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Teaming up with Kiva to Empower the Poor

November 19, 2012

Community Knowledge Worker

We're proud to announce that Kiva lenders can now support our high-impact Community Knowledge Worker (CKW) program!

Through our AppLab initiative, we've spent more than a decade successfully exploring ways to use mobile phones to improve people's lives through information sharing about such areas as healthcare, business opportunities, finances and agriculture. In Uganda, where we're focusing on agriculture, we do this through a network of "farmer leaders" nominated by their local communities to become Community Knowledge Workers.

Cloudy, Clear and a Chance of Thunderstorms

June 20, 2012

Chris Smith and Gillian Evans are a husband-and-wife team volunteering in Uganda with Grameen Foundation through our Bankers without Borders® volunteer initiative. As Strategy Manager, Chris is responsible for business planning and Grameen Foundation’s relationship with MTN Uganda.  Gillian is an Education Specialist, responsible for developing and applying training best practices in the field and helping build the training center of excellence in Uganda.  Chris and Gillian live in Kampala with their two children and will complete their one-year volunteer term on July 31.  You can read about their experience as a family living and working for Grameen Foundation in Uganda on their blog at www.smithsinuganda.com.

It doesn't matter where you live – people love to talk about the weather.  You may think that citizens of a country like Uganda, which comfortably straddles the equator and where people are generally unfamiliar with terms like “zero visibility” and “whiteout conditions,” would not be fussed whether it is 25 or 28 degrees Celsius on any given day of the year.  However, as we've found out, there is an unmet need for accurate and advanced forecasting of daily and seasonal weather, and extreme weather alerts.

It's taken me the better part of 10 months to figure out that when you wake up, look out the window and see sunny, crystal-clear blue skies that this is a sure sign it will rain the rest of the day.  If it starts off raining then it's most likely going to be a beautiful day.  I used to leave the house in the morning and ask Omara (our gardener, and a highly accurate weather forecaster) what the weather would be like.  He would scan the clear blue horizon, think for a moment and forecast rain. And he was almost always right.  No amount of searching the skies or wind direction would give me any indicator other than the obvious lack of clouds.

Every day, the independent newspaper, the Daily Monitor, runs a four-day weather forecast feature on page 2.  In an attempt to understand the secret to Omara's uncanny forecasting ability, I used to try to match the Monitor's forecast to what would actually happen on a given day.  There is no correlation – I might as well have been using a Magic 8 Ball.  I now believe that the Monitor editor knows this and attempts to cover all weather eventualities by having no (or at least an indecipherable) relationship between the weather graphic and the text description of the weather that day.  Here's a pretty typical example:

[caption id="attachment_2172" align="aligncenter" width="300"]The Daily Monitor, a newspaper in Kampala, has an interesting -- and inconsistent -- way of showing its predictions of  the Ugandan weather. The Daily Monitor, a newspaper in Kampala, has an interesting -- and inconsistent -- way of showing its predictions of the Ugandan weather.[/caption]

Why does "Today" have a thunderstorm graphic and a text description of “Day partly cloudy and night clear,” yet Friday is the only graphic that looks like cloudy and no rain, yet says "Thunderstorms in the day, clear at night" – but then that exact same text description is used with the thunderstorm graphic for Saturday?  Aaaaaaaaaaaaaah ... I don't understand!

Power for CKWs in Uganda

April 03, 2012

Chris Smith and Gillian Evans are a husband and wife team volunteering in Uganda with Grameen Foundation through our Bankers without Borders® volunteer initiative. As Strategy Manager, Chris is responsible for business planning and Grameen Foundation’s relationship with MTN Uganda.  Gillian is an Education Specialist, responsible for developing and applying training best practices in the field and helping build the training center of excellence in Uganda.  Chris and Gillian live in Kampala with their two children and will complete their one-year volunteer term on July 31.  You can read about their experience as a family living and working for Grameen Foundation in Uganda on their blog at www.smithsinuganda.com.

