etc. with no tech skills.
It’s interesting how these organisations whose key missions are to improve social outcomes in some area are exploring the ways in which they can utilise technology to strengthen their efforts. It is our hope that many other socially conscious organisations will explore the ways in which tech can help them do what they do better.