Texting for Food: The SMS Revolution in Aid Delivery
November 16, 2009
For the poor and displaced in the Middle East, text messaging promises to feed mouths and fill pockets. Souktel, an SMS service based in Ramallah, allows organizations to send information about humanitarian aid distribution, blood donation, and job openings rapidly via text.
Operating primarily in the West Bank and Gaza, with services in Iraq, Morocco, Sudan and Somalia, Souktel’s user base has swelled from 500 to 30,000 in just three years.
During the 2008-09 Gaza War, Souktel helped U.S.-based nonprofit CHF International coordinate United Nations food supply deliveries for 11,000 Gazan families. Souktel designed software enabling the organization to group aid recipients by location and send them customized SMS alerts about when and where aid would be distributed. In Northern Iraq, Souktel partnered with U.S.-based NGO Mercy Corps to create an information-sharing network for 200 female community leaders. Souktel also runs a job matching service in the West Bank and Somalia linking employers with applicants through SMS-based questionnaires.
Mobile phone ownership far outstrips Internet access in the Middle East, and in the Palestinian Territories, 3.5 times as many people have cell phones as have Internet access. Among the poor, the disparity is even higher. To help meet the needs of that community, the UN World Food Programme and mobile provider MTN recently took Souktel’s idea to the next level with a pilot program that sends 1,000 Iraqi refugees in Syria food vouchers as text messages.
This piece is a part of Mezze, a monthly short article series spotlighting societal trends across the region. It originally appeared in the Middle East Program's monthly newsletter, Middle East Notes and Comment. For more information and to receive our mailings, please contact the Middle East Program.