• 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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  • More mobile phones than toilets?

    A version of this post originally appeared on K4Health’s Blog. Reposted with permission.

    Are there more mobile phones than toilets in some places? Yes, in some developing countries, that’s true. This was one of the take-aways from the mHealth Summit that took place last week in Washington, DC, where over 3,800 people gathered to hear about the fast-growing health-related mobile phone industry. The Summit featured for the first time this year a Global Health Track that focused solely on mobile health interventions and lessons learned from developing countries– lack of access to care, providers without the necessary knowledge or information to do their job properly, and stockouts of supplies and medicines.

    Patty Mechael, Executive Director of the mHealth Alliance, said in her introductory remarks on the first day of the conference that “more people in developing countries have access to mobile phones than clean water or bank accounts,” things we take for granted. What a possible game changer for health in developing countries if mobile phones can be used to leverage access to health care.

    The number of doctors in Africa is woefully low, and there exists a game-changing opportunity to use mobile phones with front line health workers to improve patient care. According Sandya Rao, Senior Advisor of Private Sector Partnerships in the Office of Health, Infectious Diseases and Nutrition at USAID, working with frontline health workers is the “most immediate and cost-effective way to save lives and improve health”, quoting the Frontline Health Workers Coalition. The challenges of frontline health workers include inadequate training, inadequate performance incentives and weak health systems. Many different approaches to using mobile phones with health workers exist and are working. The successful ones have benefited from stakeholder inclusion in design and taking a holistic systems approach. According to Alain Labrique, Director of the Johns Hopkins University Global mHealth Initiative, countries can “recognize the individual, support disconnected frontline health workers, engage the community, and make the invisible visible.”

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  • From novel idea to catalyst

    Photo via the Mobile for Reproductive Health (m4rh) project.In her keynote address at the 2012 mHealth Summit, which for the first time included a Global Health Track, mHealth Alliance executive director Patty Mechael said that mHealth has “transitioned from a novel idea to a strategy for global health.” She also said that 2013 would be the “year for scale,” to which I would add the ‘year of integration’, because mHealth is increasingly being applied as a game-changing approach for empowering individuals as well as strengthening health systems. There is an evolution along at least two dimensions: from initial pilots to programs with broad national or multi-regional reach, and from single-solution applications to multi-function catalysts of health system interventions.

    For example, in the category of client-centered mHealth, the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA) provides free or low-cost text (SMS) or voice messages for pregnant women related to each stage of pregnancy and a baby’s first year. In Bangladesh, MAMA is known as Aponjon, which means “close friend.” Aponjon service was launched in September 2011 in four districts with 1,000 subscribers. It started to scale nationally in August 2012, with the aim of reaching more than two million mothers by 2015.

    In “Health Workforce Capacity Development,” iHeed CEO Dr. Tom O Callaghan noted that each year, approximately 160,000 doctors are trained in Europe for a population of around 1 billion people, while in Sub-Saharan Africa for the same population size about 5,000 doctors are trained. Over the past 20 years, about 500,000 community health workers (CHWs) have been trained across Sub-Saharan Africa at a very high cost. Yet, there are 700 million mobile phones in Africa, about a billion people on Facebook, 300 million on Skype, and cheap tablets are increasingly available. “Aspirations to train another 1,000 or 10,000 CHWs seem very bland compared to the scale being achieved by other technology ventures,” O Callaghan said, suggesting that mHealth can aim much higher, training health workers and supporting their performance in innovative ways. In fact, emerging evidence indicates the potential of mHealth to positively impact multiple aspects of health systems, including adherence to treatment guidelines, supply chain management, and data collection and reporting.

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  • Remarks for Feng Cheng
    Social Good Summit Beijing Forum 2012, September 24,  Tsinghua University

    Hello everyone. It is my honor to have been invited to participate in this summit, and I am very happy to have the opportunity to discuss with all of you the impact of new media on the field of public service. Like everyone else, I’m a great fan of new media technology – over the last several years I’ve been shocked, and of course very excited, to see the impact of new media on the development of public service activities.

    FHI 360 is a nonprofit human development organization. Our staff members work in more than 60 countries around the world in fields including health, nutrition, education, economic development environmental protection and more. We believe that looking at issues that affect people’s lives from multiple perspectives leads to greater and more lasting impact. Our logo clearly expresses our faith in the ability of science to improve lives.

