Technology

  • LitScan 360: An innovative digital tool to improve global reading outcomes

    What is LitScan 360? How does it work?

    LitScan 360 is a tool based on Literacy 360°, FHI 360’s comprehensive, child-centered approach to literacy improvement in primary schools. The LitScan 360 app can be used on a tablet or smartphone. It collects customized data on the factors that affect literacy, such as teachers, instruction, materials, school leadership, school curriculum, policy, community and family, as well as societal practices and beliefs related to inclusive education, gender, language and culture.

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  • Today, roughly six billion of the world’s seven billion people now have a mobile device. Mobiles serve as our personal communication hubs, connection points to the global internet and powerful tools to access information. In many places, inexpensive mobile phones have become invaluable substitutes to traditional information and communications technologies (ICTs) and vastly outnumber computers.

    On Sept 26, 2013, FHI 360 co-hosted an all-day event entitled Mobiles! What Have We Learned? Where Are We Going? The gathering brought together over 150 leading practitioners in mobiles for development (M4D). The event itself was co-organized by DAI, Development Gateway, FHI 360, IREX, and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

    Over the past decade, the international development community has worked to harness M4D approaches and technology, resulting in thousands of pilot projects, interventions and public–private partnerships. The goals of these initiatives have ranged from overcoming barriers of resource access, encouraging healthier behaviors and democratizing education to creating bottom-of-the-pyramid markets, to name a few.

    At the event, Gustav Praekelt of Praekelt Foundation delivered a keynote summary that illustrated how big technical and social challenges have been addressed, making the achievement of scale more possible than ever. He also noted, however, that cost, compatibility of different technical standards and coordination between organizations continue to create challenges. “We need some wins to show that we can work together,” said Praekelt. “If we can solve email in the 1970s, then we can get rid of the horrible technical silos we have today.”

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  • Optifood: A new tool to improve diets and prevent child malnutrition in Guatemala

    What does it REALLY take to ensure young children get the proper nutrition to grow strong and healthy? This is an especially important question in poor rural communities in Guatemala, where about half of the children under five years of age are stunted (too short for their age—a sign of long-term deficits in the quantity and/or quality of food, including the right vitamins and minerals). In some parts of western Guatemala, more than eight in ten young children are stunted.

    Now there’s a new tool to help answer the question: Optifood is a computer software program, developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) in collaboration with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Food and Nutrition Technical Assistance III Project (FANTA), and Blue Infinity, that provides scientific evidence on how to best improve children’s diets at the lowest possible cost using locally available foods. Optifood identifies nutrient gaps and suggests food combinations the local diet can fill—or come as close to filling. It also helps identify local foods’ limits in meeting nutrient needs and test strategies for filling remaining nutrient gaps, such as using fortified foods or micronutrient powders that mothers mix into infant or young children’s porridge.

    The Government of Guatemala is fighting stunting through its Zero Hunger Initiative, which aims to reduce stunting by 10 percent by 2015 and 24 percent by 2022 through nutrition, health, agriculture, and social safety net programs. The U.S. Government and USAID are supporting these efforts through Feed the Future and Global Health Initiatives focused on the Western Highlands. USAID/Guatemala asked the USAID-funded FANTA/FHI 360 to help find strategies to improve the nutritional quality of children’s diets in the region. The challenge was to develop realistic and affordable diets for children that both meet their needs and are firmly based on scientific evidence. FANTA worked with its local partner, the Institute of Nutrition of Central America and Panama (INCAP), to collect the diet data needed for Optifood from communities in two departments of the Western Highlands, Huehuetenango and Quiché. FANTA then used Optifood to analyze the information.

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  • Mobile money offers a unique opportunity for human development

    What is mobile money? How does it work?

    Many people in developing countries, particularly in rural areas, do not have bank accounts or live near a bank branch. It can be difficult and expensive for them to make simple financial transactions, such as cashing a government check. Mobile money allows people to use mobile phones or other mobile devices, which are increasingly more available, to transfer money and make payments or deposits.

