West Africa

African Tech Hubs: iLab Liberia

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Technology and innovation hubs in Africa interview series: iLab in Monrovia, Liberia (www.codeinnovation.com) As part of our ongoing African Tech Hub interview series, we sat down with Carter Draper, Interim Country Director of iLab Liberia to ask him what it’s like to work in ICT4D in Monrovia and be bringing exponential technologies to help solve the country’s challenges.

Code Innovation: Hi Carter. Thanks for sitting down with us. Tell us a bit about your background and how you got started in technology.

Carter Draper: I currently serve as Interim Country Director at iLab Liberia. My passion for computing goes as far back as to high school in 2000. Upon graduation, I enrolled at several local computer institutions – and opposed my father’s desire for me to study forestry and agriculture at the state university. I now hold a BSc in Electronics Engineering and a Microsoft Information Technology Professional certification from Koenig Solutions in New Delhi, India, in additional to several certifications for web development, coding, networking and hardware.

During the civil crisis of 2001-2003, I co-operated several Internet cafes, which then served as the major gateway to connecting families and relatives abroad. Immediately after the war, I was employed with the National Legislature – a post I merited as a result of my professional ethics and services rendered my nation while operating Internet cafes during the heat of the civil crisis.

African women and girls learn technology skills for workforce development at iLab Liberia in Monrovia (www.codeinnovation.com)

I served for five unbroken years as Computer Technician at the Legislature, providing tech support to both the Senate wing as well as the House wing. While serving with the Government, I was also teaching Electronic Data Processing at the Stella Maris Polytechnic in Monrovia. In 2010, I got a scholarship to earn my MCTS and MCITP in New Delhi. Seven months after my return, I was employed by Ushahidi Liberia, a non-profit technology initiative that monitored the Liberian 2011 elections using technology.

Code: How did iLab Liberia get started? How are operations being run now?

Carter: iLab Liberia came into existence through Ushahidi Liberia operations. We realized the need for an open space for information sharing, access to Internet and incubating innovation, which Liberia was in dire need of then. It was with enthusiasm for technology, access and innovation for all. iLab is a technology hub that continues to narrow the technology divide in Liberia. Over our four years of operations, we have impacted doctors, teachers, students, the Government of Liberia, INGOs, NGOs, civil society organizations and grassroots intellectual groups, by providing them not only a space where they access the Internet for free, but take free courses and events as well as developing technology solutions to leverage the traditional ways of doing things here on the ground. iLab is a US 501c3, a non-for-profit organization that depends on donor funding for its operations. We’re a small organization with a staff of ten, including me, our Country Director.

Graduating in a technology course for workforce development at iLab Liberia in Monrovia (www.codeinnovation.com)

Code: What is iLab Liberia’s business model?

Carter: To avoid depending on our donors to fund our entire annual budget, starting in 2013 we began charging INGOs minimal funds to collaborate with us. This is intended to allow us to generate 25% of our annual budget. However, due to the Ebola virus, there has been a huge drop in paid services, taking us back to depending fully on donor funding this 2015.

Code: Does iLab Liberia work in open source? What is your experience with the open source community?

Carter: Among the many things we do, open source platforms and applications are at the center. We’ve trained entrepreneurs, MSMEs, and startups in GNUCash, an open source version of QuickBooks, Scribus, for desktop publishing, Audacity for audio editing, Cinderella for video, as well as many other open platforms. All our systems run FOSS operating systems (Ubuntu, Linux) and we’ve encouraged institutions to take that direction by training them in Ubuntu, in addition to sharing copies of the OS to nearly everyone that visits our hub.

Code: What has been most challenging?

Carter: Unlike other tech hubs, iLab operates in an environment with no stable electricity, limited and very costly Internet connectivity, and very poor technology infrastructure. In fact, there is only one  institution of higher learning in information technology or its related courses in Liberia. This has caused a very slow emerging technology community.

Code: What are your organization’s specific areas of expertise?

Technology for workforce development at iLab Liberia in Monrovia (www.codeinnovation.com)

Carter: We specialize in promoting open source systems and applications, web technologies, mobile technologies, trainings and organizing tech events.

Code: What are the issues or problems that you care most about?

Carter: Liberia being a developing country, using technology to develop my nation is my highest dream.

Code: What projects are you most excited to be working on?

