Starting small and growing beyond tech
Caption: Program Planning for Enslavement Prevention Alliance-West Africa (EPAWA)
It’s 6:30 AM and I am getting ready to do a stakeholder interview with members of iHub in Nairobi who are evaluating an Internews-funded project in Accra called SMS Kita Hudi Yee, a text-message based community monitoring program on various forms of forced labor and human trafficking conditions in Ghana. This 3-month pilot project started back in September 2011, in partnership with the Enslavement Prevention Alliance in West Africa. I was excited about this program for various reasons. For one, it took place in Ghana, one of my favorite countries in West Africa, and two, this was a new model of programming and usage of mobile tech, which Survivors Connect was interested in trying.
This was a unique opportunity for us to experiment with new ideas, as well as have the backing of iHub researchers to help us evaluate what did and didn’t work, and ways we can improve in the future so that other organizations can try similar methods. This program involved trained community monitors who were equipped with mobile phones and tool kits on how to identify potential trafficking, and alert EPAWA headquarters of evidence via SMS/MMS or calls, of which EPAWA would map, investigate and respond. I was in Ghana for two weeks to train EPAWA on how to use various open source technology tools and do programmatic design. Now that we’re past the 3-month pilot, it was time for iHub to interview all stakeholders of the program to evaluate the project. Here are some of the thoughts I shared and lessons I’ve learned, which I shared with Leonida Mutuku, Marian Tadefa-Kubabom and others:
Start Small: I know it’s easy to think of technology as being the grandiose solution to our development problems (and “first” world problems too!). Given that the ICT4D space is very young, I can’t stress enough how important it is to start small. Starting small means you can be flexible, agile and evaluate strategies easily and efficiently. This is one of the reasons we love using Frontline SMS as a starting platform to test our ideas. Makers of Frontline SMS, much like us, believe in “horizontal scaling,” which is essentially the idea of hundreds of systems serving smaller groups of people in designated communities, as opposed to large centralized/national solutions that serve millions. When it comes to topics as sensitive as gender-based violence, it is really important to us that solutions are localized to small communities, managed and maintained by that community and there is local ownership.
Technology isn’t everything: Surprise surprise! I think in reality, everyone knows this, but somehow I find over and over again that people forget this. Technology is a beautiful thing, which has incredible capacity to enhance various aspects of our lives. But technologies such as mobile or social media are first and foremost tools. Through our various partnership programs, I’ve found the most successful projects are those where there is a committed team of individuals engaged and actively managing the project. Delegation, skill and teamwork is needed for literally anything to succeed. What we do with technology today and the diverse variety of applications all come from the context in which they are used, NOT the technical capacity itself.