open source

Experiments in Collaboration

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proportional piling helped us visualize what indicators were the most important to capture in the app Early this month, we invited nearly 50 people to join us in Nairobi for a two day “Co-Creation Workshop” in order to help us determine development and partnership priorities for our Self Help Group Digital Platform.

This mobile app began as a simple directory of content, tailored to the cultural context and organizational needs of Tearfund in Ethiopia (who have great expertise with the program model). But we built for scale and our app is becoming a multi-lingual, content-rich digital platform capable of meeting the needs of a much wider partner ecosystem.

There are hundreds of millions of people around the world who participate in savings groups and self-help groups. And there are scores of organizations who devote time and money to founding and supporting these groups because of the transformational impact such groups have demonstrated in vulnerable communities.

There is a diverse and fast growing ecosystem of technologies being built for these groups, often focused on digital bookkeeping, mobile money transfers or enabling monitoring and evaluation protocols to provide transparency into group health and function.

We’re focused on providing a content-rich, field-tested volume of curricula specifically crafted for facilitators to use during group meetings, along with curricula that helps facilitators to develop their skills outside of the meeting context.

The organizations that joined us in Nairobi included large international organizations that are already household names, to smaller national NGOs that may be focused on spreading just a few hundred groups per year. A few donors, technologists and government organizations rounded out the field.

Nathaniel Calhoun leading a discussion on development priorities for the next version of the app

Different NGOs have different thematic priorities like improving conditions around water and sanitation, for example, or improving maternal and neonatal child health. They also run different varieties of group, for different durations and with different norms and expectations around interest and “pay-outs” or “graduation.” On top of that diversity, organizations operate in a variety of linguistic and cultural contexts.

When we received funding late last year, we made it clear that we’d need to gather together our potential partners in order to take direction from their needs and perspectives. That’s what this workshop was all about: bringing organizations together to look for areas of consensus that can determine where we invest and develop.

In advance of the workshop, there was trepidation among organizers and participants. After all, in other contexts, these organizations can emphasize their differences and their special ways of modifying the basic programmatic nugget: people saving small amounts of money together each week for their mutual benefit.

Although 90% of the people in the room focus many of their working hours on promoting and supporting self help or savings groups, when we asked people to raise their hands if they knew five or more people in the room, only a handful could do so.

We thought it would be helpful for these different organizations to learn about one another's (sometimes competing) priorities for (at least) two reasons: first, it will help our user community to understand that our development priorities are not set at random and that things which might not be immediately helpful within one organization’s context might be critical to another; second, we hoped to see priorities converge.

Our sessions focused on a few key areas:

* The front-end of the application—what you can see if you download the app from the play store (link)—which is what our facilitators and group members see;

* The back-end of the application—what you see if you have a password-protected coordinator login. Dashboards and panels that give you an indication of how your groups are functioning and what sort of data has been gathered from them.

* Different methods for monitoring and evaluating the groups, whether to validate the program model in general by surfacing increased resilience and prosperity, or whether to track aspects of the impact of our involving technologies in particular.

* What sort of thematic content is most urgent for these groups? What is most live-saving? What brings the greatest prosperity and health?

We assigned seating so that people from the same organizations and countries were rarely together and relied heavily upon table discussions to fill out worksheets that would then be presented to the larger group. We’re still chewing through roughly 150 pages of concrete and quality suggestions and perspective from the event.

And one of our favorite event innovations was to leave the last two and half hours relatively free on the second day, a Friday. We asked each organization to sit with one of our team members for 15 minutes at a pre-agreed time and provided a table of 15 minute time slots—all the rest of which were open. We encouraged participants, throughout the event, to make meetings with one another and to use those two and half hours to connect with one another.

But this was a Friday afternoon after the formal closing session of the event; so there was, understandably, some worry that people might pull a vanishing act. Instead, organizations sat together in all sorts of combinations even past the time we’d allotted for the meetings.

Having been at a ton of conferences that generate momentum and then end with some calls to collaborate afterwards, it felt great to move the “end” forward by a few hours and actually give that collaboration a chance to develop.

We’re grateful to all those who attended and to the Foundation support that it made it possible for us to hose this event. Stay tuned to hear what development priorities float to the top and which organizations join us soonest to continue improving upon this powerful open source tool for development.

