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Tuesday, May 25th, 2010 - 2 comments

Tostan and the Jokko Initiative: mobile technology amplifying social change

Jokko (or Jokoo) means “communication” or “dialogue” in Wolof, a national language in Senegal, West Africa.

Since 1991, Tostan has brought its holistic, human rights-based, 30-month non-formal education program – the Community Empowerment Program (CEP) – to thousands of communities in ten African countries: Burkina Faso, Djibouti, The Gambia, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Senegal, Somalia, and Sudan.

Community-led development

The goal of the CEP is to provide its participants – 80% of whom are women and girls living in rural areas – with the skills and knowledge to improve their lives in a sustainable way. Developed methodically over the past 20 years through an ongoing process of community consultation and careful revision, the CEP has become today one of the most unique and effective community development programs in Africa.

The Aawde (a Fulani word meaning “to plant the seed”) is the literacy and economic empowerment component of the Tostan CEP. This module takes place during the last year of the program and focuses on literacy, numeracy, project management and post-literacy (which aims to solidify literacy education and provide resources such as work/exercise books to the newly literate).

Let’s face up to facts: Post-literacy and retention of literacy skills in the long term have always been issues for most NGOs working in education. The lack of availability of books written in national languages in the villages is obviously an issue and makes it difficult for participants to practice their new skills in the long term. But the relative lack of interest of most of our participants in reading books in the first place (West African societies are mostly of oral tradition) encouraged us to re-think our post-literacy strategy as a whole in 2008.

With mobile phone networks rapidly expanding to reach the vast majority of Senegalese citizens, and with mobile phones already commonplace in even the most remote villages, mobile technology quickly appeared to us as to be a promising new pedagogical tool for literacy.

Mobile phones for literacy

With a mobile phone, you can text (for less money than placing a call), calculate, convert currencies and check the date and time. Add to these very common features the iconic system for facilitating navigation in the menu (a word, an image), and you get yourself a complementary pedagogical tool to the traditional blackboard and piece of chalk!

In other words, the increasing accessibility of mobile technology and the cost-efficiency of SMS texting present a new motivation for literacy, while providing an innovative training tool in the long term, as phones remain in the village after the Tostan program and are being used on a daily basis after the class. But there is more.

Mobile phones can indeed be used in complement traditional communication methods in order to increase the scope of community-led events and more efficiently diffuse innovations and collective decisions, while amplifying the voice of traditionally marginalized individuals. And “spreading the news” within the community and beyond is, as we all know, critical to long term social change.

Catalyzing social mobilization and organized diffusion of social change

Developed using UNICEF’s RapidSMS platform, the “SMS Community Forum” is a cheap, practical, flexible, SMS-based application that allows a community member to disseminate information to a virtual network of his/her peers by sending a single text message to a server. The Community Forum has been vital in publicizing community activities and events such as vaccination campaigns and literacy group meetings and in spreading news about positive social change in a village to its neighbors. Or even poems!

“Puvoir tuché tt l monde come si l monde été une ronde: simpl ingégn 1guin d temp TOSTAN ns t some reconéçen” (“Being able to reach the world as if the world was just a round dance: easy, well-thought, a gain of time. Tostan, we are grateful”)(Message sent by a participant to the RapidSMS Community Forum in August 2009)

And it actually rhymes in French!

In 2010, Tostan will be launching a new project using RapidSMS: “Jokkondiral!”, a website that will allow Tostan’s rural participants to communicate via SMS texting and voicemail with their relatives in the diaspora. Engaging all actors – and especially the extended networks abroad – is indeed crucial. The pre-requisite to social change is to facilitate a transversal, honest and non-judgmental discussion.

Facilitating. That’s what Tostan has been doing for the past 20 years in the field, addressing difficult issues like female genital cutting or forced and child marriage through debate and discussion.

Today, mobile technology has the potential to be one of the platforms where this discussion can happen. This won’t replace the consensus-building exercise “under the baobab tree”, but will help raise the questions and suggest the possible solutions.

Allow me to wrap up.

  1. Obviously, mobile technology by itself is not a panacea for most of the issues facing the field of development. On that topic, I strongly recommend that you read Ann-Ryan Heatwole’s brilliant blog post (“Myths and Realities about Women and Mobile Phones”) or the ICT4D Jester’s blog, which I always find very inspirational.
  2. Mobile technology remains however the most advanced technology available in rural Africa TODAY. It needs adjustments, and will surely evolve, but if correctly introduced to the field, it certainly has the potential to amplify the positive impact of development programs like Tostan’s CEP.
  3. By helping the most socially, economically and geographically isolated people in Senegal to understand the stakes of their community’s development, and then by teaching them to use the most advanced technology at their disposal to complement (not replace!) the pre-existing means of communication, Tostan is extremely confident that mobile phones can accelerate positive social change.

To read more about the Jokko Initiative, please visit our blog or download our concept note.

Photo credits: Tostan

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The views expressed in this blog-post are solely those of the author.

Comments (2)

Tweets that mention Tostan and the Jokko Initiative: mobile technology amplifying social change – Conversations for a Better World --
Tuesday 25th May, 2010, 12:31pm

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Sabina Zaccaro, Wikigender and The Jokko Initiative, techise . techise said: Tostan and the Jokko Initiative: mobile technology amplifying ... [...]

Sunday 15th August, 2010, 6:42am

I like the idea of looking at your categories and blogging the most about that – it’s good inspiration. I have been torn between the direction of what my newest site should be focused on and after reading this.
Making people aware of modern and new technology really a indication of what a good person in your life you are!!!
Peoples living in rural area if given a chance to prove them, It's sure they will definitely perform well.
Serve Technology

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Guest Editor

Guillaume Debar

Project Manager, Tostan


I am a young development worker from France, Sciences-Po Alum, passionate about non-authoritarian ways to encourage positive social change.

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