Dimagi and BRAC developed a short, interactive audio courses that can be taken over a phone, by pressing numbers on the keypad to answer questions. Each course conveys a few important points, such as the importance of clinician-assisted birth, proper hand-washing techniques and dangers, or HIV-transmission knowledge. Each course builds on prior courses to create an audio soap-opera with a consistent story and characters. As an incentive to take the courses, there is a short quiz at the end of each call; if the caller passes the quiz they will get free airtime delivered to their phone which they can use to make personal calls.

While poverty is typically the root cause of illness and other distress and knowledge does not equate to behavior change, there are several areas in which focused education can improve or even save lives. A profound example is the popularization of treating diarrhea with homemade Oral Rehydration Therapy in the 1970s. Tens of millions of women were taught a simple procedure for preparing and administering a simple treatment for diarrhea which in turn averted the deaths of millions of children a year from severe dehydration. Every person should have access to this information both for the practical consequences and out of respect for people’s right to basic knowledge.

Mobile phones are an extremely attractive channel for social messaging, because they offer a way to easily deliver an individualized educational session to billions of people. Putting aside cost, the sheer effort required to distribute information using paper or billboards is a substantial obstacle, and updating them to respond to new information or feedback is prohibitively difficult. In contrast, deploying and updating automated messages on a massive scale can be fast and simple. While the cost of airtime is still high at this point in time, the actual incurred incremental costs are low and the retail costs are declining rapidly. This work led to Dimagi’s future work in RapidSMS and utilizing SMS to support education and training.

This project received funding from the World Bank’s Development Marketplace.