Tech Tackling Social Challenges in South Africa

During my trip to South Africa last year, I came across a range of organisations using tech to improve social outcomes in a whole range of sectors including water and sanitation, safety, health and education utilising both traditional charity and social enterprise models. 

cropped-seesaw-logo-header1David Schaub-Jones of the social enterprise See Saw is focusing on how technology can improve water management and sanitation and they were recently involved in a Hackathon in this space, hosted at Bandwidth Barn. He’s developed a water service map for project planning and other projects included a ‘FixMyStreet’ for water problems and citizen reporting for where citizens are rubbing up against ‘Red Tape’/bureaucracy which sounds interesting. They work across SADEC but they are soon expanding into West Africa. They focus predominantly on providing advice and software for municipalities, water companies and national regulators alongside training.

They have an urban sanitation project in Dar. They’ve also been involved in interventions such as providing mobiles to staff doing meter readings and reporting on issues like leaks, broken systems and low pressure. In Madagascar they have a platform where people can make a missed call to report on issues like water quality, broken pipes etc. CARE and Catholic Relief Services are testing the service. They’re also involved in a project which uses mobile phones to monitor water quality and channel issues into the department of water affairs and the municipality to respond.

Another social enterprise, Safety Lab is driving innovation in safety and security for Western Cape Province. They currently have 3 projects. One involves reviewing CCTV footage and producing comics which warn people about crime hot spots and how to stay safe e.g. car remote jamming and they aim to digitise these and develop an App around safety tips. They’re also working on a USSD App (USSD is very popular in South Africa due to its cheap data costs and ease of use on feature phones) for reporting crime and anti-social behaviour. Their Nyanga project (township based) is looking into how events can be documented in real-time using mobile phones. They also want to send warnings to citizens and enable citizen feedback on issues to police stations e.g. car dumping, parking and traffic infringements.

Fundza (1)As many of you know, we support the mobile component of the Fundza project, which provides mobile stories young readers and enables readers to comment and contribute their own content. Their main aims are to popularise reading and grow a community of readers and writers, targeting school aged children. They recognise the importance of local content and have developed fantastic novels which are based on issues and characters living in townships e.g. safe sex, sugar daddies, violence etc. I was fortunate enough to meet with their extremely enthusiastic team whilst in Cape Town.

Fundza (2)Users are allowed to comment and some of the comments (30-40 per day) are really heart-warming. People also give feedback on how stories should end. Writers are also able to contribute their own stories (around 250 young writers so far) and are receiving great feedback. 86% of people have rated their platform positively. They also provide writers tips and a mobile based creative writing course with things like a poetry template which writers use to generate their own poems.

They recently launched a Mobi-Read-a-thon competition with a lot of press coverage which should drive up usage. It’s early days and their impact to date is impressive. They have 360,000 users and you can find out more about their user base in this beautiful presentation.

Cell Life (2)I met with Peter Benjamin from Cell Life for a second time. This organisation largely focuses on mHealth, running programmes which health promotion by SMS, WAP, Mxit and USSD e.g. on stopping smoking, child health, nutrition, user feedback on quality of care indicators in health services at clinic and national level and location based services such as locating one’s nearest clinic, opening times, clinic ratings etc.

Cell LifeThey are also working on a couple of civic projects including Lungisa. They have set up Khayenet, which works with 12 organisations in Khayelitsha, training them to get content and tools onto mobile. They train in SMS, Mxit, USSD and MobiWeb. Peter believes there is a massive lack of locally relevant content despite more than 90% of these community members having access to mobiles.

As the tech for social change space expands in the continent’s economic powerhouse it will be interesting to see how these interventions contribute towards improving social outcomes and tackling some of the huge challenges South Africa faces as one of the most unequal societies on earth.