Courtesy of the Jokko Initiative Blog

Community Forum using SMS - Jokko Initiative, Senegal

The Jokko Initiative is a collaboration between UNICEF and Tostan, an NGO in West Africa that implements human rights-based community empowerment programmes to provide communities with skills and knowledge to improve their lives. The partnership links UNICEF’s reach, resources and technical expertise with Tostan’s ground-level experience and understanding of local realities and challenges.

Jokko, which means “communication” in Wolof, a regional language in Senegal, aims to become a practical, low-cost system to encourage group decision-making in Senegalese villages. The Jokko Initiative makes it possible to communicate with a network of people by simply sending a text message. Through Jokko’s RapidSMS Community Forum, a user can send an SMS text message to a “magic number” that then forwards the message to all phone numbers belonging to the network. The module also introduces mobile phones as pedagogical tools to teach and reinforce literacy as well as the organization and management skills taught in Tostan’s Community Empowerment Programme.

The Community Forum allows a nurse, a literacy leader, a representative of a women’s association or the village imam to communicate with community members about events and activities like a vaccination campaign or a literacy group meeting. Not only does the Community Forum raise awareness about events, but it also involves the entire community in decisions and spreads the news of positive social change in their villages.

Courtesy of the Jokko Initiative Blog

practical, low-cost system to encourage group decision making in Senegalese villages


The Jokko Initiative was implemented in Senegal, which is located on the Western coast of Africa and is bordered by Mauritania, Mali, Guinea and Guinea-Bissau, and surrounds the Gambia. Though poverty and unemployment are widespread, Senegal has a stable economy and a well-functioning multi-party democracy. However, the 2011 United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Human Development Report ranked the country 155th out of 182 countries based on factors such as average life expectancy at birth (59.3 years), adult literacy (49.7%) and GDP per capita (US$1,650). Additionally, women in Senegal are marginalised, have low social status, lack access to many resources and have low levels of participation in both the labour force and in politics. Although much is being done to reduce their frequency, harmful practices like child marriage and female genital mutilation are common.

Courtesy of the Jokko Initiative Blog

The Scenario

Both Tostan’s and UNICEF’s experience show that communication is critical to spreading positive social change. But it can be difficult to communicate with large numbers of people in rural areas due to a lack of financial resources, transportation infrastructure and communication technology. However, mobile phone networks are rapidly expanding to cover a majority of African citizens and mobile phones are already common in even the most remote villages. Tostan has seen that mobile phones and SMS texting can:

1. Provide a more economic means of communication than a phone call

2. Serve as a practical tool for learning and reinforcing literacy and numeracy skills

3. Offer other applications to allow people to practice the organization and management skills taught in Tostan’s programmes

And Tostan understands that mobile phones will increasingly serve as the platform for services provided by governments, health clinics, schools and banks. As a result, the expansion of mobile phone usage in West Africa and throughout the developing world is increasing the need for literacy and mobile phones are the perfect tools for training. Mobile phones are thus a means for people to learn and practice literacy skills in a way that is relevant to their daily lives.

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