How The Future of Mobile Lies in the Developing World
UNICEF's Digital Drum - Time Magazine's 50 Best Inventions

Google Talk

The following talk as given by Chrisopher Fabian at Internet at Liberty 2012 in Washington, D.C. sponsored by Google.

Good morning.

UNICEF is the world’s leading organization advocating for, and ensuring the rights of children – particularly the most vulnerable. My name is Chris Fabian and I co-lead the innovation team at UNICEF, in NY.

UNICEF is fascinating because it works in over 130 countries, but has the ability to create and foster hyper-local solutions and take them to global scale. It has a history of this sort of innovation.

For example, we purchase more than 60% of the world’s vaccines. We deliver them to the world’s most difficult operating environments – places where there is no electricity, where traditional supply chains do not reach.

Last year UNICEF worked with big pharma to ensure open and transparent pricing, globally, for these vaccines. This kind of global innovation is what happens when you marry local expertise with worldwide presence.

Traditionally UNICEF moves commodities, technical knowledge and policy.

Here is my challenge to you, today. How can we become an authentic and trusted broker of realtime information from, and for, vulnerable communities and ensure that governments and partners hear and respond to the voices which are most in need?

U-Report is an open source system built off RapidSMS that UNICEF Uganda is using to hear from children and young people in remote areas.

Anyone can join, through a toll-free SMS gateway.

UNICEF sends poll questions to an audience of over 120,000 young people (a number which grows every day) and the young people respond.

Each respondent gets information sent back to them – making them part of a true information loop.

But that’s not the coolest part… because after that, the information is aggregated and shown in newspapers and on a dedicated television show, engaging government leaders in the debate.

Recently, young people in the UReport system said that a new government funding mechanism for incubating young entrepreneurs was unfair, because you needed a high-school degree to apply for funding. Lawmakers saw this dialog on UReport and within a few weeks had changed policy so that anyone could apply.

Access to information is not enough. We all, also, need access to opportunity.

These types of systems can work, as Sanaa said so eloquently at dinner last night: when they are built in thoughtful ways, with humility, serving the needs of the end user- of the young person – first, and serving information needs second.

But these types of engagements are not cheap – and, just like the internet that we all love, the technology is the smallest part – they are human systems, and voice is a human medium.

UReport is a tool in a portfolio that we believe can be scaled to other countries and contexts.

This type of information can help UNICEF and partners better focus work in times of shrinking resources.

Realtime data can give donors previously impossible vision to where their money is being spent, and create pathways for true development accountability

But most importantly, this type of engagement can let young people – even those who would otherwise not be counted or heard – put a stake down and lay a claim to their own–our own–future.

Thank you for your time.

How The Future of Mobile Lies in the Developing World
UNICEF's Digital Drum - Time Magazine's 50 Best Inventions