Information and stories about technology news.

KOKO Networks' Launch in KenyaThe KOKO Networks’ launch in Kenya will provide multi-purpose consumer access machines to areas in need. KOKO believes that this technology will allow consumers safe access to clean fuel. Additionally, it will offer them a connection to e-commerce and video content all within a short distance from their homes. KOKO Fuel has partnered with Vivo Energy Kenya, the local Shell-branded fuel owner and distributor, in order to decrease time and money in supplying fuel.

KOKO is a tech company that distributes its innovations throughout East Africa and India. Consumers can get “KOKOpoints” to be used at local stores for goods and services offered by KOKO. In Kenya, KOKO will provide services such as a fuel ATM, an e-commerce kiosk and an in-store digital media experience.

KOKO Fuel

This innovation offers safe and affordable bioethanol cooking fuel. Not only does the fuel benefit the environment but it also gives isolated communities a more reliable food-cooking source. The cooking fuel market in Africa is worth over $20 billion. However, it is still dominated by dirty and unsafe fuels like charcoal and kerosene. KOKO’s new technology could allow the bioethanol fuel industry to grow rapidly. Furthermore, it can compete with the more prominent dirty fuels.

The government in Kenya has already set a goal of 100% clean cooking fuel in Kenyan households because of both massive deforestation and indoor air pollution caused by other fuels. Deforestation in Kenya causes changes in rainfall and harmfully impacts the agriculture industry, one of the most important industries in the country. Additionally, indoor air pollution is responsible for more than 21,000 deaths a year with most victims under the age of five. With KOKO Networks’ launch in Kenya, these negative consequences can be significantly reduced.

Improving Living Conditions in Kenya

Greg Murray, KOKO CEO and co-founder, has previously commented that Kenyans are notable for embracing technological innovations and advancements that can greatly improve their living conditions. Those who decide to use the KOKO networks fuel will use KOKOpoints to fill their smart canisters at the KOKO machines.

After they fill the canisters, the fuel can be used at home with the KOKO cooker. The cooker is an affordable, high-power ethanol stove with two burners that produce less pollution. A partnership with an astounding 700 shops is assisting in KOKO Networks’ launch in Kenya in order to serve a wide range of people.

Impact in Kenya

If bioethanol fuel can replace charcoal, the forests and rain supply that support agricultural productivity can be restored and protected. Additionally, the production of the fuel takes place in Kenya through the sugar industry. As a result, local production would contribute to employment and economic growth.

Overall, KOKO Network’s launch in Kenya hopes to have a huge impact on both Kenya’s economy and environment. If the project is successful here, it is likely they will expand the infrastructure into other areas. This technology could also help Kenya in reaching the Paris 2030 carbon emissions reductions target by more than 10 percent with minimal government investment and risk.

– Jessica Haidet
Photo: Flickr

drones can save livesThird-world development programs use drones to advance projects more quickly and with fewer expenses. Pilots can volunteer for projects that provide humanitarian aid to remote areas, such as delivering medicine, blood, specimens for lab testing, vaccines and anti-venom. A skilled drone pilot can provide support across the globe to help people in need. Drone pilots can support relief efforts after major natural disasters, and civilian drone pilots (who have the proper authorization) can work with officials in search and rescue missions, provide aerial photography data to help find lost persons, map out disaster areas and help assess damage to an area. Here’s how a drone pilot can use their skills to help save lives around the world.

