Mobile Technologies for Social Transformation

An event summary

Technology, in and of itself, doesn’t bring about change and nor do Development Programmes. Ultimately it is people that bring about the transformation they desire and it is relationships that sustain it.

Presentation TeamHistorically, NGO’s have worked on a project basis, which on the face of it seems a reasonable approach; each project is self contained, it can receive specific donor funding, outcomes can be measured and final reports can be produced. However, this is changing as people do not live their lives on a project basis. Famers cannot delay planting, sick people do not cure themselves, clinics cannot close and trainers should not be released, whilst the ‘programme’ waits for another round of funding. In the past too many projects have delivered training to farmers or encouraged HIV testing with little thought of follow on or follow up. We all know this needs to change and that Sustainable Development means continued engagement.

BRAC’s 1 successful village mobilization and development programme in Bangladesh has been highly acclaimed but even here they found that ‘without follow up, without some sort of continued presence, group cohesion withered; lessons learned were forgotten; borrowing patterns changed and deteriorated.’

The JamiiX software launched this week facilitates online mentoring and counselling at very low cost compared with phone calls or SMS. It was built to meet with unmet needs in South Africa for counselling drug and alcohol addicts and HIV positive communities who needed support. Delegates heard just how empowering instant message “chat” via a mobile phone can be for those in the battle to come off drugs.
Rather than counselling and support staff communicating with clients one at a time, JamiiX enables one counsellor to connect with up to 20 clients simultaneously by using Instant Messaging (IM). In the battle to come off and stay off drugs, a user needs ongoing support which ideally is available at the moment of need. In poor communities talking or texting (SMS) is expensive, but at about a fraction of the price, IM has proved to be a sustainable and user-friendly solution. Founder Marlon Parker said:

MarlonWe see a transformation in the lives of former gangsters and drug users at the Centre and this has been supported by using mobile phone technology. We make maximum use of our volunteers, as in a typical one-hour session, JamiiX enables 8 counsellors to have approximately 300 IM conversations with our clients, supporting them wherever they are. The counsellors don’t need special IT skills, the platform handles all that for them and users can access the service using any IM client.” Marlon Parker, Jamiix

In fact, whereas, the cost of traditional interventions escalates the more you use it, with the fixed cost of IM once the set-up is complete, the more you use it the cheaper it is per intervention.

The launch was organised and hosted by UK Consultancy Nimbus Ltd and Director, Peter Holt’s presentation explored how technology can support sustainable behavioural change, an essential step in combating barriers to improved health in both this country and overseas.

Peter Holt of Nimbus ConsultingIt is people that change lives, not technology. What is so impressive about the JamiiX experience is the way that it has enabled conversations. It is these conversations and the relationships that develop from them that has led to transformational change.” Peter Holt, Nimbus

Tearfund, a long-established charity, is working with Nimbus using the “social exchange” made possible by JamiiX to support health programmes in African countries. David Deakin of Tearfund highlighted the challenges facing development organisations working with those affected by HIV/AIDS in efforts to achieve the millennium goals.

There is a pressing need to have support programmes in place to empower volunteers on the ground so that they can be effective in carrying out tasks that have, thus far, been the preserve of experts or aid workers. We will be using JamiiX to facilitate coaching volunteers to achieve this task shifting” said David Deakin, Tearfund at the launch.

Government and NGO’s need to continue to strive for sustainable engagement. How do we maximise the investment made in communities through donated funds and ensure lasting transformation is achieved? Micro credit organisations could provide low-cost business mentoring to customers to ensure their enterprises are profitable and successful; HIV patients can be coached to encourage sustainable changes in sexual practise, thus ensuring the condition doesn’t spread further; and once famers have received training the trainer can keep in regular contact to ensure that learning’s are put into practice. In the UK it could also be a tool in supporting young people with drug or alcohol issues; it could enable coaching for people with Obesity as they try to adopt new health and fitness regimes; or it could enable mentoring of ex-offenders as they try to re-integrate to society. There are many more local and international development scenarios where low-cost technology can facilitate mentoring and coaching interventions for sustainable engagement.

Paul Leppitt of Nimbus concluded:

We believe that technology can facilitate so much more and must be seen as a catalyst for social change. What’s been most fascinating for me to explore is how mobile technology can be a facilitator in lasting and sustainable behavioural change.”

1 Ian Smillie. Matering the Machine Revisited (Poverty, AID and Technology). Practical Action Publishing, Warwickshire, UK. 2008

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