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Grameen Foundation, Google, MTN Launch Cell Phone Applications To Help Ugandans Get Health, Other Information

The Grameen Foundation on Tuesday launched the first application of its Application Laboratory (AppLab) project, which aims to use “the proliferation of mobile phones in Africa as a way to get information and services to poor communities in Uganda without Internet access,” the Seattle Times’ blog, the “Business of Giving,” reports (Heim, 6/29).

The project first began 18 months ago, according to BusinessWeek’s blog, “Globespotting.” The Grameen Foundation has been operating a village phone service in Uganda, and had almost 50,000 people receiving “pay-by-the-minute mobile phone services,” the blog writes. “Grameen wanted to broaden into information services and it sought out Google and MTN as potential partners. They did extensive ethnographic studies to see what kinds of services the Ugandan people wanted, and then did pilot projects in the field to test out early versions of the services. They’re launching with a few services and hope to add more later. Eventually, they hope to branch out to other countries in Africa,” BusinessWeek writes (Hamm, 6/29).

The new services work through any phone capable of sending or receiving SMS messages, Joseph Mucheru, Google’s director of sub-Saharan Africa business, said, adding that almost all phones in Uganda will be able to use the services.

According to the Seattle Times, “The five applications use Google SMS Search technology and MTN’s telecom network. They include Farmer’s Friend, a searchable database with agricultural advice and weather forecasts; Health Tips with sexual and reproductive health information, paired with Clinic Finder, to locate nearby health clinics; and Google Trader, which matches buyers and sellers of agricultural produce, commodities and other products.” Content is provided by local partners, the newspaper writes. “Marie Stopes Uganda and the Straight Talk Foundation provide health information,” while the Busoga Rural Open Source Development Initiative (BRODSI) provides agricultural information created and tested by small-holder farmers, according to the Seattle Times (6/29).

“The cost of the services are relatively low,” BusinessWeek reports. The standard cost of an information SMS message in Uganda is 220 Ugandan shillings, around 10 U.S. cents, but the Google SMA services will be offered at 5 U.S. cents per message, and initially, the messages will be free. “The system uses English, but most of the population can get by in English or find somebody to help them send and decipher messages,” according to BusinessWeek (6/29).