Thursday, October 26, 2006

Gates Project 11: Two SMS Ideas for NGO's

Here are some ideas for helping NGO's use SMS in their campaigns. I developed them with Ken Banks of Kiwanja.net, who is currently a Collaborative Fellow at the Digital Vision Progam as Stanford University.

1. Create an SMS Buying Co-op: The cheapest way to send mass SMS messages is through and SMS aggregator, a company that acts as a middle man between the SMS sender, the SMS receiver, and the operator (phone company). It is cheaper to send large numbers of SMS messages through an aggregator because the aggregator lowers the price of each SMS the more messages you send (operators charge the same price per SMS no matter how many you send). Most small NGO's who want to send SMS as a way to communicate to supporters either do not need so many messages for the cost to go down significantly, or cannot afford them in high quantities. However, if many NGO's bought their messages together they could reap the benefit of buying in bulk. Instead of 5 organizations each buying 10,000 messages at a price of R7/SMS, those 5 organizations could collectively purchase 50,000 messages for R5/SMS. The elegant part of this idea is that is does not necessitate external funding because it works in cooperation with the SMS aggregator's business model. All that is necessary is an aggregator willing to sell to an NGO cooperative at a bulk rate, which makes good business sense as it would help attract NGO's to that particular operator.

2. A Socially Responsible Virtual Operator: On Ken's blog I saw a post about MVNO 's (mobile virtual network operators). Unlike most telecomm operators that own their own infrastructure, MVNO's rent the infrastructure from the traditional operator. For this reason, it is cheaper to start up than a traditional phone company. As MVNO's can set their own rates regardless of the the operator they are renting from, this might be a good way to set up a socially responsible telecom company that would charge lower rates to NGO's.

categories: internet activism_, gates project_, the "developing world"_

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