UNICEF Innovation: An SMS System That Saves Lives
Most non-governmental aid organizations like UNICEF rely on hand-written, hand-collected data and forms, sent to country capitols, and entered into national databases. Months pass before information is fully recorded and transmitted back to those who make decisions about critical food distribution, medicine, and other life-supporting help. UNICEF’s innovation team is changing the way governments and aid organizations respond to crisis by utilizing the accelerated adoption of hand-held mobile phones to collect malnutrition data in real time. RapidSMS was developed in partnership with the government of Malawi and Columbia University using basic, mobile phones to collect information from health workers, data such as child weight and arm circumference. The data is then used to generate web-based spreadsheets and graphs to visualize the challenges, providing critical info needed for the government and UNICEF to respond immediately to nutritional crises. RapidSMS is such a significant improvement for UNICEF that similar products have been developed, on an underlying open-source code-base, open to anyone for use to build their own tools. UNICEF supports any aid organization interested in working off of this code base, and continues to collaborate with Columbia University, and with NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program graduate school in a course designed to address UNICEF challenges. Columbia University and UNICEF were awarded the top prize in USAID’s Development 2.0 challenge earlier this year, but the real accolades come from the repeated use of this tool for applications in malawi, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and beyond.