Viamo’s ServicesOver the last two decades, cellphone ownership has steadily increased, with 73% of the world having mobile broadband connections in 2020. In response to this trend, a group of Canadian and Ghanaian engineers founded Viamo in 2012. Viamo is a social enterprise that uses mobile technology to distribute educational materials and compile data. Operating in more than 20 African and Asian countries, Viamo reaches millions of people a year. Over its eight-year existence, Viamo’s services have diversified thanks to partnerships with more than 500 organizations.

The 3-2-1 Service

This toll-free service offers educational content and interactive training through interactive voice response (IVR). IVR is an automated system that communicates with the listener through prerecorded or synthetic speech, thus removing the need for literacy. Furthermore, Viamo translates all content into local languages so it can reach the largest number of people.

Many of the partner projects that Viamo undertakes end up on the 3-2-1 Service once completed. For example, Viamo’s partnership with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) to create Link It, a mobile service meant to connect farmers to markets in Nepal, saw the finished product integrated into the 3-2-1 Service platform.

Another example comes from Mozambique, where Viamo partnered with a coalition of groups including Chemonics and USAID to create a storm warning system. This system has been a part of Mozambique’s 3-2-1 Service since its creation in 2016.

Besides these, Viamo’s services through 3-2-1 include audio dramas, news and children’s educational programs.

The diversity of the 3-2-1 Service has garnered it more users than Facebook in some countries, with thousands of people utilizing it at any point in the day.

Wanji Games

With the help of Viamo, Peripheral Vision International established Wanji Games. These edutainment games feature branching path narratives, where listeners role play scenarios ranging from navigating gender-based violence (GBV) to managing money. By exploring a scenario’s different endings, the player can gain a deeper understanding of the subject matter to apply it to their lives. Since these are accessible via the 3-2-1 Service, these games are free to play.

Engagement Campaigns

Viamo helps its partner organizations transmit information to the general population through its comprehensive mass messaging system combining IVR, chatbots, SMS, mobile apps and social media. For example, in the past, Viamo had remotely trained Rwandan healthcare workers on mental health using IVR.

Surveys, Polls and Call Centers

Viamo’s relationship with network operators grants it the benefit of having access to customers’ demographic information. As such, Viamo can distribute surveys and polls to achieve a sample representative of the general population. Furthermore, since network operators disclose a customer’s geographical location to Viamo, it can map the results.

Due to the conflict in South Sudan, the government has prohibited journalists from reporting in the country. To bypass this issue, Viamo and Forced Out created a phone survey to measure the displaced population in South Sudan. The survey found that the war had displaced more than 40% of the nation’s population. This provided the international community with statistics to properly gauge the scope of the refugee crisis.

Viamo also has a variety of call centers integrated into the 3-2-1 Service. One instance of this is Legal Aid Forum Rwanda. Victims can call the call center to get legal advice and possibly get connected to a lawyer who could represent them for free.

Viamo’s Reach and Future Impact

Viamo’s services have reached more than 10 million people. With plans to expand into new areas, such as Latin America, Viamo will continue to have an impact in the foreseeable future.

– Riley Behlke
Photo: Flickr

Phones Are Providing a New Relief From the Poverty Wave In IndiaThe recent technological revolution booming in the developed world is showing positive results. To that end, many people are urging the distribution of these technologies to developing countries like India. Rural villages in the country have largely not been part of the mobile phone trend. Even certain urban areas remain hidden from these new technologies. Several nonprofit organizations and recent government movements have vowed to fight this reality, looking to increase the availability of cell phones and cell phone data in India. Here are three ways India is using phones to combat poverty.