Diverse partners implementing self help and savings groups came together to inform our app development process

Our Article on Open Source Aid and Development @ UNICEF Stories

ICT4D Digital Principle 6 is Open Source in the future of international development and humanitarian aid (www.codeinnovation.com)UNICEF recently published our piece over at their Stories of Innovation platform to celebrate Digital Development Principle #6: Use Open Standards, Open Data, Open Source and Open Innovation Often the discussion around adopting Open Source is framed very narrowly as a challenge to the financial sustainability of a project.

Our post explains why that frame is inadequate, missing the opportunity to learn from emergent trends in commons management, digitally supported cooperatives and more.

READ THE ARTICLE HERE.

Design for Scale vs. Bootstrapping: Reflections on Digital Development Principal #3 (Design for Scale)

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Tanzanian villagers with Self-Help Group facilitator and our savings and credit group Android mobile app (www.codeinnovation.com) We are eagerly anticipating the first time that Code Innovation receives the funding to design a technological tool that is optimized for scale from the moment of its official launch. Building for scale, as a fantasy, in my head, sounds something like this: We could incorporate a customized content management system that enables us to add new activities and modify our material painlessly in real time across a variety of languages. We could incorporate an unobtrusive yet unavoidable monitoring and evaluation protocol that feeds data into a back end that is easy to sort and clean, one that produces donor and media-relevant reports at the click of a button. We could bake in critical APKs for our social media strategy and optimize our design for the ten most common screen dimensions and the thirty most used Android devices—incorporating modular design elements to enable seamless re-branding that sweetens the deal for donors and partners hungry for visibility. We could have a big team, content gardeners, bug support in local languages . . .

Most of the innovations that we hear about in the ICT4D space do not enjoy circumstances like this. Instead, we are often bootstrapping minimum viable products through multiple too-brief program cycles each called a “pilot” phase—kicking down the road the choices about when to spend real money and hoping to transform our hacked together little tool into something robust and versatile enough to be picked up and used by the development community at large . . . and hoping, lastly, that this makes our code stylish and widespread enough to be maintained by the open source community out of love.

The Constraints of Scale with Limited Resources

Code Innovation is hitting an inflection point with one of our favorite projects that is forcing us to consider how to optimize our code for scale, but with highly limited resources. The project: an Android application that supports the facilitation of small groups that come together on a weekly basis, saving tiny sums of money, learning about businesses, starting businesses and then loaning to one another, thereby lifting one another out of poverty (take a peek at our free and open source Self-Help Group app here. Early versions of this application needed to function in Amharic and English. They needed to digitize about 70 pages of existing facilitator guides and meeting curricula and they needed to present these materials in an orderly, device-optimized way that technological novices could grasp after, at most, one quick training. Other requests piled on: social media component (sigh), interoperability with a pre-existing, ODK-based M&E app (gulp), report generating back end for funders and partners and so on and so forth.

But, at the beginning we had at most 30% of the money that it would cost to build a sufficiently rugged content app and it would mean contributing weeks of pro bono time to get our alpha version into the hands of vulnerable populations in Ethiopia. It didn’t feel like building for scale. It felt like proof of concept.

Then the usual thing happened: new partners came along with just enough money to add exactly what they want the most (a new language, perhaps, or some modules about disaster risk reduction); but not enough money to conduct a proper build. Not enough for us to build for scale. And sure, we apply a few times for large pots of Gates Foundation-type money, hoping to up-level our technology, to bring on new countries and hit our stride; but our reality continues to be bootstrapping from one version to the next, giving exceptional weight to the feature and content requests that come from whichever funder is willing to support our development next. There’s often a gentle tension between the requests of a short-term donor and the interests of our imagined, global, future customer base.

But suppose we have some promising leads? Suppose we allow ourselves to imagine building for scale just as a thought experiment? What would that look like? Or, more interestingly, what it would it look like if it were done in hefty stages rather than all at once? What if we had to prioritize the that would bring us to scale and scalability?

We admire all of the RapidSMS-based systems that our colleagues and friends have built and rolled-out through national ministries or with the paid-support of well-distributed program officers and we’re entirely aware of the benefits of short codes, dumb phones and standards. But our content and use case has driven us onto a more troublesome format (smartphones) and into an arena that is not as cut and dry or hierarchical and organized as Ministries of Health. In fact, the different partners who are most likely to adopt and scale our product do not agree about content or program models—quite apart from the fact that they often speak different languages.

