Featured image: water filling a metal pot, taken March 26, 2009

This article was written as part of the course “Mobiles for International Development” offered through George Washington University, taught by TechChange’s CEO and founder Nick Martin.

Over 650 million people in the world do not have access to safe water. In many cities in India, the water supply is intermittent and water utility customers only receive main-line water supply once every 2-10 days for roughly 2 hours at a time. In many cases, the customers have no advance notice prior to the valve being shut off. For some, this could be a minor annoyance but for many, this interruption can prove life threatening. NextDrop, a mobile application that works through text messaging, seeks to address these critical gaps in water provision by using locally sourced data to improve water supply networks and access to information.

How Does NextDrop Work?
After paying a fee of between 5 to 10 rupees, the resident of a locality registers for the service by calling NextDrop. NextDrop will log the caller’s location and identify his or her closest water valve. When an engineer next examines the valve, he can send an interactive voice response (IVR) message to NextDrop. The message is then forwarded to both the local residents and to the water utility, allowing residents real real-time updates regarding when they will be receiving water and for how long. The valve-man can also record where there may be a water supply cancelation on a particular day so that residents can prepare accordingly.

Although NextDrop had its fair share of challenges, such as working with existing private contractors and the government providers, and training poorly paid and undereducated valvemen, the product has been endorsed by the Gates Foundation, the Clinton Global Initiative, and Google. First launched in Bangalore, NextDrop now has about 70,000 users across India, with the majority in Hubli, Dharwad, Mysore and Bangalore, all of which now boast nearly 90% coverage.

The Implications of NextDrop on Development Efforts
NextDrop has significant implications for the development field. In a country that is still plagued by corruption, NextDrop signifies a move toward crowd-sourced service delivery, eliminating the typical asymmetric information that often defines utilities in India. With NextDrop, residents don’t have to rely solely on the word of utility employees who may or may not have the community’s best interests in mind. Residents are involved from the ground up, empowering and enabling them to force transparency in service delivery.

One limitation to these mobile-based services is access to cell phones for the poorest citizens in a community. While programs like NextDrop base their services on their consumers having cell phones, this does not necessarily alienate citizens without phones. In future applications of mobile-based programs, organizations can partner with mobile phone providers to try and source used phones from wealthier citizens, creating an integrated community of providers and beneficiaries, potentially fostering a spirit of inclusion.

As part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) passed during the U.N. General Assembly in 2015, Goal 6 specifically addresses the need to ensure clean water and adequate sanitation for everyone, everywhere. As individuals and organizations alike work to address this goal, innovations such as NextDrop will get us one step closer to equitable access to this life-sustaining resource.

Featured image credit: Wonderlane Creative Commons License 


About Sreya


Sreya Panuganti has an MA in International Politics and Human Rights from City University London. She is currently pursuing her MA in International Development Studies at the George Washington University where she concentrates on water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). Ms. Panuganti has a background in a variety of capacities in both the private and public sectors, leveraging skills in research, analysis and cross-cultural communication – most recently, with the U.S. Department of State and the NGO WaterAid. She continues to pursue opportunities that allow her to further her understanding of the development field.

Technology has been known to facilitate anonymous harassment online, but in India a non-profit organization is using mobile apps to fight harassment on the streets. I came across Safecity in my Mobile Phones for International Development course, and since I plan to return to India and pursue my career in promoting gender equality, the case study of Safecity reducing gender-based violence (GBV) caught my attention.

How Safecity Works
Safecity is a non-profit organization in India that offers a platform for individuals to anonymously share their stories of sexual violence or abuse. This crowdsourced self-reported data is then displayed on a map of India to show hot spots and patterns of violence in various parts of the country. Safecity collects this data through its website, social media platforms, and via email, text or phone to increases awareness of the various kinds of GBV, ranging from catcalling to groping to rape. It also allows Indian individuals, law enforcement agencies, neighborhoods, businesses, and the society at large to access this data and to use it to take precautions and devise solutions.

Safecity reports
Safecity reports

Why Safecity Works
As one of the founders of Safecity put it, the three main reasons that rape and other sexual harassments are underreported in India is because people are afraid to report it, the police manipulate the data, or because victims are deterred by the delayed justice system. This, along with the cultural stigma attached to talking about sexual harassments, makes anonymity for victims very important. Allowing for anonymous reporting, Safecity has collected over 4000 stories from over 50 cities in India and Nepal since it launched in December 2012.