Increasing Education Opportunities

Many rural villages in India focus on agriculture as their primary form of livelihood. Most farmers only earn around $2 per day. In 2010, a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, mPowering, partnered with a charity working in Orissa, India to distribute mobile phones to village residents. mPowering relied on cell phone towers in the area to give farmers and other rural families more functionality. The nonprofit’s initiative, conducted in the Indian village of Juanga, saw a 19% increase in its school attendance for children. In addition, more women were able to gain access to important health care needs through a so-called point system loaded onto communal phones. People can then redeem these points for commodities like food and clothing. As a result, the Juanga experiment found a 67% decrease in reported diseases.

Government Intervention for Economic Stimulation

The Indian government has developed a scheme to hand out phones to children and impoverished families because more than 10% of Indian families cannot afford to purchase a cell phone. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the country is distributing phones to children learning online. In the Punjab region, 75 million children should receive a handset. These initiatives are a direct response to the rising fear that more than 24 million children worldwide could lose access to proper education.

According to a UN report, if online school without other alternatives continues, this very fear might become a reality. The Indian government’s push to include children in its mobile phone plan is just one step to introduce mobile devices to the general population. It has also developed a $6.65 billion scheme to increase the production of electronic goods within the country. The move has helped increase the number of phone manufacturers in India, which rose from two to more than 200 in just a few years.

A Variety of Options for a Variety of Users

Estimates show that more than 900 million Indian citizens do not own a smartphone or have access to the internet. However, recent economic growth has turned India into a leading market for cheap phone data options. As a result of this spark in data growth, companies developed a variety of cell phones and cell phone software to reach a wider demographic. There are currently more than 100 smartphone brands that dominate the Indian cell phone market, with Chinese manufacturers holding more than 75% of the space. Recently, companies like Apple have begun to market lower-end budget phones to expand their outreach in India as well. Growing demand and relatively low tariff rates have allowed mobile phone markets to gain millions of users in mere months. The launch and future cultivation of 3G and 4G networks are only expediting initiatives that use phones to combat poverty.

The expanding economy in India is allowing newer technologies to reach a wider range of consumers. The target audience in the country has slowly shifted from urban individuals to inhabitants of impoverished rural regions. As India’s economic prosperity grows, using phones to combat poverty ensures that people receive more education, are better off and experience inclusion.

– Mihir Gokhale
Photo: Flickr

Food Insecurity
Millions of people around the world continue to face extreme hunger with little to no chance of receiving help to alleviate the situation. Resolving food insecurity in vulnerable populations requires vast amounts of information: How many need help? Where do they live? What is causing the food insecurity? Mobile technology may be the solution.

In the past, humanitarian organizations have struggled to help those in need due to untimely food assistance and frequent failures to collect valid information for addressing hunger in remote areas. The fact that most vulnerable populations live in isolated or dangerous areas with little infrastructure made data collection incredibly expensive, risky and often unfeasible.

Today, the World Food Programme (WFP), the largest humanitarian organization working to reduce food insecurity, conducts food security analyses of vulnerable populations through Vulnerability Assessment and Mapping. Through these efforts, WFP can gather usable information about the level of food insecurity in addition to important details that help divert resources to areas where they are most needed. New food security monitoring methods now allow WFP to gather real-time data to properly identify and assess the situation in distant areas that were previously inaccessible.

An effective blend of traditional methods and technological advancements help WFP’s analysts collect pertinent data. For example, face-to-face assessments provide a baseline that gives WFP the necessary information to more accurately plan food assistance efforts as well as providing the ability to further monitor the area for possible concerns. However, these assessments are time-consuming and challenging to conduct in far-off areas and those susceptible to a sudden collapse in food security. To address this, WFP often resorts to another, more efficient method.

Mobile Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping (mVAM) offers the unique opportunity to continuously monitor an evolving situation. Using common mobile technology such as texting or live voice calls to collect real-time information on household incomes, potential risks, food consumption and other crucial information remain central to WFP’s efforts to develop risk management strategies. This type of monitoring also emphasizes market prices and rainfall patterns to flag potentially deteriorating situations to ensure that assistance is provided promptly if it is needed.