So how do we articulate and prioritize the different investments into our content and technology that would help transform a narrow, bespoke application into a robust open source tool that is best in class?

Tanzanian women with Self-Help Group facilitator and our savings and credit group Android mobile app (www.codeinnovation.com)

Our primary considerations for taking an open source Android app to scale:

* Connectivity Management:

This isn’t a feature. It’s a constant high level development consideration until free Internet rains down from the heavens. Whenever we forget this variable, we open ourselves up to unnecessary failure. We need to ensure that our app respects the hyper-low and infrequent connectivity of our users by refusing to incorporate any commands or experiences that rely upon wifi or data signals. We must also anticipate database-device conflicts that result from infrequent connectivity, for instance groups naming themselves identically when offline that might become confused when they first connect. Building for low to zero connectivity is our primary constraint; it means we can’t rely on user logins or passwords, it complicates things and it makes it harder to use out-of-the-box chunks of open source code.

* Inbuilt Monitoring and Evaluation with administrative back end:

In early phases, it’s feasible to conduct monitoring and evaluation personally and to rely on Skype calls or emails as a fallback in case user information from the App is sparse or unreliable. But as we scale, our technology must gather and sort this information for us more dependably and we need to ensure that this information is visible and actionable for backend administrators who are not also our coders and developers.

* Support more Devices:

We will need to optimize our code for a growing number of devices and screen sizes. At first we could control what hardware was used with our product. But going to scale will mean the loss of this control and a bunch of design work will be required to keep content legible and navigation pathways obvious. We also have to set funds aside for keeping up with changes to the Android operating system. (For others operating in Africa, we’ve found that Tecno tablets are good for our purposes. They are widely available, robust and not big targets for theft. There are some quirks that make them a bit difficult to code for; but they’ve been hassle free in the field.) Sometimes affluent allies to our project bemoan the unavailability of our app on the Apple Store. The only justification we can see for coding this for iOS is that it might be useful for fundraising and visibility at some point when money is not an object.

* Social & Sharing:

Because we have partners who are committed to creating a social media component: we need to build out a way for groups to “share stories.” This will ultimately require an interface for reviewing, moderating and even editing the content that is uploaded to our system. (We also need to build out trainings for our end-users about the privacy considerations of sharing stories about themselves and their businesses.) We anticipate eventual requests for APKs with locally relevant social networks for cross-promoting stories and insights and can see the utility of this when begin to pursue unstructured growth amongst individual users.

* Solid Content Management System:

We will need a better content management system. Our current system was the cheapest and most familiar thing our developers could find; but it isn’t suitable for the use of our program officers because the interface requires use of html and is tiny and hard to search. Adding new languages and changing content should be easy enough in the future that relatively low-skilled, non-technical team members can do it. Our future CMS should also make it easy to change pop-ups, buttons and navigation prompts.

* Inbuilt bug Tracking:

Crash reports are great; but we need to adopt and move onto a formal issue-tracking system like Redmine and incorporate into the app some way for our users to let this system know when they encounter inclarities with content or problems with usability.

* Branching Curriculum:

Because we want to create one application that is sufficiently useful for a number of similar but different program models, we need to invest considerable time (and consensus building) into the maintenance of a one-size-fits all curriculum that will probably soon require a new user interface feature for when content branches. So, for example, the activities about supplying loans would have to branch to accommodate Islam’s prohibition of interest-charging or an activity about group milestones would have to split to address Volunteer Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) program models that pay-out from the communal kitty. The Self-Help Group model that inspired our work seems the most impactful of these initiatives and has drawn the attention and support of Melinda Gates. But it isn’t the most widespread model—in order to increase its reach, we’ll want to accommodate the needs and interests of closely aligned programs.

* New Content & Content Architecture:

We need to expand the scope and functionalities of our resources and supplementary materials. At the beginning it was fine to create a little directory of hard-to-see pdfs to satisfy an unanticipated partner request. But the quantity of high-quality material that we are now hosting deserves a whole ecosystem, complete with loads of new instructional language and the option for users to email themselves forms and templates that they find helpful.