Four Ways Drone Pilots Can Save Lives

  1. Volunteer Organizations: One of the most well-established humanitarian drone pilot associations is the UAV Aviators Organization founded by Dr. Patrick Meier. This group has more than 3,300 members worldwide and represents 120 countries. Of those members, more than 600 are drone pilots. A drone pilot can find out about volunteer opportunities by registering with the Humanitarian UAV Network and agreeing to the UAV Humanitarian Code of Conduct. There is no cost to join this association. Another volunteer organization is S.W.A.R.M. More than 7,500 SAR pilots volunteer with this organization, serving more than 40 countries. It has an active Facebook group with more than 4,400 members. 
  2. Third-World Development Projects: The World Bank reports there are many benefits when using drones for development projects in third-world nations. Some benefits include easier planning, faster project implementation, less risk to local workers and communities, lower operational costs and surveying before access infrastructure is built in remote areas. The World Bank seeks drone pilots as volunteers and interns for drone flying projects to work in land use administration, forest management, coastal zone protection and environmental risk assessment. Drone pilots can help with medical deliveries, firefighting, contamination sensing and weather prediction. They can also help with guarding endangered animals and natural resource conservation.In 2016, the World Bank executed a drone project to conduct mapping in Kosovo. This mapping occurred after the Balkan wars ended in the late 1990s. The $13.86 million Real Estate and Cadastre Project was operated by the Global Land and Geospatial Unit of the World Bank. Women from Kosovo, who lost their husbands and sons in the wars, worked alone or with other women to rebuild their homes. The wars made it impossible to prove the land was theirs because all the documentation was lost. Without the ability to prove ownership, they could not work the farmland or get loans from the bank. These women had no ability to pay for traditional surveyors. Surveying the land through the use of drones helped them register their rightful ownership to their family’s land.
  3. Disaster Relief With Search and Rescue: Coordinated efforts with local authorities create the most beneficial effects. It is important for pilots to avoid any unintentional consequences of drone deployments in disaster zones, which might interfere with official rescue and relief efforts. Following Typhoon Yolanda, which hit the Philippines in 2013, four key drones were launched by different local and international groups to support the relief efforts. They were used to discover safe and effective areas for NGOs to set up camp, identify passable roads, assess the damage from the storm surge and flooding and determine which villages were most affected by the typhoon. Drone surveillance determined some of the most affected areas, and the data was given to different humanitarian organizations to aid the relief efforts. In Dulag, aerial imagery was used to determine which areas had the greatest need for new shelters. This allowed Medair, a Swiss humanitarian organization, to identify how much material was needed and better allocate their resources to help people as quickly as possible.
  4. Vaccine and Medical Supplies Delivery: In December 2018, a drone delivery brought a life-saving vaccine to a remote part of the island of Vanuatu in the South Pacific near Australia. With funding for the humanitarian project supported by UNICEF and the government of Australia, volunteers working with a company called Swoop Aero were able to deliver vaccines through 25 miles of rough mountainous terrain. Drone use helped the vaccines maintain the proper temperature due to the speed available through drone transport and delivered them and other critical medical supplies to remote areas.In Africa, UNICEF funds a company called Zipline. The staff of volunteers delivers vaccines and other medical supplies by using drones. The deliveries have been made to remote villages in the countries of Rwanda and Ghana since 2016. UNICEF sponsors other projects of a similar kind in Malawi and Papua New Guinea. It may take days to reach these remote villages by car or on foot. A drone can fly to them in minutes and land in a small jungle clearing a plane or helicopter could not use. UNICEF also sponsors programs that use drones to transport specimens from remote locations back to laboratories for testing. This helps health care practitioners make the correct diagnosis and administer life-saving treatment to patients quickly.

Drone pilots have plenty of ways to use their skills to help fight poverty and get involved in global relief efforts. Pilots are encouraged to volunteer to help out locally and/or internationally. As Dr. Peter Meir says, “The best use of a drone is to save a life.”

Mark Sheehan
Photo: Unsplash

MSF Uses Virtual Reality to Build Better HospitalsMédecins Sans Frontières (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders to the English-speaking world, is a global organization that provides professional medical care wherever poverty, war, disasters or otherwise raise a need. According to the group’s International Activity Report, 6.3 million donors funded 11.2 million outpatient consultations, 750,000 inpatients’ treatment and more than 100,000 major surgical interventions in 2018 alone. MSF consistently achieves a huge global impact. While generous donors and devoted staff are part of this success, the organization also improves its operations to ensure progress. MSF takes every opportunity to evolve and utilize resources more efficiently. Most recently, MSF uses virtual reality to build better hospitals.