    The creation and dissemination of new media technologies has provided us with broad, open and participatory platforms which have already become an integral part of all of our lives and therefore, an integral part of our approach to human development. New media are changing the way people live, and the way we communicate with them, in ways that we could not have imagined in the past. In China, new media have already become an important tool in HIV prevention and treatment work.

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  • Kosovo Teacher Innovation Recognized at International Forum

    Kosovo teachers Shkëndije Nagavci and Laura Pruthi display the award they received at the 2012 Microsoft Partners in Learning European Forum.

    Kosovo teachers Shkëndije Nagavci and Laura Pruthi were among 24 educators recognized for their innovative use of education technology at this year’s Microsoft Partners in Learning (PiL) European Forum held March 19-22 in Lisbon, Portugal. The teachers joined more than 250 educators from 40 European countries to showcase their work and exchange ideas about the effective use of technology to enhance 21st century teaching and learning. With this honor, Nagavci and Pruthi have earned the opportunity to join colleagues from around the world in the Global PiL Forum to be held this November in Athens, Greece.

    The pair qualified for the European Forum by placing first in a national competition organized by USAID’s Basic Education Program (BEP), a project managed by FHI 360, Microsoft Partners in Learning and Kosovo’s Ministry of Education, Science and Technology. The competition is part of BEP’s efforts to encourage educators to integrate technology in to teaching and learning practices. According to Arsim Ilazi, BEP Education Technology Coordinator, a number of information sessions were held across Kosovo encouraging teachers to participate.

    “One of BEP’s primary goals is to deliver quality professional development across a number of strategic content areas,” Ilazi said. “Effective use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for teaching and learning is embedded across each of our accredited professional development courses, even the English language course. Kosovo teachers were eager to participate in this competition and appreciated the opportunity presented by Microsoft to demonstrate their knowledge and ideas in a broader forum.”

    Nagavci and Pruthi’s project, “Fractions Everywhere,” enlisted a range of engaging activities designed to provide a better understanding of a mathematical concept many students find challenging to master. Ilazi added that in developing their approach the teachers noticed measurable improvement in their students’ mathematical knowledge and skills. “Besides that, they also found that mathematics can be fun!”

    Kosovo Ministry of Education Science and Technology official Argjend Osmani addresses participants at the BEP-Microsoft Innovative Educator Forum in Kosovo.

    “Dr. Keith Prenton, BEP Chief of Party added, “Developing teacher capacity in the effective use of technology is one of the key areas identified by USAID and the Government of Kosovo to strengthen education reform efforts in Kosovo. BEP’s Professional Development activities, together with its components focused on School Management and Assessment will provide Kosovo with many of the critical elements needed to build a 21st century education system.” Prenton is no stranger to modernizing education systems in the Balkan region. Prior to assuming the lead at BEP, he managed a similar large-scale transformation effort for FHI 360 in Macedonia, Kosovo’s southern neighbor. In fact, after a similar success at last year’s PiL European Forum, a team of Macedonian teachers qualified for the PiL Global Forum held in Washington, DC last November and placed second in the “Educator’s Choice” category. “We invited the Macedonian team to the national competition here in Kosovo this year. Their success on the European and global stage served as a great source of inspiration for the teachers here in Kosovo.”

  • Last year 2,614 people contacted FHI 360’s National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities with urgent questions. What’s an IEP? What does it mean when a teacher says my child has AD/HD? Where can I find other parents of deaf children?

    And those were only the calls and emails. Thousands of others came to the center’s website and scoured its online database.

    The center, which goes by the acronym NICHCY (pronounced NEE-chee), now has a new way to get information to parents, teachers, and others whose lives are touched by children with disabilities: a smartphone app. With the touch of a finger on an iPhone or a Droid, users can now literally tap into NICHCY’s extensive database of hundreds state organizations and local parent centers.

    “Some of the information requests are our job to answer. But a lot are really for other organizations,” explains Elaine Mulligan, NICHCY’s project director. “We’re referring parents out to local centers all the time. DisAbility Connect means they can now refer themselves.”

    Amar Trivedi developed DisAbility Connect. He says NICHCY’s database translates perfectly into a mobile app because users need site-specific information and can be immediately connected to the organization’s email address, phone number, and website. And the best part, Trivedi says, is that when NICHCY updates its information online, the app will also automatically update — meaning that no parent rushing to an IEP meeting will be left with too little information too late.

    For more information about NICHCY, visit their website here.