Ways to use mobile communication for public service


In a recent blog post , we had discussed the many possible scenarios to use SMS or voice messages to reach out to consumers and achieve customer retention, as well as to aid in the bill collection cycle. There are other applications for mobile communication over SMS or voice, such as in public service, humanitarian rescue missions, as well as political campaigns. We will recount a few use cases that caught our attention.

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Birth registration

Tanzania, the second biggest economy in East Africa, having a population of 50 million, has approximately 40 million subscribers, attaining a mobile cellular subscription penetration rate of 78% in 2017.

In contrast, birth registration is surprisingly low in the country, it is estimated that around 80% of Tanzanians do not have birth certificates, being one of the lowest rates of birth registration in Africa. One of the reasons is that travel expenses to the centralized registrar office are too high.

In October 2015, the Tanzanian government launched a pilot project to encourage parents to register births by mobile phone for access to better health and education services. The system enables a local healthcare officer to send the baby’s name, sex, date of birth and family details by SMS to a central database of the registrar office, and a birth certificate is issued free of charge in a matter of days. This is an effective way of increasing birth rate registration in the country.

Disaster response

In an area stricken by a disaster such as earthquakes, SMS is probably the most effective communication channel to reach the people for life-saving missions. Telecommunication infrastructure would possibly be severely affected post-disaster; landline facility would probably be destroyed and cut off; voice or data over mobile might not work as effectively due to the low signal strength affected by drastically changing landscape amid the rubble of collapsed buildings. SMS requiring a low bandwidth to operate might still be able to serve the purpose. Although unable to provide accurate location-based information, survivors who are trapped might use SMS to alert the rescue team of their existence and call for help.

In January 2010 an earthquake of magnitude 7.0 struck Haiti. As a novel initiative and volunteer-driven project, Mission 4636 was established. A coalition of telecommunication service providers set up a shortcode “4636” to allow anyone in the country to text in their location and most urgent needs. Voluntary translation service then translated these SMS from Haitian Creole to English to facilitate rescue missions and disaster relief.

Election campaign

In his 2008 presidential campaign, former president of USA Barack Obama created a historical moment for SMS technology in his infamous text broadcast to 3 million voters. It was viewed as a move to target the younger generation voters less influenced by traditional campaign formats. The message read “Barack has chosen Senator Joe Biden to be our VP nominee. Watch the first Obama-Biden rally live at 3 pm ET on www.BarackObama.com. Spread the word!”

His 2012 re-election campaign was the first presidential campaign in history to accept donations by SMS. Supporters could donate up to US$50 by sending “GIVE” to 62262 and the money will be charged to the subscriber’s bill.

Another way to add warmth and a personal touch to any political campaign is to use voice instead of text. Emotions are conveyed better in voice by variations in intonation, emphasis, and the speaker’s unique voice to appeal to potential voters. Pre-recorded voice messages can be broadcasted to voters in the same way SMS broadcast is sent.

Ai Sin Chan

Marketing Manager

Joined April 2018. Trained and grew with telco engineers in 16 countries spanned over 4 continents, and written more than 10 manuals in the process. Spent a decade specializing in mobile technology. Crafts her creation with passion.

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