Thursday, December 31, 2009

We have moved...

You can follow the latest updates on Technology for Community Empowerment at

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Mom 2.0 and The Reconstructed Graduation

Today was another highlight for the Reconstructed Living Lab as we celebrated with our second group of graduates for The Reconstructed. We also had our first group of the Mom 2.0 programme graduating this year and what an exciting experience. After seeing how the lives of men and women were reconstructed over the past year, we are definitely looking forward to what lies ahead for 2010.

More information about the graduation will be coming soon.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

European Commission visit RLabs

Last week RLabs had the honour of hosting European Commision, Dr. Jacques Babot who is the European Union Director for IST Information society and technology Research. His visit was very significant as he was visiting the Living Lab as an example of a Community Driven Living Lab that focus on Community Empowerment as its key focus. Sharing our experiences was helpful to Dr. Babot as one of the goals would be to see how RLabs can collaborate with other Living Labs in Europe. This could lead to a knowledge exchange and might possibly be explored during 2010.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

World AIDS Day and Reconstructed Living Lab

Today the world is celebrating World AIDS Day and at RLabs we are doing our part to ensure a difference in the lives of people impacted by HIV and AIDS. Some of the projects the RLabs team had involvement with includes:

- Mobile Counselling with Cell Life and National AIDS Helpline

- Mobile HIV/AIDS Information Portal with more than 30,000 subscribers

- Mobile HIV/AIDS CellBook partnership with Metropolitan Foundation providing users access to a full text with advice and information via the mobile phone.

These are just some of the activities RLabs are busy with to reconstruct communities across South Africa.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Mobile Counselling Launch

Today was one of those days where we will be taking the Advice Support service to another level in collaboration with 4 other Non-profit organisations and supported by Department of Social Development. The Substance Abuse Mobile Counselling pilot project will investigate the use of cellphones as a counselling and support medium for people who are impacted by substance abuse.

All the NGOs came together today for the oficial launch of the mobile counselling pilot and having a group of people working together, coming from different backgrounds was amazing to experience as the dream and vision for establishing many of these Reconstructed Living Lab spaces across South Africa are moving towards becoming a reality. Although all the mobile counsellors from the various organisations came together for the launch at the Impact Centre, the group will be working remotely with the support hub being at the birth place of Advice Support Network at IDM's Impact Centre.

With all the excitement in the air and representatives from different organisations coming together through the purpose of using cellphones for social change seeing the impact the session of the launch had on those in need of support was incredible. During the first two hour session of the pilot, 103 subscribers made contact with us and 2034 messages were sent to people in need of support in the area of drug addiction.

The best part of this good start is that it is only the beginning as we will see more lives be reconstructed through people and the use of technology.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Art of a Mobile Counsellor

In collaboration with the Department of Social Development and Impact Direct Ministries, the RLabs team hosted the world's first Mobile Counselling Course to a group of particpants from various Non profit and Community based organisations. The focus of the training was to empower these organisations to make use of mobile phones as part of their counselling services. The training was managed by our mobile counselling specialists who covered a wide range of topics over the three days ranging from the "Art of Mobile Counselling" to "Confessions of a Mobile Counsellor".

The new mobile counsellors were also introduced to the system that will be used for the mobile counselling activities. The excitement by the participants and orgsanisations involved was a clear indication that using mobile counselling as part their support services to clients could add value to their service delivery. This is especially the case for organisations working with youth who use mobile phones daily for engagement with friends and family. The training was only the beginning of the journey and the next few weeks we have to roll it out to schools that could benefit of Drug Mobile Counselling Services.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Time to get Wowd

Today the first search engine to explore the Power of the Real-Time Web were made available at the Web2.0 Summit in San Francisco. The search engine makes use of social networks, twitter, and other real-time data and therefore moving away from the traditional way of referencing algorithms that search engines like Google are making use of. What this mean is that whatever is buzzing on the web will be listed on a Hot List and allows the user to see what the latest trends are. It places the power of search with its users instead of the crawlers or conventional page ranking. For the best experience and download their browser app. We hope to get a mobile version soon as we can see this being key for the mobile community where on the fly breaking trends are needed on a small screen.

So if you would like to be Wowd why not visit their blog or follow them on twitter (@wowd) .

New Look Website

Yes I've finally made the move to a new look and feel website and you can visit the new site at

Monday, September 21, 2009

National AIDS Helpline: Pilot training

After a long day of travelling in Johannesburg it is so exciting to be part of the rollout of the world's first HIV/AIDS Mobile Instant Messaging counselling service by the National AIDS Helpline. This week it will be further training with the counsellors and training with the supervisors of National AIDS Helpline who will be managing the services locally. This initiative has been made possible by Cell-Life and their partners who are sponsoring this service.

To add the HIV/AIDS mobile counselling service do the following:

- Add on your mobile chat service and accept the contact.
- This service is currently available Monday to Thursday 4 - 6pm.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Vlogging with the Reconstructed

This morning I had the privilege to facilitate the Reconstructed session at the Reconstructed Living Lab (RLabs) space. Video blogging or "Vlogging" was the area we focused on and it was amazing to see how the team managed to video blog with ease. A short background about what video blogging was and how others have been using it (like the "From the Couch" site) was explained.

