A Nod to RapidSMS

May 20, 2014

RWANDA, 2011. A community health worker sends a RapidSMS message for an ambulance from the house of Assuma Mukandoli (28), pregnant for the first time, in Rukoro neighbourhood in the city of Musanze in northern Rwanda. © UNICEF/RWAA2011-00479/SHEHZAD NOORANI

RWANDA, 2011. A community health worker sends a RapidSMS message for an ambulance from the house of Assuma Mukandoli (28), pregnant for the first time, in Rukoro neighbourhood in the city of Musanze in northern Rwanda. © UNICEF/RWAA2011-00479/SHEHZAD NOORANI


RapidSMS is a toolset for rapidly building SMS (text message) services for data collection, streamlining complex workflows, and group coordination using basic mobile phones — and can present information on the internet as soon as it is received.

RapidSMS was first developed by UNICEF Innovation in 2008 to strengthen data collection efforts for UNICEF country offices around the world. So far RapidSMS has been customised and deployed with diverse functionality: remote health diagnostics, nutrition surveillance, supply chain tracking, registering children in public health campaigns, and community discussion.

RapidSMS was designed to be customised for the challenges of governments, multilateral, international- and non-government organisations, and development practitioners: working effectively in spite of geographical remoteness of constituents, limited infrastructure (roads, electricity), and slow data collection (due to paper-based records, slow courier systems, etc).

RapidSMS has been used to register over 7 million births in Nigeria over 15 months and provided antenatal care to thousands of pregnant women across Rwanda. These systems are built on a set of principles, such as collaboration and learning from fast failures, that have informed successes such as the tracking of the distribution of more than 25 million insecticide treated mosquito nets and providing a direct feedback loop for more than 250,000 young Ugandans to engage with their government and change policy in real time.

RapidPro is the next-generation of RapidSMS. It retains and expands upon the functionalities of RapidSMS but is easy to set up without a lot of technical expertise. In addition, cloud hosting arrangements, service, and agreements with Mobile Network Operators are all taken care of for UNICEF country offices.


Adapted from unicefstories.org.