* Finance Tracking:

Hovering in the future is the expectation that the app itself start to track the savings and money-usage of the groups, perhaps synching up with mobile money or sources of external capital. We’ve had good reason to postpone this so far; but it will be requested or required of us sooner or later. Here also we anticipate some healthy tension between a digital development principle six, which encourages us to use Open Data and principle eight which reminds us to address privacy and security concerns.

* Inbuilt Trainings:

To move away from conducting trainings during field visits, we should create some digital tutorials that help tech novices understand how to use the app—and these will have to be in a variety of languages, with a directory of audio files (optimally). From our point of view, the chief rationale for digitizing a successful development work initiative is to remove the cost of scale created by field visits, workshops and trainings. Where these Self-Help Groups are growing traditionally, organizations strain to raise funds for facilitators who require transport, accommodation, connectivity, benefits and so forth. So even though building dynamic trainings into an app can feel like an extravagance, it pales in comparison to the cost of field visits—especially from senior staff who command hefty day rates.

What We Have So Far

There’s more. But these represent some considerable investments of time and money. In an ideal scenario, we get a war chest and we build the seventh wonder of ICT4D in the next three months, our product wows our implementing partners who want it in the hands of ten thousand facilitators ASAP and program officers around the world begin inviting us to collaborate with their field workers.

But I suspect we’ll be juggling this list of priorities and I suspect we’ll be juggling them along with heavily-weighted surprise requests from partners that we can’t anticipate. For example, we’ll probably have to persuade a new partner that instead of paying us to adapt and incorporate new modules about their favorite Sustainable Development Goal, they should pay us to update our content management system. Or we’ll learn that they’re only interested in the possibility of upgrading our underlying code after they field-test a version of that has been slightly modified to include their urgent priorities. In such cases, the implementing organization may be building our app for scale within their ecosystem, even as, from a technical standpoint, they are encouraging us to make it less appropriate or robust for a wider, general scale up.

There are heuristics to help us make sensible decisions about what to develop when funds for tech improvement are scarce. Investing in structural or systemic modifications that facilitate additions of content and upgrades is better than making ad hoc additions and upgrades. From a programmatic standpoint, we need to prioritize helping our users with their primary duties before we create new ones for them (such as becoming story-tellers or youth journalists). We also must do what we can to assist with data gathering and monitoring and evaluation so as to capture, quantitatively, the results of our tinkering.

There’s often a slight tension with the Digital Development Principles, too, in the area of being collaborative. Because making the decisions that truly build a technology for scale can mean behaving inflexibly in the face of stakeholder and beneficiary requests. If we figure out any magic tricks, we’ll definitely let you know. Stay-tuned to our blog at Codeinnovation.com to follow the noble struggle between bootstrapping and building for scale!

Scaling Up our DIY Self-Help Group App with Partners in East Africa

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Community-savings-and-credit-group-rural-Tanzania-East-Africa-open-source-mobile-app-code-innovation In early 2015, Code Innovation and our partners at One Hen Inc. visited the implementing partners for our Self-Help Group app in Ethiopia and Tanzania. After a successful pilot in 2014, our plan was to scale up the use of the app by 1000% focusing on new users in food insecure areas of both countries.

We met with partners at Tearfund Ethiopia and with Tearfund Tanzania's local NGO implementers, the Christian Council of Tanzania (CCT) to decide on a viable plan for multiplying our impact and rolling out a new-and-improved iteration with content that we estimated would last for about six months worth of weekly Selp-Help Group meetings. According to our previous coordinator, during our 2014 pilot in Ethiopia this was about the time it took for new groups to raise enough capital and develop enough business acumen and group momentum to begin to give their first loans.

This is a write-up of how Phase 2 of the project went, in terms of fidelity to our plan and also around ICT4D best practices and lessons learned. Wherever possible, we'll tie what we're doing and learning into the Digital Principles because we're proud to be one of the endorsing organizations contributing to this emerging field of practice.

 

An Overview of our DIY Self-Help Group App

(If you're already familiar with our project, feel free to skip this section. You can also read more background here and here.)

For those of you new to the project, in 2013 we began working with the US non-profit One Hen Inc. to digitize and scale Tearfund Ethiopia's successful Self-Help Group model of savings and credit groups, themselves adapted from the model pioneered by Myrada in India. The groups have shown a cost-benefit ratio of approximately 1:100* with long-term and far-reaching social and economic impacts on members and their communities, lifting people out of poverty over time with very little outside support.

