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Mobile Technology is Helping to Drive Social Change

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Mobile technology is transforming the way advocacy, development and relief organizations accomplish their institutional missions, according to the results of a global survey and a series of case studies in the report released by the United Nations Foundation and The Vodafone Group Foundation.

"Well over 3.5 billion mobile phones are in use around the world and organizations are harnessing this technology to help overcome humanitarian challenges," said Timothy E. Wirth, President of the United Nations Foundation. "Modern telecommunications, and the creative use of it, has the power to change lives and help the UN solve some of the world's biggest challenges. It can connect families separated by disaster, help emergency relief workers respond more quickly, empower health workers with data to help combat disease and epidemics, track the impacts of climate change, and even help in the resolution of civil conflicts."

The report examines emerging trends in "mobile activism" by looking at 11 case studies of groups active in the areas of public health, humanitarian assistance and environmental conservation.

Among the programs highlighted are two conflict prevention projects, both active in Kenya. Oxfam-Great Britain and the Kenyan umbrella group PeaceNet created a text messaging 'nerve center' that collected alerts about violent outbreaks during the recent civil unrest and mobilized local 'peace committees.' The project served as a vital tool for conflict management and prevention by providing a hub for real-time information about actual and planned attacks between rival ethnic and political groups.

The GSM Association, together with a handful of non-profit and private sector groups in Kenya, developed another conflict prevention project that allows farmers to preserve their crops while protecting wildlife. The program monitors instances when elephants approach farmed land, and provides an early warning system via mobile that is reducing the incidence of human-elephant conflict in an area where as many as five humans and 10 elephants are killed each year.

"The innovative use of mobile communications demonstrated by the groups profiled in this publication proves that wireless technology can be a vehicle to drive social change," said Andrew Dunnett, Director of The Vodafone Group Foundation. "The case studies show how mobile technology has a critical role to play in enabling the NGO community to bridge the digital divide and deliver their services more effectively, particularly in areas where IT infrastructure is limited."

The report was written by Sheila Kinkade (ShareIdea.org) and Katrin Verclas (MobileActive.org), and commissioned by the United Nations Foundation-Vodafone Group Foundation Technology Partnership. The report, the second in the Access to Communications Publication Series, produces studies that give governments, NGOs and the private sector research and recommendations on how to use technology and telecom tools to effectively address some of the world's toughest challenges.

The report also highlights the results of a global web-based survey of NGO mobile technology use developed by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, and distributed via the email networks of eight partner groups reaching a geographically and thematically diverse group of NGOs: Idealist, InterAction, International Youth Foundation, MobileActive.org, New Tactics in Human Rights, OneWorld, SANGONeT, and ShareIdeas. Responses were collected December 10th, 2007 through January 13th, 2008, and generated 560 surveys completed by representatives of NGOs working in all parts of the world.

The global survey found that 86% of non-governmental organization (NGO) employees use mobile technology in their work, and 25% believe it has revolutionized the way their organization or project works. While the most common uses of mobile technology by NGO workers are voice calls (90%) and text messaging (83%), more sophisticated uses, such as mapping (10%), data analysis (8%) and inventory management (8%) also were reported.

You can download the report (pdf file) from the UN Foundation website.

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Tags: gsm association  text messaging  rcom  vodafone group  elephants  andrew  united nations  email  health  digital divide  emergency