Equal Access (www.equalaccess.org) works with marginalised populations through the use of innovative technology to create positive social change. They are using diverse communications strategies to inspire communities to promote economic development, human rights, womens' empowerment, youth engagement and encourage positive action.
Equal Access has been using Freedom Fone in Cambodia and Niger since 2010. Both countries share extremely low levels of Internet penetration. Although Equal Access uses a combination of traditional broadcast and new media technologies for their programmes, mobile phones have proven to be the best way to engage marginalised audiences.
The programme "Our Community Voice: Many Voices, One Community" in Cambodia covers topics relevant to the youth; in Niger, Freedom Fone is used to support a religious programme covering the issues of extremism and religious conflicts, promoting peaceful dialogue and tolerance.
Graham Gardner, programme manager for Equal Access, was particularly interested to apply the voice functions in Freedom Fone as a way to interact with audiences who may struggle with text-based mobile technology such as SMS.
"Mobile phones are increasingly used throughout all of these countries but literacy is a problem in places like Niger and Chad. Even in Cambodia, about 20 to 30% of people cannot read. But a bigger problem here is the fact that Cambodia uses a non-latin script which is not so widely used in technological formats," explains Gardner.
Although there are mobile phones available that allow audiences to produce text messages in Khymer script, they are not widely used. Even for literate Cambodians, many don't know how to read an English or phonetic Khymer message using latin script.
The Voice Menu functions in Freedom Fone allow Equal Access to be a lot more inclusive with their mobile programmes. "Our Nigerien staff described it as somewhat discriminatory that we only had SMS available to users. So once we brought our Freedom Fone system online, we were being more inclusive in terms of allowing those audiences that wanted to share their comments to call our line and leave a voice message rather than having to write in text."
The Cambodian programme received over 4,000 calls in 6 months out of which 50% left a message. Same success in Niger, where 60% of the 2,000 calls ended with a message left. The agreement Equal Access concluded with the mobile operator Orange in Niger for a toll free number, hence tackling the issue of call cost, had an immediate impact on the frequency of calls.
Equal Access makes the most of the 2-way communication with their audiences made possible by Freedom Fone: they use it to gather feedback and build a community commentary: "People thoroughly enjoyed it when we updated the system with other callers' comments. These community comments would start conversation. "
Freedom Fone is also used to help test the impact of a message and the effectiveness of a campaign. The way audiences react helps them inform their content. "This is a way of educating the audiences about the topics we are covering but also to creating an interactive feedback whereby we are providing an audience with information and they in return are providing us with new ideas, commentary and general questions about our programmes. This is then fed into the production of future content so it creates a cycle or loop."
Freedom Fone offers easily accessible call data records, monitoring and reporting functions that provide a treasure trove of information to help gauge the relevance and actual value of any programme and how communities are receiving and interacting with a particular service.
"For us it's really all about creating a connection with the audience, creating interaction between our work, the work of our partners and the people we are trying to serve. It is also about shared learning for us and any tool that allows us to do that is a good one so we will absolutely continue to use Freedom Fone."
Role of Freedom Fone:
- Using voice to bridge literacy and text barriers
- Overcoming limitations of SMS
- Interacting with offline audiences
- Evaluation and monitoring projects