In Rural Developing Regions, Free Software Turns Simple Mobile Phones into Tools of Advancement

By Lisa Goldman

A simple open-source telephony platform is bringing communications networks to developing nations where literacy is low and Internet access limited. Freedom Fone is free software that enables organizations to create voice-activated communications networks. In regions where simple mobile phones are more common than toilets, let alone Internet access, Freedom Fone can be used to access, share and report information.

In one compelling example that caught the attention of a World Bank blogger, it allowed women in the Congo "...to anonymously access pre-recorded information regarding sexual assaults such as their legal rights and health with a function to request call back." Reproductive health activists from Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya are now discussing how to implement Freedom Fone in their countries.

The homepage provides cogent examples, presented in comics-style graphics, of how Freedom Fone can be applied variously in the categories of radio, crisis, elections, health, journalism, business and agriculture. In "crisis," for example, a man calls a number to report that his village has been flooded and that he is moving his family to a specific destination; the service will then use the information received from this man to update future callers about the situation in his region. Similarly, in "journalism," the graphic shows a citizen journalist phoning his report in to a radio station.

This is a thought-provoking example of how simple, inexpensive communications technology can vault over the obstacles of illiteracy and lack of infrastructure to improve lives and promote human rights.