How A Call Box is Bridging the Digital Divide


Image: Question Box

For citizens in developed nations, connectivity means an instantaneous opportunity to educate, inquire and communicate. Beyond leading a digital lifestyle, connectivity is crucial for first world individuals in their professional and personal lives. The rapidness of technological advancements provides unprecedented access and has made it nearly unfathomable to be disconnected from the digital world.

However, not everyone has the same kind of access. According to a recent study conducted by the United Nations' Broadband Committee, only “43% of the world’s population is now online with some form of regular access to the Internet.” This leaves 57%, or 4.2 billion people around the world without access to broadband services.

What does this say about the digital divide?

This means that those of us benefiting from the information revolution are in the minority leaving those who are marginalized and most often in greater need of this information unable to access it.

Rose Shuman, Founder and CEO of OpenMind, sat down with to discuss her ideas behind Question Box, a call box designed for rural communities, and how vital it is for bridging the digital divide.

As Rose shares, it all started back in 2006 during the advent of mobile phones and the proliferation of the internet.

"Access to the internet follows the same schisms in any society. Those with the most advantages benefit the most and those most marginalized get left behind. How can you bring information you want to those left behind by the technological advancements?”

The ultimate question being, how can we go beyond the vast technological barriers to reach people in the language they speak and in a way they will engage.

Rose describes Question Box as a hot line in the form of a call box that can easily be installed in hard to reach rural communities. The ease of picking up the phone to speak to another human being means that children and grandparents alike can benefit. It breaks the literacy and educational barriers that might otherwise prevent people from being able to address their individual and community needs.

How is it helping

Since 2007, The Question Box project has been providing equitable access to services in far reaching areas in India, Uganda, and now, breaking ground in Sierra Leone.

Focused on supporting organizations looking to provide vital information to outlying communities, these call boxes become a game-changing mechanism for progress.

In one Ugandan agricultural project, farmers were facing the decimation of their banana and coffee crops. When call box services were installed, dozens of farmers were able to tap into operators who were able to provide quick access to combat the fast spreading virus, and ultimately save the farmers cash crops.

The most intriguing part of Question Box is the data and inquiry trends these call centers are able to document. Not only are they better able to understand what these hard to reach areas need, but now they are able to provide quick and penetrable assistance.

In another Question Box collaboration with NUMEN Uganda Ambulance dispatch, health groups were able to associate high fatality rates with obstetric and malaria related emergencies. Despite the distance from hospital care, some of these fatalities could still be prevented if transport arrangements were made in time. Access to the Question Box meant NUMEN could dispatch motorcycles out to transport patients in critical condition to the nearby hospitals 40 miles away. Annually, this meant 150 lives were saved just by simply having access to a dedicated call service.

There are innumerable benefits to projects like Question Box. These call boxes empower communities to access information that can bring long-lasting benefits including staving off the spread of dangerous diseases. This is most relevant in areas where individuals ignore lifesaving sanitary guidelines from health workers simply because they don't know them. 

There is a natural trust that forms when people use Question Box because as Rose adds, “if you are picking up this phone it's because you want to know.” 

And that is something we can all relate to. 

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