A mobile phone app designed by a University of Nottingham PhD student to give people in Africa the power to improve sanitation in their communities has won a major competition organised by the World Bank.
The app, called ‘Taarifa’, is the brainchild of Mark Iliffe, a doctoral researcher at the University’s Horizon Digital Economy Research Institute and Nottingham Geospatial Institute. It is one of three grand prize winners in the World Bank’s Sanitation Hackathon – a global drive to engage researchers in communication technology in real-world problems relating to health and sanitation.
Taarifa is a novel mobile phone app which allows people to input and share their own sanitation problems using SMS, web forms, email or social media. The reports can be monitored by local authorities and acted upon to carry out repairs, improvements or new infrastructure, giving citizens the power to affect changes in their own communities.
Mark, the Taarifa community and his colleagues who developed the app have won the chance to travel to Silicon Valley in California for meetings with venture capitalists and other investors who can help turn the ideas into sustainable businesses which have maximum impact across the world. Reacting to the win, Mark said:
“It’s great to be honoured in this fashion, it belies the work of the Taarifa community and its potential for positive impact in improving sanitation. However, for Taarifa the work starts now to improve the lives of the 2.5 billion people without adequate sanitary facilities.”
Taboo of poo!
Commenting on the win for Taarifa in the New York Times, manager of the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Programme, Jae So, said:
“People don’t want to talk about poo! There’s the ick factor. In addition to the deaths and health problems, poor sanitation causes a variety of other problems in the developing world. In designing the app competitions, we wanted to know what can we learn from the tech industry? Why is it that pretty much everyone who wants an iPhone can get one? How do they get this kind of rapid scale-up and how can this be used to help people who have a mobile phone but poor sanitation infrastructure?”
The Taarifa team plans to use the momentum given from the sanitation hackathon to build out the volunteer community, harnessing vital expertise. Additionally, through listening to citizens in rural and urban environments we will ensure that Taarifa remains relevant and appropriate to the monumental tasks ahead.
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