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What is ICT4D, and how is it transforming lives?

ICT can support development in many ways. These children are learning via computer games in Uruguay, where every school child has the right to a laptop.
ICT can support development in many ways. These children are learning via computer games in Uruguay, where every school child has the right to a laptop.

You may recognise the acronym ICT (Information, Communication and Technology) - but what about ICT4D? Any guesses? ICT4D refers to ICT for development, and projects that use technology to empower disadvantaged individuals and communities. At SOS Children, we're eager to recruit technology and have an array of ICT4D projects around the world. In the first of our two-part series on ICT4D, discover three of these innovative projects.

“We need to develop our SOS Children’s Villages for today’s children who will live in tomorrow’s world. So let us keep pace and embrace technology with an open heart. We shall equip our next generation with all possible tools for success," says Siddhartha Kaul, President of SOS Children's Villages.

At SOS Children, we see many opportunities to use ICT to support our global projects. Young people on the path to independence could learn knowledge and skills via online courses, and search for jobs and opportunities on the internet. SOS mothers could be supported by ICT to run their family budgets. At SOS Medical Centres, patient information could be collected and stored digitally - ensuring better healthcare for patients.

The uses of ICT for development are vast. These include capacity-building interventions, direct essential services, and advocacy work. Here we bring you three examples of how we are embracing ICT in our projects as a way to empower children, young people and mothers.

Connecting Africa: internet via satelite for 20 SOS Children's Villages

How often do you use the internet? Once a week? Once a day? Perhaps several times a day? For many of us, the internet has become an essential way to access information and services and connect with others. Thanks to a collaboration with BT, 20 SOS Children's Villages across the African continent will enjoy the benefits of being connected to the internet. 

In 2013, internet access via satelites (also known as V-Sat) was installed in Children's Villages in several African countries, including GambiaMalawiGuinea-Bissau and Mali. Children at these SOS Villages can now access e-learning courses and online mentoring programmes, as well as becoming connected to the global community. Furthermore, SOS staff can more efficiently provide care for families and children due to better coordination and communication. Once complete, 5000 people will directly benefit from the 'Connecting Africa' project, with up to 700,000 people living in surrounding communities to also benefit.


BT engineers trained SOS Children's local IT support teams so that they can maintain and operate the technology, helping to achieve self-sufficiency. Watch the short video above, created by BT, to see the positive impact within a Children's Village, at an SOS Medical Centre and in the local community.

SMS messages empower mothers in Sri Lanka

Peraliya and Gandhara are two fishing communities that were devastated by the 2004 tsunami. SOS Children discovered that the most urgent needs of these communities were to "uplift education of children, reduce malnutrition, provide psycho-social support and capacity-building of families," says the SOS National Director in Sri Lanka, Ananda Karunarathne. To effectively tackle this range of issues with limited resources, an innovative approach was required.

ICT4D project in Sri Lanka
Mothers in Sri Lanka receive SMS messages with tips on parenting
and child care, and meet every week to discuss what they've learned.

Noticing that most people had mobile phones, a project was launched to send special SMS messages to mothers in these communities. The text messages contained empowering information about child rights, health and hygiene, and how to manage their family's income. The aim of the 'mobiles for development' project was to strengthen the women's skills and change their behaviour and attitudes in ways that benefited their children's well-being.

Ease of learning via SMS messages

Mothers began the project in November 2013 by having a two-day face-to-face training session, and from then on received daily 'SMS Quicklearns' for six-months. The messages they received on their phones included daily to-dos, questions to reflect on, behaviour-change tips and homework.

They wrote down the daily messages, and every week met with a group of other mothers to discuss what they had learned. This social aspect of the project, and the peer-learning component, proved to be strong motivating factors to stay engaged with the SMS messages they received.

150 women were involved in this pilot phrase of the project, which had dramatic positive effects. The mothers reported better understanding of their children's emotional needs, and improved communication and relationships with their children. They also commented on the ease of learning when the information is delivered in bite-size pieces - through SMS messages. Many of the women's husbands also saw the benefits and realised the value of learning about child care. On the back of these beaming results, we hope to extend the project from six-months to one-year, as well as expanding to other locations.

Patients receive better care in Nairobi thanks to technology

How can ICT be used in the world of medicine? At an SOS Medical Centre in Kenya, technology that we take for granted in Europe is transforming the healthcare being delivered there. In the SOS clinic in Nairobi, patients' records were long stored on paper. Storing files this way took up physical space in the small clinic, slowed down patient care, and was inefficient and insecure.

MC Nairobi Kenya - ICT4D
At the SOS Medical Clinic in Nairobi, Dr Angela Ndaga stands by
her new computer, which will allow her team to digitally store and
update patient's details.

However, since 2012, medical services at the SOS clinic in Nairobi have accelerated thanks to a new way of storing and processing patients' details. A digital Health Management System was installed at the medical centre, followed by an interactive five-day training course. This allowed the receptionists, nurses, doctors and pharmacists to get comfortable using the technology and adapt it to their patient's needs.

"The new system is more efficient compared to the manual system. The patients are served faster as it is faster searching for their files. There is also no risk of losing documents compared to paperwork", explains Angela Ndaga, a doctor at the SOS Medical Centre.

Now, when a patient enters the clinic a record is created on the digital system using the receptionist's computer. Next, a nurse adds the patient's vitals (e.g. weight, height, blood pressure), and then passes the record on to a doctor. When the doctor opens the record on their computer, they can prescribe medicine directly by sending a paperless prescription to the pharmacy, or request a laboratory test - also using the system. Lab results can be entered into the patient's digital record for the doctor to see.

Quick diagnoses

The management system helps to deliver quick diagnoses based on patients' symptoms; the monitoring of the flow of patients in and out of the clinic; the monitoring of medical stock and finances; and safe storage as the system can only be accessed with a username and password. We hope to roll out this technology in the near future to several more SOS Medical Centres, ensuring that patients receive the best care possible, and a quick, reliable and efficient service.

In the second part of our series on ICT4D, learn how computers in classrooms are transforming education in Kenya and Tanzania, as well as the challenges encountered along the way...

Inspired to get involved with our projects around the world? Consider sponsoring a child, or an entire SOS Children's Village, and support today's children to be ready for tomorrow's world.