    The mobile money process is straightforward. Local stores and businesses serve as “cash-in, cash-out” agents. In general, when users get funds sent to their phones, they receive a code that they show to an agent. The agent finds the code in a system and then allows the user to withdraw the funds. When users do not withdraw all of their funds, mobile money functions like a savings account. Mobile money systems differ by country, depending on the regulations governing electronic payments. It is a fast-changing field, because a wide variety of mobile financial products, such as savings accounts, are just now becoming popular around the world.

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  • Save a life: Vote for innovative Mobile for Reproductive Health program

    Degrees recently featured a post “Family planning and text messages: How mobile phones can save lives” from Kelly L’Engle, an FHI 360 scientist, that highlighted Mobile for Reproductive Health (m4RH), a text-message-based health communication program that provides lifesaving information about family planning methods to anyone with access to a mobile phone.

    The m4RH team is now very excited to be considered as a finalist for funding through Saving Lives at Birth: A Grand Challenge for Development (Round III). A DevelopmentXChange event taking place in Washington, DC, July 29–31 represents the final stage of the funding competition, and the public showcase will feature displays of the projects for each finalist. The showcase will also feature live and online voting for a People’s Choice Award, which will be considered in final funding decisions.

    m4RH needs your votes!

    To vote for m4RH for the People’s Choice Award in person, attend the showcase from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday, July 31st at the Ronald Reagan Building (1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20004).

    To vote for m4RH for the People’s Choice Award online, please visit http://savinglivesatbirth.net/summaries/248 (you must register to vote).

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  • Family planning and text messages: How mobile phones can save lives

    The numbers on maternal and child mortality around the world are staggering. Every day, approximately 800 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. A notable 99 percent of these maternal deaths occur in developing countries, where over 220 million women lack access to effective contraception and family planning services. Statistics indicate that if even half that number, or 120 million of those women, had adequate access to family planning information, the lives of 3 million children would be saved.

    In recent years, many people have dedicated themselves to bridging the gap between this sizeable problem and a workable solution. And, as it turns out, answers have come in the form of something as common as a mobile phone. With more than three-quarters of the world’s inhabitants having mobile connectivity, millions of women can benefit from information delivered through what has become a standard 21st century way of communicating: text messages.

    It was the growing use of mobile phones and text messaging in developing countries that prompted FHI 360 to develop innovative ways to use technology to improve family planning services. In 2008, with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development, FHI 360’s Program Research for Strengthening Services (PROGRESS) project started developing Mobile for Reproductive Health (m4RH), an opt-in text message-based health communication program that provides information about family planning methods to anyone who wants it who has access to a mobile phone.

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  • How ICT is helping farmers and combating climate change

    Greenhouse gases from agriculture account for over ten percent of total emissions globally, roughly equivalent to the entire global transport sector. Meanwhile, it is estimated that agricultural production will need to increase by about 70% by 2050 to keep pace with global population growth. What’s more, the real impacts of climate change on the agricultural sector are likely going to be hardest felt in many of those countries whose people rely on agriculture most for their livelihoods. In sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, for example, some estimates show a reduction in the productivity of most major food crops as a result of changes to the climate over the next forty years.

    While this may sound like a doom and gloom scenario, this Earth Day I want to focus on an area of promise: the increasing availability of affordable technologies that have the potential to reduce greenhouse gases and increase productivity in agriculture. I am referring here not to agricultural technologies—although those certainly play a role—but rather to information and communications technologies, like the mobile phone, video, and even radio. If you are wondering how a mobile phone, a video camera, and a radio might relate at all to climate change, allow me to explain.

    For starters, so-called “climate-smart” methods of agriculture, such as conservation agriculture, agroforestry, and others already exist. The challenge is that not all farmers know about them, there is no single prescription, and traditional practices can often die hard, particularly when you are working with very small margins and taking risks could spell utter ruin for yourself and your family. So how do ICTs change this? In short, they make it easier to share locally relevant information on improved techniques and to provide time-specific information and recommendations (such as weather forecasts, and when to do what).

