Kenya, 24 October 2013, Praekelt Foundation and Wikipedia have announced the availability of Wikipedia Zero on mobile in Kenya in partnership with Airtel. Wikipedia and Praekelt Foundation partnered earlier this year to bring the Wikipedia digital encyclopaedia to millions of people across the developing world through their mobile phones, free of charge.
Wikipedia will be using Praekelt’s mobile messaging platform, Vumi, to further expand its free service to even more mobile subscribers - making it available to anyone with a basic mobile phone in Africa and other developing countries around the world.
Taking advantage of universally-accessible Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) technology, Praekelt’s Vumi platform allows any mobile phone subscriber to dial a short code to access a multiple choice menu that they can use to search through the encyclopedia across any topic as they would online.
Vumi, an open source product developed by Praekelt Foundation, is a USSD and SMS mobile messaging platform offering connectivity in Africa and serves NGOs, corporations, and entrepreneurs. Vumi has been used in partnership with Sisi Ni Amani to promote peace during the recent Kenyan elections. It is also the engine behind MAMA, which brings vital health information to pregnant women in South Africa.
“Vumi will automatically adapt Wikipedia entries for the text-based interface, making sure the information is as accessible on any handsets, regardless whether it has data capability. It will provide millions of people with access to a basic, text-based version of the Wikipedia service, with further information delivered through subsequent SMS messages,” said Gustav Praekelt, Founder of Praekelt Foundation. “People who ordinarily do not have access to vital information across a diverse range of topics will now have access to the rich Wikipedia content via their mobile phone. This, we believe, has the potential to greatly improve people’s lives.”
Discussions are underway with various network operators to make the platform available across Africa.
Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA) South Africa is rapidly proving its ability to foster new services that will positively impact the lives of its growing user and other communities.
One of these is the nutrition campaign, Healthy Family, that is being implemented locally by Cell Life, together with Praekelt Foundation, and forms part of a multi-faceted EU project. With its goal is to improve the health status of South African children, youth and the parents of young children, Healthy Family is focused on developing social and behaviour change, using mobile phones to encourage better nutrition and regular exercise.
MAMA currently provides vital health information from a mother’s fifth week of pregnancy until her baby is one year old, but the growing community in South Africa has expressed an interest in receiving information beyond this period. Healthy Family is a perfect fit with this desire, assisting mothers in meeting the nutritional needs of her growing family, using community insights and peer-to-peer recommendations. Both these aspects are very important to MAMA’s users and will help in holistically developing healthy eating and exercising communities.
“MAMA enables us to test content with an active, existing user base who are not only the right target market, but have indicated that they are highly receptive to advice and open to behaviour change,” says Praekelt Foundation’s programme manager, Lieze Langford, of the partnership with Healthy Eating. “And because we’re using MAMA’s existing functionality, this enables us to trial the concept and refine our approach in a cost-effective manner.”
Like many of Praekelt Foundation’s projects, Healthy Family will have a phased implementation, including intensive testing, message adjustment where necessary and technical extension to encourage sustainability.
Phase one is seeing Healthy Family content and branding being tested and user interest in the proposed new features and functionality gauged. Phase two will create an integrated Healthy Family Section on MAMA - and will include partnering with selected retailers to create an ecosystem that supports healthy living.
The final phase will be formalised based on the findings gathered in phase two, but it is anticipated that Healthy Family will be developed into a standalone portal that has similar basic features to MAMA. This will include articles, user stories and live chat while features incorporating several tools to reflect EU priorities will also be investigated.
Now several weeks into phase one, MAMA users are already responding positively to Healthy Family, especially features like how to eat healthily on a restricted budget. This bodes well for the longer term impact of this important campaign.
JoziHub secured Vint Cerf for a fireside chat last Friday. It was a whistle-stop visit for Cerf amidst a jam-packed schedule organised by his official host, Google South Africa. Apologising beforehand for the tight timing, Cerf’s chat ended smartly after an hour. But that was long enough to get hooked on Cerf.
Since launching six months ago, JoziHub has signed up over 1000 community members. Now, the Hub will host a Fireside Chat with Vint Cerf, father of the internet, who will be in South Africa on Friday, 6 September. He’ll chat on stage for a full hour with Gustav Praekelt, founder of Praekelt Foundation.
JoziHub comes into its own as a collaborative tech workspace for events, meetings, hackathons and more, like when it partnered with TEDxJohannesburg in the lead-up to the August 2013 Sages and Prodigies event.
One of JoziHub’s early milestones was cementing a strategic relationship with TEDxJohannesburg that has included livestreaming TEDGlobal events. “We truly value our ongoing collaboration with the TEDx community, which brings with it exciting, innovative ways of seeing the world, which is something we want to share with our own community,” says Annie Lopes, JoziHub Community Manager.
As part of the preparation for TEDxJohannesburg, 21 speakers met in the light and airy space of JoziHub to consult with the event’s co-ordinators to ensure Sages and Prodigies delivered the magic associated with TEDx.
TEDxJoburg is part of the X team, which refers to those initiatives and events that are organised around the world, and are independent of the core TED events. It’s about sharing the TED brand beyond the main TED events and imbuing them with local or regional flavour and meaning.
Playing to a full house and beyond, thanks to livestreaming, the second TEDxJohannesburg event was a huge success with a tweet from California stating “Could feel the MAGIC from here!” With a lineup that included a poet, a patriot and an expert tinkerer, JoziHub was also part of the action on the day, hosting an exhibition stand that drew crowds, particularly when JoziHub member, Kyle Brand from KyleBranDesign showcased a 3D printer display.