Carter: Innovative projects that tackle and contextualize real problems. Helping nearly every sector improve their service delivery through technology.

Code: What are your plans for the next few years and what sort of help do you need to achieve them?

Carter: My plan is to improve the skills of staff at iLab and to expand our mission and activities actively in rural Liberia. I will appreciate anyone who’s willing to help in the improvement of our staff abilities to continue and expand the work we are doing here with new expertise.

Code: What companies or organizations would do you most like to be connected to and why?

Carter: Companies that believe technology can improve the lives of people and processes in Africa as well as institutions that are willing to come to Liberia to share their expertise to help make this country a better place.

Our Singularity Hub article, "How Mobile Technology Can Bring Trauma Relief After Ebola"

Code Innovation founder Nathaniel Calhoun and I co-wrote an article for Singularity Hub about how mobile technology can be used to bring relief to people living with complex trauma in communities affected by the recent Ebola outbreak. You can read the piece here. It explores recent donor-funded projects that seeks to ameliorate the mental health of affected communities and profiles our own Community Mental Health app project, for which we're actively seeking funding.

Please get in touch if you'd like more information by emailing us at info@codeinnovation.com.

Community Mental Health

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Community mental health program in Liberia by Second Chance Africa (www.codeinnovation.com) The Washington Post recently profiled Chris Blattman's research into the economic and security benefits of therapy for at-risk youth in Monrovia, Liberia in "Jobs and jail might not keep young men out of crime, but how about therapy?". The gatekeepers of the psychiatric industry are losing power and a much-needed variety of healing will quickly become accessible on a global scale.

It bodes well for individuals, families and communities everywhere that psycho-social services are starting to be democratized. When people assumed that therapy or counseling required one-on-one time with a highly trained specialist or a regular supply of expensive proprietary drugs, emotional support was effectively a luxury (and, indeed, it has been routinely satirized as such with bored and wealthy TV characters gobbling pills from their indulgent therapists).

Bold new approaches to therapy are delivering powerful results for incredibly low costs, indicating that psychosocial services may soon become available to the hundreds of millions of people struggling with the effects of trauma.

Our partners, Second Chance Africa, pioneered a group therapy approach in Monrovia for ex-combatants that ran over five years, eliminating symptoms of trauma in 60% of the people who went through the program. We’re currently looking for funding to help digitize the curriculum that made this possible and to create an open source mobile resource for Community Health Workers to facilitate group therapy sessions of this variety.

We’ve got a rigorous, clinical monitoring and evaluation protocol lined up that leverages the expertise of PHD candidate Jana Pinto, who studies at the Brain and Mind Research Institute at the Sydney Medical School, at the University of Sydney. And we’ll be testing the approach simultaneously with culturally diverse members of the refugee community in Sydney to gauge the effectiveness of our content and method for a wider audience.

If you’re interested to help make this happen, contact us at info@codeinnovation.com.

Why Our Ebola Hackathon Index is Very Sad

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About the Ebola Hackathon Index (www.codeinnovation.com) A few weeks ago, Code Innovation was approached and asked to contribute a short video on content and challenges to an Ebola hackathon.

Hackathons, if you’re not familiar with them, are short, focused events where coders, makers and innovators of all kinds come together to create solutions around a given problem or challenge. In this case, they are a great way for those of us far removed from the Ebola virus outbreak in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to imagine ways of contributing to the ongoing response.

We declined this request because we’re too far removed from the emergency response at this point to be able to provide anything but the most basic of context. We sent them this article on Tech Crunch, “How the Tech Sector Can Help Stop Ebola,” and told them to read every story that Buzzfeed’s Jina Moore has filed from Liberia.

But we reached out to a few of our friends in Monrovia to see if they’d be keen to contribute. “How many Ebola hackathons are there?” one asked. We wondered too.

A quick Google search lead to 10 Ebola hackathons that had happened or were planned for the imminent future, and we started to get curious. Were these groups aware of and coordinating with each other? Were they sharing valuable resources from the field, so that people on the ground weren’t besieged with constant requests for videos and other material?

Two weeks ago, we cataloged the list and wrote to each and every one of them. We sent them this:

"We are a West Africa-based technology company that works in countries now facing the Ebola virus outbreak. We are working on mobile behavior change communications and other responses, and in the last few weeks we have been approached by different ‘Ebola Hackathons’ and asked to share information about context and challenges.