The team had to go out and shoot a short 30 second video which they had to upload to YouTube and post to their blog. Within a few minutes we had the video shoot, some even posted to YouTube and embedded into their blog. You can view some of the videos on the Reconstructed blog. Many of the team will be using video as a medium to explore the rich and colorful stories of their communities sharing that message of hope.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Social Media for Teens

Over the past few weeks we've seen some of our young people coming to the Impact Centre on a Friday afternoon for Social Media and Life skills training. This idea was the brain child of Craig Ross, Clinton Liederman and Brent Williams who saw the need in the community where young people are being lured into gang activity and drug related activities. The Friday sessions include social networking, micro-blogging, blogging, sharing sites and other social media tools that can be used as a medium to share Life Skills with these youth. Expect much more from this initiative and we can expect much more developments from the team who are currently facilitating these sessions.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Support Group celebrates success

Weekend Post
Today an article appeared in the Weekend Post by Yolande Stander "Support group celebrates success" featuring the work we've been doing over the past year using mobile technology to support people in need:

"THE South African group who conceptualised using social media like MXit to address social problems affecting young people has celebrated one year of success – and sealed a deal with a Bay company to further their progress.

The success story began a year ago with 12 men and women who called themselves The Reconstructed. All had experience of either drug addiction and dealing as well as gangsterism but, fully rehabilitated and trained to council people, they began using MXit to reach out to those at risk.

The brainchild behind the principle is social entrepreneur and information technology lecturer Marlon Parker.

Parker was in Port Elizabeth this week to introduce non-profit organisations, NGOs, community-based organisations and charities to social media and help them use these technologies as strategic tools for engagement, relationship building with stakeholders, networking and fundraising....."

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

My first WAP mobile phone

Ten years ago I acquired my first WAP enabled phone the NOKIA 7110. Just amazed at how technology has changed. Post your first WAP enabled mobile phone as a comment to this post.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Youth Marketing for Non profits

With the increased number of organisations especially non-profits looking at how they can engage with young people the video below, by Graham Brown of Mobile Youth, gives an insightful overview of what these organisations can do to reach their youth target market. The Reconstructed Project also featured in this video as we continue spreading the message of hope amongst our young people in South Africa.

The use of Facebook for social encouragement in a Community in Tension

Web 2.0 services are continuing to serve the online communities by enhancing interactions and communication among these communities. From MySpace to Facebook, the online communities are able to communicate effectively and efficiently. The world is getting smaller because a friend is just a click away on the internet. Web 2.0 services have created a virtual world that brings people closer through the formation of networks. Web 2.0 services have addressed several shortcomings that traditionally were difficult such as time constraints, geographical borders and communication costs. This paper explores the use of Facebook among people from a community affected with gangsterism and drugs. According to Maslow’s theories of human needs, social needs are said to influence human behaviour. This paper investigated the use of Facebook to enhance effective communication and interaction among ex-gang members, ex-drug addicts and other citizens in a Community in Tension. The purpose is to prevent the growth and spread of gangsterism and the use of drugs among South African communities. You can read the full paper presented at the World Wide Web Conference last year here.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Digital Citizen Indaba 4.0

Today is the start of the fourth Digital Citizen Indaba (DCI) which is part of the Highway Africa Conference. It is hosted at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa. DCI is an annual event that brings together bloggers, online and mobile journalists, citizen reporters, new media practitioners, online industry experts and civil society representatives. This year I will be hosting a workshop titled "Digital Voices to Reconstruct Communities" and a few of the slides can be viewed below:

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Art of Mobile Counselling - Part 3

Continuing our journey on exploring "The Art of Mobile Counselling" today we will look at what is known as Text language or "Textese". This is a language and culture that is increasingly used by mobile chat users. As a mobile counsellor being familiar with how the language evolved is important and to understand how the chat language words are formed. Below is a general guideline to what could be expected from most chat users:

Words are replaced with single letters:
be --> b
see --> c
are --> r
you --> u
why --> y
okay --> k

Words can be replaced with single digits:
one, won --> 1
to, too --> 2
tree --> 3
for --> 4
ate --> 8

A single letter or digit can replace a syllable therefore shortening some words e.g: ate can be replaced with 8, therefore great can be text as gr8, wait becomes w8, later becomes l8r or l8a. To can be replaced with 2 therefore we can have tomorrow that could be text as 2mro.

Combinations of the above can shorten a single or multiple words for example your and You're become ur or yr and u're. Next week we will continue with "The Art of Mobile Counselling".

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Mobile Youth: Youth Marketing for the Public Sector

This week the Drug Advice Support service to mobilise youth in support of social good was featured on Mobile Youth website and Upstart Radio. An eBook "Youth Marketing for the Public Sector" by Graham Brown explores various ways how brands and public sector organisations have engaged youth in social programs. In our case the key element was identifying the champions amongst the youth as reaching them on a platform that they are comfortable with.

You can read more about engaging with youth for social good programmes in the FREE eBook that can be downloaded here.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Mobile language preferences by users on MXit

One of the projects that we are collaborating with is the Red MXit information service offering HIV info to users in different languages. This project is currently be managed by Cell-Life and the idea is to give access to information on the MXit platform. The user have to add the service on the MXit profile as a buddy and can view information in 4 of the official South African languages (SA have 11 official languages - See table on the right for language distribution during 2001 census) and in the text (mobile) language. It was interesting to see (High level observations) which of these languages are the most popular amongst our users using this service. Red gave the user the following language options:

- English
- MXit Chat
- Afrikaans
- Sesotho
- Zulu

The number of subscribers to this service is 22,003 of which 62% is male subscribers. The age groups for this service support the MXit demographics with 76% of the subscribers being between the ages of 15-25. The same content was available in all the language options for the user and the following was the language preferences (estimates based on overview of available users count) ranked:

1) English was the most popular choice with approximately 60% of users accessing content
2) Chat Language (MXi Chat) had approximately 25% of users
3) Afrikaans had approximately 10% of the users accessing content
4) Zulu content was accessed by approximately 3% of users
5 Sesotho content was accessed by approximately 2% of users

Although Zulu has the highest number of home language speakers in South Africa in only managed 4th on the list of available languages with the English language proving to be the most popular with the current group of subscribers. Interesting observation in the above list is the MXit chat or chat language that was more popular than Afrikaans, Zulu, Sesotho combined (These languages presenting more than 45% of the South African population).

