Texting for Humanity

A competition to aid NGOs through text-messaging suggests the technology's global application

Texting

Not simply the provenance of the young or busy--texting is increasingly being used for humanitarian goals. Photo by smussyolaysmussyolay

Most of us think of text-messaging (or SMS--for Short Message Service) as the medium of teenagers, which they use to gossip, pass wireless notes in class, and spread bad spelling habits. The people behind the nGOmobile competition see it differently. They see it as a simple and effective communications tool for the developing world. While most people in those areas do not have access to the Internet or to computers, the cellphone market is expanding there rapidly. And while they may not have the ability to watch YouTube on their phones, they are able to send messages to places previously unreachable.

The competition asked NGOs to think of ways SMS messaging could aid in their work.

Those judged to have the most impact were chosen as the winners. Last month, they were announced:

The Centre for Training and Integrated Research for ASAL Development in Kenya will be using SMS with local communities to protect environmental resources. People in the field will act as early alerts to poaching and illegal logging.

In Uganada, NETWAS will use SMS to provide rural communities with a means to ask questions about their water quality, sanitation and hygiene.

The Equilibrium Fund in Mexico will send reminders to farmers via SMS to let them know when the best times are to plant, water, and harvest, in the hopes of increasing their yields on the land already in use.

Finally, Digital Development in Azerbaijan is using SMS to encourage young people to vote. Their plan—called Count to Five—works like an SMS chain letter, wherein each person is asked to text five friends to tell them to vote and to text five of their friends.