By Nicole Emmett, graduate student, George Washington University
Imagine you’re a citizen in a country where over half of the population is under the age of 18 and few are over the age of 55. You enter the job market along with 400,000 other qualified youths, only to learn that you’re all competing for a meager 9,000 jobs. The prospects don’t look good. You’re frustrated. There are so many other problems your family and community are facing. A job and an income would help tremendously. You just want to be heard but you can’t find a voice. If only there was a way to be a part of the conversation with your local community, its leaders, and perhaps even Members of Parliament…
The country you were just imagining is real. Uganda has the world’s youngest population with the highest rate of youth unemployment at 62% in 2012. And that’s not the only problem the country is facing. Ugandans also worry about disease, adequate food supply, clean drinking water, health, and education among many, many other issues. But how can aid agencies or the government determine which of these many issues are important to the people they serve? Are the issues determined by demographics such as location, age, or gender? That’s where uReport comes in.
uReport is an SMS-based system that allows Ugandans (specifically youth) to speak out about what’s happening in their community. By texting the word JOIN to 8500 and providing additional information such as home district, age, and gender, any Ugandan can become a uReporter! UNICEF Uganda created the platform using the free, open-sourced software RapidSMS which allows the aid agency to quickly and easily push out information and polling questions to uReporters via SMS.
In the first year, 89,000 Ugandans became uReporters. Today there are more than 200,000! uReporters receive weekly SMS messages with information on topics such as female genital mutilation, disease awareness, safe water, early marriage, education, and health. In return, uReporters respond to survey questions with a simple yes or no, and have the option to provide more details via text. uReporters provide invaluable information to UNICEF, who then can share the information with other aid agencies and the Ugandan government, improving service delivery across the country.
UNICEF and other agencies have also begun to use uReport as an extension of their monitoring and evaluation system. uReport is a simple, inexpensive, and effective way to get real-time feedback on projects in the field and to ensure that aid programs are being targeted correctly. And because users provide demographic information at the time of registration, UNICEF can dissect the data and decide where to concentrate their resources and programs. This is so important at a time where every aid agency is working with limited resources and must get the most bang for their buck.
uReport has proven so successful in its first two years that even the Ugandan Parliament has joined in! Oleru Hude Abason, a Member of Parliament from the Yumbe district, was one of the first MPs to join uReport as a way to keep in touch with her constituents needs. Parliament has even created their own version of uReport – U Speak – to conduct constituent outreach. While it may have not been the original intent of the application, uReporters are now able to interact with government officials and hold them accountable like never before.
The success of uReport has been astounding. It’s innovation for information, improved service delivery, and real-time policy creation and has the potential to do so much more. It is Uganda’s next killer app!