UNICEF launches a new open-source software platform for international development


 On 22 September, UNICEF launched RapidPro – an open-source platform of applications that can help governments deliver rapid and vital real-time information and connect communities to lifesaving services.

“RapidPro is essentially an ‘app store for good’,” said Sharad Sapra, Director of UNICEF’s global Innovation Center based in Nairobi, and former UNICEF Representative to Uganda. “It gives governments and development professionals new tools they can customize to connect citizens and critical services – mainstreaming innovation and making it work for the most disadvantaged children.”

Produced by UNICEF’s global Innovations Labs in collaboration with Nyuruka, a Rwandan software development firm, and drawing on eight years of experience with SMS-based applications, RapidPro is already being used in several countries.

In Liberia, UNICEF and the Ministry of Health have just launched mHero (Mobile Health Worker Ebola Response and Outreach) - an application available on RapidPro - to support efforts to fight the rising Ebola epidemic which has already killed some 1,500 Liberians and sickened many more. mHero will report on new cases; broadcast messages about care and prevention; share training information; and allow for real-time coordination between the ministry and the health workers.

In Zambia, U-Report, another application available on RapidPro, uses simple text messages and basic mobile phones to link people to the resources of the National AIDS Council. Young people are at increased risk for HIV/AIDS, but often have limited access to information on the disease, counseling and testing services. UNICEF and the Ministry of Health used the SMS application to spread messages about the disease and increase testing. Since its launch in 2012, over 50,000 young people were referred to anonymous counseling services, and voluntary testing among U-reporters rose to 40 per cent, significantly higher than the 24 per cent national average. 

“We find ideas and solutions conceived at the grassroots,” Sapra added. “We set the best minds in the business to work on the specific challenges that confront humanitarians, and they gave us back simple, scalable, solutions.”

In the coming months, RapidPro will also host and support more sophisticated phones, and more applications will be made available through the platform.  These include RapidFTR, an Android forms-based data collection software that was developed in UNICEF’s Innovation Labs in South Sudan, Uganda, and originated in New York University’s Design for UNICEF class.  It records information about separated children, including a photo, shares it with other emergency responders, and allows family members to locate a missing child. 

Other applications include EduTrac, which tracks education indicators to help inform decision-making at all levels of the education system; and Project Mwana used in Zambia to deliver HIV test results, cutting turnaround time in half, from 66 days to 33.

RapidPro’s applications are produced by UNICEF in partnership with universities and software creators in response to the experience of humanitarian workers on the ground on the bottlenecks which hamper aid delivery. The applications are constantly updated as new challenges emerge.

To learn more about RapidPro and how to use it, visit: http://rapidpro.io  or contact SLBammer@unicef.org

For more information about UNICEF Innovations, visit:
● UNICEF Innovation site: www.unicef.org/innovation
● UNICEF Innovation blog: www.unicefstories.org




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