Perhaps more should be done to see how the chat language can be integrated as part of mobile service delivery with the increase of mobile users being comfortable communicating using it as its language of choice.

To add this contact on MXit:
- Go to Tradepost
- Select MXit Mix
- Select My Culture option
- Select Red
- Add Contact

This service is available 24 hours a day. Your feedback would be welcomed.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Blogging as a change agent to empower citizens

As I am getting ready to attend the World Wide Web Conference in Port Elizabeth this week I was reminded of a paper we presented at the same conference in Cape Town last year titled "Blogging as a change agent to empower citizens in communities with tension". Below is a short abstract from the paper:

"The power of the Internet as a facility is that it has allowed many people worldwide to use it without feeling the real bite of the term ‘cost’. It comprises of numerous technologies that create an interesting question: How far has the information technology world come in terms of development? The introduction of a Web 2.0 technology known as weblogs or blogging has fast become a popular choice of application used on the Internet. Blogging prove to have both major advantages and disadvantages when used in the business environment. Not much research has been conducted on the personal impact blogging has on individuals. An issue that this paper addresses is in determining how helpful blogging can be when used by a group of individuals that are in the phase of drug rehabilitation. Ex-drug addicts and gang members from the Cape Flats in Cape Town were used as a case to investigate how much of an impact blogging had on them on a personal level, in their everyday lives and others that surround them. Blogging could be an alternative assisting or possibly empowering individuals in communities with tension allowing them to express themselves and see the world from a new perspective."

Source: Proceedings of the 10th Annual Conference on World Wide Web Applications 3-5 September 2008, Cape Town, South Africa

Monday, August 31, 2009

Mobile Counselling services via The Grid

Today we've extended our mobile counselling service to the 800,000+ users on "The Grid" mobile social network platform (Thanks Nic Haralambous for stats update). This means that users on The Grid will be able to access our Drug Advice Support, Debt Counselling and HIV/AIDS counselling services. Users on the Grid have to import contacts and could add one of the following communities:

- Yahoo
- GTalk
- Icq

Once selected then users would be able to communicate with any of our advice support services. To import any of the above communities on the Grid the following steps should be taken:

1) Go to Online Friends
2) Select menu
3) On the menu select "My Friends"
4) Import Contacts
5) Select Menu -> Add Community
6) Select Community (AIM, MSN, Yahoo, GTalk, Icq), Enter User name and Password
7) Select Import now

The user can add our Drug Advice Support(DAS), HIV Redchatzone and Debt Breaker contacts in any of the above communities to access our FREE services via The Grid.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

National AIDS Helpline Mobile Chat service growing

The collaboration with Cell-Life and National AIDS Helpline (managed by Lifeline) ,using our Advice Support Network (ASN) software, offering mobile counselling in the area of HIV/AIDS is clearly showing signs of growth during the "Pre-pilot". Thursday the counsellors had conversations with 16 people and supported 635 messages during their 2 hour session. We are looking forward to see how this project grow as the Lifeline counsellors become more comfortable using the mobile phone medium as a means to support those in need of HIV/AIDS support.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Social Media Workshop Feedback

As we prepare for the next Social Media for Non-profits workshop in Port Elizabeth below are some of the particpants giving feeback about their experiences at the workshop in Cape Town:

Friday, August 28, 2009

Social Media for Non-profits workshop

Yesterday as we hosted a number of non-profit organisation representatives it was exciting to see how these non-profits would use Social media as part of the organisation strategies. It was also an opportunity to have members of the Reconstructed Team (Craig Ross (in image above), Brent Williams and Clinton Liederman) to facilitate the workshop. The day was a huge success as we not only managed to get the participants excited about Social Media but we also explored way of how it could be used practically within the various organisations for Social Change.

Some of the topics covered that got the participants talking was the use of blogs, micro-blogging and mobile phones as part of the organisation to engage with various stakeholders. Some of the challenges for many of the non-profits were the lack of resources (E.g. bandwidth, having staff dedicated to social media strategy etc). However, during the workshop we were able to discuss a basic Social Media strategy that could support Non-profit organisations. Using the following steps as part of the Social Media strategy proved to be useful to the participants:1)listening 2) participating 3) creating 4) building networks and 5) evaluating.

At the end of the day all the participants managed to start a blog, micro-blogging, get involved with social networks and draft a basic social media strategy for their various organisations.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

BBC Interview - Drug Advice Support

Tuesday afternoon (25 August 2009) we had the privilege to share our experiences on how we using mobile phones to support people impacted by the problem of drugs. I had an interview on the BBC World Service and you can listen to it online. The interview about Drug Advice Support (DAS) starts at 42:32 (See image for guidance) on the BBC iPlayer.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Interview with the BBC

Tomorrow Drug Advice Support will be featured on the BBC World Service - News Hour Radio programme at 12h06 GMT / 14h06 (South African time). This is a wonderful opportunity to share our experiences of how mobiles phones can be used as tools to support the needs of people in need. You can listen live and get more information here

Workshop: Social Media for Social Change - Port Elizabeth

“Introduction to Social Media for Non-profits, NGOs, Community-Based Organisations and Charities”

The “new web” has transformed the way people connect and social media platforms have become an essential part of the organizational and business strategies. These technologies can be useful for non profits as strategic tools for engagement, relationship building with stakeholders and communities, networking and fundraising. With millions of users of social media in South Africa alone and over a billion worldwide across various platforms (PCs, Mobile phones etc.) this is an opportunity for non profits to share with the masses using FREE tools available to support the vision of such organizations.

