Classifying mobile tech solutions for NGOs

February 17, 2017 12:00 AM
  • mobile tech solutions for NGOs

Classifying technology solutions

Mobile phone based technology solutions deployed by NGOs to serve their end users can be classified based on the nature of the interaction between the beneficiary and the technology solution. This classification can serve as a guideline for NGOs planning to incorporate mobile technologies into their service delivery processes. 

  • Manual: The beneficiary must use the mobile technology in order to access the NGO’s service.
  • Automated: The technology solution, once installed, works without further input from the beneficiary.
  • Mediated: Interaction between the beneficiary and the technology solution is facilitated, usually by a representative of the NGO.

Beneficiary profile:

  • Access to mobile technology: Whether beneficiaries have access to the hardware and network services which enable using the NGOs solution.
  • Skill level: Whether beneficiaries have the knowledge/skill to use the technology solution. If not, whether they can be trained.

Service profile:

  • Whether and to what extent the NGO’s service delivery processes can be automated.
  • To what extent the NGO can provide technical support to beneficiaries/facilitators.

Risk factors:

  • Fall-back option: Whether alternatives exist in case the technology solution malfunctions.
  • Misappropriation: The NGO must cater for the possibility of its hardware devices being misused in ways that jeopardize service delivery.
  • Authentication: Whether data entry can be faked.

The variety of systems allows NGOs spanning a wide range of sectors including healthcare, education, and disability to adopt the model which best suits their context.

The following examples of successful interventions will help explain the classification system.

A manual interaction between the beneficiary and the technology solution:

Pratham Books

Providing a book for every child in India is the mission of Pratham Books. Established in 2004, the NGO aims to utilize this method to turn Indian children into passionate readers and increase literacy rates. Their most recent intervention, “Missed call do, Kahaani Suno,” distributes audio stories in response to missed calls. The impact of this basic system has been huge, with 2,500 children listening to 35,000 stories in a five-day period.

The success is rooted in the system’s simplicity, which highlights detailed knowledge of the target demographics’ skill level and context. The missed-call technique utilizes a popular form of communication in India easily understood even by children. They do not have to learn any new functions or download any apps, which could make the system more difficult to master. The audio stories also allow less-literate children to take part, as well as encouraging them to take advantage of the other services that Pratham Books provide. The ability to scale a successful system is also paramount when designing a project. Pratham Books was aware of this and knew the popularity of mobile phones in Indian households would provide them the opportunity to scale distribution if the pilot met the desired targets.

This system enables Pratham to reach a large percentage of their target demographic in a meaningful way by eliminating the barrier of distance and overcoming the need to distribute printed books. It stands as a beautiful example of how technology can be used for social impact.

HelpAge India

Founded in 1978, HelpAge India represents a new wave of well-established NGOs adding mobile technology to their repertoire. The non-profit works toward the empowerment of the elderly by promoting the right to health insurance, the right to universal pension and the creation of age-appropriate services, which would allow senior citizens to live out their lives in caring and engaging environments.

HelpAge India recently released a mobile app which uses both manual and mediated means, highlighting the ability to adopt multiple systems within an intervention. The app’s primary function is to provide a one-click emergency service for elderly individuals in crisis situations. Users can also view the location of retail outlets that provide discounts to members of the NGO. Additionally, the app provides an information kit about rights and entitlements, health, financial planning, will and legacies, active aging and how to tackle elder abuse.

An automated interaction between the beneficiary and the technology solution:

OneWorld Foundation India

OneWorld Foundation India provides multidisciplinary ICT services to benefit marginalized groups. Its investment in the building of ICT capabilities has worked in direct conjunction with the realization of the Millennial Development Goals (MDGs) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The non-profit uses GPS and internet-enabled mobile technology to track access to toilets in rural communities and to build a sanitation database. The mobile system transmits real-time data from rural households to create a detailed map of the toilet infrastructure in rural India. The system increases capacity and decreases spending by enabling automated data collection.

A mediated interaction between the beneficiary and the technology solution:

Third-Party: Operation Asha

Operation ASHA is a success story within the sometimes complicated world of NGOs leveraging mobile technologies. As one of the biggest NGOs fighting tuberculosis in the world, it reaches 8.9 million of the poorest people in India and Cambodia.

Along with the e-Compliance system, the organization utilizes a low-cost biometric method called eDots wherein a laptop and mobile phone are placed at easy-access positions within their target community. This gives beneficiaries the ease of short commutes to their local temple or kiosk in order to collect medications. The system doesn’t necessitate internet access and is easy to use, meaning that the patient only has to log in and use the built-in biometric finger reader to access their details. These are then sent by SMS to a server and can be downloaded at the NGO’s headquarters. If a patient misses an appointment, the health worker is alerted by SMS and visits the patient within 72 hours. This system has ensured that only one percent of patients default on their treatment, highlighting the success integrating a two-fold mobile system.

The benefit of utilizing eCompliance and eDots are many. Health workers are able to see more patients, thereby increasing productivity and lowering costs. Productivity gains enabled by mobile technologies can help offset the investment in implementing such technology solutions. Operation Asha’s e-Compliance units cost $498 each but the higher throughput of patients spreads the outlay to $14 per patient. Implication: Patient-load for NGOs wanting to utilize this system must be high from the outset.

The solution, while ensuring patients stick to their treatment, also enables digital storage of health records thereby avoiding human error.

Manual, automated, and mediated models of mobile technology interventions have created useful tools to help sustain the visions of NGOs. However, these success stories demonstrate that technology should be used as an enabler of an initiative rather than becoming the centerpiece. Adopting this approach has helped organizations succeed in reaching their goals and gain visibility for their work.

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Choosing the right mobile technology is critical

It could be manual, automated or mediated based on the nature of interaction between the beneficiary and technology solution

NGOs must have fall back options in case of malfunctions, misappropriations or authentication issues

Technology solution should be considered an enabler and not the centerpiece of operations

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