Mobile Technology Gives Voice to Rural Ukrainian NGOs
Ukrainian organizations are taking advantage of new technology to engage citizens in rural areas. With almost a third of the Ukrainian population living in rural locations, it can be difficult even for Ukrainian NGOs to support and represent those outside of urban and regional centers. Recently, Ukrainian NGOs in the city of Dnipropetrovsk have begun piloting projects using mobile phone technology to promote social change amongst a wider population.
The local organization Tamarisk launched such a project following training through the Internet Access and Training Program (IATP), administered by IREX and sponsored by USAID. IATP has trained local NGOs on mobile technology and the use of FrontlineSMS , open-source software developed specifically for the nongovernmental sector. FrontlineSMS allows users such as Tamarisk to disseminate information efficiently and cost-effectively to mobile-phone users via text message (SMS), to reach those who have mobile phones but no access to the internet.
Tamarisk serves as an informational and resource center for similar organizations in the region. It manages an online portal on citizens’ initiatives in Dnipropetrovsk, runs a media center for NGOs, and regularly organizes training sessions, roundtables, and other events for representatives of local NGOs and media outlets. FrontlineSMS serves as an invaluable resource for such organizations, allowing them to send important information to large numbers of people.
Having mastered the software, Tamarisk staff started using FrontlineSMS by compiling an SMS mailing list with mobile phone numbers of local NGO representatives and sending SMS notifications on events. Now able to inform dozens of people in a few minutes instead of spending half a day to contact them by phone, Tamarisk staff members have noticed a positive impact on the NGO’s ability to reach its target audiences using FrontlineSMS. At an April 2009 event hosted by Tamarisk, 60% of attendees heard about the event via SMS. Participants went on to express their gratitude to Tamarisk for using a convenient form of outreach, allowing them to get timely information and facilitating their participation in what was an important event for the local civil society community.
Tamarisk continues to add new contacts to their SMS mailing list and plans to divide it into several sub-lists for NGOs working in different fields. The NGO’s President Tatyana Barashkova commented, “We started working with IATP less than a year ago. Since that time, they have introduced us to a number of new and useful technologies. First, we participated in a series of training on Web 2.0 applications, and organized other NGOs to take this training at IATP. Now we learned about a new opportunity to increase the effectiveness of our work through mobile technology. We are sure that the positive impact of IATP activities on our local community will be noticeable for years after IATP is officially closed in Ukraine.”
Since 1995, IATP has brought free Internet access and training to over 160 cities in 11 countries in Eastern Europe and Eurasia. In addition to ensuring users access to the free flow of information, IATP’s hands-on training provides the public with the skills and resources to utilize information and communications technology (ICT) in meeting professional, educational and institutional goals. IATP is graduating its centers in Ukraine to Independent Internet Centers in May, ending over a decade of programming in the country.