This one day training “hands-on” workshop will cover the following areas:
1. Background to social media and tools such as blogs, wikis, micro-blogs, wikis, and multimedia file-sharing sites;
2. Provide a THREE step approach to how your organization can utilize and reap the benefits of social media
3. Practical opportunities for participants to engage with some of the social media tools.
4. Social Media and mobile phones
5. Drafting a Social Media strategy for non-profits.

1. Understanding of Social Media and its context
2. Identified tools that could be integrated into the non-profit operations to support its vision and objectives
3. Introductory level of hands-on experience using social media tools
4. To use mobile phones as possible social media devices
5. Understand the importance of a Social media strategy for a non-profit

Workshop Details:
All required equipment will be provided for the workshop and this includes all refreshments. Workshop price is R750.00 for the day.

Workshop Date & Time:
8 September 2009, 9am – 4pm.

Venue: Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU), Summerstrand, Port Elizabeth

To be part of this Social Media Revolution RSVP at or for more information contact Marlon at

PS: The workshop had limited space for 10 participants only.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Social Media for Social Change - Video

Marlon Parker talks to Nick Booth about Impact Direct in South Africa from Podnosh on Vimeo.

The Art of Mobile Counselling - Part 2

Realising that counselling using Mobile Chat is not the same as helpline or face to face counselling due to a number of factors. Some of the key characteristics and skills for mobile counsellors are:

- Firstly all the counselling skills that applies to helplines and face-to-face is also true for mobile counsellors
- Fast Communication Skills, the mobile chat generation is a "Now" generation who requires immediate response. Fast chat skills would therefore be good to ensure the most of the medium.
- Multiple conversations with various people in need would require being able to multitask
- Understand the mobile language and culture (E.g. know the basics such as not typing in Capital Letters, make use of the basic chat characters just to give that feel of belonging etc.)
- Read between the characters, important to make sense of the expressions through the mobile phone medium.
- Brief and to the point, remember less is best. The small mobile phone screen of most users mean that they do not need long paragraphs but short and to the point messages.
- Creativity, the mobile counsellor should be creative to get the message across in as few characters as possible
- Passion, as with all other form of counselling passion for the area and medium is important.
- Minimal Chat Response (MCR), this is one of the important skills that's required making use of characters during the conversation such as "k", "o" etc. This is important to ensure continuous conversation and getting the user to discuss their situation.

Next week we'll share more on the Art of Mobile Counselling and your comments are welcome as we grow the characteristics and skills of a Mobile Counsellor.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Web in Developing Countries according to Sir Tim Berners-Lee

The founder of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee shared his thoughts (See video below) on what the web should be like for all communities around the world. Questions about are developing nations like those in Africa, India being fed a Western Culture via the web has been raised, but the key thing is making sure that every person have the right to access to the web irrespective the device which is the point of access.

He stated that of course mobile phones are popular in developing nations and that this replaces the computer but yet most of the web is still focused around the PC. According to Berners-Lee 20% of the planet (approx. 1.2 billion) have access to the web even though over 4 billion have access to mobile phones. What this mean is the web should also consider those who don't have access to HD, latest technologies but attempt to reach the rest of the world using simple low-bandwidth browsers.

The more people who have connectivity the greater the opportunity for creativity to come forth in those developing nations. This of course leads to innovations that could come back to impact developed nations as well.

Transcript of Sir Tim Berners-Lee's Talk

'In developing countries of course people have phones where they don't have computers. And to a certain extent there are certain level of people who have phones with their browsers but don't have computers.

...where the web at the moment is only used by 20 per cent of the planet, it's possible that we'll get very much more of the planet actually with access as they get phones, and those phones have simple web browsers.

So one of the things we have to make sure is that it works for them, that we don't just target everything in HD, in three dimensions, whatever the next new thing is - at, you know the early adopter, we also have to make sure that we target things in low resolution, low bandwidth, to people out there.

But also we have to realise that one of the things which, when you talk to anybody, for example, about going to Africa, about how people use technology, is they all say it is incredible how whatever the technology is they are really really creative with it. Well guess what? They're human beings and human beings are creative. So one of the things we've got to realise as well is as people, more people get connected, it is their creativity...

...the important thing is we must enable them to create a web that they need and that they want, and they will. If they're enabled, if they're given an open Internet platform, a neutral Internet platform, they will do that. So we must not think that we will be feeding them our culture, we must realise that their culture is going to be coming back very strongly and that is going to be very exciting for the world.'

Friday, August 21, 2009

Drug Advice Support featured in Business Week

Yesterday the Drug Advice Support (Our mobile counselling drug support service) was featured in US publication BusinessWeek, The article "MXit Mixes Mobile Networks with Social Conscience" was the second major publication the project featured in this week. MXit being more than just a Mobile Instant Messenger but moving towards becoming more of a Mobile Social Network have become one the big African Mobile Innovations that will continue to grow in Africa and in parts of Asia according to Herman Heunis, CEO of MXit Lifestyle. He also added in the Business Week article that MXit has an advantage over telecoms in understanding social behavior because that's "the core" of their business. With this perspective towards their product and their innovation we should see a greater increase of MXit type technologies being deployed in the area to support Social Good.

The full article featured in BusinessWeek can be read here.

Digital Voices to Reconstruct Communities

We are a few weeks away of the largest journalism conference in Africa and with an exciting line up of speakers and presenters it is surely going to be one not to be missed. Highway Africa is an annual conference that takes place in Grahamstown, Eastern Cape South Africa. More about Highway Africa on the website:

"Highway Africa is a partnership between Rhodes University (School of Journalism and Media Studies) and the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), with the support of several partners, development agencies and sponsors.