WFP can also use mVAM’s automated two-way communication to relay new information to people in a cost-efficient and effective manner. Another substantial benefit offered by mobile technology is the drastic reduction in expended resources. WFP will save 50 percent of the money that was previously used for data collection in addition to reducing the time for survey turnaround by 83 percent.

With the explosion of mobile phone and Internet access in developing countries, particularly those in Africa, smartphones and messaging services could serve as a vital support system for the food insecure, including refugees. WFP’s Food Bot, designed to be widely accessible, works on various platforms such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Telegram. It can even be altered to fit onto other messaging services. To help ease costs in developing countries, people also now have access to low-data usage apps like Facebook Lite and others. mVAM was first used in Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to access unsafe areas but quickly expanded to other countries.

Actionable information is one of the most critical components of humanitarian efforts, as organizations desperately need to know exactly what is happening and what people need if they wish to adequately support vulnerable areas. During the Ebola crisis, information from texts and calls helped identify the communities struggling the most without risking the safety of analysts. African farmers suffering from severe droughts were able to notify WFP of the worsening food security in their area through mVAM. While the Iraqi province of Anbar experienced violent internal conflict, continuous information about the food security and other needs of those displaced streamed in through mobile phones. There are dozens of more examples of the successes of WFP’s mobile technology platform.

The mVAM program provides WFP with a more concrete and precise understanding of the nature of food insecurity in communities around the world, equipping them with the information they need to rapidly and effectively help those in need. This type of basic technology can be utilized to aid remote areas in nearly every situation, whether it is during a drought, an infectious disease outbreak or even political conflict. As the world’s number of phone and Internet users steadily increases, other humanitarian organizations could undoubtedly utilize more robust data-collecting platforms to better deliver various forms of aid to the millions in need.

Akhil Reddy

Photo: Flickr

Mobile Technology Transforms HIV Care in Lesotho
In the small, mountainous African country of Lesotho, one in four people are HIV-positive, but the rugged terrain and negative stigma surrounding the disease prevent many from seeking care or even being diagnosed. However, with the introduction of a new cellphone app and mobile health clinics, the HIV healthcare in Lesotho will change drastically.

With mountains separating the various regions of the country and minimal infrastructure, many people in Lesotho cannot access basic healthcare services. It is for this reason that many people who are HIV-positive go undiagnosed and unknowingly spread the disease to their partners or children. This year, only 60 percent of those with HIV in Lesotho received treatment.

More than half of the country’s two million people live below the poverty line. Moreover, insufficient HIV care in Lesotho has led the country to the second-highest prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS in the world.

Mobile clinics run by the Vodafone Foundation, Baylor International AIDS Initiative and Riders for Health, will ensure that all people in Lesotho can get treatment closer to home. The clinics offer on-site HIV testing.

Those who test positive for HIV are registered with Vodafone’s M-Pesa mobile money transfer service, where they receive funds to pay for transport to a treatment center. They are also registered with another mobile app which serves as a central database where healthcare professionals can plan and record their treatment in real time.

There were 36.7 million people living with HIV or AIDS worldwide in 2015. In the same year, 1.1 million people died from the disease.

Infants are especially vulnerable to HIV, and the disease can quickly develop into AIDS if not identified and treated. Around the world, only half of infants with HIV are tested by the recommended age of two months.

The app and mobile clinics have been applauded by the Government of Lesotho, which will fully fund both programs from mid-2017.

Cassie Lipp

Photo: Flickr

Africa_Business_BillAirtel Africa has unveiled Tap2Bill, which will allow content providers and merchants to use Airtel’s billing infrastructure to charge and bill their customers.

According to Airtel, Tap2Bill will be available through a secured portal that will help growing businesses across Africa. The service will prevent businesses from investing in costly billing and payment capabilities.

Businesses can register for the billing service online by providing their email, company details and supporting documents. Consumers do not need to register, enter their credit/debit card details or even own a bank account to use the service according to Airtel Africa. All they need is a mobile device with a SIM card.