"After consultation with our colleagues who are working directly on the Ebola response in the field, we learned that many of us have been approached by many different Hackathons, and as a group we wondered if the Hackathons were sharing information with each other, both in terms of information they were getting from the field and in terms of outcomes.

"So, at Code, since we’re not as busy as our colleagues who are in Monrovia right now, we thought we’d ask on behalf of our colleagues and friends. And, to make things easier on everyone, we thought we’d create a place where different Ebola Hackathons can learn about other Ebola Hackathons and post outcomes of their work. Even better, maybe some of the groups will find others interested by the same outcomes and start to work together, making their efforts that much more effective and likely to impact the situation on the ground.

"We made this: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1K1E-82Fy5k9jbI_2FfRnIDjK7knUqXvM6s53TvMbTn0/edit?usp=sharing

"Please feel free to create yourself a worksheet and add outcomes, contact details, and whatever else you would like to share about the process. We will be sharing this document with our colleagues in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

"Thanks in advance for the collaboration and cooperation."

Two weeks ago, we got a handful of replies. “We’ll use the spreadsheet — great idea!” one group responded. Another asked us if we could make them a video and we told them to ask other Hackathons for materials they could share and use.

Since then, not one of the hackathons have posted in the spreadsheet. No one has posted materials to share amongst the group. No one has shared outcomes or listed a point of contact where other hackathon hosts — or people wanting to support and work on solutions together — can learn more.

I don’t know what to tell myself about why this is. I work in international development and I’ve lived in Liberia. I care intensely about the place and am deeply proud of my friends and colleagues who are working on the response. I know they’ve been inundated with “please send our hackathon a video” requests, and I know from experience that many of them wanted to respond. Unfortunately, whatever responses were offered to these different events have not been shared in the way that we in the open source community like to see.

I’m sharing this here in a hope that other Hackathons take the document and use it to coordinate amongst themselves—or replace it with a collaborative environment of their own creation that we can promote on their behalf. I don’t see the ones on the list paying any attention to the basic tenants of collaborative cooperation and open source. But here’s hoping this changes their minds and that we can actually work together — instead of just saying we are.

Here is our open Ebola Hackathon Index: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1K1E-82Fy5k9jbI_2FfRnIDjK7knUqXvM6s53TvMbTn0/edit#gid=0

PRESS RELEASE: Update on our Free "About Ebola" App

7 October 2014: As the spread of Ebola virus continues to accelerate, Code Innovation has continued to update the free "About Ebola" app to educate smart phone users and their networks about the virus. This app is a complement to traditional and wider-reaching public health information efforts to educate the general public and health care responders (including home caregivers) about the virus and how to prevent its transmission. Mobile phone use exploded in Africa over the last decade, driven by the durability and low cost of simple phones. As smart phones drop in price and become available secondhand a steadily growing segment of the population is shifting over to this more versatile digital platform. The strengthening and expansion of mobile and data signals encourage this trend.

Code Innovation sees the mobile space as being the dominant technological platform for Africa in the coming decade, and we focused our innovations efforts in the mobile space around Ebola because nothing existed in late March and April of 2014, and we saw an opportunity to make a difference.

In our years of field experience in West Africa, we have noted that smart phone users enjoy increased social capital, influence and prestige in their families and communities. Because many areas affected by the virus also exhibit distrust of traditional authority figures, including government and national health workers, and also distrust of outside actors including foreign aid workers, we believe that smart phone owners have an important part to play as educators about Ebola virus in their families, social networks and wider communities.

The mobile app is just one component of a wider and far-reaching health systems response from all levels, including national government, international organizations, non-profits and NGOs. We created the app because we saw mobile technology as missing from the initial response of more traditional communications efforts such as radio outreach, print media and posters, as well as television spots.

The app is now published on Android and Apple platforms in five African languages: Jola, Sierra Leonian Krio, Liberian English, Swahili and Wolof. In addition, the app is in English and French. Because the Google Play store does not acknowledge African languages, with the exception of Swahili, the app must be searched for in French or English. Once it is downloaded, the African language of choice can be selected from the Main Menu. The iTunes store does not list any of these African languages as a category, not even Swahili, a regional language spoken by upwards of 140 million people.

