The Difference Between Strong and Rubbish Youth Engagement

It can all boil down to people - or even one person.

James Powell, U-Report Global Lead
Using U-Report, a SMS ans social media based open source platform UNICEF worked with the Government of Côte d’Ivoire and MTN to increase the effectiveness of the campaign improve transparency and accountability by paying health workers with mobile money.
06 September 2017

I often use the analogy of building a house when advising UNICEF country offices on how to get started with U-Report.  I show them that they start with the same materials as everyone else but this doesn’t mean they’re automatically going to have a really nice house like their neighbour.  They need to design it, build it and make sure it addresses their specific needs.  They need to contract the expertise they need, involve the right groups of people, and most important of all they need someone to manage the whole thing, a foreman/forewoman – someone who brings all of these actors together and makes sure everyone is going to be happy living in it, together.

So what does it take to be a good foreman, in the process of writing a guidance note with UNICEF Division of Communications we came across Charlie, the project manager behind U-Report Malawi.  In just a few months since launch Charlie has negotiated a 75% discount in the running costs (houses need fuel to run you know, they don’t run themselves!), he has acquired a free sponsorship of one of the top football teams in the country, and while only 25% of phone owners are girls, 32% of U-Reporters are female so he’s punching above his weight there as well.  He’s orchestrated a launch event and persuaded the number 1 hip hop artist Fredokiss to come and perform at it, giving UNICEF some much needed cred with the youth!  The Ministry of Labour, Youth and Sports have signed on, they’ve promised if they can access young people through the U-Report tool they will engage and listen to them when making policy that builds the house for the whole country.

So what type of person makes all of this happen, and how do we find more of them.  We asked Charlie to tell us about himself to help us.



These are Charlie Hartono’s U-Report Maxims. He lives every second of it:


Charlie Hartono U-Report Malawi
UNICEF Innovation
Charlie Hartono U-Report Malawi

Servant Leadership

I am a great believer that humans will always win over money and technology. I will give the same treatment to CEO of a company and to the janitor in the UNICEF office. If you can win the heart of a person, you will definitely all the help you need from him.


I will never spend money on advertising which I can have for free on barter. I have to convince myself and be very proud that the programme that I have brings added value to the partner. That is why, instead of paying, I negotiate and trade them.

Today Person – Not Tomorrow

If I can run like a cheetah, I will do it. I detest procrastinating so I have to get all emailed responded maximum 6 hours my work is done on time before I go home. Speed is definitely integral to my moves.

Art Creativity  

I adore mixing art and creativity into all marketing and youth engagement activities that I am doing. Having the finest quality in the artwork is something non-negotiable.

Dare to Fail

I would rather have a mistake that makes me humble than an achievement that makes me arrogant. So I am not afraid to be fail again and again.

Young People are My Motivation

Youth in Malawi have great potential to change the status quo of this country for the better.

The very first time I Googled Malawi, poverty is the main word I saw. My goal is that when I leave this country, I can contribute more positive keywords about Malawi in the news rather than poverty e.g. Youth, Innovation, Ideas from Young People, Sports, Arts, etc that can make this country proud.


The UNICEF U-Report community prepared me well for what was to come.  In my cases, I had tremendous support learning how to use the tool from I Made Suwancita (U-Report Indonesia) and Emmanuel Bayo (U-Report Tanzania).  They had no obligation to help me but they did it because in U-Report we are brothers and sisters in a family and we’ll succeed or fail together.