Working closely with Tearfund Ethopia, we adapted their Self-Help Group modular curriculum to a mobile interface on a free and open source Android app you can download from the Google Play store here -- although it's very much still in Beta for now. Over a 12-week pilot, we found that the facilitators thought the app was a useful professional tool and facilitation guide and that they'd already begun using it to start new Self-Help Groups not officially involved in our pilot.

 

Our Plan for Phase 2, a.k.a. How to Scale 1,000% in Six Months

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Based on the positive feedback we got from Self-Help Group facilitators, we sought to expand our reach in Ethiopia and begin working in a new country, Tanzania, with the same organizational partners. With DfID funding, we were able to focus on food insecure regions facing hunger because of the failure of the previous year's rains. Due to a poor harvest because of the drought, families and communities in these regions were considered particularly at risk for hazards related to food insecurity. Our partners selected the Humbo and Angacha regions in Ethiopia and Kongwa in the Dodoma region of Tanzania to scale-up our pilot with 25 new Savings and Credit Groups to be created in each country over six months of field implementation.

Because we were working in two districts in Ethiopia, and also to see if closer supervisory support would yield better weekly reporting data, we tried a new approach to coordination, appointing one District Coordinator for each area, supervised by a single Project Coordinator based in Addis Ababa. In addition to regular check-ins by email and phone, the Coordinator visited every other month in person to ensure the District Coordinators were feeling supported with the technology and the savings and credit group formation process.

In Ethiopia, we worked with experienced Self-Help Group facilitators working in new parts of the country starting groups of primarily young people out of school and over age 18. The focus on youth created some challenges because there was an assumption that young people did not have any source of income, although Tearfund's program model specifically addresses this assumption with a reframe of available local resources and close-to-home economic activities. Nonetheless, we did see below average group retention rates in Ethiopia because the SHG system itself was not established in the communities we selected and was, instead, fairly unknown. Accordingly, parents and youth members were quick to get discouraged and to discourage others from attending the groups. In the Nazaret region, where we first piloted, SHGs had been established for over a decade and belonging was considered to be admirable and beneficial, so this was our first time as a partnership facing a situation where people did not show up with motivation because of a favorable context. Also, in some cases youth decided to enroll in school or move to urban areas to look for work during the pilot program period, so SHG membership was more variable than is usual for Tearfund Ethiopia programs.

In Tanzania, our partners at CCT decided to work with entirely new and inexperienced facilitators in regions where Pamoja groups ("Pamoja" means "together" in Kiswahili and is CCT's name for our Savings and Credit Groups) had not yet been established. This created a number of early challenges that were evaluated to be worth the extra effort because of the acute community need for this kind of support system, given the hazards and risks members were facing around food insecurity and with the drought. It meant that our Coordinator spent half of his time directly working with and training facilitators on the mobile technology, app functionality and reporting protocols, but also that the gains that we saw over time there showed that the program can work in a new and extremely challenging use case.

Because we're still early in the app development and digitization process, we continued our system of weekly feedback from facilitators to get specific inputs on areas of the curriculum that worked well and that need expansion. This system continued to give us the real-time, actionable data that we need to make strong iterations between phases, and we anticipate continuing it in the future until we move out of Phase 2 (testing with new countries, partners and in new world regions). Phase 3 will happen when the app can be used by a new, inexperienced facilitator to successfully learn facilitation skills, recruit and start a group, and save and lend while building group ties over time. We have a ways to go, but we'll get there!

 

What Went Well in our Rapid Scale-Up

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We are happy to report that a number of key areas went extremely well. We're going to summarize them here, but do get in touch (info@codeinnovation.com) if you'd like to hear more details as we're keen to share what we know with our ICT4D community.

