Small messages, big changes: UNICEF launches RapidPro

Sept. 22, 2014


Today, UNICEF’s global innovation team is launching RapidPro: an open-source software platform for international development. This post explains why we’re pulling together award winning applications like U-Report, Project Mwana, RapidFTR, and more into one easy-to-understand platform - ready for governments, large organisations, and others to deploy anywhere in the world.

One of the biggest problems in the world today is that there is an unequal distribution of information.

Stockbrokers get information in real-time, which is why they are able to make quick market decisions and increase their financial investments. Corporations are able to systematically monitor and track their products, which ultimately helps them optimise their supply chains.

However, in 2014, there are still large gaps in information. We don’t know exactly how many children are born in Sub-Saharan Africa. A third of children don’t even have a birth certificate. Children need a legal identity to go to school, receive medical treatment, and be protected from violence.

What if we had a way to gather real-time data about people, so that governments can better meet their needs? Things like: who is being born where, which schools are understaffed, and which health centres are running out of essential medical supplies.

UNICEF has been building these systems for the last seven years:

  • In Nigeria, we built the largest mobile health system in the world where every birth is reported in real-time through a simple text message – that doesn’t even happen in the US.
  • In Uganda, we monitor the whereabouts of medical supplies and even recovered stolen supplies valued at 4 million dollars.

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When you democratise access to information flows, anyone from anywhere in the world can start to tell you what they are going through and what they need.

However, it is difficult and time-consuming to set up these systems. You need technology, specialised skills, and access to proper infrastructure. 

In response, RapidPro was developed in collaboration with Nyaruka, the Rwandan software firm responsible for TextIt - an intuitive, visual interface for building mobile-based services. 

Any government or partner can now use RapidPro's unique features to collect information and analyse it in real-time.

RapidPro is not just a UNICEF product, but a product that is going to build open source solutions in partnership with others. It is a product that allows us to make a balance of real-time information for everyone everywhere in the world.


Adapted from www.unicefstories.org.