When UNICEF Uganda launched the innovative "U-report" tool in May 2011, the idea was to harness both the high level of connectivity and the proliferation of mobile phones in the country to give young people a voice. It was – and still is – an established fact that Uganda has one of the youngest populations in the world, with more than 55% of its people aged zero -18 years. On the other hand, access to mobile phones was estimated at 48%, which meant that creating a mobile-based application to amplify youth voices and empower them to speak out on issues affecting them was realistic.
UNICEF subsequently worked with telecoms providers and other partners to create U-report, a free SMS-based platform through which young Ugandans can speak out on what is happening in their communities across the country, and work together with other community leaders for positive change. Young people simply text the word "JOIN" to the toll-free 8500 short code and become U-reporters after answering a few prompted questions. U-report has grown fast in its first two years, with just under 250,000 young people currently registered and active on the network.
Through U-report, weekly SMS messages and polls are sent out to and from the ever-growing community of U-reporters, who respond to the polls and exchange views on a wide range of subjects, including unsolicited ones. The platform has also expanded to include regular radio programmes broadcasting U-report stories, as well as published print articles relaying news and features from the U-report community.
The biggest impact U-report has had thus far is that decision makers and important people in general have begun to listen, take notice and, where possible, act. Members of the Ugandan Parliament all voluntarily signed up to U-report to monitor what young people have to say in their constituencies. One MP was galvanised into action when it turned out that immunisation levels for children under five were extremely low in her district, prompting her to start a much-needed awareness campaign.
U-reporters are also providing information that is vital for other sectors as well. Through responses to various polls, for instance, they have indicated that economic empowerment of the youth is the way to go if Uganda wishes to lift itself out of poverty and ensure that the country remains peaceful. U-reporters in Uganda say they believe in self-employment and entrepreneurship, engagement in productive activities, access to soft loans and acquisition of practical skills – among other things – to make their lives better.
As U-report expands within Uganda and extends to other countries – Rwanda, Burundi, DRC, South Sudan, Mexico, and beyond – views such as these make it worthwhile to consider amplifying the voices of young people in the business sector. What is important to the youth? Where do they wish to be supported? Where do they see their economic future? Answers that young people give to these and other related questions may inspire new thinking and innovation where they are least expected. After all, voice does matter.
Copy on this page is provided by UNICEF, supporter of the children: the next business agenda hub.