Mobile Technology Creating Change in Armenia

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Mobile technologies have the potential to be an important tool for development. Mobile technology can support development initiatives in diverse ways – for example in information sharing and communication, capacity building, or campaigning and advocacy. This report describes how Oxfam has successfully adopted SMS messaging initiatives in order to promote rights awareness and secure livelihoods within remote and isolated rural communities in Armenia. In particular, these initiatives have been focused on improving women’s health and economic empowerment. Mobile technology is contributing to Oxfam’s work with Armenian communities, and creating opportunities for long-term change. By exploring and analysing Oxfam’s experiences in Armenia, this report aims to support wider learning about how development organizations can most effectively work with mobile technologies.
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  OXFAM CASE STUDY www.oxfam.org.uk  MOBILE TECHNOLOGY CREATING CHANGE IN ARMENIA  2 INTRODUCTION Mobile technologies have the potential to be an important tool for development. Mobile technology can support development initiatives in diverse ways – for example in information sharing and communication, capacity building, or campaigning and advocacy. This report describes how Oxfam has successfully adopted SMS messaging initiatives in order to promote rights awareness and secure livelihoods within remote and isolated rural communities in Armenia. In particular, these initiatives have been focused on improving women’s health and economic empowerment. Mobile technology is contributing to Oxfam’s work with  Armenian communities, and creating opportunities for long-term change. By exploring and analysing Oxfam’s experiences in Armenia, this report aims to support wider learning about how development organizations can most effectively work with mobile technologies. BACKGROUND AND CONTEXT Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and its independence, Armenia has struggled to improve the wellbeing of its population, many of whom live in poverty. Widespread corruption, social injustice, and disparity of economic growth continue to affect the lives of the most vulnerable  Armenians. People living in remote and isolated rural communities in Armenia often lack the information and means of communication that is vital for their livelihoods. Many people cannot afford to visit the nearest doctor, who may be based several miles away from their village. Limited access to information on new government policies that affect their lives and limited knowledge about how to assert their basic rights means that people often do not know what health care rights they have and how these can be claimed. Although the Government has undertaken some information dissemination about the state-provided health care package, this has not reached many rural and isolated communities. In many cases, people living in these communities have received little or no information regarding their rights or the provision of state services. There is a high level of corruption within the health sector in Armenia, and people living in poverty may find it particularly difficult to access and claim their right to health care. Local health providers operate with a lack of transparency, often demanding informal and unnecessary payments for the services they provide. These problems are more acute in rural areas.  Agriculture is the main source of employment and livelihood for people living in poverty in rural Armenia. But farmers often lack information about the main agriculture markets, which are all located in the capital city, Yerevan. As a result, wholesalers and middlemen frequently pay farmers prices that are less than half of market prices.  Armenia is one of the most natural disaster-prone countries in the world. 1  In Armenia today, the extreme poverty and vulnerability of much of the   3 rural population is being exacerbated by climate change. The resulting climate-related disasters are causing loss of lives, homes, livestock, crops, and community infrastructure. There is no established early warning system for disasters in Armenia, and access to information is poor. People living in rural communities lack the understanding, knowledge, and skills they need in order to to improve their resilience and reduce disaster risk and impact. OXFAM IN ARMENIA 2   Oxfam, with its partners, has been working in Armenia since 1994 to change the lives of people living in poverty in remote and isolated communities. Specifically, Oxfam’s work in Armenia focuses on: promoting health care rights; creating new business opportunities for small-scale farmers; improving disaster preparedness; and amplifying the voices of poor people – especially women – at government level. Oxfam’s health care programme in Armenia has been in operation since 1994. This programme aims to ensure that the most vulnerable people in remote communities have access to high-quality and affordable health care services. To date, Oxfam and its partners have set up community-based health schemes in 140 villages. Oxfam’s programme has contributed to the improvement of maternal health care by raising awareness amongst women about the importance of prenatal care. It has also helped monitor and facilitate the delivery of state services by organising regular visits of specialized doctors to villages, setting up routine screenings for women, and monitoring health rights violations. In recognizing that breast cancer is a major cause of illness and death amongst women in Armenia, Oxfam’s programme included support for specialist breast cancer care and screening, including referrals to a mammography centre in Yerevan. Oxfam works on a range of rights issues in Armenia, and has established civic centres within rural communities linking them with city-based professional lawyers. Through free online consultations in civic centres, rural citizens can access support on legal issues, and information on their legal rights. This online facility has also enabled young people to access online trainings and other educational opportunities. Oxfam supports improvements to rural people’s livelihoods through its programme of agricultural assistance, for example through the establishment of agricultural co-operatives in rural communities. Working with the co-operatives, Oxfam has helped them gain improved access to essential price and market information using mobile technologies. This information enables farmers to choose more profitable markets, to get better prices for their products, and ultimately to increase their income and improve their livelihoods.  4 OXFAM’S MOBILE TECHNOLOGY SMS INITIATIVES IN ARMENIA Since April 2010, Oxfam's Digital Vision Small Grant Programme 3  has provided support to Oxfam's team in Armenia to integrate SMS initiatives into their primary health care, sustainable livelihoods, and disaster risk reduction programmes. SMS (‘short message service’, also known as text messaging), allows mobile telephone users to send short text messages to one another. In the context of development work, SMS initiatives typically use text messaging services on mobile phones to share information between large groups of people. In Armenia, Oxfam's SMS initiatives encompass five major focus areas: ã  SMS for health care rights; ã  SMS for healthy motherhood; ã  SMS for secured livelihoods; ã  SMS for women’s economic empowerment; and ã  SMS for disaster risk reduction. The initiatives that Oxfam has implemented in each of these five focus areas are described and analysed in the following sections. SMS FOR HEALTH CARE RIGHTS   The first SMS initiative that Oxfam developed in Armenia was the ‘SMS Frontline for Community-Based Primary Health Care Programme in Remote Regions of Armenia', a programme aimed at promoting the right to health care amongst rural communities. This programme used text messaging to support information dissemination and awareness-raising about health care rights in remote and isolated communities. The project was implemented in 80 target communities, reaching over 2,000 participants across in three regions: Vayots Dzor, Syunik, and Tavush. The project partner, Support to Communities (STC), 4  is an NGO with almost 10 years’ experience in developing community health care programmes in rural Armenia. The SMS project activities were designed to be easily integrated into STC's existing awareness-raising and advocacy activities. A further three partners – the Vayots Dzor, Syunik, and Northern health care foundations – worked closely with Oxfam and STC to support the project implementation.  At the outset of the project, participants' mobile phone numbers were collected and entered into a database, while the project team negotiated a 70 per cent discount on SMS service provision with a local telecommunications company.
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