For eleven years the Highway Africa conference has been at the centre of Africa’s debates on journalism and new media. The conference has over the years become the largest annual gathering of African journalists in the world (701 in 2007). In the last four years Highway Africa has evolved into a multi-pronged programme with the following components:

Research: mapping the terrain of the challenges of the interface of technology, journalism and the media

Education and Training: responding to the gaps identified in the research this project makes a practical intervention by re-skilling, upskilling, educating and training journalists.

News Agency: a niche news agency with a network of correspondents across the continent it offers weekly news digest on ICT developments in Africa

Conference: the flagship of the programme, it is the forum for critical reflection on journalism, media and technology and a celebration of Africa"

Last year I had an opportunity to present at the Digital Citizen Indaba conference introducing the Reconstructed Programme with co-presenter Brent Williams and it was really an amazing experience meeting such great individuals passionate about journalism and media.

This year I will be presenting a workshop on Digital Voices to Reconstruct Communities as part of the fourth Digital Citizens Indaba. The programme for the DCI 4.0 is exciting and I am honoured to be part of such a wonderful panel of speakers and presenters.

The Fastest way to break video news: Ask the Bolt

Youtube is definitely one of those sharing sites where users can get news out in a flash. An example is when Usain Bolt won the 200m by shattering the record in 19.19 seconds. The video flooded the YouTube sharing site with millions of people across the world sharing in the news of the fastest man over 200m.

What does this mean for community empowerment? With the proper tools citizens in Communities in Tension could use this medium as a way of sharing breaking news with the world.

Featured in New Scientist Magazine - More facts...

It was a privilege to be featured in this month's New Scientist Magazine, however there were some key information that was excluded from the article and I would like to make mention of it here:

- The service Drug Advice Support (DAS) service helps people across South Africa and have a counsellor base of 19 volunteers
- Wesley Nitsckie is the lead developer on the project working closely with the community as co-developers.
- The leading Community organisation who run the service is Impact Direct Ministries who are based in Bridgetown and partner is Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT)
- The HIV service has been launched in collaboration with the National AIDS Helpline, Lifeline in association with Cell Life.

Many thanks to all who contribute to the success of this project and the community of Bridgetown.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Debt Breaker partner with DRS Holdings

After months of providing hundreds of users advice on the topic of debt and financial freedom using mobile phones, Debt Breaker has signed a national contract in partnership with Debt Restructuring Services (DRS) Holdings. Debt Breaker and DRS Holdings will provide mobile debt counselling services to thousands of people all across South Africa making it the first of its kind in the world.

Launch National AIDS Helpline Mobile Instant Messaging service

Today will be the launch of our hard labour over the past few weeks providing National AIDS Helpline with the technology to offer mobile counselling service to thousands accross South Africa. Why this is such wodnerful opportunity? Interesting facts about South Africa:

1. Highest number of HIV+ people in the world
2. Most unequal countries in the world
3. Best technical infrastructure in Africa, especially cellphones

"Massive potential to use cellphones to provide communication & info services to millions infected or affected by HIV"

We salute the world's first HIV/AIDS Mobile Counsellors as we looking forward seeing how communities will be reconstructed through the use of technology.

National AIDS Helpline counsellors are available Mondays to Thursdays 3-5pm. Add the contact (Jabber) or redchatzone (Google Talk) and nickname: Red Chat Zone.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Drug Advice Support going strong

Looking back at how the project has grown not just in number of subscribers but also our advisors on the Drug Advice Support (DAS) is so encouraging. Today as the guys were setting up (see image above) and getting ready to run DAS it is so exciting to see the passion that our advisors have to reconstruct the lives of thousands of people accross our nation. I know that the sacrifices the advisors have made are not in vain and we are seeing the fruits of their labour.

A year ago the team offering advice support on DAS
Well done to the Reconstructed Team for changing the world of citizens of our nation using technology.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Workshop: Social Media for Social Change

“Introduction to Social Media for Non-profits, NGOs, Community-Based Organisations and Charities”

The “new web” has transformed the way people connect and social media platforms have become an essential part of the organizational and business strategies. These technologies can be useful for non profits as strategic tools for engagement, relationship building with stakeholders and communities, networking and fundraising. With millions of users of social media in South Africa alone and over a billion worldwide across various platforms (PCs, Mobile phones etc.) this is an opportunity for non profits to share with the masses using FREE tools available to support the vision of such organizations.

This one day training “hands-on” workshop will cover the following areas:
1. Background to social media and tools such as blogs, wikis, micro-blogs, wikis, and multimedia file-sharing sites;
2. Provide a THREE step approach to how your organization can utilize and reap the benefits of social media
3. Practical opportunities for participants to engage with some of the social media tools.
4. Social Media and mobile phones
5. Drafting a Social Media strategy for non-profits.

1. Understanding of Social Media and its context
2. Identified tools that could be integrated into the non-profit operations to support its vision and objectives
3. Introductory level of hands-on experience using social media tools
4. To use mobile phones as possible social media devices
5. Understand the importance of a Social media strategy for a non-profit

Workshop Details:
All required equipment will be provided for the workshop and this includes all refreshments for the day. The price of the workshop is R2,000.00 for the day OR RSVP your seat with the code ALL by the 20th August and the Athlone Living Lab will waver your fee by 90% (You Pay ONLY R200.00).

Workshop Date & Time:
27 August 2009, 9am – 4pm.

