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Life Saving Education for girls in Emergencies

Disseminating critical life saving information through innovative cost effective mobile phone technology in disaster prone isolated areas.

Photo of Tracy Winfrey
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What problem does your innovation solve?

Access of timely information to enable the public to prepare for anticipated disasters is a huge problem in Alotau, Papua New Guinea (PNG). This is mainly due to technological and geographical challenges coupled with complex socio-cultural, economic and political issues. This innovation will facilitate the dissemination of information to 712 schools in Milne Bay province using a cost effective mobile phone platform to prepare schools for anticipated disasters with gender sensitive responses.

Explain your innovation.

UNICEF Innovation globally has been working with SMS systems since 2007, when it created an open source platform called RapidSMS with its partners to support ongoing data collection efforts and youth engagement activities. RapidSMS is a free and open source framework designed to send and receive data using basic mobile phones, manage complex workflows, automate analysis and present data in real-time. In Cambodia, for example, a country prone to flooding, an Early Warning System ‘EWS 1294’ which delivers warning voice messages directly to the mobile phones of people at risk has been very successful in saving lives. More than 200,000 households in seven provinces were covered 'EWS 1294'. RapidSMS has been used widely in international development, and many organisations contributed to the RapidSMS codebase. An agreement is currently in place between UNICEF PNG, Digicel Mobile Phone Company, the National Information and Communication Authority (NICTA), and the Department of Education to initiate for the first time in PNG the RapidSMS innovation called Rapid Pro in the education sector. The current agreement is to collect information only in the education sector to build up a reliable data source for the country. In this joint proposal with UN Women, gender responsive disaster preparedness and GBV data collection and response will also be incorporated into the Rapid Pro systems platform.

Who benefits?

The beneficiaries will be 81 000 students of which 26 000 are girls in the 712 schools located in Milne Bay province, mostly living in rural and remote areas where information is hard to reach. Teachers, surrounding communities and relevant government authorities will also benefit from this innovation.Using the Rapid Pro platform, adolescent girls and other students will be able to both receive early warning information relating to impending disasters and actions required for preparedness on the one hand and on the other, they will be able to send information on incidences of gender based violence in schools and their surrounding communities, which will be collected from the central Rapid Pro server based in the Division of Education in the province and analysed. The information on incidences of GBV will be shared with the provincial GBV Secretariat for data collection, referral and response while information on disasters will be shared with the Disaster Coordinator for action.

How is your innovation unique?

While using mobile technology to alert people on disasters is not new, it is new in the education sector with a link to gender based violence reporting and monitoring. The context in which the idea will be implemented also makes it unique because it has never been done in PNG and the geographical make up of Milne Bay province also makes it a very unique pilot project site. In collaboration with UN Women, the proposed innovation to expand the features and application of the existing RapidPro technology for emergencies will include UN Women’s comparative advantage in preventing and responding to GBV, creating gender and & GBV awareness. The expectation is that the empowerment and protection of girls will be realized.

What are some of your unanswered questions about the idea?

1. Will government authorities be able to sustain and monitor the project after funding support is discontinued? 2. How much mobile phone coverage will a new strategically placed transmitter tower cover on an identified island? 3. it is not clear how much advocacy we will have to undertake to secure land. Judging from previous experience, when land owners see the benefit and relevance they quickly support. We will use our existing networks and partnerships as well as NICTA’s wide networks to broker deals.

Tell us more about you.

UNICEF focuses on child protection and assisting children and women in key social development issues. UN Women is the UN organization dedicated to promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women. With our combined expertise, we continue to seek opportunities to address the protection needs of women and children holistically across different sectors. Australia is our biggest donor. The UN's programs are aligned to government priorities and are human rights and results based.

What is the primary type of emergency setting where your innovation would operate?

  • Natural disaster
  • Extreme drought
  • Other (please specify in next question)

Emergency Setting - Elaborate

The emergency setting will cover flooding, cyclones and droughts in Milne Bay province. Additionally, our intervention will address gender based violence in schools and their surrounding communities during emergencies and well after.

Where will your innovation be implemented?

Milne Bay province in PNG has one of the highest incidents of disasters in the region. Reports show it is prone to experiencing flooding, droughts and cyclones. Milne Bay province has 712 schools from elementary level up to secondary level and is one of the most geographically spread provinces in PNG, making it one of the hardest to reach in terms of logistics and communication.It is the largest maritime province in PNG with hundreds of outlying islands expanding from the mainland.

Experience in Implementation Country(ies)

  • Yes, for more than one year.

In-country Networks

Our partners in PNG include state and non-state actors, ranging from government departments at the national, provincial and district levels to faith based organisations, civil society organisations and private sector. We also collaborate with development partners, both bi-laterals and multilaterals, national and international NGOs.

Sector Expertise

  • I've worked in a sector related to my innovation for more than a year.

Sector Expertise - Elaborate

UNICEF has been operating and implementing in PNG for 31 years and UN Women for 10 years. The partnership has a combined experience in implementing a range of programmes in different sectors, including education and GBV prevention and response in PNG. Both agencies also have the benefit of drawing from a pool of regional and global advisors to bolster the capacity of in-country staff to achieve set goals.

