Well, I survived my first working week here in Kampala. It wasn’t actually a full week as there was a national holiday declared for Wednesday because of the death of the former president Binaisa. He was apparently the last remaining ex-president alive and is also the first ex-president to die while in Uganda. I’m still learning a lot about the history and the politics of this country, so stayed tuned.
Perhaps to make me feel more at home (as in working on a national holiday), we ended up having a couple of business meetings anyway, but it was still a relaxed day. Also, the working day on Friday ends at 2pm at the UNICEF offices, so I had time to read and relax Friday afternoon as well. A typical day begins between 8 and 830 am, and we head back between 5 and 630 in the evening.
This week has been spent mostly meeting people and learning about the projects that are underway to understand how I can best contribute to the efforts here. I’ve met the heads of the various sections. T4D (Technology For Development) is one of the cross cutting groups, as are, for example, Communications for Development (C4D), some data collection groups and the various operations and logistics groups. The office here has an internal organization around three focus areas: Alive, Safe, and Learning. UNICEF’s mandate is focused at children’s issues, which includes maternal health, and these three focus areas refer to the various broad outcomes UNICEF is targeting for children in Uganda. These focus areas overlay the more traditional areas of health, education, water and sanitation, nutrition, HIV/AIDS targeted programs, and child protection.
The T4D projects I will be mostly involved with are in three broad areas: mHealth, many utilizing the RapidSMS platform (http://www.rapidsms.org/overview/); Social Monitoring, also using the RapidSMS platform, but this initiative focuses on broader aspects of availability of social services; and the Uganda Portal, an effort to bring information to even remote locations using rugged computing devices, both connected to the internet and providing offline content regarding health, education, and services.
I’ll put together separate blog posts for each of these broad areas, but it appears my initial focus will be for the Uganda Portal, looking at issues of configuration management and remote maintenance of the devices, scaling of the network, the full content management life cycle including content organization and delivery, and issues around profile management, personas, personalizations, including security implications. T4D is looking to outsource the development of the content management piece, although another important aspect of my efforts will be to help with capability development.
The social monitoring program has the potential to empower individuals to influence policy by providing visibility into the status of infrastructure and availability of supplies, water, and even teachers. With the number of cell phone subscribers (I’ve heard the number 8 million quoted several times), there should be some interesting scaling issues both surrounding data collection and data analytics. Visualization of this data is crucial to providing the needed visibility to the data that can result in the policy impacts. Hopefully my status as one of the world’s least visual people (pictures are not worth a thousand words – give me the words please) will not hamper this effort.
The various mHealth initiatives are in various stages of development. Many discussions are currently surrounding a program to speed up and reduce the cost of birth and death registration. This program also utilizes the RapidSMS platform, with the VHTs (Village Health Teams) sending SMS messages with the necessary information. This initial message results eventually in, for example with a birth, the printing of a birth certificate at a facility close to the birth.
So, week one completes, with plans for some field trips over the next few weeks, both here in Kampala and further afield. It also looks like I will be speaking at some local user groups here during my stay. I also expect more meetings with potential donors and partners on the various projects underway here. Some things are the same across all kinds of organizations; someone needs to make sure the money is there.