Venue: Athlone Living Lab
Impact Centre
66 Tarentaal Road
Cape Town

To be part of this Social Media Revolution RSVP at or for more information contact Marlon at

PS: The workshop had limited space for 10 participants only.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Art of Mobile Counselling - Part 1

After an exciting week of training with National AIDS Help Line in South Africa who supports thousands every month with the issue of HIV/AIDS we managed to get 6 of their counsellors all geared up for Chat Counselling using mobile phones. Although all of the participants were qualified counsellors we had to teach the difference in counselling approach via mobile phones. We will be sharing some of our thoughts over the next few weeks of what the necessary skills are to make the best of the mobile medium. Our experience with the Drug Advice Support (DAS) counselling service has taught us that Mobile phones as a medium the following is a few suggestions to consider:

- Mobile chat environment has its own culture and language

- Less is best, the counsellor have to use as little text to get the maximum message

- “Hi” is a conversation, for many just a simple "hi" is a conversation that makes them feel connected in some way.

- Communicate in characters not words. Many of the mobile chat users communicate using characters to make the most of the small screen and limited number of characters per screen

We are looking forward seeing the progress of the National AIDS Helpline as they make use of our technology to support thousands accross South Africa.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

National AIDS Help Line on MXit

Today we started a world's first by offering training to the National AIDS Help Line using our Advice Support technology to offer counselling via Mobile Instant Messaging (MIM). This Pilot is managed by Cell-Life, supported by HIV organisation Right To Care and PEPFAR which will allow for this service to be fully funded for the duration of the Pilot. What this mean for the National AIDS Helpline is that it would be now the only organisation in the world to offer counselling with regard to HIV/AIDS using Mobile Instant Messaging using the technology (see image below)that was developed by a community on the Cape Flats in the Athlone Living Lab.

The first day went well as we introduced the future mobile counselors to "The Art of Mobile Counselling" and "Mobile Phones for Social Good". The training is being done by myself and Craig Ross, member of the Reconstructed Team, and will keep you updated on the progress of the week. Also look out for a post on the "Art of Mobile Counselling". To add the National AIDS Help Line on MXit you do the following:

1) Add Contacts
2) Got to Jabber or Google Talk option
3) ID: (Jabber) or redchatzone (Google Talk) and Nickname: Red Chat Zone
4) Accept Contact

This service will be live Mondays to Thursdays between 3pm and 5pm.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Community Gaming for Community Empowerment

As we prepare for our next journey in using technology (computer and online gaming) as a way to make a difference in the lives of citizens in Communities in Tension (CiT). Below of some of the Reconstructed guys getting some practice with the Wii and XBox.

Friday, August 7, 2009

MXit response to Media

Over the past few days MXit was again in the media in connection with a young girl who went missing. Fortunately the young lady was found and back home safely. The response from MXit to its 14 million users can be found below:

"(1:42:02 PM) Info: NOTICE: MXit SAYS NO TO POOR JOURNALISM! We condemn the unprofessional and sensation seeking journalism displayed by e-TV and The Star newspaper this last week. Both news channels in some way blame MXit for the disappearance of the Parktown girl. E-TV ran this story Wednesday night, displaying a pornographic website on the backdrop - totally unacceptable as we will never promote pornography. The Star also ran articles that left readers with only MXit to blame. MXit is not responsible for the disappearance of this girl. We want to warn all users again to enjoy our technology with the necessary responsibility and level of maturity; and never to reveal personal information. We challenge both media owners to get these simple facts accurate, and to properly understand our technology. Can we trust what is reported?"

Please find our previous post about advice for parents and users with regard to use of MXit here

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Social and Community Informatics and Social Theories of Networks

Athlone is situated on the Cape Flats of the Western Cape in Cape Town, South Africa, which is plagued with violence, drugs and gansterism. The society is described by Parker (2008) as a community in tension. The Athlone Living Lab project includes a community based non-governmental organisation Impact Direct Ministries (IDM). IDM opted to use technology to offer additional support and advice to people affected by substance abuse; HIV, and general social problems. Its services are available to all members of the community.

The Community in Tension Project fits into the emerging Community Informatics field for the following reasons:
• It is using wireless and community based technology from a local centre; This decreases installation and running costs
• It is there for a socially excluded group, who have no resources of their own
• The Mxit language used is cheaper to use than other texting formats
• The group manage the project – questions come in and are answered by the peers.
The Athlone Lab projects strengths and weaknesses are as demonstrated by the Schuurman analysis .The partnership model for the Athlone lab is the community, academia, industry and government. (See Figure 5). The difference of the Athlone project to other living labs is that the community; Athlone; leads the project and are not reliant on funds from other partners: (although funds have to be raised in other ways). The choice of technology was by the community, as was the choice of partners. The future social transformation of a community in tension is led by the community.

You can read more about the Athlone Living Lab and Social and Community Informatics in a technical report here.

Twitter under attack

The above image shows why we could not access Micro-blogging platform Twitter for the past few hours. Already I felt like I had withdrawal symptoms as FaceBook was not giving the same pleasure as Twitter. Indicating how my preference for platforms have shifted.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Living Labs for Social and User-driven Open Innovation

This is the presentation for this evening's NetSquared NetTuesday Meetup.

Mobile phones and the elderly

Yesterday morning we had an exciting time with our Seniors Mobile Session (SMS). It was interesting to see the eagerness on the seniors that visit the Impact Centre who want to know more about mobile phones and technology. The SMS workshops is to support the elderly in the local community to maximise the use of their mobile phones. Being able to do basic functions on their mobile phones (sending texts, checking voicemail etc.) the elderly will be able to engage on these platforms with the younger generations as well as peers and it also seems as if there is an increased interest to learn about the use of mobile phones to access the web.

Below are some videos of the SMS group sharing what they expect from these workshops

Monday, August 3, 2009

A year of Drugs, Sex & Mobile Phones

One year has passed and so many things has happened since we "officially" launched Drug Advice Support (previously known as idmtalk). Drug Advice Support (DAS) is one of our large projects, part of our Living Lab activity, and it emerged out of a need in a community that were experiencing the scourge of drug addiction and violence. Using men and women from the community we started a journey that will change our lives and thousands others forever. This service uses mobile phones as a medium to connect with people all across South Africa offering advice and support to those in need (Mobile Active description of DAS).