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  • Trends in technology for development unveiled at conference

    Recently, representatives from development organizations, government agencies, private technology companies and the media gathered to share and learn at the 5th Annual Information and Communications Technologies for Development (ICT4D) Conference held by Catholic Relief Services in Accra, Ghana. The conference — which was co-sponsored by FHI 360 through the Fostering Agriculture Competitiveness Employing Information Communication Technologies (FACET) project, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) — focused on “Mobile Services that Empower Vulnerable Communities.” While mobile services have been used for a while in the development world, the meeting showcased some exciting new ideas and provided those in attendance with the opportunity to learn about what other organizations are doing and where ICT4D is headed. Below are some of the noteworthy presentations.

    Knowledge+ App: Agricultural information through mobile phones

    The Knowledge+ App, a new agricultural information application scheduled for release this summer from the Ghanaian firm Esoko, will enable farmers and extension workers to receive agricultural tips and watch extension videos over their mobile phones. Until recently, development organizations had to send staff and computers to communities to share multimedia content. Now, they can share content directly, greatly increasing reach and lowering costs. The Knowledge+ App takes advantage of the proliferation of smartphones and better mobile access to target rural populations.

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  • The global resurgence of tuberculosis (TB) over the past decades has been fueled by emerging drug resistance, co-infection with increasingly prevalent HIV and decreasing investments in public health systems. These challenges call for innovative, strategic approaches and more efficient, cost-effective programs. TB CARE I is a coalition of seven international TB control organizations, each with offices in most of the TB-priority countries for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

    FHI 360 is the lead coordinating partner in Cambodia, Mozambique and Zambia and a collaborating partner in Indonesia and Nigeria. The program focuses on specific technical areas, including early case detection, improved laboratory capacity, management of drug-resistant TB, HIV/TB co-infection and health systems strengthening. FHI 360 and TB CARE I assist countries to move toward universal access to TB treatment by working with communities most at risk to reduce morbidity and mortality through increased case detection and treatment.

    The three videos below produced by TB CARE I are great visual portrayals of how TB has affected lives in Cambodia and the Dominican Republic. Visit TB CARE I’s website to see other videos like these, and to learn more about the project.

    Triumph Over MDR-TB

    Multidrug-Resistant TB or MDR-TB is a serious form of TB which is resistant to at least the two most powerful TB drugs. As MDR-TB is difficult to cure, it requires treatment for a minimum of 20 months with drugs which often have severe side-effects. In this video Yim Chann (Cambodia) will tell you about his triumph over MDR-TB

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  • Radio toolkit cover In the international development community, the dominant technology discussion is currently about mobile phones, applications and services. According to the International Telecommunications Union, there are now 6 billion mobile phone subscriptions globally.1 Most of the subscriber growth is in the developing world, where prices are falling rapidly and expanding connectivity is catalyzing the growth of entire economies.2

    But, with the rapidly expanding availability of mobile phones, it is easy to forget about the potential of older technologies, such as radio. In much of the world, radio remains the most pervasive communicator of information. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, an estimated 80 percent to 90 percent of households have access to a working radio, while only 15 percent have access to the Internet.3,4

    Rather than making radio irrelevant, mobile technologies have made radio potentially more powerful than ever. Individuals in rural communities with access to mobile phones can interact with broadcasters. Farmers in their fields can access experts on radio call-in programs. Radio stations can send listeners recaps of programs via SMS. Interactive voice-response systems allow farmers to listen to programs on demand. Sophisticated surveys of audience feedback and behavior change campaigns can be conducted with new precision and efficacy. The list goes on, and not just for agricultural issues. The benefits of radio also reach into health, education, civil society and other development areas.

    Integrating effective interactive radio into development projects requires careful planning. To help organizations unlock radio’s new potential, FHI 360 has developed Interactive Radio for Agricultural Development Projects: A Toolkit for Practitioners under the Fostering Agriculture Competitiveness Employing Information Communication Technologies (FACET) project, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

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