Airtel Uganda and Human Network International to Communicate Free Public Service Information via Mobile Phones
By Montserrat Xilotl
Information can save lives. However, for this happen information must reach its intended target audience. Access to life saving information is not a trivial matter particularly when looking to communicate to isolated or rural populations in the development world.
The advent of mobile telecommunication, has created new opportunities in reaching previously isolated communities particularly in Africa. In the past 10 years, Africa has become the world's second most connected region by mobile subscription. Around 720 million Africans own mobile phones and in countries like Uganda there are more mobile phones than light bulbs (as quoted recently by Vodafone). With this rapid rate of absorption, efforts are being made to develop techniques to reach end users with critical information through mobile phones.
As access to reliable data services in smartphones is still limited due to developing infrastructure, solutions through the use of voice services, SMS texting and unstructured supplementary services data (USSD) have shown potential in communicating vital information to African populations. The use of voice messaging is particularly promising as it is able to reach populations with low levels of literacy. The NGO, Human Network International has developed a solution that provides public service information through the use of voice recordings available on demand (push) by mobile phone users. This service called 3-2-1, is offered in Malawi and Madagascar vial local telephone companies at no costs to users.
Recently, HNI was approached by Airtel’s office in Uganda looking to expand this service to its Uganda users. The CIRDA Program was a proud matchmaker to this agreement that will come together by the end of 2015. HNI and Airtel’s agreement is a wonderful example of the potential of establishing win-win partnerships with the private sector to meet development goals. While, HNI packages the information, Airtel provides the service to its mobile phone subscribers at no cost thus becoming a more attractive option in a highly competitive telecom market. For example, in Malawi, users of the 3-2-1service have proven to be more loyal subscribers and have even incremented their use of voice and text services.
For more information on HNI’s 3-2-1 service, check out their presentation on the CIRDA website or contact David McAfee.