Building Innovation

One such evolution began back in November 2013 when Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines. After providing several weeks of emergency support from tent hospitals, MSF determined the municipality of Guiuan needed a more permanent solution. Plans to build a transitional hospital quickly began, and four months later, the organization completed the sturdier facility for use.

Two years later, MSF found an opportunity for innovation. With the help of design firm Pyxis, MSF’s technical team built a 3D printed model of the Guiuan hospital. Designers then turned the same 3D layout into an interactive virtual landscape, which was explorable through a virtual reality (VR) headset. But why should MSF redesign plans for an already built hospital?

Benefits of Creating a 3D Printed Model

These steps were not just for novelty; they served as a proof-of-concept for an innovative approach to the construction process. Since then, MSF has used this innovative virtual reality technology to build better hospitals. The tangible nature of the 3D printed model promotes a more user-friendly design stage. Planners can clearly determine if the facility’s design suits the environment it will serve.

On a more granular level, doctors can also optimize the facility’s layout before people start laying the foundation. The most immersive VR model supports this aspect. Is the main corridor wide enough to accommodate high traffic? Are the sterile processing rooms, scrub sinks and operating rooms in a useful order, or would doctors have to retrace their steps in situations where seconds matter? These details are crucial to the efficiency of a finished hospital.

The worst crises also benefit from the new approach. For example, the World Health Organization named the current Ebola virus outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo a global health emergency, and the Ebola outbreaks require a quick response and reliable facilities. In this case, the best health care facility is the one that is operable first. Virtual reality expedites the construction process. Designers can create and build more nuanced plans potentially months faster than with traditional blueprints.

MSF uses virtual reality to build better hospitals by improving and expediting the construction process. VR landscapes and 3D plans are easier to visualize, edit and share amongst MSF staff around the world. Better yet, adopting VR technology now only makes it easier for designers to utilize future innovations. CAVE-CAD software, for example, is one such advancement that would allow architects to make changes to VR schematics while still inside the virtual environment. One thing is for sure; Médecins Sans Frontières continues to receive positive attention for the care it provides. As for hospitals, if MSF builds it, those who need it will come.

– Molly Power
Photo: Flickr

connect people5G is a new telecommunication technology that allows cell phones and other smart devices to communicate with one another much more efficiently. It will replace the highly successful 4G LTE network, which provides millions of people around the world with access to high-speed internet. Not only will 5G networks bring faster internet speeds and clearer voice calls to customers, but the new technology will connect people in a much more sophisticated way, especially in rural and developing areas.

5G Devices

While major telecommunication companies are investing in 5G and doing their part to make a new service available, technology companies will be responsible for designing devices that are compatible
with the new networks. Samsung, Apple, LG, and other large technology companies will need to make sure that their smartphones and tablets support 5G. It will be essentially useless to build a 5G network if devices cannot utilize the new network.

Smart Devices Becoming a Reality

5G networks will lay the groundwork for smart devices to better “talk” with one another. 5G will support significantly higher bandwidth rates than 4G networks, which will make it possible for cars and other devices to communicate with one another, meaning that these technologies may become available within the next decade. Tesla, Ford and Google have already begun developing self-driving smart cars, and it is rumored that Apple is also developing its own smart car.

Connecting Residents in Rural and Developing Communities

4G LTE has significantly increased internet speed and has allowed millions of people to access smartphone technology. In 2015, Ethiopia launched its 4G network around the capital city of Addis Ababa, which provided high-speed cellular service to over 400,000 people. Nearly 650 million people have been connected to 4G in Africa, which has increased economic and educational opportunities.

Unfortunately, some rural communities and developing countries throughout Kenya, Sudan, and Ethiopia have been left out of 4G LTE. These areas are still relying on 2G and 3G networks, which are
significantly slower and much less reliable. The older cellular technologies also make it impossible for these communities to use new smart devices. Experts hope that 5G networks will be available to these communities and will allow access to new technologies.

