CTO partners UNICEF mission to improve the lives of children through mobile telephony

The Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (CTO) has completed a study to help improve the use of mobile telephony for international development. Commissioned by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the Mobiles4Dev study was carried out by CTO’s Research and Consultancy Division, and the results will help UNICEF fulfil its mission to advocate for the protection of children's rights.

The CTO team examined current and future trends in mobile telephony and the use of innovative mobile applications in fourteen selected countries: Ghana, Sierra Leone, Suriname, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Iraq, Uganda, Zambia, Malawi, Philippines, Mongolia, Lao PDR and Kosovo. The team also developed 10 Mobiles for Development (M4D) case studies, which highlight the way in which UNICEF and other organisations are using mobile applications, content and services to improve development outcomes.

The project was undertaken in phases and required key stakeholders - including mobile operators and application developers - to engage with the research team and provide information about the development and use of mobile applications.  The team also reviewed UNICEF’s current use of mobiles in order to make recommendations on how UNICEF can best leverage mobile telephony in its work and improve its mobile engagements.

The last decade was characterised by an explosion in the growth of mobile telephony in many less developed countries, resulting in unprecedented social and economic change.  In Africa, for example, mobile subscriptions grew from 5% of the population in 2003 to more than 30% by the end of 2009, revolutionising the way people communicate, do business, learn, and find employment.  Although voice services have been the main driver of subscriber growth, operators, policy makers and civil society stakeholders have begun to place much greater emphasis on mobile applications and content that can provide much needed services in less developed countries.

UNICEF has used mobile applications to collect, transfer and analyse data from critical information received from the field.  Its use of RapidSMS in countries such as Ethiopia, Malawi, Zambia, Niger, Senegal, Somalia and Sierra Leone  have enabled the organisation to collect large-scale data on maternal & neonatal health, child growth and malnutrition more efficiently, helping improve their response to impending crisis.  The Text to Change programme in Uganda is another successful initiative. It involved the use of SMS-based quizzes that helped UNICEF improve its data collection and sensitize participants on issues relating to HIV/AIDs, resulting in a 40% increase in the number of people opting for tests in a six-week period.

Commenting on the research project, Dr Ekwow Spio-Garbrah, CEO of CTO said, “I am extremely pleased that UNICEF chose the CTO to undertake this important project and I am happy to say members, affiliates and colleagues of the CTO fed into the project by effectively engaging with the research team.  Like the CTO, UNICEF believes in the huge potential for mobile telephony to further improve socio-economic outcomes, and I am pleased that it will use the findings from this research to improve its work.”

He said the nature of the open source applications that UNICEF has successfully used already, like RapidSMS, and the speed at which they are customised is presenting the development community with unprecedented opportunities that they must seize.

“We need the global community to feed into the M4D community and contribute by actively engaging, providing information about the use of M4D and registering themselves on the database of experts who can assist UNICEF in this field,” he added.

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