Wireless communications saved lives in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake – over a hundred people buried in the rubble were rescued by texting or calling for help with their mobile phones. Now wireless is the focus of innovative programs to help earthquake survivors rebuild. The Voilà Foundation sees the potential for Haiti – the poorest county in the western hemisphere - to be a model for information and communications services in the 21st century and Voilà is helping lead the way. Innovative text messaging platforms are currently in place to direct help where needed; NGO’s are implementing cash for work programs, using wireless phones as mobile wallets to pay workers safely and efficiently. New applications are being put into service every day. The foundation complements many of its programs with the communications technologies and services of Voilà —powerful tools to move productivity, education, and entrepreneurship ahead.
Ground Breaking SMS Application created for Haiti now set for Global Deployment through Red Cross Partnership
The Red Cross approached Voilá immediately after the January 12, 2010 earthquake with a specific communications challenge how to send targeted aid messages to people that could benefit from them, without broadcasting to others for whom the information would be irrelevant or confusing.
Based on that initial request, Voilá’s software affiliate created an innovative SMS application dubbed TERA (Trilogy Emergency Response Application). TERA allows the Red Cross to send customized text messages to phone users in defined geographic areas unlike traditional broadcast SMS services that require the message to be sent to every subscriber on a carrier’s network.
The application is easy to use and enables the Red Cross to provide Haitians with advice and aid offers that are relevant to their particular circumstances. Topics range from health, hygiene and cholera to weather alerts and hurricane
For instance, when a 14 foot storm surge was predicted to hit Haiti as a result of Hurricane Igor, 50,000 text messages were sent warning subscribers specifically near the Northern coastal region, giving instructions on how to prepare or relocate. Messages were again sent letting them know when the danger had passed.
The SMS messages can also include a Creole language hotline for people to receive more detailed information than a text message can provide. The entire effort is supplemented with more traditional communication means such as a local Red Cross radio station, town hall meetings, focus groups and posters.
Free License for Global Deployment
TERA is the first SMS application of its kind anywhere in the world, and it has transformed the IFRC’s ability to provide service. Based on the success of the program, Voilà has granted the IFRC with a free license to deploy the application around the world. Additionally, through a grant by the Humanitarian Innovation Fund, Voilà and the IFRC are enhancing the Creole hotline service to provide a new Interactive Voice Service (IVR) that will facilitate better two-way communication by enabling people to participate in surveys via their mobile phone. The program will continue to take advantage of the new modes of communication targeting young Haitians ‘connected’ via the new Kwa Wouj Twitter feed launched in late 2011.
- In its first 18 months of operation, over 45 million text messages were sent to Voilà subscribers on topics ranging from cholera, to hurricane preparedness and sexual violence. Over 877,000 Haitians called the toll free hotline for more information.
- An evaluation of the program revealed that 25% of the people surveyed remember getting a Red Cross SMS on their phone. Of those, 95% found the information useful and 90% reported that they changed something in their life as a result of the information they received.
- Immediately following the first suspected cases of Cholera, SMS’s were targeted to Voilà customers specifically in the affected population around the Artibonite region, advising on good hygiene and safe water practices to help contain the spread of the disease. Shortly thereafter, the Red Cross began targeting messages to the Port-au-Prince region. By years’ end, nearly 4 million messages were sent and over 90,000 calls were handled by the recorded hotline with more detailed information in Creole. The Red Cross is continuing to use the TERA application in the fight against cholera.
- A vaccination campaign launched four weeks after the earthquake was aimed at protecting 130,000 people from measles, diptheria, pertussis and tetanus. Using TERA, approximately 16 million text messages were targeted to Voilà subscribers within range of the aid center, providing information about the service and specific times for vaccinations. As a result, more than 152,000 people received life-saving protection.
- During Hurricane season, the Red Cross successfully delivered 4 million SMS to approximately half a million Haitians. Messages included: advising people to put their important documents in waterproof covers; to clean drainage around their homes to reduce the risk of flooding; and store reserves of water, food and medicine. The campaign promoted the free Haitian Red Cross recorded information line, which received 400,000 calls.
