Funding for a project to deliver voice-based technologies that enable illiterate people in rural Africa to access the web – even those without an Internet connection or a computer – is ending this month, and
a drive is on to ensure that the technologies will be freely available after it finishes.
The project’s 13 partners aim to support remote communities by creating spoken web content accessed through mobile phones or radio. Pilot services were built in collaboration with farmers, radio journalists and local ICT entrepreneurs, and the partners want to ensure that enough business is generated to maintain uptake of the services beyond the project’s life.
The system allows people to access the web using radio and mobile phones
The project ends later this month, but three of the partners will continue to collaborate
They will publish open-source software to encourage take-up
The partners will also publish open-source software to enable other developers to put together similar services and technologies, says Mary Allen Ballo, executive secretary of Sahel Eco, a development NGO
involved in the project.
A number of pilot systems were developed as part of the US$4 million project called VOICES (VOIce-based Community-cEntric mobile Services) that was launched in 2011. It is managed by the World Wide Web Foundation, which works to ensure universal web access, in partnership
with NGOs, universities and telecommunications companies.
The VOICES project has done several pilots in two key sectors: ones to do with health in Senegal and agriculture-based schemes in Mali. The ones in Mali were implemented – and will continue – in Burkina Faso and Ghana.
Several voice-based services, including a virtual farmers’ market, a voice-based messaging system and a citizen journalism platform have been launched, allowing illiterate people in Africa to access information
and to run businesses.