How Safecity is Using Mobile Apps
Along with collecting and visualizing data, Safecity promotes a variety of phone applications to help sexual minorities feel safe in public spaces:

GeoSure (provides personalized travel safety content via mobile)
Nirbhaya: Be Fearless (emergency app that sends a distress call or emergency message to a specified contact or group)
SafeTrac (allows automatic monitoring and tracking of your journey)

Safecity also promotes services like Taxshe, a safe all-female driver service, and KravMaga Chennai, a self-defense teaching service.

Challenges and Looking Ahead
As with many ICT4D solutions, access to the technology remains an important barrier. Safecity and its advertised applications, products and services seem to only reach a very specific target audience (urban populations with access to modern technology), leaving behind illiterate populations from rural areas with no access to technology. With their missed dial facility, Safecity is hoping to reach out to women with limited access to technology by recording their reports of abuse and harassment over the phone and suggesting appropriate interventions.

I look forward to seeing how Safecity uses this form of community engagement and crowdsourced data to not just report, but reduce GBV in India. This course introduced me to a new and unique way to address the pervasive issue of GBV in India and I look forward to utilizing the tools and lessons learned in making India a gender equitable country one step at a time.

Interested in learning about other ways mobile tools are helping communities address different problems? Join us in our upcoming Mobiles for International Development online course that begins on May 11.

Author Bio

Nikita Setia Headshot

Nikita Setia is a M.A. candidate at the Elliott School of International Affairs in the International Affairs Program, concentrating in development. She previously earned her B.B.A in Economics, International Business, and Management at Northwood University in Midland, Michigan.

According to GSMA’s Digital Entrepreneurship in Kenya 2014 report, 99% of internet subscribers in Kenya access the internet through mobile devices. Kenya has been the leader in mobile banking, with apps like M-PESA, Zoona, and others. When taking TechChange’s Mobile Phones for Public Health online course with a group of 10 colleagues at PATH, I was curious to learn what mHealth looked like in Kenya and learn what lessons I can apply to my mHealth programs in Bihar, India. As part of my final project for the course, I asked Debjeet Sen, one of my colleagues at PATH based in Kisumu, Kenya, to share his views on the state of mHealth interventions in Kenya.

Like other developing countries, mHealth in Kenya primarily focuses on two core areas:

1. Data collection, where mobile devices replace and/or complement traditional paper-based tools;

2. Behaviour change, where mobile devices are used to disseminate key messages and good practices among communities.

And like any low-resource setting, there are inherent challenges in rolling out mHealth interventions, so it is important to be cognizant of them and develop appropriate counter-strategies.

mHealth training for CHWs in Kenya photo 1Community health workers (CHWs) during a mHealth training in Kenya

Here are a few challenges that Debjeet sees mHealth interventions face in Kenya:

  1. Multiple mHealth interventions have remained at the pilot stage

Many mHealth interventions in Kenya have not yet been integrated into larger health and information technology systems due to the absence of a clear scale-up strategy in the pilot project design and a lack of consensus on common software and hardware requirements. Different projects use different handsets with different operating systems for different mobile platforms. Aligning individual mHealth projects with regional and national management information systems (MIS) is necessary, but may not necessarily happen, as mHealth projects often function autonomously. Wherever possible, it is important to integrate mHealth data streams with existing MIS platforms in order to prevent duplication and mixing of data.

  1. Many mHealth projects rely on the use of smartphones

Smartphones can be expensive and beyond the purchasing power of Kenyan government institutions and individuals. Most people continue to rely on low-end phones, which are cheap and widely available.

  1. Scarcity of a reliable power source

Electricity supply in Kenya is unreliable and regular electricity is mostly available only in semi-urban and urban areas. Since graphics-enabled smartphones are highly power-intensive, any mHealth project that relies on smartphones may face challenges if users struggle to keep their phones regularly charged.

However, there are opportunities that can help tackle these mHealth challenges:

  1. Almost universal penetration of cell phones

Kenya has a very strong base for implementing mHealth projects, partly because Kenyans are familiar with the use of mobile phones for functions other than just making and receiving calls. Mobile banking app like M-PESA is used by tens of millions of Kenyans. In fact, many financial transactions in the social sector, such as paying for trainings and workshops, issuing stipends to community health workers (CHWs), and transferring conditional cash transfers are all done through M-PESA. In a way, this extensive use of M-PESA for the social sector is already (indirectly) helping improve mHealth outcomes.