Code Innovation has repeatedly approached Google and Apple to request that these African languages be included as language categories on their respective app platforms and app stores. To date, we have received no response. However, we continue to believe that local language content is pivotal in public health outreach and efforts, and we hope to influence these technology companies in this regard.

"About Ebola" empowers and encourages every one of us to educate ourselves and others about what we can to do contain the Ebola response and prevent the dangerous spread of Ebola rumors and misinformation. National health systems and medical caregivers are just one part of the bigger picture. We all have a part to play.

We continue to be open to receiving relevant language translations from volunteers, so if you'd like to help out, please get in touch.

For media and translation inquiries please contact Elie Calhoun at elie@codeinnovation.com.

Our Free "About Ebola" App is Featured on Sky News's "Digital Views" Program

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On Saturday, 4 October, Sky News's Martin Stanford presented "Digital Views" and interviewed Code Innovation's Elie Calhoun about the place of our "About Ebola" app in the outbreak response alongside more traditional communications via radio, print media and television. You can watch the segment here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=P0bvQjufrp4

You can read more about the UNICEF mHero program that Elie mentions in the video here.

In a supplementary video, Elie Calhoun shares more context on why we created the app for Android and Apple smart phones, even though smart phone owners are the minority in West Africa, where the outbreak has its epicenter. She explains that smart phone owners are often important influencers with social capital in their communities, and that people who would otherwise mistrust government and foreign health care workers may trust them, providing us with an important avenue for behavior change communication.

You can watch her more detailed explanation about the "About Ebola" app here:

http://youtu.be/ikKuqV3d3eU

We are releasing Elie's in-depth video under a free culture Creative Commons Attributions 4.0 International license, so please feel free to use the above video in your own outreach and communication efforts.

The "About Ebola" app, which is now in Liberian English, Sierra Leonian Krio, Jola, Wolof and Swahili, in addition to French and English, can be downloaded for free here:

Android: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=cc.snapp.aboutebola

about-ebola-app-public-health-information-codeinnovation.com-android

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/about-ebola/id891004317?mt=8

about-ebola-app-public-health-information-codeinnovation.com-itunes-appleAnd once again, thanks to our international volunteers, without whom this project would not have been possible:

The app was created using the Snapp mobile application building platform, where you can create a free app on your mobile phone. Learn more here.

And once again, thanks to our international volunteers, without whom this project would not have been possible:

Illustration of the virus: Fouad Mezher

Translations:

French: Beatrice Clerc Liberian English and Krio: Dr. Bartum Kulah Swahili: eMobilis Mobile Technology Academy Wolof and Jola: Fatima Jobe and Lamin Goudiaby

Workforce Development and Mobile Learning: Our Dakar Survey

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Reports about global poverty often start with grim statistics about youth unemployment. While such statistics routinely fail to capture the mitigating influence of the informal economy, the fact remains that young people in developing countries struggle to find stable employment—let alone employment that actually interests them personally.

For decades, educational institutions have shown themselves rather unimaginative when it comes to workforce development and career education: Career Day, anyone? Most people learn about jobs from their friends, their family members and, if they’re lucky, from their employers. In developing countries, where many young people work (if at all) as petty merchants or manual laborers, the particular culture of the office workplace—as dominated by western-educated management level employees—can seem completely inscrutable, if not downright unwelcoming.

Code Innovation is committed to decoding the norms and expectations of the workplace for the aspiring young would-be-professionals who currently fill the ranks of the world’s unemployed. We are keen to leverage mobile technologies to help prepare young people to surmount the barriers to entry level positions in organizations and enterprises that will allow them to grow and become more prosperous.

For years now, we've been thinking about and working on workforce development with at-risk and low-income youth. A few years ago, we started a youth workforce survey in and around Dakar, Senegal. We had the guidance of a Peace Corps Volunteer who was working with us for the year, and the almost full-time attention of our young Senegalese assistant. From the survey, we learned a great deal about youth, mobile education and workforce development and we are excited to inform our new projects with the perspective that these findings gave us (more on that in the future).

We found that doing firsthand market research in our African, urban context provided rich data for decision-making around our innovations and education work. We hope that others can use this write-up of how we put together our survey useful in their own technology for education work.

