Community of Practice in M4D

The whole is more than the sum of its parts. – Aristotle.

Recently, while working in Haiti for our Notre Dame Haiti Program, I had an incredible opportunity to meet some amazing folks doing great things in aid and development to assist the Haitian people. This group also shared a common interest in the FrontlineSMS application in their respective work. It’s quite an interesting story on how this came together and the resulting benefits.

FrontlineSMS users gather in Port-au-Prince

This all started when I found I’d be traveling to Haiti and two additional Tech Change TC105 students were already working in the country, so we discussed an informal lunch meeting to discuss mobile tech and more specifically, FrontlineSMS. Our TC105 moderator for Team Deserts, Flo Scialom (of FrontlineSMS in the UK), offered her expertise in community building to help pull us, and others together. Each day, as we criss-crossed Port-au-Prince and Leogane with meetings at various ISP’s and Mobile Network Operators, I’d get an email from Flo, “Tom, do you have room for one more?”, “Do you have space for another?”…etc…So what started with three or four for lunch, turned into 17 individuals, representing five continents and eight countries – and a full blown FrontlineSMS user group luncheon at the Babako Restaurant in Port-au-Prince. We had organizations at the table representing public health, microfinance, sexual violence, IDP camp resettlements, human rights abuses, education, and others. It really was inspiring to look around that table and realize how many Haitians were benefiting from the work of these individuals and their organizations. A true force multiplier! Of those at lunch, there were only a couple of groups that had FrontlineSMS instances up and running, but the others were interested in using it in their respective work, including us with the Notre Dame Haiti Program.

Discussing mobile technology for development

After some not-so-brief introductions (remember we had 17), we discussed issues around getting started with the software. This included everything from modem hardware compatibility, to running FrontlineSMS on MacOS and problems sending and/or receiving SMS messages. We also covered local resources within Digicel in Port-au-Prince that can prove helpful in choosing the right modem, and any possible setup issues.

Next, the talk revolved around other mobile and open-source tools in the development space, such as RapidSMS, Ushahidi, OpenMRS and more. So this group was not so much about a single software application, but more about affecting change with any technology – a community of practice around ICT4D/M4D.

ND Haiti staff discuss FrontlineSMS

Finally, as we finished lunch – btw the food at Babako was as delicious as the conversation, we talked about the importance of working together, sharing our successes & failures, and staying in touch. The big win was looking around the table, as diverse as our needs and applications are; we all shared a common purpose, enthusiasm and a collective knowledge, to affect positive change with mobile technology.

Call it community of practice, collective passion, or human synergy. This was a testimony to The Awesome Power of Connecting People! We are stronger together!

Haiti FrontlineSMS user group




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