  • App Functionality and Usability: The app did not require repeated training for new facilitators to use, especially around the key curricular areas of meeting content.
  • Expanded Content around Case Studies, Games and Stories: We hoped to include content in the app that would take group members well into six months of weekly meetings, and we succeeded in doing that with our expanded curriculum around social business skills development, conflict resolution and disaster risk management/disaster risk reduction. Facilitators and group members enjoyed the illustrative content in particular, and over the course of Phase 2 we've collected a wealth of additional content to help us build out the curriculum further.
  • Facilitator Training: Our new module created a step-by-step training guide for new facilitators to learn basic skills, recruit group members and develop self-organized learning for their own professional development. We heard from facilitators throughout field implementation that it was an appreciated part of the content.
  • Facilitator Preparation: Before each module throughout the content, we expanded the information needed to prepare facilitators for their weekly meeting. We heard that this was an extensively used part of the app this time around and were requested to continue building it out as a resource for planning meetings.
  • Hardware: We selected locally-purchased Tecno tablets available for about $200 in Ethiopia per device and about $100 in Tanzania per device. The higher cost in Ethiopia is due to national taxes on ICT, as the tablets themselves were almost identical. Every device continues to function without damage at the time of writing, a testament to the care with which our facilitators treated them and also to the durability and appropriateness of the tablets themselves in rural East Africa.
  • Reporting and Supportive Supervision: Weekly reporting kept facilitators, coordinators and us in close contact to problem-solve proactively and ensure that our content and UI/UX was meeting their needs in running groups and also in their own professional support and development. In Tanzania, reports were sent via facilitators' Gmail accounts and our users created a What's App group on their own initiative to share success stories, keep in touch and help each other resolve group, tablet or meeting challenges.
  • Secondary Benefits of Accessible Mobile Technology: In most cases, facilitators used their tablets for professional and personal development, including engagement with LinkedIn, online news and Facebook social networking. In many cases, facilitators began to pass around the tablet during meetings so that members took turns facilitating the key discussion points during group meetings. In a few cases, facilitators made their tablets available to community and group members to access the internet, creating strong secondary benefits in areas that did not previously have easy access to mobile technology.

What We Learned for Future Partnerships

There were some key areas for lessons learned as well, detailed in brief here. Again, please do get in touch (info@codeinnovation.com) if you're keen to hear more about these, as we'd love it if no one in ICT4D ever made these same mistakes again!

  • Solar Chargers: In all cases where hardware is provided, we will be advising partners to purchase locally sourced solar chargers to enable the tablets to be charged directly by the facilitators whenever needed. Relying on local charging stations is both time-consuming and expensive, and could in the future be a source of low motivation to use the app.
  • App Updates: Because access to mobile data is so slow and wifi is often completely unavailable, we needed a new system to update new app versions so that facilitators would be sure to be using the latest app version. We are using our Coordinator's laptop and installing APKs directly onto tablets during field visits in the future. But this is a function of our beneficiaries being in unusually remote areas underserved by electric infrastructure. If we were targeting robust growth in an urban area, this recommendation would likely not apply.
  • New Group Formation: We had anticipated that 25 groups would be fairly easy to form over six months in each country, but in fact we will only reach our target in late 2015/early 2016. In Ethiopia, working in a region where SHGs were not known by the community made their establishment slower than anticipated. In Tanzania, new facilitators were only ready to create new groups after their existing ones had been established for about three months, so relying on facilitators to create multiple groups should anticipate some phasing delays. At the moment in Tanzania, new group creation is on hold because members would not have the income needed to contribute to savings, since it is the very end of the dry season and family resources are very scarce. A few weeks after the short rains begin (in December or January, we hope), members will once again have the financial resources and be able to begin group savings.
  • UI/UX and Usability Testing: Secondary app functionalities were not as easy for new users to navigate as the curricular modules, namely our Community (or social media) section and our group login system. Based on usability testing directly with facilitators in Tanzania, we have a great list of priority fixes in this area.
  • Multimedia When Possible: Adding photos and illustrations, especially for case studies, will help to make the content more personal and come alive for members and facilitators. It was a repeated ask from our group interviews and something we're looking into while keeping in mind that we don't want the app (already around 10MB) to become too heavy to download in low-bandwidth areas.

 

What our Self-Help Group App Group Members Had to Say about the Project and our Process

During a recent field visit to CCT's Pamoja Groups in Kongwa, Dodoma region in Tanzania, we were able to interview nine groups in four village areas.

In our Self-Help Group model, each group member contributes weekly through buying two types of shares, social shares and savings shares. Each week, each member contributes one share to the social fund, for use by group members in emergencies. In addition, they can buy savings shares at a minimum and maximum set by the group.

In all Pamoja groups, the social fund is repaid without interest and had minimum 1 share @ 500 Tsh contribution per week, slightly less than $0.25 at the time of our visit.