As part of its Mobile Agriculture initiative, which leverages the power of the mobile phone to help fight “information poverty” among poor, rural farmers, Grameen Foundation has deployed more than 800 Community Knowledge Workers (CKWs) across Uganda in 20 districts, serving almost 62,000 farmers. Our CKWs use simple Huawei IDEOS smart phones that cost about $80 and run the Android software platform. This is a cost-effective and easy-to-use solution to get agriculture tips, market prices, weather forecasts and lots of other information to poor farmers deep in rural villages.

A problem we encountered early in the development and deployment of the program was the lack of reliable electricity in those rural villages to charge the smartphones. When we launched the CKW program two years ago, we gave car batteries to the CKWs as a means of charging their phones – but this worked out about as well as you might imagine. We then found a partner in a San Francisco based startup called Fenix, which was designing and building solar-charging solutions for use by the rural poor. We've developed an excellent relationship with the Fenix team over the last year, and we are deploying the Fenix ReadySet solar-charging solution to all of our CKWs.

[caption id="attachment_2064" align="aligncenter" width="247"] The Fenix ReadySet allows our CKWs to charge their phones using a solar panel.[/caption]

The ReadySet is very easy to use and provides an additional income stream to the CKW, on top of enabling them to do their job delivering information to farmers and conducting surveys. With the ReadySet, the CKW can now build a side business by charging their neighbors and friends a small amount of money to recharge their phones, to run a haircutting service with electric hair clippers or enable a multitude of other micro-business opportunities that need reliable electricity. It also helps the CKWs personally, because now they can run a light bulb in their house, to enable their kids to read and do homework after the sun sets, to ensure greater security, and to reduce the use of kerosene and other fuels they typically burn for light.

Watch this video to see CKW Annette talk about how she is using the ReadySet to help her deliver information to farmers, recharge her neighbors’ mobile phones, and create a better and more secure home life for her family.

A Farmer Milks His Smartphone to Help His Cow

August 23, 2011

Dani Limos is a Marketing and Communications Intern at Grameen Foundation's Seattle office.

The dairy cow needed more calcium.

When Gonzaga Kawuma’s cow collapsed and could not stand up, Gonzaga was away from his farm. His wife called him on his smartphone with the disheartening news. Without seeing the cow in person, without conducting expensive tests, without being an expert in agriculture, Gonzaga was able to conclude that the cow needed more calcium.

AppLab’s Initial Social-Impact Measurement Efforts Pay Off

February 08, 2011

Eric Cantor has led Grameen Foundation’s AppLab efforts in Uganda for the past three years, and continues to serve as an advisor on the project.

Grameen Foundation takes outcome measurement seriously.  We want to make sure that our programs and services are effective, and that we can demonstrate their benefits before implementing programs or practices on a wider scale or urging others to replicate them.

With this in mind, we recently completed one of the first randomized control trials designed to assess the impact of a mobile phone-driven health service aimed at improving the lives of the poor.  The service we sought to measure was Health Tips, part of the Google SMS suite launched throughout Uganda in 2009 with our partners Google and MTN Uganda.  Our social impact partner Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) performed the study.

Preliminary findings from the study are substantial, supporting some of our initial hypotheses and refuting others, and informing our approach to building pro-poor, mobile phone-driven solutions going forward. In short, findings indicated that when people learn of such services, they use them. People also seem to learn from this particular text-message query-based product.  But we also found that, because of the limitations of human motivation and barriers like language and literacy, we have a lot more work to do.

The Health Tips study was conducted in Uganda over an 18-month period. Before the launch of Google SMS in June 2009, IPA conducted a baseline survey of 1,800 people in 60 rural communities, assessing demographic profiles, attitudes, and knowledge and behavior regarding sexual and reproductive health, and collecting data from local clinics.  When we launched the service, we initiated a marketing campaign that randomly targeted half of those communities (the “treatment” areas) and did not reach the other half (the “control” areas).

[caption id="attachment_1471" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Our studies have shown the value of "trusted intermediaries" -- such as the Mobile Midwife counselor in the photo above -- as a way to make mobile phone-based communications to the poor more effective. "]A Mobile Midwife counselor talks with a client[/caption]

Through randomization, IPA chose two sets of communities that were uniform in every relevant respect – except that one was exposed to the product through targeted marketing campaigns, while the other was not.  Nine months later, they began a follow-up survey of 2,400 people to detect changes.  They looked at data from surrounding clinics, conducted qualitative interviews and assessed the information provided to the communities. Because the targeted marketing in treatment villages was effective – we saw more than four times as much usage in the treatment areas as in the control – we were able to assess the effect of the service on attitudes, knowledge and behavior relating to sexual and reproductive health.