Investments in rural and developing areas will also benefit businesses and global economies. The new technologies will help people gain access to new markets for buying products and services. 5G rollout will be particularly important in Kenya, as the country anticipates that greater access to the internet will help grow the economy and expand access to global markets. 5G can also help rural and developing areas grow businesses, further helping economies by connecting people to high speed internet.

5G Companies

Ericsson, a cellular provider that serves the Middle East and Africa expects its 5G network to be widely deployed in 2020 and 2021. Vodacom, the African-based section of Vodafone, began deploying 5G technology in August 2018. The South-African based cellular provider, Rain, announced Africa’s first commercial 5G network, which is being developed in partnership with Huawei.

Elsewhere, major telecommunication companies have already begun a 5G rollout in major cities. American cellular providers such as T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless, Sprint and AT&T have all pledged to bring
5G technology to New York City and Washington D.C, with significantly expanded access in the coming years. Other telecommunication companies such as Deutsche, Telekom and Orange are doing the same in Europe, and Rakuten in Japan as well. It is also possible that American companies may collaborate with African-based carriers in the future to best serve customers on both continents.

T-Mobile’s CEO, John Legere discussed 5G coverage in a recent blog:

“Let me be clear. These aren’t just words… they’re verifiable, enforceable and specific commitments that bring to life how the New T-Mobile will deliver a world-leading nationwide 5G network – truly 5G for all, create more competition in broadband, and continue to give customers more choices, better value and better service.”

Looking Ahead

5G is a revolutionary technology that will connect millions of people to smart technologies such as smartphones, self-driving cars and artificial intelligence devices. While the 5G rollout will not be completed until at least 2025, new technologies will emerge before then that will significantly change the ways in which we interact with the world. In essence, 5G networks will connect people, accelerate the adoption and access to high-speed networks, which will open up endless possibilities for millions of existing cellular customers.

– Kyle Arendas
Photo: Flickr

blockchain technology for rice farmers

In 2018, Oxfam, a global organization that works to end the injustice of poverty, introduced a Blockchain technology for rice farmers in Cambodia called Blockchain for Livelihood from Organic Cambodian Rice or, more simply, BlocRice. This blockchain technology will connect rice farmers in the Cambodian village of Reaksmei, in the Preah Vihear province, with other people in the supply chain to ensure that poor farmers get a fair deal.

Rice in Cambodia

Rice is Cambodia’s major crop with roughly 80 percent of Cambodian farmers cultivating rice. Many small-scale rice farmers lack the necessary information to negotiate prices and conditions with middlemen and others in the supply chain. Oxfam is hopeful that this pilot project, which will include 50 organic rice farmers, will expand to other provinces and varieties of farming.

While rice farming accounts for 25 percent of Cambodia’s economy, the average monthly income for these farmers is only $108. It is particularly tough when farmers do not have return customers or vehicles to take the product to a market. With these small-scale farmers struggling, the application of BlocRice will hopefully enhance their bargaining powers and selling prices.

Implementing Blockchain

Bitcoin is digital money that is stored in the digital wallet app on any smart device. Blockchain, a public list, records each transaction to make it traceable. No government issues blockchain, nor are banks required to manage accounts. This makes BlocRice a cheaper payment system with a transparent recording of transactions.

This project will focus on introducing the blockchain technology to rice farmers. In doing so, it will register all participants in the rice chain with a unique identification code. These include agricultural cooperatives, export and import companies, retailers and consumers. A contract between these actors will ensure proper payment and transparency. This connection between actors allows for a better chance for farmers to alleviate themselves from poverty.

The farmer will sell their rice through the cooperative called Reaksmey Lekkompos Kaksekor who then forward the rice to AmruRice, the exporter. AmruRice will then sell and ship the rice to SanoRice, the importer in the Netherlands. SanoRice will then make rice crackers out of the rice and sell it to retailers. The BlocRice application will allow farmers to ensure they get correct payments, are paid on time and that the conditions of the contracts are kept. Consumers are also able to see this data through the same app. The app provides transparency and traceability, allowing consumers to make informed decisions regarding fair production standards and conditions. As a result, the app helps contribute to fighting global poverty.