About the Survey

We sought to interview 2,000 young people in and around Dakar about their use of technology in preparing for and finding a job. Because of confusion about interview responses that could've been solved with closer supervision, we ended up with 500 interviews in French from university and vocational students, out-of-work youth and entry-level professionals. We surveyed both men and women from around West Africa who are living, working or studying in and around the greater Dakar metropolitan area.

Our research assistant asked each survey respondent 35 questions. Some of the questions were open-ended, but the majority were yes/no answers. Because we hadn't codified "prefer not to answer" and "don't know/haven't thought about it," we found our data wasn't as rich as we had wanted it to be.

All the same, we shared our data sets with our research partners at a U.S. business university in the northeast of the country, where PhD students are running independent analysis. We'll publish what we found in the future, but for now, we want to tell the story of the survey. We hope that others hear our story and decide to use this stakeholder analysis method too.

How We Did Our Youth Workforce Development and Mobile Learning Survey in Senegal:

1. We had a compelling reason for young people to participate.

When our research assistant was still very new to his job, he felt shy approaching and interviewing respondents because he was not telling them what we were doing and why it was important to them.

This is a classic case of the "features vs. benefits" sales mistake that goes something like this. Our research assistant would approach a young person in the late afternoon outside the university and tell them about our survey. "It was 35 questions and I'm from Code Innovation, a local tech company," he would say. "Can I interview you?" Most people would look at him blankly and, when learning that they weren't going to be compensated directly in any way, say no. This happened a lot and he began to get discouraged. Our assistant was focused on the "features" of the thing he was doing, in other words, what it was and how it worked.

When we began to work with him on the "why" of the story, people started to respond. By focusing on the benefits to them, people had a clear reason to say "yes" and get involved.

"Hi," our assistant would say, usually in Wolof, before asking the questions in French, "I'm working with a company that is building a free mobile app to help young people get a job. Would you answer some questions to help us with our project?"

The clearer our assistant was about communicating that benefit to respondents, the better things went.

2. What kind of data did we need to build our product?

Our idea for this survey was based on an observable and measurable need. As African economies and African cities grow over the next decades, young people need to know how to identify jobs that suit them and get the skills they need to negotiate their careers.

In our other start-up businesses, we'd seen the skill gap between where we wanted our new hires to be and where they actually were. The first few months of any new project would involve extensive step-by-step training and norming around professional and organization culture. This isn't something that's taught in career workshops, university or secondary school, but as an employer in Africa, it's a big 'X' factor in building a team and hiring.

We wanted to solve for it with an app that taught young African professionals how to enter the workplace and negotiate their careers.

3. What were we trying to build in the first place?

When we started the survey in 2012, most of Code's experience was in computer and Internet projects around e-mentoring and e-learning with at-risk and low-income secondary students around the world. We did not have experience building mobile apps, but we saw their potential for our demographic of young, urban, educated Africans.

We wanted to get enough data to know the following:

1) How were young people already using technology in their searches and along their career paths?

2) Were their strategies working or not working in terms of moving them towards their career goals?

4. What did the survey look like?

You can see a copy of the survey we used here in English and here in French. We had our Peace Corps Volunteer with a background in social science develop the questions with us, and train our research assistant in his first round of interviews.

What We Learned from Doing the Survey on Youth and Mobile Workforce Development:

1. This was easier to do than we thought and provided a good way of getting data for decision-making before we developed our project.

2. We didn't need as many respondents as we thought. Even though we only surveyed a quarter of the people we initially thought we would, we still had more than enough data for our analysis. In retrospect, we could've stopped at around 100, as long as those respondents were exactly within the required demographic and gender-balanced.

3. Inviting U.S. research universities to do our data analysis took the work off our hands and made our analysis verifiably independent. Also, we like to think that it was interesting for the students involved to learn a bit about African research contexts. We found the partnership to be very rewarding and highly recommend that other teams like us reach out to and work more closely with universities.

Thanks for reading this far! If you're interested in learning more about this, please feel free to get in touch (info@codeinnovation.com). We love to have conversations about technology for education and with others building in the African tech space.

Releasing our "About Ebola" App in African Languages

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West African mobile health "About Ebola" app in English, French, Wolof and Jola (www.codeinnovation.com) Sarah Joy via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

I was listening to BBC on the hotel TV getting ready to teach an evening yoga class to African feminists at a leadership conference in the Gambia. "Ebola virus" already meant something to me: I was a youngster in Nairobi when the Ebola virus first showed up in East Africa.