Lessons Learned from AppLab’s First Three Years in Uganda

January 21, 2011

Eric Cantor has led Grameen Foundation’s AppLab efforts in Uganda for the past three years, and continues to serve as an advisor on the project.

More than three years ago, I landed in Uganda to establish Grameen Foundation’s “Application Laboratory” – a program conceived to explore the potential of mobile phones to improve the lives of the poor.  In our quest to test, develop and expand mobile services that are useful for the most often-ignored people on the planet, our team spent (and spends) extensive time talking to our users, in the places they work and live, to hear about the good and the bad of the methods we are testing to empower them.

We sit under the mango tree at the rural health clinic, hearing about how people learn to avoid and treat common and devastating diseases like malaria and HIV.  We walk the banana plantations of farmers in the West, trying to gauge how they can best control banana wilt, using locally available resources and techniques.  We observe the effects of the rapidly growing “mobile money” phenomenon – essentially digital currency delivered through a mobile phone network – and assess how it can improve the lives of villagers.  We see how people interact with the Internet and other unfamiliar services available through the few laptops and smartphones in a community.  And we listen to farming groups, led by Community Knowledge Workers (CKWs), as they plan and prepare to bulk their crops for sale to the highest-paying buyers.  As white winter washes over the US, and the rains wind down and planting season approaches in Uganda, we share some lessons learned through this work in the hopes that our growing body of work, as well as that of other practitioners in this field, will benefit.

In AppLab’s early work, we tested a number of information services, leading up to our launch, with MTN (one of the primary mobile phone services providers in east Africa) and Google, of Google SMS Tips, the product that won the award for “Best use of Mobile for Social and Economic Development” at the 2010 GSM Mobile World Congress.  It was rewarding to sit on a farm and hear how making organic pesticides using local chemicals or even waste products found on the farm helped save a farmer money, and increase her yields and incomes.

[caption id="attachment_1451" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Community Knowledge Workers act as valuable local intermediaries, bridging the "last kilometer" to bring essential information to other rural farmers in Uganda. Here, a CKW uses her high-end mobile phone to check for information on banana wilt."]Community Knowledge Workers act as valuable local intermediaries, bridging the "last kilometer" to bring essential information to other rural farmers in Uganda. Here, a CKW uses her high-end mobile phone to check for information on banana wilt.[/caption]

But what became quickly apparent was that information alone is not a complete solution.  A reference pointer or a tip about maternal health techniques may be useful to an expectant mother, but creating deep, impactful behavior change – what information-driven development initiatives seek – requires a context in which that information has a value. People certainly have a hunger for knowledge and a willingness to embrace the mobile phone to search for answers, as shown by all the questions they asked from the beginning about family planning, and HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, which affect them directly and for which few reliable, anonymous sources are available.  But we require several things to make this information actionable and impactful: specific information, a context in which to make it useful, and relevant services and resources.

A Day in the Life of a Community Knowledge Worker (CKW): Part 2

October 23, 2010

This is part two of of a two part blog series. If you haven't yet, we recommend you read Part One of his blog post series. In part 2, Jason Hahn describes his day with Esther, a kind-hearted Community Knowledge Worker (CKW), as she asks farmers to register for the CKW program, where they will be able to use smartphones to access CKW Search to access information about the current market prices for crops as well as ask questions about best farming practices.

A Day in the Life of a Community Knowledge Worker (CKW): Part 1

October 21, 2010

Jason Hahn describes his initial impressions of Uganda upon his return to the United States. Jason is the Information and Communication Technology Innovation (ICTI) Development Manager at Grameen Foundation. The ICTI team develops, tests and advances mobile phone products and services in Uganda, Indonesia, and Ghana to improve health care, farming, banking, and more. This is the first part of a two-part blog series on "A Day in the Life of a Community Knowledge Worker”

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