The original story was published in The Herald on 07 September 2016 and written by Shepherd Mutsiwegota, Innovations Consultant with UNICEF Zimbabwe. To view the original story, click here.

U-REPORT
SMS message received through U-Report – a social messaging tool that amplifies the voices of the youth.

As far back as the 1980’s, mobile devices have been sending Short Message Service (SMS). Though having taken a beating over the years, SMS services refuse to give up the ghost. If you ask yourself when last you interacted with SMS, most probably the answer would point to you either receiving a call-me-back or some notification from your mobile money wallet advising you that money had entered your account (we won’t talk about those messages that the mobile networks send to you almost on the hour as if to remind you that your cell phone is still working).

But there is an innovative opportunity to use SMS services to amplify the voices and views of young people in developing countries. U-Report, a social messaging tool, originally emanated from Uganda as a local innovation to help young people to engage on issues that affected their lives and futures.  By mid-June last year, U-Report had been adopted by 28 countries, including Zimbabwe, and is being used by young people every day to voice their opinions, connect with their leaders, and help change the conditions in which they live.

In Uganda, for example, every Member of Parliament has signed up for U-Report, and they are using it to monitor and respond to what young people in their constituencies are saying about various issues.  Some leaders have used it to strengthen immunization and other health campaigns.

In Nigeria, the platform helped health workers to share critical information about Ebola, polio, and newborn care with families living in remote areas that health workers could not easily reach.

In Zimbabwe, U-Report took off in earnest in June 2015 and is spearheaded by the Zimbabwe Youth Council (ZYC) with the support of UNICEF. So far, almost 40,000 people have registered as U-Reporters. With the El-Nino induced drought in full swing, U-Report is being used to monitor the functionality of boreholes and other water sources in rural areas on a weekly basis. The information gathered is used in responding to areas where the greatest needs lie.

But what exactly is U-Report and what does it do? U-Report is essentially a social messaging tool that allows young people to their views on different development issues in and around Zimbabwe. Every week, ZYC sends out a question on a topical issue to all U-Reporters. U-Reporters respond to the question and their answers are automatically collated and shared on the U-Report Zimbabwe website. These results are also used for evidence-based programming by various stakeholders and for advocacy. Previous questions have been based on issues such as food insecurity, drought, child marriages, drug abuse, HIV testing and counseling and access to adolescent sexual reproductive health.

Anyone can become a U-Reporter by sending via SMS the word “JOIN ME” to 33500, which is the shortcode that has been created for this purpose. The message can be sent from any number subscribed to any of the three mobile network operators in Zimbabwe. Once the SMS is sent, the subscriber is requested to answer questions such as sex, age and what name they would like to be known by (they can use a nickname if they so prefer). Once the registration is complete, the subscriber is now officially a U-Reporter and will be able to receive questions.

Growing number of U-Reporters from Zimbabwe
Growing number of U-Reporters from Zimbabwe

This tool has been developed in a way that U-Reporter phone numbers remain anonymous to the system. All that is visible is the unique code identifier that is attached to every U-Reporter.

The best part? U-Report is a free service. In addition, through U-Report’s SMS option, U-Reporters do not need access to the internet in order to send or receive messages.

To view the original story, click here.

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