Since then we've been in more than 50 articles (that we are aware of!!), 3 television appearances, more than 20 radio interviews and we still believe that we have so much to offer of how technology can be used to make a difference in the lives of many. We've had our server crash, got a team from UWC (Wesley and Paul) using the Chisimba platform as a basis for DAS to co-develop with the community a system that could support the large number of requests. With 19 registered advisors (4 Full time)who all come from the local community of Bridgetown, Cape Town, South Africa the following are some indication of what was achieved during 250 hours online (31 July 2009):

- Number of Subscribers: 9,193
- Number of Messages: 746,440
- Number of Conversations : 30,685
- Number of Conversations related to drugs: 18,963
- Average number of conversations per session: 30,685 / 250 hours = 122.5 per hour or 245 per session
- Maximum number of conversations 473 and the Minimum 21
- Average number of Messages = 1422 per session (Max 3678, Min 234)
- Average number of conversations per Advisor in a session = 24 (Min 4, Maximum 56)

Other interesting statistics were:

- TiK (Crystal Meth) was the most popular drug with 6637 related conversations followed by Heroin with 3223.
- 13% [1211] of subscribers were using this service to get support for a family member.
- 4% [403] of Subscribers are getting offline help/support or counselling after using the service (This is known cases through feedback conversations).

This clearly shows us an example of where mobile phones can be used for social good and make the difference in the lives of literally thousands in a nation. Bare in mind that all this was done with very little resources bu a group of extraordinary individuals passionate about reconstructing their communities.
So through all of this we cried and laughed together, celebrated when DAS subscribers were victorious and saddened when they were struggling, but we've made it and we are still standing. So what makes this year so special that others want to read or hear about it? Simple it is about people caring about other people and giving the little that they have to see lives being Reconstructed. A special thanks to the team of DAS who makes this more than a project of Drugs, Sex and Mobile Phones, but one of where we united can make a difference in our communities and nation.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

A Community Driven ICT Development Approach to Empower a Community in Tension (CiT)

We've (Wesley Nitsckie and I) just received confirmation that our paper have been accepted for a conference later this year titled "A Community Driven ICT Development Approach to Empower a Community in Tension (CiT)". This paper highlights a new Agile Development approach that could support ICT for Development projects that requires real time solutions for real time problems. The Drug Advice Support initiative is used as a case study and lessons learnt from this development experience could be of value to other social entrepreneurs or social innovation developers. The abstract for the IDIA Conference is below:


"The development of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) solutions for community empowerment has seen an increased interest from various stakeholders. Such solutions present challenges specifically in the area of identifying the appropriate ICT community development approaches.
This paper suggests a community-driven approach for the development of an ICT solution to support a Community in Tension (CiT) due to the scourge of drug abuse amongst its citizens. The CiT used skills and resources available in the community as part of its development approach. The result of this collaboration was the Drug Advice Support (DAS) system which uses mobile and web technologies. DAS was co-created by the community who needed the system to aid them with the social issues they are facing due to the substance abuse problem. It concludes by indicating how the community-driven systems development approach could be used to aid other communities who require localised solutions."

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Reconstructing Communities Using Mobile Phones

Today I had the privilege to present at the UCT Graduate School of Business Mobile Marketing Course. This course is managed by no one other than Dave Duarte, one of the greatest minds in South Africa. The talk was titled "Reconstructing Communities Using Mobile Phones" with a focus on how mobile phones are integrated into daily lives to bring about a change in local communities. The presentation can be viewed below:

Monday, July 27, 2009

Red HIV Zone on MXit

Today we launch another exciting inititiave a collaboration with Cell-Life. South Africa has 5.7 million people living with HIV of which and estimated 3 million between the ages of 12 and 35. This is also the age group that has the most mobile and mobile chat (e.g. MXit) users. To ensure that people in this age group are reached with information and advice about HIV on a communications platform that they use daily MXit proved to be an ideal medium.

This is the Cell-Life Red project that will provide users FREE access to information and advice to information about HIV and AIDS. This service is available 24 hours a day and is easily accessible. This new service will offer people opportunity to be part of a community that will support those in need.

Information about HIV will be available in 5 languages (including a chat language)and will also have competitions, contact details and much more as part of reaching the 14 million users on MXit.

If you want to go Red on MXit then you can do the following:

- Go to Tradepost
- Select MXit Mix
- Select My Culture option
- Select Red
- Add Contact

Our goal is to reach at least 250,000 users who will use this contact for information and advice relating to HIV and AIDS. The Red revolution has surely begun. Follow Red also on twitter @RedMXit for more information and updates about the service

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Debt Breaker on Angel

With the increase number of people looking for assistance on how to get out of debt and the number of MXit subscribers increasing we've added our Debt Breaker service to our MXit Angel Portal.

This service will give consumers an opportunity to add our MXit contact and they will be able to access FREE information about debt and debt counselling over their mobile phone.

MXit is a Mobile Instant Messenger that is available for most handsets and PCs. MXit Lifestyle also launched an application for the iPhone. It can be downloaded here

You can add our Angel service on your MXit application as follows
- Go to Menu
- Contacts
- Add Contacts
- MXit Services
- Add the following (Service Name: Angel, Nickname: Angel)
- Accept Contact

For more information about our Debt Breaker Service you can go here

Twitter Translator: "Twinslator"

With the number of Twitter users increasing it is no surprise that more translator applications are becoming popular. One such application is the Twinslator which allows you to translate your tweet into another language. It is powered by Google Translate and then allow you to either post both messages or just the translated message. A pity about having to enter twitter details each time you want to do a translation. Does prove to be a bit tedious but simple enough to use.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Social Media and Teens

After spending 4 weeks in the UK and connecting with a large number of young people it was interesting to hear some of their comments about Social Media. Speaking to approximately just over 100 teenagers during my stay I wanted to know what are their social media tool of choice, what they think of micro-blogging like Twitter and what are the Instant Messenger that they use most of the time.