In Mautya Village in Kongwa District, Dodoma Region, participants reported:

  • "We are facing hunger in our families and communities because we are primarily agricultural and because of the lack of rains last year and the failure of our crops."
  • "We are using the social fund to buy food."
  • "Group social ties give us strength to face the challenges of the drought together. We do not feel alone."

In Nguji Village in Kongwa District, Dodoma Region, participants reported:

  • “We are facing hunger in our families and communities because we are agricultural and because of the lack of rains and the failure of crops.
  • "We are using the social fund to buy food and pay school fees."
  • "Because of the group, we are not facing too much hunger at the end of the dry season and we feel supported by each other."
  • "Belonging to the group helped to improve my existing business and my profits have increased."

One-third of the participants in Nguji owned their own mobile phones and 80% had their own businesses.

In Machenje Village in Kongwa District, Dodoma Region, participants reported:

  • "There is no rain, and everyone here are farmers. Bad harvest means hunger. Lack of rain increases the price of food."
  • "If I don’t have money, I can take a loan to invest in a business and use the profit to pay back the loan and buy food for my family."
  • "Our economy is so much affected by the drought because we depend on agriculture and there is no rain or harvest. It is difficult."
  • "Because I now have a small business, I can buy food and eat with my family."
  • "If someone is sick, a loan [from the social fund] can take them to hospital and pay for their immediate needs."
  • "If a group member has any emergency, anything in life, we can support them."
  • "These groups are good. We encourage anyone to join. However, know that if you take a loan, it can be challenging to pay it back so that another person is able to take a new loan."
  • "The community originally thought that these groups were a trick, but now that they've seen our success and the capital we've raised, they themselves want to join."
  • "I had a business before, but I was inexperienced. Belonging to the group helped to improve my business skills and share with others. Now, I am helping my family to have a good life."
  • "Belonging to the group has really helped my family. With a loan, I have been able to expand my tomato selling business."
  • "This is a bad year because of the lack of rain, so buying shares every week is difficult, especially now that it is dry season. My savings come from collecting firewood in the bush and selling it in the village."

30% of the group members had businesses before joining and 46% do now. 58% own their own mobile phones.

In Laikala Village in Kongwa District, Dodoma Region, participants reported:

  • "Life is difficult. I joined this group to get out of poverty."
  • "In most cases, we struggle to pay for school fees and because of the group, we make sure that we pay for all the school expenses."
  • "Using the tablet has introduced me to new things and ideas, and it is good for me."
  • "The social fund is for problems or unexpected disasters."
  • "Our group made an IGA whose profit goes back into the social fund, because we depend on it so heavily now. The IGA involves buying sugar and rice wholesale and each members sells some and returns with the profit."
  • "People should join groups because they are sustainable. Members are there for each other and will continue to be there to help each other."
  • "This community depends on agriculture. Without rain there is no food. We have hunger and no money to buy commodities. We are all affected."
  • "Without a good harvest, there is no money and without money, you cannot buy anything. There is no water for gardening."
  • "Without food at home, after a poor harvest, loans help our families to eat."
  • "With the problem of the lack of rain, most people are bankrupt so others can’t help, but the group can help, especially with a small business."
  • "I didn't have a business, but then I took a loan and now I have a profitable small restaurant."

13% of the group members had businesses before joining and 52% do now. 55% own their own mobile phones.

Next Steps for our DIY Self-Help Group App

We are in discussion with CCT, Tearfund Tanzania and Tearfund Ethiopia to continue to scale up with their new and existing Pamoja and SHG facilitators in the coming months and into 2016. In addition, we have a new partnership with World Vision Tanzania working with their Volunteer Savings and Loan Associations with groups in the Babati regional cluster (of Tanzania). Stay tuned for more developments early in the new year, when we'll be releasing a new-and-improved iteration based on what we learned during this Phase 2.

Our own goal at Code is to scale the Self-Help Group App impact to 1 million direct beneficiaries within three years. Because of the economic and social need, we hope to concentrate mostly in sub-Saharan Africa but it will depend where we find implementing partners and funding. Of course, as we iterate closer to a stand-alone app with full functionalities, , our own inputs for consecutive iterations will become less necessary.

We hope to find partners in all parts of the world, but in Africa in particular, who are interested in using our Self-Help Group app to train and support facilitators starting their own groups in their own communities, helping to empower people to create social and economic support systems that reduce their vulnerability to stresses, shocks and poverty.