I saw 'Outbreak' and after SARS, it was my deepening interest in pandemics and outbreak emergencies that took me to Johns Hopkins University, where I got my MPH. Fast forward a few years, and here I am working from Dakar, Senegal at my small start-up tech company with my husband.

"Ebola is from East Africa," I remember thinking to myself as I grabbed my yoga mat. "What's it doing here?"

Frankly, the long incubation period -- of up to three weeks -- concerned me

and I quickly did the math. The thing about viral outbreaks and epidemics is that most people don't really understands exponents. It's hard to convince a group of people of the power of hitting an exponential curve; that kind of math gets dizzying too quickly.

Code Innovation, for the last couple of years, has been exploring digital learning and developing educational apps and our first one comes out later in the summer. After the yoga class I Skyped with Nate, when he suggested, "Why don't we make an app in African languages to tell people about Ebola?"

As soon as he said it, I knew he was onto something. During outbreaks, rumors spread faster that public health information and steps must be taken to actively inform and empower the public and to keep them out of a fear response, or panic. Rumors in northern Nigeria in 2004 about the true intent of UNICEF-administered polio vaccine are a perfect example; polio was headed towards eradication and now it’s around again. The cause? The spreading of bad information.

One of the things we like about digital technology is its ability to scale exponentially. Information wants to be free and open, I reasoned, so why not help information about Ebola virus spread?

Our friends from last summer at Singularity University have been working on a platform that enables people to quickly and cheaply produce a variety of simple mobile apps. They call it Snapp and they volunteered to program our app. From there, we made the Ebola app in just two weeks, but we could have been faster.

Here's how we made the About Ebola app.

Ebola virus graphic designed by artist Fouad Mezher for our free About Ebola informational mobile app

1. We decided it was a go.

For the first few days after I returned to Dakar, we monitored the pulse of Ebola without acting on our idea. It actually took us a few days to get our heads

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around the fact that we could create and make something like this and get it out into the world to be of service to other people. It seems weird to admit to that, but it's true.

Within a few days of starting the project and observing the outbreak potentially spreading to Mali, Sierra Leone and Ghana, we still weren't sure that making an About Ebola app was something we were able to put our time to. Although we tracked the news, I felt separated from the crisis and put off doing anything about it.

Looking back, this hesitance is something I wouldn't have accounted for. Part of it was getting my head around the fact that Ebola was around at all, and that it was a risk and a reality for people around me too. So there was also numbness I had to get over, in processing and integrating the reality that this is happening. Once I saw my resistance and moved through it, then

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it felt energizing and exciting to say yes to the project.

English About Ebola virus mobile app for public health outreach and emergency communications response (www.codeinnovation.com)

2. Getting the content.

We used the World Health Organization (WHO)'s Global Alert and Response (GAR) page on Ebola virus disese (EVD), the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention's Ebola Hemorrahagic Fever and the CDC's Infection Control for Viral Haemorrhagic Fevers in the African Health Care Setting to inform the content, which is divided into sections "Do This," "Don't Do This," "What is Ebola?" "Do I Have Ebola?" and "What More Can I Do?"

To make sure everything was correct, I called in a U.S. public health expert who has experience in government-level and regional level epidemic control. I also had an expert in epidemiology and public health communications have a look.

 

 

3. Build.

Part of the menu from the English "About Ebola" app

We mocked up a prototype on FluidUI.com and our colleagues at Snapp said they could turn the app around in less than two days.

Snapp is a mobile application builder that empowers you to build your internet ideas with no need for technical knowledge required, for free, and from your smartphone. We think they're super cool.

They also offered tremendous flexibility around updates and strategies for recuperating expenses with mobile ad revenue—this took away the stress of trying to make everything entirely perfect and complete for the initial launch. We plan to iterate and improve upon this product as we would any other tech initiative.

 

 

 

 

Wolof About Ebola mobile app for public health outreach and emergency communications response (www.codeinnovation.com)

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4. Translations.

Within 12 hours of finalizing the content, we had French translations from a professional I work with regularly, who volunteered to work for free.