“We are very pleased to announce this new customer payment innovation to the market. It will support the growth of content services and enable content producers and merchants across Africa to share and benefit from Airtel’s scale, market and technology,” said Christian de Faria, Chief Executive Officer of Airtel Africa.

According to Total Telecom, Airtel Africa is a leading telecommunications service provider and has operations in 17 countries across Africa. Africa is seen as the fastest growing market for mobile commerce in the world and the need for smarter solutions is continuing to grow.

Airtel Africa is partnering with IMImobile in order to make sure the service is available on cell phones. They have worked with Airtel Africa since 2011 and have made IMImobile one of the leading mobile service providers in Africa.

According to IMImobile Chief Executor, Jay Patel, “We are delighted to partner with Airtel Africa to help bring these new, affordable, mobile-centric service offerings to market which not only creates a richer user experience for subscribers but will also encourage and support growth and variety of mobile content across Africa.”

According to It News Africa, Airtel Africa will launch Tap2Bill in the first week of December 2015 making it commercially available.

Jordan Connell

Sources: Airtel Tap2Bill, It News Africa, Total Telecom
Photo: Flickr

Device_to_Diagnose AIDS
Could a smartphone-powered device save millions from HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases?

Researchers at Columbia University seem to think that it can. A study showed that a small device, which is attached to the headphone jack of a smartphone, is nearly as effective as industry-leading equipment in the detection of HIV and other pathogens in blood samples.

The catch? While current HIV detection equipment costs around $18,000, this new device, referred to as a ‘dongle’ costs $34 to make.

The new device to diagnose AIDS reads blood samples from a finger prick and can deliver results in 15 minutes. Researchers and developers hope the device will play a large role in the eradication of AIDS and HIV in Africa. In 2011, 70% of all deaths in Sub-Saharan Africa were reported due to complications involving AIDS and HIV.

Early detection is key to stopping the spread of the deadly virus. With such rapid response time, the device has the potential to save millions. Research shows that infected mothers who are diagnosed early and begin treatment can minimize the possibility of transmitting the disease to their unborn children to less than 1%.

The research team just wrapped up clinical trials in Rwanda with extremely promising results, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has given the project a large grant. Device developers hope to gain regulatory approval from the World Health Organization so that they can begin mass production of the unnamed tool.

The unobtrusive nature of the new device is another benefit playing to the human aspect of medicine. As the study report says “Patient preference for the dongle was 97% compared to laboratory-based tests, with most pointing to the convenience of obtaining quick results with a single finger prick.”

The study also claims the dongle can prove to be more effective in the diagnosing of AIDS is because 55% of patients in Rwanda report a fear of intravenous needles. The device puts most of those fears to rest.

Portability in addition to cost is what sets the device apart. It uses the smartphone’s power supply and thus can be used wherever a mobile device can be. The device is also no larger than any market standard cellular phone and hardly requires any specialized training. It could be placed in the hands of doctors, hospitals, and NGOs across the globe. Researchers are confident that with recent advances in manufacturing technology that millions of units could potentially be made for a very low cost.

Joe Kitaj

Sources: Wired, Reuters, Science Translational Medicine
Photo: voanews

Big business ideas and economic enterprises are no longer limited to the corporate boardroom. The digitally connected world has provided entrepreneurs from all corners of the globe ways in which to make their concepts known; social media and increased mobile access have given tomorrow’s innovators a voice they lacked in the past. The main issue, however, is that those in developing countries still lack access to funding and capital, no matter how strong their idea.

That’s where Zidisha comes in. Zidisha is a nonprofit micro-lending service that allows potential borrowers to receive direct loans from an online community. The organization’s main goal is to promote economic development by cutting out lending middlemen and local banks that often charge supremely high-interest rates on loans.

The process is quite simple. Potential borrowers need only reliable online access, something that is only becoming more and more available. The borrowers then submit a profile describing themselves and their intended use of the loan. A one-time processing fee of around $12 is charged.

