UNICEF Turns to IBM to Help African Youth

UNICEF Turns to IBM to Help African YouthIBM and the U.S. Fund for UNICEF have just announced a collaboration with UNICEF Uganda on something called “U-report.”

U-Report is a free SMS-based reporting tool that allows Ugandan youth to communicate with their government and community leaders using their cell phones.

According to details shared in a press release, more than 240,000 young adults in Uganda have joined the program to date.

UNICEF now receives an average of 170,000 text messages per month. Approximately 20,000 of these are unsolicited messages and initial analysis suggested that seven percent of these require immediate action from community leaders or the government.

As a result of U-report’s growth, the volume of diverse data was becoming a challenge for the existing system, making it difficult to identify what emerging issues were trending and which were the most urgent messages.

Since February 2013, U-report has been using text analytics and machine learning technologies from IBM Research to help deal with the flood of information by automating the classification of messages. UNICEF Uganda and IBM Research deployed A-Class, a text classification system trained to understand the content of the text messages and analyzes the data much faster, and with much more accuracy.

IBM analytics, working in combination with UNICEF Uganda’s existing classification process, are being used by UNICEF, partners and community leaders to make more informed decisions about where to place, and how to prioritize, development and relief work efforts.

“This project has the potential to change the lives of young people in Uganda simply by giving them a platform to communicate and be heard,” says Dr. Sharad Sapra, a representative for UNICEF Uganda. “Today we’ve created a richer U-report that makes sense of streams of data in real-time. This technology helps us understand the real impact of policies and development programs, the pulse of the nation at any given time and it even provides an early warning system on disease outbreaks or where we need to focus relief work.”