We figured it would be easy to reach out to our Dakar networks and find a paid or willing-to-volunteer professional. Our plan was to have a handful of African languages, but to publish with whatever translations would prove fastest and easiest to get.

Getting local language translations was the most difficult part of the processes. The organizations, networks and colleagues I reached out to were unable to hook us up with African language translators. We reached out to people asking them to pass our request on to their professional networks, but our emails got us nowhere, which was unexpected.

Wolof About Ebola virus mobile app for public health outreach and emergency communications response (www.codeinnovation.com)

We had been looking for health professionals to be translators, because of the importance of getting precise about the vocabulary involved. After a few days had passed, though, I started scrolling through my phone to find a responsible and capable friend. When she said yes, she brought Wolof and Jola (or Diola, in French) to the table. Then our colleagues at eMobilis in Nairobi stepped up to get us translations in Swahili.

After amassing the content, 100% provided by volunteers, we worked through the technicalities of launch and got our publicity and promotional strategy in place.

5. Launch.

From getting the translations, it's only taken a day to turnaround the app, and here we are. Now, there is an app where people can learn about Ebola and how to prevent and contain the virus.

With the help of our friends, we have made an outbreak of viral hemorrhagic fever less scary for anyone who accesses this information. And while it will take time to find out where and how frequently our app is downloaded, one additional benefit of this information being presented on smartphones, is that the individuals who possess this technology tend to enjoy a slightly elevated level of prestige and clout, especially once they are out in deeply rural areas. We’re hoping that this means that a few well-equipped individuals can use the materials in the app to reach a large number of their friends, family members and neighbors.

Another thing. Although the "About Ebola" app has content in Wolof and Jola, because these West African languages are not yet language categories on either app stores, they are

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listed (!) under English and French. West African languages can be accessed in the app's drop-down menu, FYI (and just for now, we hope).

The "About Ebola" app lives on the Google Play store for Android here.

The "About Ebola" app lives on the iTunes Store for Apple devices here.

Too bad the Apple Store takes weeks to approve a new app. We can only conclude that iOS isn't very good for emergencies and wait for the link.

*

We are sharing these steps because, with digital technology, your message can reach out like this too, directly to the people you want to reach. Sure, Ebola virus may have burned itself out, but if it hasn't, now you can download an app to learn the facts about the virus in your local language. That makes me happy.

You’ll notice, also, that we cut out the time-consuming steps of fundraising and formal partnerships. If ad revenue compensates us, in some small way for our time, that’s great. But this sort of thing is becoming possible to pull together faster and cheaper than ever before. What do you want to build? What are you waiting for?

I hope that you enjoyed hearing about our project. We could not have done it without Snapp and our volunteers Foaud Mezher (who created the artwork), Connie Johnson and Michelle Skaer (public health expertise), Beatrice Clerc (French translation), Fatou Jobe (Wolof translation), Lamin Goudiaby (Jola translation) and eMobilis (Swahili). Much love.

How Senegalese Agricultural NGOs Are Adapting Mobile Technologies: Part 2

young-people-sms.jpg

Welcome back. This is the second post in a two-part series: “How Senegalese Agricultural NGOs Are Adapting Mobile Technologies,” based on a follow up of over 50 Senegalese agricultural NGOs who attended the U.S. Embassy’s TechCamp Dakar. The first provided background and context on mobile technology in rural Senegal. Here, we explore the results of our follow-up survey to find out how NGOs are using mobile technology in their agricultural programming.

Three months after TechCamp Dakar, CODE surveyed 30 participants to learn whether and how Senegalese agricultural NGOs were actively incorporating mobile innovations into their agricultural programming. Most organizations have more than one agriculture-related focus, with the highest concentration of work being in the following areas (see Fig. 1):

  • Working with women (83.3%);
  • Training and education (75%);
  • Building the capacity of farmers to maximize crop sales (70.8%);
  • Market access and commercial issues (70.8%);
  • Supplying seeds, tools, fertilizer, et cetera (62.5%).

Fig. 1:

Graph: What Are The Agricultural Areas that Your Organization Focuses On?
Graph: What Are The Agricultural Areas that Your Organization Focuses On?

We were also curious as to how organizations are using ICT and mobile technologies in the workplace to coordinate programs and communicate with partners. Most organizations already use computer technology in the workplace, mostly for data collection, sharing, reporting, and communication.