Zidisha is a very small company and merely provides a platform for users to interact directly. “We’ve built a decentralized marketplace that has no offices, no employees or loan officers in borrower countries,” says company founder Julia Kurnia. Zidisha lets borrowers receive funds via SMS straight from lenders at a zero percent interest rate.

Loans are typically small. Zidisha states that the average loan is $200 to $300. Loans have enabled entrepreneurs to buy computers for an Internet café and sewing machines for a village shop. Both have relatively low costs, but a significant impact. According to Wired Magazine, the computers that were funded by Zidisha loans have empowered many, as they have been used to teach office programs like Microsoft Word and Excel.

Zidisha’s purpose is clear in its name. The word means “grow” in Swahili. By charging no interest and only asking for the principal returned, Zidisha enables borrowers’ ideas, which would normally be denied by the typical financial institutions, to flourish.

Joe Kitaj

Sources: Wired, Zidisha, Venture Beat
Photo: Zidisha

If you are guilty of spending too much money on beautiful handmade jewelry, consider making your next shopping trip online with Soko, a social enterprise that supports artisans in the developing world through a mobile web platform.

Similar to Etsy, Soko functions as an online marketplace, with every purchase directly benefitting its creator. The idea for Soko began with the collaboration of its three founders—Ella Peinovich, Gwendolyn Floyd and Catherine Mahugu, who were living and working around the slums of Nairobi, Kenya.

It was here that they met and spoke with women who were receiving just a fraction of the profit that they should be earning from their handmade jewelry. Although the founders saw the potential in the craft of these artisans, they also recognized the lack of a consumer market—something they set out to solve with the creation of their, company Soko, which means “marketplace” in Swahili.

Since its inception in 2011, Soko has been changing lives by providing an innovative way for artisans to reach a global market through mobile phone technology. By registering with the company, artisans can upload photos of their creations which are then available on Soko’s online shops. At the touch of a button, artisans can engage with brands, retailers and online customers from around the world.

All materials used from Soko are natural as well as upcycled—meaning that they are taken from old and discarded items to be created into something beautiful. Stylistically, Soko is conscious of the popularity of modern designs and works with artisans to design both sustainable and fashion-forward jewelry.

When asked to describe the company in one way in an interview with Inspire Afrika magazine, the founders said that they like to think of Soko as “empowering women.” Today, there are more than 1,000 artists in the Soko community, 41,309 products have been sold and the average artisan’s household income has increased by four times its former number.

It was Soko’s vision for a majority of profits to return back into the hands of the local artisans, and through Soko, women have not only gained the opportunity to engage with an international marketplace, but they have also found a way to ultimately improve their livelihoods.

Nikki Schaffer

Sources: Philanthropy Page, Shop Soko, Inspire Africa
Photo: Manhattan with a Twist

How Digital Infrastructure is Supporting the Digital Revolution in Africa
The spread of mobile technology and the Internet to the developing world has been well covered. More and more people acquire mobile phones and gain access to the Internet every day. But what drives this spread of technology?

While technology like this cannot be substituted for better infrastructure in other areas like healthcare, transportation and finances, it can connect and catalyze economic development. Mobile phones allow for farmers to stay up to date on crop prices and broadband has allowed the Kenyan capital Nairobi to become a hub for IT services and call centers.

A study by the World Bank found that if a 10 percent increase in mobile phone adoption took place, a developing nation’s GDP per capita would increase by 0.8 percent. The spread of broadband in a developing country raises this number to 1.3 percent. According to Christine Zhen-Wei Qiang, the author of a World Bank report on the role of information and communication technology (ICT), mobile technology has the potential to change the lives of many in the developing world: “The mobile platform is emerging as the single most powerful way to extend economic opportunities and key services to millions of people.”

Behind this explosion of digital media, mobile money payments, smartphones and Internet is the infrastructure that makes it all possible. East Africa is an excellent example of the importance of infrastructure for the spread of the digital revolution.

