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U-report: Spearheading innovative community journalism

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When the United Nations Children’s Fund
(UNICEF) launched the innovative ‘U-report’
tool in Uganda in May 2011, it was meant to
be used to harness both the high level of
connectivity and the proliferation of mobile
phones in the country to give young people a
voice.
UNICEF had recognised the fact that young
people formed more than 55 per cent of
world populations, from age zero to 18 years.
Access to mobile phones by this group of
people was also estimated at 48 per cent,
which meant that creating a mobile-based
application to amplify youth voices and
empower them to speak out on issues
affecting them was realistic.
As U-report expands within Uganda and
extends to other countries like Rwanda,
Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC),
South Sudan, Mexico and recently, Nigeria,
views are made worthwhile to consider
amplifying the voices of young people in
every sector of the economy.
The questions that arose were: What is
important to the youth? Where do they wish
to be supported? Where do they see their
economic future? It was hoped that the
answers that young people give to these and
other related questions may inspire new
thinking and innovation where they are least
expected, for voice does matter.
UNICEF, in realising this unique method of
communication, subsequently worked with
telecoms providers and other partners to
create U-report. It is a free SMS-based
platform through which young people can
speak out on what is happening in their
communities across the country, and work
together with other community leaders for
positive change. Membership is simple: In
Nigeria, for example, a simple text of the
word ‘JOIN’ to the toll-free 24453 short code
makes one to become a U-reporter after
answering a few prompted questions.
This mode of communication has grown fast
in Nigeria since its debut, with over 10,000
young people currently registered and active
on the network. By sending the text message,
“join”, to a toll-free number and submitting a
few personal details, anyone with a mobile
phone can become a volunteer ‘U-reporter’,
sharing their observations and ideas on a
wide range of development issues.
Through U-report, weekly SMS messages and
polls are sent out to and from the ever-
growing community of U-reporters, who
respond to the polls and exchange views on a
wide range of subjects, including unsolicited
ones.
The platform has also expanded to include
regular radio programmes broadcasting U-
report stories, as well as published print
articles relaying news and features from the
U-report community. Topics have included
female genital mutilation, outbreaks of
diseases, safe water, early marriage,
education, health and inflation.
Once a topic is decided, UNICEF sends a
question via SMS text to U-reporters, who can
respond either with a simple menu-based
reply or with personal messages.
The UNICEF team analyses and interprets the
responses, sharing the results and often
following up with additional questions or
suggestions. The biggest impact U-report has
had thus far is that decision makers and
important people in general have begun to
listen, taking notice and, where possible, act.
It is hoped that the articulation of these ideas
would be galvanised and turned into action by
authorities, which would prompt a
muchneeded awareness campaign on such
issues.
It is also believed that U-reporters would
provide information that is vital for other
sectors of a country’s economy as well.
Through responses to various polls, for
instance, participants have indicated that
economic empowerment of the youth is the
way to go if they wish to lift themselves out
of poverty and ensure that their future
remains peaceful. UNICF can ask questions
about issues throughout the read more

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