Home Report: ‘Mobile Activism’ on the Rise

Report: ‘Mobile Activism’ on the Rise

Wireless Technology for Social Change: Trends in NGO Mobile Use, a report released today by the United Nations Foundation and the Vodafone Group Foundation, uses 11 case studies to detail how relief, advocacy, and development organizations are utilizing mobile technology to accomplish goals in areas where “wired” infrastructure is sparse. The case studies examine mobile technology use by organizations working toward UN Millennium Development Goals, and reveal that mobile tech is changing the way non-governmental organization (NGOs) approach their work.

The survey, which was conducted between December 10, 2007 and January 13, 2008 and included responses from 560 NGO workers, found that a whopping 86% of NGO employees use mobile technology in their work. 99% of those characterized the contribution made by the use of mobile tech as a positive one. A quarter of those surveyed said mobile technology was “revolutionizing” how they did their work and almost a third said that it would be difficult to accomplish their goals without it.

Mobile technology is most likely to be used in Asia or Africa, where wired infrastructure is less common. Indeed, seven of the eleven case studies included with the report detailed mobile use among organizations working in African nations.

“Well over 3.5 billion mobile phones are in use around the world and organizations are harnessing this technology to help overcome humanitarian challenges,” said Timothy E. Wirth, President of the United Nations Foundation in a press release. “Modern telecommunications, and the creative use of it, has the power to change lives and help the UN solve some of the world’s biggest challenges. It can connect families separated by disaster, help emergency relief workers respond more quickly, empower health workers with data to help combat disease and epidemics, track the impacts of climate change, and even help in the resolution of civil conflicts.”

By far the most common use of technology is voice, followed by text messages. But more sophisticated uses such as photo and video messaging, mapping, data collection and analysis, and inventory management are on the rise. NGOs said that the use of mobile devices has allowed them to save time, transmit data more quickly and accurately, more quickly mobilize individuals, gather data, and reach audiences that were previously unreachable.

The case studies cover the areas of public health (such as connecting health workers to one another in Uganda), humanitarian assistance (such as alerting Iraqi refugees to food aid drop offs in Syria), and environmental conservation (such as using text messages to raise awareness about deforestation in Argentina). The entire report is available for download in PDF format from the UN Foundation web site.

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