The Need for Smartphones

While the BlocRice project has helped Cambodian farmers, there is a downside. Access to smartphones presents one obstacle in bringing blockchain technology to rice farmers. Most farmers do not own smartphones, which are needed to access the BlocRice application. However, agricultural cooperatives, such as Reaksmey Lekkompos Kaksekor, do own smartphones that can be used to assist farmers to access the application.

While this pilot project was implemented from April 2018 to March 2019, the success could allow BlocRice to be expanded to other provinces and used with other crops as well. Regardless of any minor setbacks, BlocRice could be an important step in helping rice farmers in Cambodia out of poverty.

Andrea Rodriguez
Photo: Pixabay

Technology and PhilanthropyThe ongoing technological revolution is redefining how global political, social and economic development happens. Currently, around 50 percent of the world is online. According to “Digital Spillover” research conducted by Huawei and Oxford Economics, the digital economy was worth $11.5 trillion in 2016, or 15.5 percent of global gross domestic product. This could grow to nearly 25 percent of global GDP by 2025. This not only transforms today’s business landscape but also the business of doing good deeds. Here are three ways that the relationship between technology and philanthropy is already evolving.

  1. Direct Access to Donors Through Social Media
    Technology can be used to nurture closer links between donors and nonprofits. According to Giving USA, individuals, corporations, foundations and estates donated $410 billion to charities in 2017. This represents less than 3 percent of the United States’ GDP. Working to change this number through fundraising technology is social media platform Facebook. In November 2018, three years of launching its fundraising technology, Facebook reported that donations have broken $1 billion. No Kid Hungry, a U.S.-based child-hunger charity, reported raising $5 million from over 200,000 donors through Facebook fundraisers. Other social media platforms, like GoFundMe, have also made it easier for individuals to connect with causes they feel passionate about. Houses for Refugees is a notable beneficiary of such advancements, receiving over $2 million in donations through crowdfunding and online campaigning.
  2. Unmediated Engagement With People in Need
    Although many people in the world are not yet able to access the necessary technology, the internet is helping connect NGOs and their clientele more efficiently. This will change how NGOs are able to operate in cases of natural or financial disasters, as well as create new and innovative ways in which organizations can make a difference. Mobile cash transfers are becoming a popular way of transferring money to those in remote areas of the world. For example, in 2017, because of difficulties in establishing cash liquidity in Zimbabwe, the U.K. government partnered with CARE International, a major humanitarian organization that is fighting poverty in 92 countries worldwide. This partnership provided small monthly cash payments by mobile phone or SIM cards to over 72,000 families, enabling them to continue buying basic foodstuffs and utilities. Technology can also be used to develop help build communities from the inside, by reducing long-standing tensions between communities. One example of a technology company hoping to change lives by connecting people is Tech2Peace, a joint Palestinian-Israeli startup designed to train youth in technical skills such as website building, while also encouraging intercultural dialogue and conflict resolution sessions.
  3. Better Analytics to Improve Efficiency
    Technology companies are helping nonprofits streamline their systems of data collection and analytics. New technological developments are changing how companies can exercise “Corporate Social Responsibility,” or CSR, an ethical business strategy designed to maximize a company’s positive social influence. For example, Microsoft is currently partnered with the Virginia-based charity Operation Smile, which provides children with the free surgical repair for cleft lip, cleft palate and other facial deformities. Operation Smile has a number of programs including operating international medical missions, running care facilities, conducting research on the causes of cleft lip and providing education to improve community treatment worldwide. One area where Microsoft assists Operation Smile is by developing customized solutions that allow the organization to analyze real-time patient outcomes and feedback, sharing simultaneously this data with volunteers around the globe. This cuts downtime spent by individual surgeons for patient evaluations and allows Operation Smile to perform more operations.

Technology and philanthropy are intricately connected. Advancement in technology has improved the relationship between donors and charities, charities and beneficiaries, and streamlined all the processes that define these relationships. As the technological revolution finds new ways to change the world, it will also find new ways to help those in need.

