Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Can USC Global Impact Learn from GrameenPhone?

I came across a great TED talk a little while back that is very relevant to our project:

Iqbal Quadir says mobiles fight poverty

Quadir's talk is great for a number of reasons

Bottom Up Development:
I love when he says, "Economic development is of the people, by the people, and for the people." I think that is the real strength of all of the Global Impact projects. We're attempting to connect with people directly and empower them. I think for that reason it's incredibly important to be in Rahul Brown's words "radically open". What works best for the local community will always be our primary guidance.

Mobile Phones/Technology:
The premise behind GrameenPhone was initially very counterintuitive, but that is what makes it powerful. The cellphone was assumed to be a tool exclusively for the developed world, and its introduction was blocked by a number of excuses: The poor can't afford them, etc. Quadir and others have proven that technology can not only be introduced in developing countries to improve quality of life, but can also be done so profitably.

Our Project:
GrameenPhone and others have laid the foundation for individuals and communities across the developing world to communicate with one another. The challenge now is to continue to find ways in which cell-phones can be leveraged to improve lives. Our project attempts to do just that. We will likely face a number of the challenges that Quadir faced, including proving that a Frontline SMS system is a "production tool" and will thus pay for itself, and can certainly learn from his experience.

- Dan

(Video courtesy of TED - for more information visit www.TED.com)

Friday, May 22, 2009

Goals from the Beginning...

Since Lena did an excellent job describing the details of our project, I'll post some of my personal goals for the Frontline SMS Project. Here it goes.

1) Make a Sustainable Impact in Hubli - Unlike any other project I have worked on at USC, this project gives me the opportunity to have a sustainable impact. Our team doesn't want to give out cell phones, install software, and improve healthcare for just two months. We want the hospitals or clinics we work with to improve their medical care far after we leave. To do this we have to create a system to measure our program's impact and also find the champions necessary to continue the program when we leave.

2) Learn About Development Elsewhere - It would be ignorant to say development all over the world happens just like it does in the United States. In India I can really learn what it takes to have an impact outside of the US. Considering I haven't left the country besides heading south to Latin America or the Caribbean, this should be an awesome learning experience for me.

3) Test My Beliefs, Values, and Everyday Life - I'm hoping India forces me to test my beliefs. There are a lot of norms in the US that I follow just because that's all I know. Some aren't really that harmless like waiting in line, while others like our culture's competitiveness or our fast paced society may not be ideal. Since so many things are culturally different in India, I hope being there allows me to look critically at how I live everyday.

I know these goals are tough, but two months is definitely enough time.


Monday, May 18, 2009

"Social entrepreneurs believe and then they see"

My title is a great introduction to the passionate work my teammates and I will be doing this June and July in Hubli-Dharwad, in the "Sandbox Region" within the state of Karnataka, India. Moreover, it is perfectly in line with the spirit of entrepreneurship that fuels the University of Southern California's Stevens Institute for Innovation. The Stevens Institute introduced me to the field of social entrepreneurship. Since that seredipitous introduction I have independently begun to educate myself about the field, (for example, by watching videos like the one that provides my title quote), and have begun to passionately pursue actualizing my own potential as a social entrepreneur.

My personal journey to this point has been quite a wild ride; in future posts I will do my story justice. However, for now I would like to introduce the FrontlineSMS Healthcare team's project, as we are now on the eve of its realization in India. We are mere weeks away from the start of the trip that we Global Impacters have been eargerly anticipating since we applied for the program in January 2009.

In a collaboration true to USC's interdisciplinary nature, the business world and the health care world will be crossing celestial paths thanks to our unique team roster which combines equal parts business student (Dan and Jon) and science student (myself and Tapasya). I will leave my lovely teammates' inspiring stories to their posts!

Our team is introducing a mobile phone-based SMS (short message service) health care communications network to the city of Hubli-Dharwad. SMS is a widespread and inexpensive technology that is causing revolutionary changes in the developing world by connecting people though mobile phone text messages. We will create a health care communications network using cell phones in rural areas. The collaboration should include smaller clinics, larger hospitals, and community health workers (CHWs, called "link workers" in Hubli-Dharwad), to more effectively deliver healthcare services to Hubli-Dharwad. The idea is to create a triage system which better connects patients with the physicians who can treat them, allows for patient outreach, and increases the speed of providing health care. We will accomplish this by linking cell phones to FrontlineSMS, a free open source software program which allows users to connect a SIM modem to a PC to create an SMS (text message software) hub. Text messages with patient data will automatically be entered into a central computer, through Frontline SMS. Cell phone-equipped "link workers" (CHWs) will be able to engage in two-way communications with hospitals and clinics. SMS-based technology can solve problems with existing infrastructure and is easier to implement than costlier telemedicine solutions that require the internet. This innovative application of a new technology is unprecedented in the Northwestern Karnataka healthcare system.

By working closely with health care providers at various levels, and a local partner NGO in Hubli-Dharwad, we will determine which of the following potential uses will best serve the needs of people in the Sandbox (the region encompasing Hubli-Dharwad, in which our grant provider, the Deshpande Foundation, operates).
Patient Regulation: patient tracking, patient updates, patient medication adherence
More efficient healthcare and information delivery: requests for remote/emergency patient care, coordinating Home-Based Care visits, answer people’s questions regarding: common symptoms and problems with water filters, provide drug dosage/usage information, reduce healthcare workers’ travel costs
Link worker coordination and response: connect health workers in far out areas and those disconnected by infrastructure from hospitals, clinics and the city’s main resources, Link worker-to-Link worker communication and group mobilization, Link worker status (solidify the link workers’ role as legitimate healthcare representatives in their villages), link worker accountability and transparency (the number of text messages sent and the price of them can be tracked using the FrontlineSMS technology, ensuring proper use of the cell phones we distribute for healthcare concerns).
Connect patients: facilitate easier access to outreach/support groups: connect people who may be suffering from similar problems, integrating connectivity into HIV counseling

We believe a FrontlineSMS-based system will work because similar solutions have been successfully implemented in other developing countries and the technology is highly flexible and adaptable to local and infrastructure and needs. Overall, the technology will result in a net reduction in organization costs to rural clinics that heavily utilize link workers. Considering the fact that this project only requires a central computer hub/server (with a GSM modem and SIM card that provides the number to which field workers send SMS text messages) and cell phones, the project is highly mobile. The technology is simple and user friendly which makes it very easy to implement. It can be easily adapted to the Sandbox, depending on identified needs and health care infrastructure. It requires only finding local partners to help implement it and become the foundations for its sustainable continuation once the Global Impact Volunteers leave India.

Here is an article from USC's student newspaper, The Daily Trojan, which overviews the project briefly, along with the two other projects that are being spearheaded by additional Global Impact groups.

Thank you for reading.

And please, always remember:
"The moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. Whatever you can do or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now."-
Johann Wolfgang Goethe


First member abroad...

First blog from abroad! I'm at Singapore airport being diligent and taking care of Global Impact business at 3 am! =) See everyone soon in Hubli!