Ken Banks, the founder of kiwanja.net, spoke about the importance of technology solutions that meet the needs of those working in the developing world and his own work in this area through FrontlineSMS.
While current excitement in the technology world may be focused on increasing centralization through cloud computing, this means little to people working in the developing world where internet connectivity is unavailable or unreliable. Too little investment is going into building tools that will genuinely assist the work many non-profits are doing now.
Ken developed FrontlineSMS to tap into the potential of mobile phones, which are now widely available and used in the developing world. This is a two way communication system that can be used anywhere where there is a mobile phone signal. FrontlineSMS is available as a free download and Ken's approach has been not to dictate implementation but rather to allow people to use this very general tool in whatever ways meet their particular needs. This has resulted in diverse applications, for example:
There is also great potential to combine FrontlineSMS with traditional media, such as radio, that is already widespread throughout Africa, to make this much more interactive.
Ken offered a number of points of guidance for those thinking about designing technology with social applications:
Looking ahead, Ken will be developing functionality for FrontlineSMS that makes use of internet connectivity where this is available. He is also working on finding additional funding to help organizations pay for text messages.