Today was the third day of our Directors’ visit to the UNICEF Uganda innovation lab.  Because it is a slightly more … meeting-oriented… day, I unfortunately have no photos of thousands of amazing kids, or of latrines, or yeast to share  [ed note: there are some at the very end of this post].  The discussion, though, was incredible.

James Powell started off showing us U-Report, a system for connecting young Ugandans (currently >180,000) to the government, and to change-makers, through SMS.  The newspaper he is holding is yesterday’s.  It shows polls, from young people – and, most importantly,  responses from members of parliament directly to their constituents. Its numbers are growing, and it will continue to be a very important tool for engagement and advocacy, because, as James said: “no one can ignore a million people.”


That’s really cool, because U-Report creates realtime action loops – policies can change quickly, legislative bodies can hear from their constituents, and input is linked to action.  Aleem Walji of the World Bank said that it “uses technology to open a loop, and social engagement to close it.”IMG_1016

The other interesting thing about U-Report is that it has (currently) five times (five times!) the distribution of the largest newspaper.  And growing.  James said “when we tell people ‘pick up the newspaper tomorrow and you’ll see responses in it’ they often text back ‘we don’t get newspapers here.'”  This is why U-Report responses are distributed through many channels including radio and television.IMG_1019

We saw another technology that offers a new way to plan projects and improve service delivery.  mTrac – being used by the President’s Health Monitoring Unit (which has their own detective corps to investigate and bring to justice those who would pilfer from or defraud the health system) – lets citizens report problems with health service delivery.   This is clearly something that would benefit health centres across the world.


Over lunch, we were given a tour of RapidFTR. Here, Lex Paulson registers Aleem (who is playing the role of a child separated from his family by an emergency.)  RapidFTR allows for fast collection of information that otherwise would be written down on paper and handled manually.  This system has already made the family tracing process in Uganda happen in minutes rather than weeks. IMG_1026

It’s been an incredible few days in Uganda.  I was privileged to meet new friends, and think through some really difficult problems

Since no one needs photos of meetings, here are a few outtakes from yesterday.

First, mixing the EMO.


Children look on at the latrine-cleaning project


and boy do those EMO’s work….


We all look forward to visiting Uganda again soon, and please look here for blogs from the next few days of the #uinnovate trip as we go to Burundi, where the UNICEF Innovation Lab Bujumbura is just getting starte.


Christopher Fabian

6, March, 2013

Kampala, Uganda