In 2010, three fiber optic cables were installed sub-sea. This ensured that East Africa was no longer the only place on the planet without “super-fast” broadband. Rwanda has also used a fiber-optic tech, putting in a 3,200 km network that connects up to 230 government offices across the country.

To go along with broadband progress in the region, Zambia announced back in April that it would invest $65 million in building new telecom towers that can be used by the country’s three major mobile companies. While fiber-optic is important, most people in Africa get their Internet via their mobile phones, which is why these new telecom towers are so important in Zambia.

The number of mobile users in Zambia is around 10 million, a number that lags behind other countries like Uganda and Kenya. The Zambian government hopes that the new towers will increase subscribers and connectivity. The country’s president, Edgar Lungu, said, “Once implemented, the project will reduce the problems of telephone and Internet connectivity in the country.”

Communications infrastructure is extremely important for countries in the developing world. Without strong infrastructure for mobile and broadband technology, which have essentially become prerequisites for business, countries cannot advance in the global economy.

The benefits of investing in the infrastructure are clear. As most of East Africa’s population – 120 million – lives in rural areas, mobile phones are their key to the Internet. Telecom infrastructure enables countries to get ahead in a way by promoting communication through mobile technology.

Today, mobile phones are the first choice for communication and research. Farmers can gather information on seeds and fertilizers, as well as cooperate with other farmers in their area. The infrastructure also incubates international trade. With more investment will come more benefits in the region.

Gregory Baker

Sources: Vodafone, PC World


We live in a technological age, aptly called the information age. One of the staples of the information age is the inclusion of technology into our daily lives. The majority of our lives are structured around the technological advancements we have accomplished, from where to how we communicate. While these advancements are significant in our everyday tasks, their great significance extends during times of crisis and emergency response efforts.

One of the most significant ways in which technology has revolutionized disaster relief is the ability to get information to those in need of aid. The greatest technological advancement that achieves this goal is mobile phones.

In a Q&A regarding the utilization of technology in fighting the Ebola outbreak, Eric King, an innovation specialist who worked on the USAID’s Disaster Assistance Response Team in Liberia during the Ebola outbreak had this to say: “A decade ago, a small percentage of West Africans had access to cellphones. Now, mobile phones allow us to connect those in need with those who can help. Families of the sick can call emergency Ebola hotlines, social mobilizers can share tips for community engagement, individuals can resolve Ebola rumors by texting local radio stations, health workers can be paid electronically, and clinics can flag when they’re low on supplies.”

Technological advancements are not limited to those in need of aid. Another prime instance of technological advancements revolutionizing emergency response efforts comes from the manner in which response efforts can mobilize.

There are numerous examples of advancements in communications technologies that have made the mobilization of relief efforts drastically faster and more efficient; during disaster events, speed and efficiency can literally save lives.

One such example comes from the relief efforts performed when Super-typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines in 2013. Due to weather tracking technology, the storm was seen well enough in advance to allow early warning to those areas that would be affected. Furthermore, due to this advanced warning, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) was able to reach out to the Digital Humanitarian Network (DHN) for assistance. The DHN volunteers utilized social media, as well as other online platforms, to help create a digital map of the aftereffects of Super-typhoon Haiyan. This map was then used to help coordinate relief efforts in the area.

More than just coordinating relief efforts, social media plays another vital role in aiding emergency response efforts, as does technological advancement in general. Technological advancements, particularly those centered on the Internet, allow information regarding disaster relief efforts to be spread much more rapidly to the public. This has numerous benefits, but the most significant is the capacity for organizations to gain public support and assistance during disasters. Many organizations that aid in disaster relief rely heavily on public support, particularly for volunteers.

With the advent of the Internet, these organizations can get more attention and recognition, which in turn garnishes a significant amount of support. These are but a few of the ways in which technological advancement has advanced emergency response efforts.

James Miller

Sources: USAID, Time
Photo: EECU