Holly Barsham
Photo: Google Images

AI Improves FarmingOnce a far-fetched, abstract idea, artificial intelligence is now proving to be a valuable asset in solving world hunger. Although AI is still in its earlier stage of development, progress is being made by corporations and university programs such as Google and Stanford University’s Sustainability and Artificial Intelligence Lab. No longer merely science fiction, now AI improves farming, helps identify disease, predicts crop yields and locates areas prone to scarcity.

FarmView Increases Sorghum Yields

Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University created FarmView to help solve the issue of a rapidly increasing population. By 2050, over 9.8 billion people will live on the planet, making food scarcity a topic of increasing importance. Additionally, CMU wants to help current farmers grow more food using the same amount of crops. And as AI improves farming methods, CMU believes it’s a possibility.

CMU is working with plant scientists and agricultural leaders to develop and deploy a system of AI, sensing and robotics technologies to improve plant breeding and crop management. One aim is to increase yields of drought and heat resistant sorghum–a crop that can thrive in famine-stricken countries. Researchers first collect data with drones, robots and stationary sensors. Then, machine learning technologies analyze the data to determine what factors yield more sorghum.

Agricultural Improvement with Google’s TensorFlow

Another AI technology created to help the agriculture industry is PlantMD. Created by high school students Shaza Mehdi and Nile Ravanell, PlantMD is an app that allows a farmer to detect plant diseases.  Mehdi and Ravanell built the app using Google’s TensorFlow, an open-source machine learning library.

Inspiration for PlantMD came from Nuru, an app built by a research team at Penn State University called PlantVillage in tandem with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture.

Nuru was created as a solution to disease and pest susceptibility in cassava, a crop that feeds half a billion Africans daily. Because it is difficult for farmers to inspect and manage every crop, machine learning is being used to increase efficiency. First, a machine learning model was trained using thousands of classified cassava images. The model was then turned into an app where farmers can send images of their crop and receive information not only identifying diseases but also giving options to manage them. With this information, vital African agriculture can be better sustained to feed people.

Stanford University’s Research

Similar to PlantVillage and the IITA, Stanford University is utilizing machine learning in order to understand and predict crop yields in soybeans. But these models may be expanded to help underdeveloped countries.

Marshall Burke, an assistant professor of earth system science at Stanford, said: “If we have a model that works for U.S. soybeans, maybe we can train that model for areas with less data.”

Machine learning can also identify areas in underdeveloped countries suffering from food scarcity. Because these countries often lack reliable agricultural data, machine learning technology is extracting information from satellite images to discover areas where agriculture is suffering.

Solving the World’s Problems with AI

Google’s open-source TensorFlow allows machine learning technologies to be applied to agriculture. Moustapha Cisse, lead of the new Google AI center in Accra, Ghana, mentioned how farmers use TensorFlow-based apps like PlantMD and Nuru to diagnose plant diseases. Cisse said: “This wasn’t done by us but by people who use the tools we built.” Although not everyone owns a phone, it’s an excellent step in demonstrating the possibilities of AI in reducing poverty. And as AI improves farming, it brings us another step closer to reducing world hunger.

Lucas Schmidt
Photo: Flickr

Apps That Help Fight HungerHunger is a crisis facing many countries and communities around the world, with about 821 million people experiencing moderate to severe food insecurity. According to the United Nations, the biggest risk to worldwide health is hunger and malnutrition. Several programs already exist to help fight this issue such as food banks, food stamps, shelters and agencies like World Bank and the International Fund for Agriculture Development. However, there is an up and coming way for anyone to be able to provide assistance—smartphone apps. These five apps that help fight hunger offer various ways to give help with little more than the tap of a finger.