December 6, 2010 was the big day. After nine months of development and testing, planning and training, Voilà launched the first-ever mobile money service in Haiti T-Cash. Voilà customers can now use their phone as a ‘mobile wallet’ - withdraw all or part of their money; transfer it to their friends or family and even pay for food and merchandise from a network of merchants.
What’s more, these services are playing a practical role in helping the nation rebuild. NGO’s are using T-Cash as a safe, convenient, and cost effective way to pay their cash-for-work recipients. Just three months into service, T-Cash had over 65,000 registered users.
Relief organizations need an efficient and cost effective way to distribute cash - historically, up to 40 cents of every dollar was spent on logistics and security associated with moving money. With T-Cash, this can be reduced to just a few cents.
More importantly, T-Cash provides Haiti’s ‘unbanked population’ with convenient and affordable access to banking services. Over 85% of Haitian households have access to a mobile phone, but less than 10% of Haitians have a bank account of any kind. Simply getting money to relatives across Haiti can take days, amid the constant threat of being robbed. Voilà’s T-Cash service, launched in conjunction with UNIBANK, Haiti’s premier financial institution, and international relief and development agency, Mercy Corps, represents a milestone in leveraging wireless technology to spur recovery and development. Mobile money links vendors, users, agents, and banks in an ecosystem made possible by Voilà’s quality wireless infrastructure.
MERCY CORPS – A CHOICE PARTNER
Voilà partnered with groups on every level to make this innovation happen. It started with a nine month pilot program with UNIBANK and Mercy Corps. Mercy Corps’ strategic approach and decades of expertise were two key reasons Voilà chose them as their philanthropic partner and they turned out to be a terrific partner. Mercy Corps worked alongside Voilà to train 1,500 Haitians on how to use mobile banking services and successfully conducted a series of pilot programs in the Central Plateau and Lower Artibonite regions using the T-Cash platform for their cash-for-work, grant and voucher programs – the first NGO in Haiti to do so. They’re also emphasizing mobile money as a tool for ‘micro-savings.” The joint initiative was selected as a ‘Featured Commitment’ by the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) for its ability to “catalyze financial access and enable economic empowerment for the rural poor in Haiti.”
“The 3 Sisters”
Junie, Nadia and Magguie Louis-Jeune live in a small house with their eight children in Haiti’s Central Plateau. The three sisters lived in Port-au-Prince until the earthquake destroyed their homes. Junie and Magguie lost their husbands. Falling rubble broke Magguie’s legs. When the earth stopped shaking, all they had was each other, and a humble country house they had inherited. Junie is one of 20,000 people who were paid by Mercy Corps with T-Cash to work on a community selected infrastructure project. The sisters also received $225 to spend at a Mercy Corps-organized market fair. They paid school fees for two children and bought a mattress and cookware. In the city, both Junie and Magguie had market stands. Now, the sisters are trying their hand at farming, planting peanuts, eggplant and beans and have voiced their desire to start businesses in their new home. They have a desire to succeed.
Mercy Corps’ Kenbe La Program
Building on lessons learned from the pilot phase, Mercy Corps integrated T-Cash into a more complex program. Instead of using only the cash-out feature, Mercy Corps’ Kenbe La Program in St. Marc developed a local m-commerce ecosystem – paying monthly voucher recipients through T-Cash, and setting up a vendor network to purchase staples like oil, rice, corn and beans. By the end of December 2010, 832 beneficiaries and 32 vendors were trained, given Voilà SIM cards and enrolled in the Kenbe La program.
Growing Mobile Money
Based on the successful pilot with Mercy Corps, Voilà has expanded its NGO partners to include organizations like World Health and Sean Penn’s organization, J/P HRO, whom are using T-Cash for their payroll services. Additionally, Voilà launched mobile money to the general population in early December,2010. In the first few months, Voilà had registered over 65,000 users and transactions totaling more than $100,000 were flowing through the T-Cash network on a weekly basis. The number is steadily rising as people build more confidence in the system. The service is available in over 30 cities throughout the country, and new merchants and vendors are coming on board every week.
