3 Best Practices for Social Change via Mobiles in Developing Countries

Posted by Arjen Swank from Text to Change, guest speaker for TC105: Mobiles for International Development

Since 2008, Text to Change (TTC) has been working to provide and collect real-time and accurate information using mobile devices in relevant and meaningful ways to people in developing countries all over the world. As the mobile phone has reached even the most remote places across the world, we have seen how mobiles can empower citizens of developing nations.

Through our experience in partnering with development bodies, NGOs, private companies, governments and other global organizations, there are several key lessons we’ve learned in using mobile phone technology to achieve social change and work to limit continuous dependence on foreign aid.

Here are some of the key insights TTC has learned for best practices for Mobiles for International Development:

1. Keep it simple

One of our Text to Change’s guiding principles is to maintain simplicity in the services we develop and the technologies we use. Our campaigns can reach everyone who has access to a mobile phone, approximately 80% of the developing world. We provide profiled databases, call centers with research capability, and text message platforms that are interactive, easy to use, scalable, and cost-effective – all supported with measurable results.

2. SMS campaigns can reach more people

When TTC worked with the Tanzanian Ministry of Health, they wanted to provide pregnant women, even in the most isolated areas, with important information regarding their health. The goal was to empower them to take the necessary steps for a healthy pregnancy and safe delivery. However, they weren’t able to reach them. TTC launched a large-scale nationwide mHealth SMS campaign targeting these women. Within three months we had 100,000 unique participants. Now the total amount of participants is almost half a million and as we speak there are 260.000 unique participants.

TTC programs create opportunities for people to improve their lives and have reached millions of people across 17 countries in Africa and South America. We help organizations to connect with their, often hard to reach, target groups and create meaningful dialogues.

3. Personalized interaction matters

Because this maternal health campaign was interactive, we were able to determine in what phase of their pregnancy these women were. This way, we could provide them with the right personalized message at the right time. For instance mothers are reminded that they need to visit the clinic for their third ANC visit, when and what medicine to take, or receive information on hygiene and nutrition in a specific week after the delivery. The information can be updated based on inputs from the users or clinic staff, but users can also opt-out or re-opt-in when they (no longer) want to receive the messages.

Want to learn more about Text to Change and how they’ve implemented SMS programs successfully throughout developing countries? Enroll now in mHealth: Mobiles for Public Health and the next round of Mobiles for International Development an online course that will discuss how mobile phones are being used to improve the health of new mothers, share farming best practices, and teach within and outside the classroom across the world.



  • This sounds like great work, thanks for sharing it.

    1. “Now the total amount of participants is almost half a million and as we speak there are 260.000 unique participants.” What is the difference between “total amount of participants” and the number of “unique participants”?

    2. Tanzania has a relatively high literacy rate, but other countries in Africa have much lower (e.g. Ethiopia, where less than 30% of women can read). Do you use audio messaging in order to reach illiterate populations?

    3. What was the total cost of this implementation, including software, hardware, communications, and consulting/salary/personnel? This will be very useful in determining the scalability of this work to other countries or regions.


    • Janita (in Tanzania)


      1. Allow me to offer some insights. Text to Change receives less than half a million hits on its platform (the ‘key word’ that is sent to the platform) and translates today to over 330,000 ‘active’ registrants for the Healthy Pregnancy, Healthy Baby Service in Tanzania. I think that’s what is meant by ‘unique’.

      2. The content is currently offered by SMS, however we are looking into adding additional channels with the current partners.

      3. The implementation was not solely done by just the mHealth Tanzania Partnership and Text to Change, but a consortium of partners. Please see the explanation on http://goo.gl/BqsQG3.

      I hope this helps.

      • HI Janita,

        I am not sure I understand the clarification regarding “active participants,” but I am glad to hear you are looking into other channels.

        Regarding the cost of the implementation, the link you gave does not provide any cost information at all.

        So, again: can you provide information about the total cost of the implementation, including software, hardware, communications, and — especially — consulting/salary/personnel?



  • Fred Armand Vamy

    1- How does TTC differ from massive bulk sms campaign?
    2- TTC is said to be interactive, who pay communication fee (sending of sms) when someone from the targeted audience send back sms to the plafform for any enquiry or follow up?


  • Beth Levy

    Would you be interested in an interactive Basic English Reading Program for mobile?