Senegal – The Jokko Initiative


Courtsey of the Jokko Initiative Blog

Courtesy of the Jokko Initiative Blog

The Jokko Initiative is a collaboration between UNICEF and Tostan, an NGO in West Africa that implements human rights-based Community Empowerment Programs to provide communities with skills and knowledge to improve their lives. The partnership links UNICEF’s reach, resources and technical expertise with Tostan’s ground-level experience and understanding of local realities and challenges.

Jokko, which means “communication” in Wolof, a regional language in Senegal, aims to become a practical, low-cost system to encourage group decision-making in Senegalese villages. The Jokko Initiative makes it possible to communicate with a network of people by simply sending a text message. Through Jokko’s RapidSMS Community Forum, a user can send an SMS text message to a “magic number” that then forwards the message to all phone numbers belonging to the network. The module also introduces mobile phones as pedagogical tools to teach and reinforce literacy as well as the organization and management skills taught in Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program.

The Community Forum allows a nurse, a literacy leader, a representative of a women’s association or the village imam to communicate with community members about events and activities like a vaccination campaign or a literacy group meeting. Not only does the Community Forum raise awareness about events, but it also involves the entire community in decisions and spreads the news of positive social change in their villages.

Country Profile

Courtesy of the Jokko Initiative Blog

Courtesy of the Jokko Initiative Blog

The Jokko Initiative was implemented in Senegal, which is located on the Western coast of Africa and is bordered by Mauritania, Mali, Guinea and Guinea-Bissau and surrounds the Gambia. Though poverty and unemployment are widespread, Senegal has a stable economy and well-functioning multi-party democracy. However, the 2007 United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Human Development Report ranked the country 166th out of 182 countries based on factors such as average life expectancy at birth (55.4 years), adult literacy rate (41.9 percent) and GDP per capita (US$1,666). Additionally, women in Senegal are marginalized, have low social status, lack access to many resources and have low levels of participation in both the labor force and in politics. Although much is being done to reduce their frequency, harmful practices like child marriage and female genital cutting are common.

The Scenario

Both Tostan’s and UNICEF’s experience show that communication is critical to spreading positive social change. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to communicate with large numbers of people in rural areas due to a lack of financial resources, transportation infrastructure and communication technology. However, mobile phone networks are rapidly expanding to cover the vast majority of African citizens and cell phones are already common in even the most remote villages. Tostan has seen that mobile phones and SMS texting can:

1. Provide a more economical means of communication than a phone call;
2. Serve as a practical tool for learning and reinforcing literacy and numeracy skills;
3. Offer other applications to practice the organization and management skills taught in Tostan’s programs

Additionally, Tostan understands that mobile phones will increasingly serve as the platform for services provided by governments, health clinics, schools and banks. As a result, the expansion of mobile phone usage in West Africa and throughout the developing world is increasing the need for literacy and cell phones are the perfect tools for training. Mobile phones are a means for people to learn and practice literacy skills in a way that is relevant to their daily lives.

RapidSMS Implementation and Results

When the Jokko Initiative launched during the summer of 2009, it took on a Two-Phase Approach:

Courtesy of the Jokko Initiative Blog

Courtesy of the Jokko Initiative Blog

Phase One – A model for teaching the basics

Tostan is adding a new component to its community empowerment program, which is currently reaching over 800 communities in eight African countries, that teaches the practical uses of standard cell phone capabilities and SMS texting.

Tostan’s long-standing emphasis on the inclusion of women, girls and youth in particular ensures that those populations most at risk of exclusion from the benefits of technological advances will be reached. The Jokko Initiative provides a new generation of girls with access to the valuable tools of communication technology and will train them in its applications for community engagement and positive social change.

Phase Two – Develop practical applications
The Jokko Initiative also aims to provide practical SMS-based applications. Placed within a program of community-led development, mobile phones and SMS texting have the potential to accelerate positive social change by:

1. Connecting women with each other and with their communities, helping to build consensus on local development priorities;
2. Amplifying the voice and influence of youth and marginalized groups in a community’s decision-making process;
3. Providing a platform for exchanging information, broadcasting ideas and organizing advocacy work;
4. Accelerating social interaction and facilitating large-scale and significant cross-group effects at community and societal levels.

To begin implementation, Tostan held three initial trainings in Keur Samba Lauvé, Ouonck and Badiouré and has since expanded the Initiative to a total of 15 villages with the hope of eventually reaching hundreds more after the pilot phase ends in December 2010. Tostan begins by training a group of “catalyst” figures who are active in community development. More experienced mobile phone users are taught to send messages while newer users receive more basic training focused on how to receive messages. The training sessions aim to help the community understand what the Community Forum is and how they can utilize it to improve upon their pre-existing methods of communication.

