By Lisa Obradovich

Until recently, Samuel*, a driver for the Mugumu Safe House in Mugumu, Tanzania, had never used a smartphone or a map. “I had to rely on others to direct me to each village and sometimes we wasted fuel. Now I can find the way myself with this phone. I am very happy and it will help my work a lot,” he said.

Samuel received his phone from the Humanitarian OpenStreet Map Team (HOT). HOT trains volunteers to create navigable maps of local areas that are used by rescuers to find and assist girls being forced to undergo female genital mutilation. “Before the mapping project started the maps of Serengeti (region) were very bad. Only the Serengeti National Park and Mugumu town were included, so it was difficult to find the villages to rescue girls,” said Samuel.

HOT received the funding for the smartphones from the NetHope 2017 Device Challenge, a collective impact grant program launched in January 2017 for nonprofits to advance their missions through the use of phones, tablets, and other devices.

The program was created thanks to a $5.5 million grant award from Google.org, the charitable arm of Google. Grantees were selected from a highly competitive field of over 300 applications and include both NetHope members and other nonprofits. Anudip Foundation for Social Welfare; CARE; Catholic Relief Services; Concern Worldwide; Family Educational Services Foundation; FINCA International; Girl Effect; HOT; International Rescue Committee; Management Sciences for Health; Mercy Corps; The Nature Conservancy; Norwegian Refugee Council; Pact; Plan International USA; Save the Children Federation, Inc; and SOS Children’s Villages International.

Grantees are using the funds in a variety of programs around the world, ranging from education to healthcare to financial services. Early efforts have been focused on building the foundation for successful implementations. For example, Plan International USA’s ramp-up activities include meetings in targeted schools to convey the importance of education, the use of [the procured] computer devices, and the support that NetHope and Google are providing to the students. Catholic Relief Services is focused on the installation of solar panels and device charging stations, as well as training users on how to properly use and maintain them. 

Grantees are also sharing early lessons learned. For instance, Mercy Corps learned that many beneficiaries in Uganda were interested in cost-sharing the proposed devices to be procured under their grant. “This information is particularly interesting, considering the concern that PSNs (persons with special needs), the most vulnerable of the vulnerable, might be unable or uninterested [in participating in a program which included a cost-sharing element],” a Mercy Corps field worker wrote in a Market Assessment report. The price most often suggested by villagers, $2.78 USD, was considered “very affordable” in exchange for participating in Mercy Corps’ program.

For Samuel, having a smartphone with mapping capabilities has made all the difference in his work. “Having better maps is very important for our community because we can see where the clinics are, where the water points are, and who has to walk very far to school for water. I thank God for the chance to use technology like this — it is amazing and really helps our community.”

With such promising updates only a few weeks in, NetHope is eager to see the updates from our grantees in the coming months.

*A pseudonym has been used to protect Samuel’s identity.  

Filed Under: Collective Impact Grants, NetHope 2017 Device Challenge