YoungAfricaLive (YAL) is a mobile phenomenon with subscriber numbers now at the 1.3 million mark, solely by word-of-mouth. Now, Childline Gauteng is working closely with Vodacom and Praekelt Foundation, the powerful funding-and-technical partnership behind YAL, to connect with this audience.
Childline Gauteng’s goal is to change those behaviours in youth and young parents that contribute to the cycle of abuse. Providing information via a mobile platform is a further way of ensuring the organisation is relevant and prevalent in the lives of its constituents, by seeking and connecting with them where they hang out.
The partnership with YAL also enables Childline Gauteng to target a slightly older audience that’s just starting out on their adult lives. Indrani Vedula, project manager of the Childline-Vodacom project and its integration with YAL, explains that the partnership enables Childline Gauteng to both expand and reinforce its community support, which consists of telephonic and walk-in counselling services.
On YAL, Childline Gauteng is able to provide rich information around those issues that are important to kickstarting the conversation on abuse. This includes informative articles generated by specialist content writers at Traffik, as well as personal stories from YAL subscribers themselves. “When an article is published on YAL, it receives thousands of hits and numerous comments,” says Indrani. “Young people are reading and relating to others on the platform – and this encourages individuals to seek Childline’s well-known phone counselling services.”
These are manned by counsellors daily between 5pm to 5am and, as part of the partnership, a dedicated phone number for Childine Gauteng will be used to track the Gauteng-specific response to the project. However, as Indrani points out, the dedicated Gauteng phone number is not toll-free, and may be a barrier for many young people wanting to make direct contact.
The good news is that YAL mobi browsing is free to everyone, thanks to Vodacom’s zero-rating of the service. Praekelt Foundation plans to provide our TxtAlert offering to seven Childline counselling services in Gauteng. This will enable counsellors to maintain that all-important contact with those who have reached out to Childline, by sending automated yet personalised appointment reminders and messages via SMS.
Praekelt Foundation has been working with partners in rural KwaZulu-Natal to pull off an audacious project that seeks to track expectant mothers’ health, with the ultimate goal of reducing mother-child HIV transmission. Can it be done? Yes, believes the Foundation. Via SMS. And they have the poster to prove it.
Mobile-driven educational projects may yet have made a significant impact on the quality of South African education - but that doesn’t mean that new initiatives aimed at tackling educational challenges in Africa aren’t gaining momentum. One of these is Mobile Gateway Zambia, a Praekelt Foundation and RTI International project that uses mobile to support USAID’s Read to Succeed initiative which was initiated in 2012 in conjunction with the Zambian Ministry of Education.
Read To Succeed aims to enhance the quality of education and learner performance in five Zambian provinces. With a mobile penetration of 63% and a number five mobile internet share world ranking, using mobile to support Read To Succeed’s goals was a no-brainer.
Launched in August 2013, Mobile Gateway Zambia focuses on improving the school support and supervision services provided by district and zonal education officers and head teachers. This is done through continued monitoring of school and teacher performances in the area, ultimately enabling proactive trouble-shooting and remedial response to challenges that may arise – with as many as 1,300 schools from 12 districts taking part.
Mobile Gateway Zambia is powered by Praekelt Foundation’s Vumi Go web application - an open source technology platform that facilitates text-based conversations between organisations and individuals with access to basic mobile phones. The Learner Reporting Application enables schools to report and receive feedback on the performance of their students and teachers including school statistics, average examination scores per subject, and teacher performance scores based on classroom observation.
As part of Praekelt Foundation’s belief in gaining intelligence for its projects on the ground, SA-based programme manager, Lauren Kotzé, and strategist, Lisa van Vliet, hopped on a 12-seater plane from Lusaka to Chipata and then took a two-hour car journey into rural Lundazi. During the trip they met with provincial Eastern Province education offices, the district offices of Lundazi and Chipata, and the Read to Succeed team. Schools in the region were also visited and teachers’ technical abilities probed, while partners were taken through the technical implementation plan, and network coverage scrutinised.
One key issue that emerged from the start of Mobile Gateway Zambia was the cost of SMSes in Zambia, which could be prohibitive for teachers. To guard against this Preakelt Foundation has developed a cost-effective and practical alternative in the form of USSD (the star menu system). “This provides a cheaper - and in fact, better - experience than SMS,” confirms Lauren Kotze from Praekelt Foundation “We’ll use SMS to prompt teachers to dial the USSD line when it is time to enter the required information.” Head teachers in rural districts of Lundazi and Chipata have described Mobile Gateway Zambia as “the best so far”, boding well for the impact of this mobile initiative to change lives.
Less than a month after its official launch in South Africa, members of the MAMA South Africa team jumped on planes, trains and automobiles in order to attend the Women Deliver conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Katherine de Tolly from Cell-Life, was there to share MAMA SA’s story and connect with other practitioners and activists working around the world to improve the health and well-being of women and girls.
The Women Deliver 2013 conference was hosted at the end of May at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre. This is not ‘just another conference’; it is arguably the most important date on the international population and development calendar. And with over 120 concurrent sessions, high-level plenaries, skills-building workshops, and ministerial and parliamentarian forums, that’s no exaggeration. Women Deliver 2013 was attended by thousands of people from across the globe, with an additional remote audience supported by live, interactive video streaming of panel discussions and keynote addresses.