  1. Incentivizing end-users such as CHWs to buy the phones

A common mistake of many mHealth projects is to provide the cell phones for the project as “giveaways.” In turn, this results in less accountability and a lack of ownership among the phone users. Asking CHWs to partially cover the cost of the phones or buy them is a good strategy to create ownership and accountability. This also has ramifications for scale-up and sustainability, as governments in low-resource countries may be unable to cover the entire cost of purchasing cell phones.

  1. Work is underway to develop a plan to coordinate mHealth activities in Kenya

There are plans to align multiple platforms, hardware, and software with a common national strategy and to ensure that data collected from these activities are facilitated to feed into national and regional MIS.

4. Simple smartphone apps.

The simpler smartphone apps have been demonstrated to assist frontline workers such as CHWs in data collection and as job aids to assist them in household visits and group and/or individual counselling.  In an environment that faces challenges in literacy rates as well as  financial and network connectivity, we cannot simply develop and run any iPhone or Android app. Sometimes, it is important to develop ways to access mHealth tools offline.

CHWs learning about mHealth in KenyaCommunity health workers explore Information for Action app during the field test

In particular, Debjeet discussed his work on the Information for Action app, an innovative app running on the Android platform designed by the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa. The app collects information from CHW home visits and immediately turns the collected information into actionable information in the form of a key message or suggested actions that can be shared by CHWs with caregivers. It is a dynamic app because it collects information and provides contextualized key messages and suggested actions on areas of children’s development, health, nutrition, and water and sanitation. The Information for Action app also stores records of individual home visits, which can be used by CHWs to plan for future home visits, as well as uploaded into a central data server/cloud, where supervisors can monitor for quality of home visits.

Currently, a field test of the app is being carried out in Kenya and South Africa to determine its operational feasibility and acceptability among CHWs, their supervisors, and community members receiving home visits from CHWs. Debjeet would be happy to share the app after the field tests are completed.

Debjeet asserted that the TechChange mHealth course has provided him with a structured overview of mHealth, which is a contrast to the way he has generally learned about mHealth through on-the-job experiences. The TechChange course has exposed him to interesting resources, people, and mHealth projects and he wishes to use the learnings from the course in his current projects at PATH

Why learning about mHealth in Kenya is useful for India

Since working in Bihar is quite similar to working in other countries of low resource settings like Kenya, it is helpful to learn about the challenges and strategies of different countries as we develop mHealth programs in Bihar. The PATH team in Bihar provides knowledge management support to a behavior change community mobilization project called Parivartan, which means “transformation”. The knowledge management team is in the process of conceptualizing a mobile based data collection and analysis system for village health sanitation nutrition committee (VHSNC). The committee members would develop effective social mobilization strategies to influence people to attend village health sanitation nutrition day (VHSND) at local primary health centers for health and nutrition related services. We have already started collecting a lot quality assurance sampling (LQAS) data through tablets and Kenya’s mHealth lessons definitely help as the fuel to work at per PATH’s technology and healthcare innovation in low and middle income group setting.

The knowledge on mHealth in Kenya which Debjeet has shared will help my team develop its own mHealth strategy in a low-resource setting such as Bihar, India.

If you are interested in learning more about the current state of mHealth, enroll in our upcoming mHealth course, TC309: Mobile Phones for Public Health today.

Alumni bios 

Debjeet Sen

Debjeet Sen is a Senior Associate with PATH. He has managed and supported a range of early childhood development (ECD), infant and young child nutrition, prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV, and maternal and child health projects — primarily in Kenya and Mozambique, but also in DRC, Ethiopia, India, Malawi, Namibia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Rwanda, and South Africa. His core skills include technical design and management of complex projects, monitoring and evaluation (M&E), behavior change communication (BCC), curriculum development, capacity building and training, organizational development, documentation, and technical research and writing. He is currently based in Kisumu, Kenya. You can connect with Debjeet on LinkedIn.

