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Mobile technology for social change

As Canadians, we love our cell phones.

At the end of 2010, Canadian wireless phone subscribers numbered 24.5 million—that’s an incredible 72% of the population. Canadians send 186 million text messages every day. 18.1 billion mobile applications are expected to be downloaded in 2011, growing to 33 billion in 2014. The numbers just keep stacking up.

Whether you’re an NGO, a social venture or a start-up company, understanding how to get the most from this burgeoning market is paramount. You can now communicate with clients, customers, partners, audiences and others in new ways (text alerts, applications, surveys) and you can reach people that you could never reach before.

Toronto Public Health has been able to exploit the use of SMS technology to drastically reduce the rates of sexually transmitted diseases in at-risk communities. Its newer application, M2Men (available for iPhone and soon to be released for Blackberry), is a health resource guide for gay men. Toronto Public Health has become an industry leader in North America for recognizing that communicating directly with people through hand-held devices is one of the quickest and most direct forms of outreach.

In 2010, YWCA Toronto launched its first application: Safety Siren. Safety Siren provides young women with information about how to stay safe on a date, how to access medical support and more. It also doubles as an alarm for users who find themselves in unsafe situations.

For many organizations and start-up companies, running a successful communications campaign can mean growing big or faltering mid-stride. Thinking only of your website or Facebook fanpage is limiting, especially when opportunities to connect directly with potential customers or clients are lying in the palm of your hand.

Hand-held technologies are changing the way we reach out, engage and mobilize communities.  Recent mobile giving campaigns have seen unprecedented fundraising efforts in Japan and Haiti and transformational human rights campaigns launched around the world.  The potential for impact through mobile technology is now being fully realized.

Training and workshops in online tools and social media are widely available ; however, similar training in understanding mobile technology has been virtually non-existent. Katrin Verclas from MobileActive.org saw this opportunity—and started Mobile Tech for Social Change (MT4SC) in New York. MT4SC brings passionate mobile enthusiasts together and includes interactive discussions, hands-on-demos and collaborative scheming about ways to use, develop and deploy mobile technologies in health, advocacy, economic development, environment, human rights, citizen media and more.

In 2010, Net Change Week presented its first MT4SC and Katrin Verclas was at MaRS to introduce the event to our participants. In 2011, Net Change offers this training for a second time. Mobile for Social Change, as it’s now called, will take participants through a track of learning, from choosing the right platform for your organization to how to write a Request for Proposal (RFP) to hire a developer to how to market your device once made and how to make it work within your broader communications strategy.

Visit the Net Change website to find out more about the training and how you can register.

Geraldine Cahill

Geraldine is the Communications Manager for Social Innovation Generation, a group that addresses Canada’s social and ecological challenges by creating a culture of continuous social innovation. See more…