FrontlineSMS was founded by Ken Banks in 2005 to enable effective communications channels for communities in the developing world. FrontlineSMS leverages the ubiquity of mobile phones and familiarity of text messaging to turn an offline laptop into a communication hub. The simple innovation empowers villagers, aid agencies, and news services to exchange information among groups easily.
In Africa, less than ten percent of the population is online, but more than half of all Africans have mobile phones, and text messaging has become one of the most common means of communication. The ubiquity of mobile technology makes it a critical tool for human welfare.
“Mobile anthropologist” Ken Banks pioneered the use of text messaging to disseminate information, organize aid, and reconnect communities in times of crisis. Since individual phones can’t broadcast to large groups, Banks developed a method for turning a laptop or desktop computer into an offline hub for two-way text messaging to groups. This free, open-source software platform, FrontlineSMS, was launched in 2005 and entered the global spotlight in 2007 when Nigerian citizens used the technology to monitor national elections: Volunteers submitted observations via FrontlineSMS from local polling stations, preventing voter fraud and gathering data for the country’s future democratic process.
Why aren’t we building more tools that work in the places where problems exist and giving control of the tools to those users?
In the years since, FrontlineSMS has become a powerful engine for bottom-up social change, from promoting literacy in Niger, to assisting family farmers in Laos, to training rural medics in Ecuador. It has expanded its reach by developing several sector-specific projects, including FrontlineSMS:Credit, a platform for mobile money management; FrontlineSMS:Legal, which helps legal services providers aid clients and compile records; and FrontlineSMS:Medic, which provides tools for community health coordinators.