As you can see in Fig. 2, within organizations, most communication happens via e-mail (all organizations use e-mail), telephone, and in-person conversation. SMS, Facebook, and Twitter are used much less, which represents an opportunity for these NGOs to communicate with and reach a wider base of beneficiaries and supporters.

Fig. 2:

Graph: How Do You Communicate Within Your Organization?
Graph: How Do You Communicate Within Your Organization?

We found that organizations already use technology to communicate with those who benefit from their projects -- beneficiaries from urban citizens in Dakar to rural, smallholder farmers living across the country.

Fig. 3 shows that most communication between organizations and beneficiaries is via telephone. In fact, all the organizations we interviewed use telephone to communicate with their beneficiaries. In-person communication and email were also common outreach tools, but SMS and Facebook barely made this list.

Fig. 3:

Graph: How Do You Communicate with Beneficiaries and Receive Field Data?
Graph: How Do You Communicate with Beneficiaries and Receive Field Data?

Currently, most organizations communicate with beneficiaries several times a month (see Fig. 4), but an overwhelming majority (56.5%) wish to communicate with beneficiaries every day.

Fig. 4:

Graph: Actual and Desire Beneficiary Communication
Graph: Actual and Desire Beneficiary Communication

These results show that mobile technologies do play a part in current agricultural programming, although we found that the application of new mobile technologies is limited so far. It seems that NGO staff fieldworkers may use computer and phone technology at their office, but there is a lack of agriculture-based projects that rely on the use of mobile technology at the very local (for example, village) level.

Since TechCamp, about half the organizations have begun to explore new technologies, such as low-cost video, Frontline SMS, Mobile Money, GoogleApps, and mapping technologies, and find that learning such technologies on their own is often a complicated and confusing task.

“We used computers before TechCamp, just for administration, but not as a tool for amplifying work. TechCamp has allowed us to have a large vision, but we struggle to implement this.” - Mandiaye Pety Badj, Community Manager at Enda Graf Sahel.

Mandiaye exemplifies the experience of most of the interviewed NGOs in regards to their experience implementing new TechCamp technologies.

For those who haven’t begun to use TechCamp technologies yet, all plan to integrate them into programming to a higher degree in 2013 or after receiving further training in methods of application for each technology.

All organizations expressed the need for further training before they can successfully implement new TechCamp technologies. However, all organizations surveyed express a desire to implement mobile technologies in their workplace and agriculture programming in the future.

There is a general consensus amongst Senegalese NGOs that TechCamp was beneficial in that it brought like-minded organizations together and started the dialogue as to what these new technologies are and how they can be used. NGOs stated that the new technologies most relevant to agricultural programming are, in order of most to least (see Fig. 5): Frontline SMS, low-cost video, GoogleApps, and OpenStreetMap.

Fig. 5:

Graph: Which TechCamp Technologies Are Most Likely To Be Useful For Your Projects?
Graph: Which TechCamp Technologies Are Most Likely To Be Useful For Your Projects?

As you see in Fig. 6, most organizations expressed interest in applying mobile technologies to more than one area of agricultural focus, with the highest interest being in: sending information to project beneficiaries, communication within the organization, receiving data and comments from project beneficiaries, using SMS to follow market prices and supply, and supporting education and training.

Fig. 6:

Graph: In What Areas Would You Use Mobile Technologies?
Graph: In What Areas Would You Use Mobile Technologies?

All organizations replied that they are ready now for further training on the implementation of mobile technologies, with an emphasis on technical support and training in new technologies, networking opportunities with other organizations, and provision of mobile and technological materials.

In general, Senegalese NGOs already use computer, Internet, and mobile phone technologies in the workplace, and to a more limited extent, on agriculture-related projects. Organizations expressed interested in future TechCamps, training workshops, and access to video trainings as possible methods to master mobile technologies.

Although mobile technology plays only a limited role in agricultural programming, this is changing. The challenge? Getting up to speed on how to use the technologies in the first place.

The majority of NGOs requested follow-up video trainings on the mobile technologies presented, which Code will facilitate and share on the Facebook group. Of course, being able to access an online video posted on a social networking site assumes a high level of digital literacy, but we were assured by participants that they could access these platforms through office computers.

Thanks for reading!

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