Five Apps That Help Fight Hunger

  1. Share the Meal – The U.N. World Food Programme created Share the Meal. The WFP helps 80 million people with food assistance and is the world’s largest humanitarian agency fighting against hunger. Download the app, donate $0.50 or more and feed a child for the day. The WFP then receives the funds, provides the meal and will even show in the app where the meal will go.
  2. Feedie – Feedie is an app that partners with the Lunchbox Fund to provide a meal to underserved children around the world. Over 12 million meals have been given through the app as well as through donations. Download the app, find a participating restaurant, take and share a picture of the meal and the restaurant will make a donation that equals the cost of one meal.
  3. OLIO – OLIO is a food-sharing app based in the UK that allows people and local businesses to post food items nearing their best-by or sell-by date for other people to pick up. To date, over 1 million people have joined the app and 1.8 million portions of food have been shared. To post items, download the app, add a picture and description of the item, list when and where it can be picked up and wait for someone to claim it. To request items, scroll through the local listings, request what is needed and arrange to pick up through a private message.
  4. Chowberry Chowberry is an online app, similar to OLIO, based in Nigeria that allows consumers and organizations to find food products listed by retailers that are nearing their sell-by date. Chowberry works with orphanages and faith-based organizations, as well as everyday customers. Sign up for the website and scroll through several participating stores and listed items to find needed items.
  5. WeFarm WeFarm is a farmer-to-farmer digital network that allows farmers to connect to other farmers in various parts of the world, without the use of the internet. More than 1 million farmers have been helped using WeFarm and over 40 thousand questions and answers are sent in each day. Farmers can text their local WeFarm number a question they have, and other connected farmers can respond with their answers and suggestions.

Hunger is an ongoing issue that millions of people face every day. These five apps that help fight hunger offer several different solutions to both those in need and those that are able to help. From donating a few cents, to listing discounted products, to connecting farmers around the world and more, helping those dealing with hunger can be a quick and easy process requiring nothing more than a cellphone.

– Jessica Winarski
Photo: Flickr

Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the CongoBoasting over 85 million people, Congo has struggled with political and social instability since the Belgian conquest in the early 20th century. To this day over 100 armed groups, including the Allied Democratic Forces, the Mai Mai and the Forces of the Liberation of Rwanda, are active in Congo. Against this backdrop of factionalism and violence quietly rages the second most deadly Ebola outbreak in history. Over 1,600 people have died. Despite these grim circumstances, a group of Congolese tech-savvy youth have developed an unlikely weapon against Ebola: an app they’ve called Lokole.

Fighting Ebola in Congo

Ebola is a virus that first causes fever, sore throat and muscle weakness and later progresses to vomiting, diarrhea as well as internal and external bleeding. Patients die due to dehydration and multiple organ failure. During the West African epidemic of 2014 to 2016, over 11,000 people died. During this epidemic, the investigational vaccine called rVSV-ZEBOV was used to fight the outbreak in Congo. However, it was used under the compassionate use clause because the vaccine had not been commercially licensed.

In addition, the Congolese Ministry of Health is seeking medical interventions through technological tools . Through collaboration with Internews and Kinshasa Digital, it organized a hackathon in March 2019, bringing 50 students in communications, medicine, journalism and computer science together. These students were sorted into teams of approximately seven.

Each team sought to answer the question: “How can Ebola response teams leverage new technologies to achieve their communication goals at the local, national and international level?” Thrown together for the first time, Emmanuel, Ursula, Aurore, Joel, David, Israël, and Maria worked for 24 hours. There, they came up with Lokole, the winning technology.

Introducing the Lokole App

Lokole is an Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) mobile application which “is designed to facilitate the real-time transmission of data and information between communities and the Ebola response teams,” despite poor internet connectivity in rural areas. This team of seven chose the name Lokole because a lokole is a traditional Congolese drum used to transmit messages over long distances. With this app, they hope to increase communication about the spread of Ebola in Congo.

USSD technology is a text-based communication system used by Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM) cellphones. Even though text-based communication might seem outdated with smartphones in the picture, smartphone use across Africa is at less than 35 percent. Plus, those with smartphones might not have access to data plans. As such, a real-time mobile to mobile communication platform based on USSD technology is inherently more inclusive, useful and cheaper.