The Community Forum allows community members to access a server in the Tostan office by sending a text message to a “magic number.” This number feeds directly into the server, which then forwards the SMS to a group of community members’ phones. The sender is only charged for the cost of one local text message and Tostan covers the costs of text messages sent to the entire group. The platform supports the dynamic creation of multiple groups of people, which users can easily join or leave by sending a single SMS. User groups include Community Health Workers, teachers, untrained community health agents, women’s literacy groups and youth groups among others.

Courtesy of the Jokko Initiative Blog

Courtesy of the Jokko Initiative Blog

For example, the Community Management Committees (CMCs), community-based social entrepreneurs trained by Tostan, frequently organize awareness-raising events surrounding themes such as malaria, human rights, income-generating activities or the importance of a healthy environment. Previously, leaders had to notify the community of such occasions through word of mouth or by going door to door. With the community SMS system, the CMCs can inform the most influential members of the community cheaply and efficiently and these people can then pass on the information within their own circles. For instance the imam can share messages during prayer, teachers during classes and youth or women’s group leaders during their meetings.

Tostan intentionally chooses to train its most enthusiastic community development actors with this hope that they will subsequently expand the network by informally training other members of the community. The training techniques and method of dissemination reflect Tostan’s philosophy on community-led development. Similarly, villages are encouraged to decide the size and the focus of their networks for themselves. Allowing the users to define limits mitigates risks of system abuse. As a result of this community ownership, Tostan staff members observed very high levels of motivation and adoption after the first trainings.

Courtesy of the Jokko Initiative Blog

Courtesy of the Jokko Initiative Blog

The Jokko Initiative has been particularly effective at reaching vulnerable groups like women and youth, reinforcing literacy, improving access to other services and integrating mobile phones into villagers’ lives.

Many of the messages sent through the Community Forum are about events organized by women and often have to do with income-generating activities. Women, especially older women, are proud of their ability to use the phones and serve as an example to their daughters and granddaughters. Women who may not otherwise have been aware of the various benefits of mobile phones now want to use them. It is Tostan’s hope that the Community Forum will allow women to organize themselves to work for social goals like promoting girls’ education and preventing early marriage and female genital cutting.

Texting through the Community Forum gives people lacking access to materials for reading or writing an opportunity to practice these skills and to reinforce math skills and numeracy. In the training sessions, participants begin by identifying and typing familiar letters, such as their name, and using the phone calculator for basic addition and subtraction.

One of the most important aims of integrating mobile technology into Tostan’s literacy programs is increasing access to other community services, particularly in health. For example, the ability to receive and read text messages might allow community members to read alerts about vaccination campaigns or receive reminders for malaria or malnutrition treatment from community health care workers.

There are also unexpected positive impacts of integrating mobile phones into communities. In Kagama, for example, the Tostan team received news from the local school teacher that attendance has risen since mobile literacy was included in Tostan’s basic education program. In 2010, Tostan will engage CMCs to report by text messages the activities and the issues they face in their village on a daily basis.

Finally, Tostan and UNICEF have been collaborating with the Center of Evaluation for Global Action (CEGA) of the University of California Berkeley to monitor and evaluate the Jokko Initiative with results forthcoming in July 2010. The main areas under study are the project’s outcomes on literacy, social networking and youth participation with a sample of 15 villages and 600 direct beneficiaries that belong to the Community Forum and 5 comparison villages and 200 comparison participants that do not belong.

Lessons Learned

Through continuous monitoring of the pilot activities in the field (from September 2009 to April 2010), Tostan has learned:

Courtesy of the Jokko Initiative Blog

Courtesy of the Jokko Initiative Blog

  • Introducing SMS into literacy programming reinforces motivation for practice during the intervention (classes have grown by average 15% after the beginning of the new SMS sessions);
  • Empowering women and youth to use cell phones widens their communication sphere, and allows them to be more effective change-makers and economic actors;
  • Using RapidSMS reinforces youth participation and helps make community mobilization and projects more effective.
  • Setting up the Community Forum to support local languages like Wolof, Pulaar and Diola with characters such as ‘ŋ’ and ‘å’ was essential for villagers to communicate in languages they understand;
  • Because the target Community Forum users are low-literacy, it was important to design the system for the learning process by giving clear feedback and making best-guess recommendations for mistyped commands;
  • At the training session, skits and using local references proved to be especially helpful in explaining the Community Forum. For example, trainers used the visual of a mango tree to help users understand the idea of a phone menu and the transmission of their messages to members of the wider community;
  • Allowing villages to decide how they will use the Community Forum for themselves was key to increasing the volume of messages and growing the network.

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