Africa is enormous, beautiful, full of people, and tragically stricken with endemic public health, economic, and educational issues, as a result of widespread poverty and political strife. International aid organizations continue to try to address these problems with various programs, but often find their efforts hindered by the continent’s uneven telecommunications and transport infrastructure.
Towards this end, the UNICEF Innovations Unit is spearheading the RapidSMS project, an Open Source platform for SMS application development. UNICEF, the Millenium Villages Project, and others have successfully used RapidSMS to augment malnutrition prevention programs in Malawi and Kenya, document the status of refugees in Somalia, promote women’s literacy in Senegal, distribute malaria resistant bednets in Nigeria, and more. We will present the lessons on using ICT for international development learned through these deployments, and discuss how SMS can be used to make government and quasi-governmental efforts, like international development, more efficient and accountable.
Merrick Schaefer is a Technical Project Coordinator in UNICEF’s Innovation Team based out of the UN’s New York Headquarters. He both develops strategies for innovative uses of technology in UNICEF’s work and coordinates the UI design, software development and field implementations of technical projects. His projects cover a wide spectrum of UNICEF’s work, ranging from developing Speak Africa, a social network connecting youth in eight African nations to discuss their most pressing issues on the web and with SMS, to using SMS to gather real-time data tracking food distribution during a famine in Ethiopia.
Merrick started working as a web developer in 1995, having a front row seat to the explosive growth of the World Wide Web. He has worked on enterprise level systems while consulting at Accenture, as well as creating websites for small businesses and non-profits while running a web development consultancy. He graduated from the University of Chicago where he earned a B.A. in Medical Ethics, when not hacking on web projects. Merrick is also an avid rock climber of 17 years, and often can be found dangling off cliffs in far flung corners of the world.
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