The Lokole app allows community workers to note and document Ebola symptoms through questionnaires which are then relayed to Ebola response teams and the Ministry of Health. David Malaba, one of the app’s developers, says “Real-time management of information by the different components of the Ebola response will help detect and provide treatment to patients more quickly and deploy resources on the ground more swiftly, which will help lower Ebola mortality rates.”

While analog in comparison to smartphone technology, Lokole’s USSD platform offers the potential for real-time communication without having to invest in widespread expensive improvements in Congo’s internet connectivity infrastructure.

Changing the Future of Grassroots Healthcare

Since the virus’s discovery in 1976, Congo has had 10 documented Ebola outbreaks. Years of consistent violence has led to great mistrust of government and health authorities. Such widespread mistrust of health systems makes epidemics like Ebola even harder to combat.

However, Lokole empowers the everyday Congolese with the tools to fight Ebola. It is a democratic grassroots healthcare model. In fact, large-scale telemedicine platforms, such as BabylRwanda in Rwanda, are powered by similar USSD technology. This connects the average citizen with a nurse or physician in a matter of minutes.

The development of the Lokole app is exciting in its fight against Ebola in Congo, but the galvanization of local Congolese talent is a game-changer. Hackathons that bring disparate youth together to problem solve big and often overwhelming issues inspire others to pursue change. Lokole is just the beginning.

Sarah Boyer
Photo: Flickr

Mobile Software Platforms in Developing Countries  The creation of mobile phones is not only beneficial for everyday usage but also for the livelihood of communities in developing countries. As mobile phones continue to advance, the creation of software applications that are easily accessible can make a difference in the developing world. Whether it be a mobile banking platform, a market information system or an EMS service for desolate regions in developing countries, these types of mobile software are undoubtedly effective in helping those they serve.

3 Mobile Software Platforms in Developing Countries

  1. M-Pesa: In 2007, Kenya launched the mobile banking platform, M-Pesa, with the help of a one million pound grant from the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development. M-Pesa is a money transfer service dedicated to allowing its users to transfer money to relatives in other locations through text, pay for everyday necessities and take out and repay loans. This software plays a significant role in reducing poverty. Studies show that there was a “6 percent increase in per capita consumption, enough to push 64 (or roughly 4 percent) of the sampled households above poverty levels.” Often referred to mobile money, this software gives the opportunity to separate cash and manage a source of income, especially for women. Considering most of the households are male-headed, women who are secondary income earners are unable to save adequately since most of the cash is used by the house. But M-Pesa creates financial independence and allows women to start their own businesses, bringing more money into families.
  2. MISTOWA: Market Information Systems and Traders Organizations in West Africa, MISTOWA for short, is an application created to provide statistics on agriculture to connect small farmers in remote areas with potential buyers at a fair market price. Created by the United States Agency for International Development and launched in March 2005, MISTOWA uses a web platform called TradeNet where buyers and sellers can upload and send agriculture information through text and SMS subscriptions. MISTOWA is partnered with a company named Esko in Nairobi, Ghana where rural farmers are sent price information, weather alerts and crop advice. After launching this mobile software, there was a 9 percent increase in profit for the farmers who used the software.
  3. Beacon: In rural areas, such as the countryside of the Dominican Republic, many citizens are unable to dial 9-1-1 for a medical emergency due to emergency services being too far away. Trek Medics International, in partnership with Google and Cardinal Health, created a lifesaving software program called Beacon. Through this mobile software, residents in the Dominican Republic can contact the nearest firehouse station where an alert will be sent via Beacon to a volunteer dispatcher who is first-aid trained. This volunteer travels to these regions on inexpensive motorcycles and transports the injured person to the nearest hospital.

Thanks to the masterminds behind mobile software, communities in developing countries are beginning to make use of the technology that is available to them through their mobile phones. Although these mobile software platforms in developing countries don’t tackle every issue, it is just the beginning of how advanced technology can make an impact.

– Jessica Curney
Photo: Flickr