In the short term, as additional NGOs join the service, the program will help more communities rebuild faster through renewed infrastructure and increased personal income, infusing the economy with much-needed currency. In the long term, the program can scale further across the country and across a range of financial services, including the ability to send and receive international money transfers which make up to 25% of Haiti’s GDP.
Voila’s ‘ mini wallet’ feature allows Voilà customers to immediately activate the T-Cash service and store up to 2500HTG ($62.50 USD) by entering *700# on their Voilà mobile phone. The feature is unique to Voilà, will allow for rapid, widespread adoption. At left: Voilà markets the service to concertgoers, who are able to sign up on the spot and purchase their concert tickets using T-Cash.
A Mercy Corps cash-for-work beneficiary (right) from the rural community of Pandiassou, in Haiti's Central Plateau, participates in Voilà, Mercy Corps and Unibank's mobile wallet pilot program. Credit: Fabiola Coupet/Mercy Corps
ProDev: A Model Partnership Expands
After the January 12, 2010 earthquake, the Voila Foundation supported the profound efforts of ProDev with $70,000 to help get the children of Haiti back into schools. Within 3 months after the earthquake, ProDev was running 14 schools and 8 kindergartens in various camps for displaced people around the Port-au-Prince area, ultimately catering to 3,000 children. The tent-schools provided children not only education, but also psychosocial support and a sense of order and continuity in a world that was otherwise turned up-side-down.
ProDev continued efforts, and in October 2010, launched two permanent schools that will serve as a pilot for building a network of schools around Haiti. One of those schools is Ecole Nouvelle Zoranje, built and funded in collaboration with the Voila Foundation as part of a $500,000 grant.
Zoranje: School of Opportunity
North of Port-au-Prince, the village Zoranje was decimated by flooding. Today the villagers live in tents but their kids now have a sturdily built, colorful new school - Ecole Nouvelle Zoranje, named after the development where it’s located. Voila is collaborating with Prodev to create what is hoped to be a model community for the reconstruction of Haiti. The Zoranje community is being developed on a coordinated basis, with housing, education, support services and job creation being addressed in a common plan. We think this approach can be a model for the new communities that are critical to decentralizing an overcrowded Port au Prince.
Greater Zoranje will be seeing a significant migration of internally displaced people as a result of the earthquake. Additionally, the government announced a plan to resettle 5,000 families within a 1-kilometer radius of the village which will mean over 10,000 children with no school in the vicinity.
The Voilà Foundation awarded ProDev a grant of $500,000 over two years to fund teacher training, education and infrastructure development to meet the educational, emotional, and social needs of the children who range in age from 4 - 14.. In the first phase, Voila has helped build an elementary school, complete with a sports activity and assembly area. Voila will now work with ProDev to construct a high school and community center, featuring a Cyber café for the community to have internet access, and a complete computer lab for the school. The community will also be equipped with Voila’s prepaid WiFi system making connectivity available everywhere.
The Zoranje community demonstrates the strength of collaboration and partnership: In less than six months, ProDev has opened two six-room schools where 330 students are now receiving a quality education. World Vision is stocking the cafeteria with beans and rice; the Voilà Foundation has provided Internet connectivity; and the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee will soon build a middle school next door. Across the country, the needs are staggering: the year’s catastrophes have left fully 1.5 million people homeless, living in 1,354 spontaneous settlements. Yet Zoranje shows how change can bloom in the toughest soil when people come together to get things done.
HISTORY ON PRODEV PARTNERSHIP
One of the co-founders of ProDev, Daniel Kedar, headed up earthquake search and rescue operations, using mobile phones to support their efforts. Over a hundred people buried in the rubble were rescued by texting or calling for help with their mobile phones. Needless to say, the Foundation was keen to partner with Daniel and support his initiatives at ProDev. Daniel’s search and rescue efforts were profiled in “The Roll of Wireless Communications in a Disaster” a video featured at CTIA in 2010, where Trilogy Executives, John Stanton and Brad Horwitz, in a keynote address, thanked the carriers and suppliers in the wireless industry for their support following the earthquake and highlighted the critical role that wireless infrastructure will play in the re-building of Haiti.