Back in 2001, while working on the United Nations Information Technology Service (UNITeS), launched by then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and hosted by the United Nations Volunteers programme (part of UNDP), I wrote a paper on Handheld computer technologies in community service/volunteering/advocacy. It’s a compilation of examples of volunteers, citizens, grass roots activists and others using handheld computers – what then were called personal digital assistants (PDAs) – or mobile phones as part of community service, volunteering and or advocacy. I found examples from health and human services, from environmental science, from citizen reporting initiatives and from activists. My favorite example was a project where software was developed for PDAs that allowed illiterate trackers in Africa to record wildlife observations by selecting icons from a set of pictures that depict various species and animal behaviors.
That was 14 years ago, before the term apps4good came into vogue, and some of these initiatives were already more than a year old then – that means apps4good, using mobile phones for good, is a movement that’s more than 15 years old. Some of the initiatives I wrote about are still in existence. Some have long ago ended – but similar initiatives, and much more advanced ones, have popped up since. For instance, there’s the Smart Health App, which focuses on providing accurate baseline information resource on HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria and is currently available in Tanzania, Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, Angola, Ghana, and Senegal. Or mPedigree, a phone app which allows pharmaceutical retailers and users to verify the authenticity of a drug; this is done by text-messaging a unique code found on the product to a universal number.
My point is this: humanitarian aid workers and people working for nonprofits and NGOs anywhere, including volunteers, are using such tools in ways beyond just fundraising. Here are articles with more recent examples:
- Several apps4good initiatives have been highlighted by the Be He@lthy Be Mobile, an initiative by ITU and the World Health Organization that examines mobile phones as tools to tackle non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, cancer, lung and cardiovascular diseases.
- Five mobile apps to help the homeless
- Apps for migrants to Europe are everywhere. But how much can they really help?
- Refugee-related apps4good initiatives
- 5 African Apps You’ve Probably Never Heard Of
- Top 10 healthcare apps for Africa