UNICEF's RapidPro: An “App Store” for Good



We know that generating real-time information from hard-to-reach places is traditionally slow, expensive and difficult. This is a problem for governments and international organizations in their effort to provide vital services. To bridge the gap, UNICEF's global innovation team recently launched RapidPro – an open-source platform for international development – which is “like an app store for good” in the words of Mr. Anthony Lake, UNICEF’s Executive Director.

During the launch, a moderated panel called Unlocking the Potential of Innovation showcased representatives from Nigeria, Norway, Republic of Korea, and the UK talking about developments in their own countries. Nigeria’s Minister of Finance, HE Ngozi Okonjo-Ieala (@NOIweala), energetically expressed how international metrics of innovation “are missing the boat.” Nigeria ranks 110 of 148 countries in the Global Innovation Index, but in her opinion people are not capturing what is really happening. She highlighted improvements such as the massive communication campaign to contain the Ebola virus in Nigeria through SMS texts, and urged the international community to pay attention to what is happening on the ground. 

UNICEF apps on the RapidPro platform include RapidSMS, a free open-source framework for building customized mobile services, aiding health workers in Africa in their efforts to track pregnant women, and refer at-risk women health facilities. RapidPro's mTrac tool utilizes SMS to allow health workers to report on obstacles they face in real-time and automatically send the information to a database that officials can access. And UNICEF's eduTrack, is a mobile-phone based data-collection system that helps the Ministry of Education and Sports collect data in real-time on issues, such as attendance and enrollment in schools. 

For youth engagement and community monitoring, UNICEF and its partners developed U-report, which enables dialogue among young people in Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Swaziland, Uganda, and Zambia through SMS-based poll questions on issues that matter most to their lives. The system exchanges weekly SMS messages and polls to and from a growing community of u-Reporters who's stories are featured in radio programs and newspapers. Responses are collected and shared with governments and development partners to influence policy decisions and programs on the ground.

Government and international organizations can take UNICEF's apps and customize them, or create new ones since RapidPro can be used without specialized technology skills and hosted locally or in the cloud. 

Do you know of any other tools that transfer real-time information to aid local communities?  If so, sound off in the comments section here! 

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