Sunday, April 13, 2008

FrontlineSMS for Coffee and Democracy

A few months back, I discussed how SMS, or text messaging, is a tool being used for social change and I ran across an interesting service being used in a couple of projects earlier in the week and thought it was worth noting. It's called FrontlineSMS and is described as "the first text messaging system to be conceived, designed and written firmly with the needs of the non-profit sector in mind."

Currently, it's being used for two projects, one in Uganda and one in Zimbabwe and the different spectrum that FrontlineSMS is being used for really speaks to the importance of this type of technology.

In Uganda, it is being used to bring together coffee farmers and dealers in a positive way by distributing prices from five large buyers to 150 farmers via SMS. What this does is open up markets for the dealers by providing more access to larger quantities of coffee beans along with better quality beans. Once a week, the prices are collected through phones, entered into FrontlineSMS and then distributed through text messages to the farmers.

In Zimbabwe, FrontlineSMS is playing a critical role in the election process which is teetering on the border of turmoil after the country's incumbent president, Robert Mugabe was charged with rigging the March 29 election. Currently the election committee is refusing to release the results between Mugabe and his opponent, Morgan Tsvangirai. Mugabe was supposed to appear at a regional on April 12 summit to discuss the election but did not show.

, an online community of Zimbabwean activists, is implementing FrontlineSMS in its eletronic activism campaign which keeps citizens up to date with the latest election news. In addition, the site encourages people to respond to the text messages in its "What Would You Like A Free Zimbabwe To Look Like" campaign:

We send out notifications of public events, inspiring quotations, selected comments from current and past articles and statements and we convert some of our web site content into thought provoking tasty 160 character messages.

What we really value is getting to know what you think, and to facilitate this you can respond to any SMS we send out. Democracy is a two way thang!

Kubanta recognizes the vulnerability that the current election is bringing to Zimbabwe, noting:

"Zimbabwe is on a knife's edge between democracy and chaos. Results still have not been released from the 29 March elections--and fears are rising that Mugabe will resort to violence and fraud to hold on to power."
The New York Times reported violence spreading throughout the country as tensions increase for Mugabe to release the results.

FrontlineSMS is another great example of the tools out there that are used to communicate, inform and motivate social change. Hopefully, Zimbabwe can steer clear of the chaos that Kenya has been experiencing.

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