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UNICEF is using SMS to help those in need. And they’re doing it with open source.
The impact a RapidSMS implementation has on UNICEF’s work practices is dramatic. In October 2008, Ethiopia experienced crippling droughts. Faced with the possibility of famine, UNICEF Ethiopia launched a massive food distribution program to supply the high-protein food Plumpy’nut to under-nourished children at more than 1,800 feeding centres in the country. Previously, UNICEF monitored the distribution of food by sending a small set of individuals who traveled to each feeding center. The monitor wrote down the amount of food that was received, was distributed, and if more food was needed. There had been a two week to two month delay between the collection of that data and analysis, prolonging action. In a famine situation each day can mean the difference between recovery, starvation, or even death.
The Ethiopian implementation of RapidSMS completely eliminated the delay. After a short training session the monitors would enter information directly into their mobile phones as SMS messages. This data would instantaneously appear on the server and immediately be visualized into graphs showing potential distribution problem and displayed on a map clearly showing where the problems were. The data could be seen, not only by the field office, but by the regional office, supply division and even headquarters, greatly improving response coordination. The process of entering the data into phones was also easier and more cost effective for the monitors themselves leading to quick adoption of the technology.
What a great use of technology. The site says, “GSMA [predicts] that by 2010, 90% of the world will be covered by mobile networks.” Seems like SMS is going to become more important and more ubiquitous in the future.