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26-27 November 2013Brussels - Tour & Taxis

The web of voices

Lab 5 Tuesday 26 November 2013 - 14:45 PM - 16:00 PM

Best practice on Voice-based mobile services for social development (FP7 project 2010-13)

Mobile and web services play a major role in social and economic progress in developing countries. Mobile telephony has shown a massive uptake in the developing world, opening great opportunities. But the World Wide Web remains inaccessible for many people. Communication in the Sahel region in West Africa, for example, is voice-based (many can’t read or write) and in many different local languages.

The VOICES project removes some of the access barriers to the Web related to communication channels, access infrastructure, literacy and languages. VOICES couples in a novel way Web facilities to mobile telephony and community radio, gluing all together by voice...

Best practice on Voice-based mobile services for social development (FP7 project 2010-13)

Mobile and web services play a major role in social and economic progress in developing countries. Mobile telephony has shown a massive uptake in the developing world, opening great opportunities. But the World Wide Web remains inaccessible for many people. Communication in the Sahel region in West Africa, for example, is voice-based (many can’t read or write) and in many different local languages.

The VOICES project removes some of the access barriers to the Web related to communication channels, access infrastructure, literacy and languages. VOICES couples in a novel way Web facilities to mobile telephony and community radio, gluing all together by voice services. VOICES supports rural villages and remote communities in creating “spoken Web content”, sharing information across big distances. This represents a major step forward in realizing the potential of mobile ICT services for social and economic development, particularly in the African context. 

 

More informations
  • Working with low-level technologies is helping to build a marketing and communication system for local communities in Africa.
  • The project is user-driven and focuses on needs identified by local stakeholders.
  • Mobile phones permit those who cannot read or write to submit advertisements for radio broadcast.
  • Citizen reporters can phone in local news reports for broadcast across the region.

 

Mobile and web services can play a major role in social and economic progress in developing countries, but in many parts of the world the Internet remains inaccessible to most people.

The VOICES research project, partly financed by the European Commission, investigates if ICT can help poor communities in Africa and improve their lives through communication and knowledge-sharing across large distances. The project has been supporting rural villages and remote communities in the Sahel region by creating technology-based communication systems that are tailored to the locally available levels of technology and skills. The stakeholders are local farmers who are normally excluded from the information society.

In Mali, Internet is not widespread and available ICT technologies largely consist of radio and simple mobile phones (not smart phones). Basic mobile phones are generally used for e-money transactions and chatting – rarely for sending text messages as most users have no formal education and cannot read or write. They also speak a variety of local languages, which heightens the communication challenges.  

However, a number of services have been developed for the local community based around the simple radio and mobile phone. The first development is a voice-based platform for sharing market information. Known as Radio Marché, it invites farmers to phone the radio station and dictate a sales offer or opportunity. The message is recorded and re-transmitted by the radio, which brings potential customers and sales.

A second system known as Foroba Blom is a type of mini blogging system that permits content to be broadcast by citizen reporters. Messages can sent to the radio as mini news reports that are then retrieved and rebroadcast by the radio to its listeners across the region. The Tabale system has been developed to allow messages to be sent in local languages.

VOICES is a collaboration between European and African partners in a large consortium that unites industry players, technology institutes and civil society.

Discussions with stakeholders identified the types of ‘spoken Web content’ that could be shared across large distances and be of value. Their choice was commercial advertisements, the distribution of local news items of general interest, and the sending of messages. The VOICES project ended last year; the next challenge is how to scale up the results of the project.

The basic open source software underpinning the project is freely available to any creative entrepreneur for reuse and it is hoped that more services for these communities will be developed.

The European Commission supported the project under a broader strategy to help develop technology solutions that can contribute to growth, employment and sustainable development. Other projects under this strategy involve satellite data for crop monitoring (e-AGRI), technology transfer between the EU and Central Asian countries (eINTERASIA) and developing 3G networks in the rural areas of Latin America (TUCAN3G). All these projects are user driven, i.e. they analyse the needs of the region and create something in response.

A fundamental criterion of the VOICES project was that the approach of all partners in the consortium be affordable. Open source software was the practical option.

News & Views

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Speakers

Prof. Dr Hans Akkermans

Prof. Dr Hans Akkermans, Founder and Chair of the Network Institute, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Year(s) of participation:
2013

Anna Bon

Consultant ICT for Development, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Year(s) of participation:
2013

Ardiel Cabrera

Project Officer, European Commission

Year(s) of participation:
2013

Bertrand Loisel

Head of Digital Emerging Countries Research, Orange Labs

Year(s) of participation:
2013

Mathieu Ouedraogo

President, Réseau MARP, Burkina Faso

Year(s) of participation:
2013

Chris Reij

Senior Research Fellow, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Year(s) of participation:
2013

Videos

HU: New Chance for Impaired Children - V4AID, 2013

The FLAME (Function, Language and Movement Education) Program was developed by specialists of HBAid staff based on the world-renowned Hungarian Pető Method which promotes "conductive education" to form new neural connections in the brain . The program provides comprehensive training for motor-skills-impaired children, their families, future instructors and instructor assistants. More info: www.V4Aid.eu The interview took place in the context of the V4Aid project, which is financed by the European Union Fund.

Inclusiveness, equity & social protection

In recent years the global economy has witnessed impressive growth in some developing countries, yet two-thirds of the world’s 1.5 billion poorest people now live in middle-income countries. Furthermore, globalisation has in some cases led to increased vulnerability and social polarisation.

Inclusive, equitable and sustainable economic growth is a fundamental tenet of the European Union, which recognises its impact on long-term poverty reduction and growth. The EU’s development policy thus encourages more inclusive growth, namely via the promotion of social protection. Indeed, by increasing equity – e.g. through social transfers and better access to basic social services – social protection can support poverty reduction, social cohesion and stability.

The 2011 Communication ‘An Agenda for Change’ called for a more comprehensive approach to human development, supporting increased access to quality health and education services and enhanced social protection in support of inclusive growth.

The 2012 Communication ‘Social Protection in European Union Development Cooperation’ sought to explain the role of social protection in underpinning inclusive and sustainable development and the role of EU action in strengthening social protection policies and systems.

In its February 2013 Communication ‘A Decent Life for All’, the EU notes that only 20 % of the world’s population has access to adequate social protection. With equity and social protection having a direct bearing on poverty eradication and sustainable development, the EU called on the post-2015 framework to ensure basic living standards and promote the drivers for inclusive and sustainable growth.

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