Want to partner with us on this or other projects? Get in touch (info@codeinnovation.com)!

* Cabot Venton, C et al (2013). “Partnerships for Change: a cost benefit analysis of Self Help Groups in Ethiopia.” Tearfund, Teddington, UK.

Our Primer on How to Use Open Source and the Creative Commons in Aid and Development

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Open source and creative commons primer for aid and development code innovation (www.codeinnovation.com)

As technology becomes a part of more and more aid and development programs, how and why we decide to incorporate new tools is increasingly important.

Over the last few years, the ICT4D community has developed Principles for Digital Development that guide the ethical approaches and process of our work. Number Six is, “Use open standards, open data, open source and open innovation.”

Open source and the Creative Commons are different, but related, concepts. If you're never heard of open source or the Creative Commons, they can be confusing to navigate. That's why we created a short primer for humanitarian aid and international development workers to better understand  these concepts and to explore some ways to apply them.

We've found these ideas to be pivotal in our own work and it’s a pleasure to share what we’ve learned with you. We hope that our contribution encourages you and your organization to start a conversation about putting them into action. You can download a PDF version of the primer, which is still in-progress, here.

"Open always wins," says Abundance author and futurist Peter Diamandis, and so far, he seems right. The push for more free and open societies and systems, for more and more of our human heritage to be held not just by a few, but in common, are some of the most relevant and powerful trends of our time.

Those of us working for the public and global good, and taking public funds, have a responsibility to create solutions that feed free and open collaboration, rather than the profit of shareholders or the longevity of our organizations.

If you take away one idea from this primer, we hope it's that the “open” movement is built upon the value of collaboration and the idea that working together yields better and more broadly distributed results than competition. If you feel that this is disruptive, you’re right – sharing breaks down separation.

Whenever we decide to make software open source, or to release our content and works into the Creative Commons, we create a more equal and collaborative world. And isn’t that why we’re working in aid and development in the first place?

The Primer covers these topics:

  • What is Open Source?
  • How Can I Make my Work Open Source?
  • How Do You Make Money from Open Source?
  • What is the Creative Commons?
  • How Can I Use Creative Commons in my Work?
  • What Does “Open” Mean for the Future of Aid and Development?

We hope that the Primer will help to catalyze discussions about what “open” means and how it could be right for you, your work and your organization.

To get in touch about how to you might use open (and Digital Principle #6, “Use open standards, open data, open source and open innovation”) in your aid and development work, email us at info@codeinnovation.com.

mHealth for Trauma Intervention Post-Ebola

Our mHealth trauma project is taking one of the most impressive mental health innovations we've seen to scale, digitizing the approach pioneered by Second Chance Africa in post-conflict Monrovia and reaching freshly traumatized communities in the wake of the Ebola outbreak. Our one-pager outlining the project, for which we're actively seeking impact investors, is here. We're pushing the envelope in making low-cost trauma services easily available to low-resource populations where, in most cases, the national health system is still struggling to meet basic needs.

The thousands of Liberians who have graduated from Second Chance Africa’s 8-week program report a 60% decrease in their trauma symptoms -- things like panic attacks, hand tremors and hyperventilation -- and that they're able to return to normal lives thanks to the program. By taking the approach mobile for community health workers, we're helping to network mental health for trauma into the package of basic services.

Now that we're teaching at Singularity University's Graduate Studies Program for the summer, we're feeling challenged to take things a step further. At the moment, we're relying on impact investors for the seed funding that will enable us to create the mobile app for community health workers and test it with implementing partners in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Gaza and Rwanda.

Facilitators who run the app-based program will have, at the end of the 8 weeks, a cohesive and motivated group, ready to join the economy and begin to build their lives back. What if we could reach those people with entrepreneurial training, for those that want it, and vocational training that creates revenue streams to support the project's scale?

We're in the early stages of trying to bring in a social business component to our mHealth trauma app, . After all, while we need seed funding to get this started, we don't want to create a system that constantly needs external funding. Lucky for us, Singularity University is now partners with Yunus Social Business, so we've got some of the best support and thinking on this available.

If you'd like to learn more about how your impact investing could improve the lives of people affected by emergencies and disasters, including Ebola, get in touch (info@codeinnovation.com) to continue the conversation.

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.