Pratyaya Mitra

Pratyaya Mitra is a communication professional with more than 12 years of experience in corporate and social sector. Currently working as communication and documentation officer in PATH Knowledge Management team in Bihar, India. Previously, worked with UNICEF as communication consultant for C4D, advocacy-partnership. Pratyaya worked in corporate communication and as copywriter with Ogilvy and Mather. He works with wide range of communication channels such as, written, audio visual, online, social media and mobile. He plays pivotal role in advocacy, PR and social and mHealth communication strategy to meet the project goal and business development. He did his masters in communication. You can connect with Pratyaya on Linkedin, Twitter, and Facebook.


If you’re interested in mapping in crisis zones, consider taking our course Tech Tools and Skills for Emergency Management that runs from September 3rd – September 28th. 

Cross-posted from Greg Maly’s blog, Multitracked. He is currently working on a mapping based research project run by the University of Denver in New Delhi, India.

This past May we published a blog piece outlining some of the basic lessons learned from TechWeek at Korbel. One of the main takeaways was that technology solutions, though a potentially powerful set of tools, are only 10% tech and 90% people power.

This includes not only putting people in the drivers seat for the use of these tools over time, but also at the onset of any project when considering the need, or gap, they are intended to fill. A few months later, these lessons have become ever more salient as my team from the University of Denver works on the design of a maternal and child health monitoring system for the community of Jasola – a high risk population that borders the Yamuna river in New Delhi, India, and consequently suffers from high child and maternal mortality rates.

Keeping the importance of local ownership in mind from the onset of our project, and working with our local counterparts in the region – a Gender Resource Center (GRC) staffed by women who both live and work in the community – we began by holding a series of focus group discussions with the primary stakeholders in the region: young mothers and pregnant women, doctors who run small health clinics, and community health workers. In each meeting a number of grievances arose, from a lack of resources and shortage of doctors relative to the size of the population in the region, to the difficulties of maintaining effective communication between doctors and patients. As an example of the effectiveness community driven conversations, through these focus group sessions we learned that knowing the location of pregnant mothers was one of the greatest obstacles to routine checkups. This we could work with relatively quickly.

A simple fix was the breakdown of the community into the separate Mohallas, or neighborhoods, which are already well known to community members, but haven’t made it into any form of visual representation. A few afternoons of community mapping using handheld Garmin GPS units and an OSM update quickly fixed the problem and moved the conversation forward a few steps, allowing new ideas to unfold – many of which came from the GRC staff themselves.

Like many health projects around the world, this one has a long way to go. The problems are greater than any solution of this scale can begin to truly address. However, small wins like these slowly begin to even the playing field as communities become empowered to address problems one a time, and with sustainable solutions that do not require a large number of additional resources. In this case, we’re happy to report that community members are on board, including some young mothers who have joined the conversation. Updated maps are being connected with a system that will aim to track mothers from conception through to birth. And though our DU team is set to return home in just two weeks time, I can already tell that the community members see the benefit of this project, and are ready to push it forward with or without us for the long haul. Who knows – there might even be a tablet involved. Stay tuned.



There has been much buzz recently in the social media community about a recent article published in The New Yorker magazine titled “Small Media” by Malcolm Gladwell. Gladwell questions whether, despite creating greater awareness and arguably greater access, social media has ultimately hijacked more traditional forms of public activism such as protests and gatherings? Gladwell’s point should not easily be dismissed, even if one is inclined to disagree with him, but rather considered critically. This question about the value of social media is one I have been struggling with myself. However, after attending a panel discussion this month featuring Rebecca Byerly, the only foreign journalist based in Indian controlled Kashmir, about extreme violence  this past summer – I gained some clarity and maybe those who sympathize with Gladwell can as well.


In a city “famous for its snarled traffic and infamous for its unruly drivers,” Facebook is aiding the authorities in New Delhi—”5,000 traffic officers in this city of 12 million people”—in keeping a digital eye on reckless road users. Citizen monitoring and the new Facebook page Delhi Traffic Police is holding drivers and cyclists accountable for their committed traffic violations. This digital venture partners Satyendra Garg—Joint Commissioner of Delhi Traffic Police—and his team with “Facebook to open a two-way channel for instant communication with road-users.”

The Delhi Traffic Police Facebook page was inspired by the need to more closely monitor traffic, in the onset of the Commonwealth Games of 2010, being held in Delhi from October 3rd – 14th. On Twitter, @dtptraffic recognized first and foremost that “management of Traffic in Delhi, during Commonwealth Games, will be a big challenge as well as a great opportunity.”