An open response to The Global Conversation Question posed by Mashable and the UN Foundation at the Social Good Summit 2012: How can new technology and new media create solutions for the biggest problems facing my community?
New York, NY — If you had asked me even a few years back if the heartbeats of children in Malawi and Guatemala—recorded with a special stethoscope—would inspire a song with the potential to help save millions of lives, I wouldn’t have believed you. But that’s exactly what happened, and now those very heartbeats are powering our new Every Beat Matters campaign as part of our Every One global movement to save children’s lives.
Every Beat Matters is capitalizing on social media to spread the word about what it takes to end preventable child deaths. Through social networks like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, Save the Children is improving our ability to connect with a new generation of supporters.While social media may be new, our culture of leveraging technological innovations isn’t.
Take mobile phones. These now ubiquitous devices are transforming the way the development sector does business. In some of the world’s most remote and rural places, there may not be a hospital or even a doctor, but you can bet there are mobile phones. Frontline health workers are using them to track their communities’ health needs more efficiently, and revolutionizing the way care is delivered. Mobile phones enable them to seek advice from a supervisor, call for emergency transport and enter data, all from the palm of their hand.
When the Haiti earthquake hit in 2010, millions of dollars were raised through text-to-give and the world discovered a new—and remarkably simple—way to donate from a device that people carry around in their pockets. Today, in addition to texting, supporters can raise money for children in need by donating online, through their social networks and even by downloading a hit song on their smartphones.
When pregnant women and new mothers in rural Bangladesh need answers about how to best care for their babies, a text message is often the most effective way to reach them. As a member of USAID’s Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA), Save the Children is helping design, test, build, and bring to scale a platform to provide lifesaving audio and text health messages about postnatal care, safe delivery, vaccines, breastfeeding, family planning and nutrition.
Mobile phones can also empower communities to take part in the relief effort after disasters strike. We’ve been testing mobile hotlines to receive feedback about our emergency relief work. Our Monitoring & Evaluations officers carry phones dedicated to this hotline so they can determine where the need is greatest and where potential problems may arise.
In addition to mobile phones, Save the Children is piloting new technology to track our supply chain management in Ethiopia and Bangladesh. We’re now able to see—from anywhere in the world—exactly what supplies are available at our warehouse in Addis Ababa and Dhaka. We can work with our on-the-ground logisticians to keep track of the inventory and deploy it to places that need supplies the most. It’s not the most glamorous innovation, but it allows us to spend less time tracking goods, and more time doing what we do best: helping children.
We saw first-hand the extensive reach of new technology when we recently traveled to Mali to see West Africa’s hunger crisis, an emergency that was not being covered by traditional media. We live-streamed from a remote village via a satellite, laptop and webcam—giving supporters around the world the ability to see the very people their donations were helping—in real time — all from a village with no electricity.It was a powerful moment, one that would not have been possible if not for new technology and new media.
In some ways, technology in all its forms and the work we do are not that different. We don’t know when the next natural or man-made disaster might put children in harm’s way and we need to be ready for the unexpected. Forgive the cliché but technology is the future and so are our children.