Innovation Maturity

  • Existing Prototype or Pilot: I have tested a part of my solution with users and am iterating.

Organization Status

  • Other

Organization Location

UNICEF and UN Women are based in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea and Head Quartered in New York City, USA.


How has your Idea changed based on feedback?

After the feedback, we were more convinced about the necessity of our innovation in terms of saving lives particularly in the most remotest island schools in the province as well as addressing gender based violence within the schools and surrounding communities. Milne Bay province is the only province in PNG's 22 provinces to have boarding facilities for primary school students. This increases the vulnerability of very young boarding students, particularly girls who have to leave home.

Who will implement this Idea?

In partnership and collaboration, UNICEF and UN Women will partner with the following provincial government authorities; Milne Bay Provincial Education Department; Provincial Disaster Coordinator; and Provincial GBV Secretariat. We will also partner with the human rights defenders network who work closely with the GBV Secretariat in the province. All government authorities are located in Milne Bay province and are ready to take ownership of the proposed project. UNICEF and UN Women will provide financial support as well as technical expertise for the full duration of the project if successful.

What challenges do your end-users face? (1) What is the biggest challenge that your end-users face on a day-to-day, individual level? (2) What is the biggest systems-level challenge that affects your end-users?

From consultations we had in the feedback phase with the stated authorities and students, lack of communications infrastructure and high costs of logistics coupled with challenging weather patterns remains a big challenge in reaching the most isolated island schools to deliver education services. The islands can only be reached by boat as they do not have airstrips. At present, mobile phone coverage can not reach all the islands. As such, communicating emergencies in real time is impossible, particularly when trying to respond within the four hours critical life saving window of opportunity. If our idea is successful, we will immediately discuss with NICTA on setting up two more transmitter towers in strategic locations to increase mobile phone coverage in the isolated island areas.

How is your organization considering sustainable growth in order to continue making an impact over time?

The United Nations is well established. For field offices like ours, we get about 20% of our core funding from our headquarters in New York, mainly for operational costs, and the rest of our funding comes from resource mobilization efforts from various donors that are tied to our projects which we implement. In sustaining this idea, we have engaged provincial government authorities who have accepted and are enthusiastic about the proposed pilot project. If successful they will include it in their annual planning budgets. The cost of 1 sms is 0.06 toea or less than US 0.01 cent for the user.

Tell us about your vision for this project: (1) share one sentence about the impact that you would like to see from this project in five years and (2) what is the biggest question/hurdle you need to address to get there?

Impact: By 2022, we aim to prepare and strengthen the education system in Milne Bay province by making it resilient towards emergencies while at the same time reducing GBV, faced mainly by girls, and influencing positive behavioral change in schools and their surrounding communities. Question: How do we strengthen communication links through out Milne Bay province while at the same time ensuring sustainability of the project through government and development partner support?

How do you currently measure (or plan to measure) outcomes for this project?

Through Rapid Pro, we aim to establish a provincial data base that will monitor the resilience of schools during emergencies as well as record and respond on the prevalence of GBV in schools and surrounding communities during emergencies.

What is the timeline for your project Idea? What are the key steps for implementation in the next 1-3 years?

We plan to roll the project out over 3 years. Outcome: Emergency response strengthened and implemented in schools in Milne Bay province with a gender sensitive approach using real time innovative cost effective mobile phone technology. Steps 1. Customize Rapid Pro to our requirements in consultation and partnership with NICTA and Digicel. 2. In consultation and partnership with NICTA and Digicel, set up at least two more transmitter towers in the outlying islands. 3. Training workshops

My organization's operational budget for 2016 was:

  • Above $1,000,000 USD

How many of your team’s paid, full-time staff are currently based in the location where the beneficiaries of your proposed Idea live?

  • Between 5-10 paid, full-time staff

Is your organization registered in the country that you intend to implement your Idea in?

  • We are registered in all countries where we plan to implement.

How long have you and your colleagues been working on this Idea together?

  • Less than 6 months

What do you need the most support with for your innovation?

  • Business Development / Partnerships Support
  • Communications / Marketing / Graphic Design


Join the conversation:

Photo of Tracy Winfrey

Thank you so much Ashley and the OpenIdeo Team and MIKTA for featuring our idea :) Indeed my team and I are thrilled to be part of this wonderful challenge. It has pushed us to be more innovative and to think outside of the box. This platform has presented so many opportunities for us and for that we are grateful. PNG is a developing country that has quite a few challenges particularly as it is prone to disasters and has one of the highest rates of GBV in the world. The link between disasters and the rise in GBV is backed by evidence. Young girls are particularly vulnerable. If we can pilot a solution that can both be a response mechanism for disasters and GBV as well as a real time data processing and analyzing center, this will greatly benefit not only the school girls in Milne Bay province who are the most vulnerable but boys as well who are also vulnerable in disaster settings. To have made it this far in the challenge is a success itself and we look forward to the outcome whatever it may be. Wishing all teams the very best.

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