All the youth (aged 13 - 26) indicated that they are using FaceBook and that it is their social network of choice. Only 5% of the youth have a Twitter account and some of them thinking that Twitter is for "famous people". Only two of the 5% were using it often and almost 10% did not know about Twitter. The Instant Messenger of Choice was MSN and very few of them used Mobile Instant Messengers.

It would be interesting to see how Teens in South Africa and those in the UK are adopting Social Media. We are currently running a Social Media with Teens programme as part of the Athlone Living Lab project and it seems as if from the offset it has been received positively by our teens in Cape Town, South Africa.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Add us to MXit: New Times

To add us on your MXit you can do the following:

1) Go to contacts
2) Add contact
3) Go to Jabber or Google Talk (depending on your version of MXit)
4) Jabber or Google Talk ID:
Nickname: DAS
5) Accept contact

This service runs Mondays to Thursdays between 4 and 6pm. Join us as we reconstruct our communities.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Angels and Mobiles

Thanks to Nick Booth for recording this quick video displaying our MXit Angel project.

Angel service for Drug Addicts in South Africa from Podnosh on Vimeo.

Read his post about the Reconstructed project here

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Power of Social Media

There are many people doing amazing work around the world through the use of social media. A few minutes ago I saw another example of how through the use of social media an audience that would generally take a long time to reach or be expensive to mobilise can be reached within minutes at almost no cost.

An hour ago a call for support was sent out to distribute a message that a young girl went missing (See image above). How could you reach more than 4 million people within minutes at very low cost? The answer is the Kutcher-Effect on twitter. Asking Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore to Retweet your message on twitter who has more than 4 million followers combined.

Within minutes the message was sent throughout the world (I am included in that list) possibly on every continent for the twitter community to look for this young girl (3 minutes after the tweet Ashton tweeted the message - see below).

Forty minutes later the millions who were reached were informed that the young girl is safe and sound.

This shows the power of social media and just one of those ways again how it can be used for good. How are you using the power that you have at your fingertips?

Digital Birmingham: A quick tour by a Capetonian

Monday I decided to make a trip to Birmingham to see what the social media scene would be like in that city. Initially I had no idea what to expect but was looking forward to the journey (also the furthest north I have travelled in England). Entering the beautiful city and observing many industrial landmarks it was no surprise to me that my visit would be one that would be beyond memorable as I began meeting with the Brum Bloggers (Birmingham Social Media Community). I was hosted by Jon Hickman lecturer at Birmingham City University and also the course director for the Masters degree in Social Media. I was intrigued by the fact that they would be the first to offer a Masters in Social Media and was good to understand the thinking behind the course.

Meetings with other interesting social media experts working in local charities (Michael Grimes)and with young offenders (Jon Bounds)also proved to be very useful learning how different communities in contexts were using social media. Although we come from different parts of the world we all shared a view that key to social media is the community more than just the tools or technologies. Later the evening I had the privilege to join the Birmingham Social Media Elite (BrumBloggers) where various people in the social media sector came together to share and just chat around the table. Amazing group of people all around the room and was fortunate to connect with the likes of Nick Booth and Pete Ashton who had an interesting take on engaging with social media. Nick with his years of experience in the industry and more so trying to break down barriers within engaging using Social media in the government context reminded me of the same challenges we face with funding being available for certain initiatives yet it never reaches the ground because somewhere the message gets lost in the chain of command. More so the importance of Government when it comes to what is called the Digital Citizen. Really an informative evening having great conversations from what a Social media consultant is to how social media should be more used in the area of social good.

My second day started off meeting Chris Unitt who has an interest in social media in developing countries and was able to share some of our experiences with the Athlone Living Lab and Reconstructed Project. Key for us to social media in a developing context was identifying your champions in the community that could drive the initiatives and build capacity to contribute towards sustainability of such activities. Also did an interview with Nick (a,k,a PodNosh on Twitter and was good to share a little about the work we are doing back home. The day continued with a meeting with Dave Harte who is key in the Digital Birmingham initiative and more so part of the Liviing Lab that could lead to collaborations with our work. I can see how Cape Town who are striving to have this digital citizenship and services could learn a lot from the work that Dave is involved in and where we could share about our experiences with building innovative parters with various stakeholders. The day ended with a Social Media Cafe session in Wolverhampton where the discussion was about "Social Media Non Adopters" (This Post is on its way). The conversations was definitely heated as many had different opinions to how a social media non-adopter should be described and identified.

Overall I am very impressed by the level of creative industries involvement in the space of Social Media and It also showed me that here in Birmingham there is a breed of social media people who have such a vast amount of experiences to share and could be useful for others out there to make the trip or connection with any of these amazing individuals who will add value to your social media experience.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Athlone Living Lab in Southampton

This week the Athlone Living Lab Project Manager and I had the privilege to present the project and solutions to a group at University of Southampton. It was a wonderful experience to share and learn from others who are passionate to see mobile technologies being used for social change. We have gained so much through this week of Living Labs Workshops in the UK and looking forward to applying these new found knowledge in our context.

We will also be deploying one of our social innovations (Advice Support Network) in Southampton fulfilling our vision of having a global impact with the solutions produced in the Athlone Living Lab.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Watching the Michael Jackson Memorial Live

Free Videos by Ustream.TV

With Social Media playing such a big role in Michael Jackson's memorial and coverage to the ends of the earth using technology like never before you can follow it through live the stream above.