Question Box featured as innovative new media platform in Africa


Fesmedia Africa, the media project of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) in Africa, is working towards a political, legal and regulatory framework for the media in African countries, based on human rights law, relevant protocols of the African Union and SADC declarations or other regional standards. Our office is based in Windhoek, Namibia.   Question Box is featured as a case study in the latest volume of the fesmedia Africa series: Texting, Tweeting, Mobile Internet - New Platforms for Democratic Debate in Africa Question Box's writeup is excerpted below. We encourage you to download the informative booklet available on FES's website.

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Question Box Featured in Southern Innovator - UNDP

Question Box was featured in Southern Innovator, a new publication of UNDP that profiles some of the most innovative ideas coming out of the global South. We were pleased to see many friends in the sector profiled as well, such as Ushahidi, Medic Mobile, and TxtEagle. Take a look at the magazine, as it is a great primer on ICT and mobile innovation from around the globe.

Idealist adds Question Box & Open Question the the Idea File!

Idealist has just added Question Box and Open Question to their Idea File. Check out the complete article!  Here's an excerpt:

Why we’re adding it to the Idea File

  • Circumvents the limitations of the web. If you’re like me and speak one of the top ten languages on the internet, then you probably take for granted that we have access to an incredible wealth of information with just one click. But the world has 1,000+ languages, and Google is available in “nearly 40″ of them.
  • Gives most everyone access. Reaches people on the margins: the illiterate, women who are excluded from communication, the visually impaired, and those who are too poor to even have a mobile phone.
  • Provides employment. Operators have the opportunity to use their language skills, and make some money while they’re at it.
  • Utilizes local knowledge. In many villages, knowledge is passed down from generation to generation, or neighbor to neighbor. Question Box not only places values on its importance, but helps capture it for future use.

The Indigo Trust Supports Question Box!

Question Box is pleased to announced a recent generous grant from The Indigo Trust! This grant enables us to complete development of our Open Question call center software, build a suite of manuals, and enable community organization to get started building and running their own local hotlines!  Please watch this space for more information about the project. About Open Question:

Open Question, an initiative of Question Box, provides open-source tools combining custom software and printable how-to guidebooks that allow most any community organization to start their own local phone hotline.

Community organizations around the world have a lot of valuable information. However, right now it is difficult to get that information to the people who need it, in a timely manner. With Open Question, the organization can share their knowledge by setting up a simple hotline. People in the community can now call in during working hours, and benefit from the organization's knowledge, even if there are no workers in the field available.

Using Open Question, most organizations that have a phone and a computer can set up a basic hotline  to locally share their knowledge using existing staff in the central office. Having this simple hotline invites beneficiaries and community volunteers to call the organization which allows people can to  get the answers they need, when they need it.

Open Question tools works well for all organizations across multiple sectors. The knowledge may be previously a day's drive away, but with Open Question, it can now be accessed by a short phone call. Open Question tools will be available to everyone and distributed free of charge via Question Box website.

We are seeking community organizations to test out Open Question! Please Contact Us if you are interested.

About The Indigo Trust:

The Indigo Trust is a grant making foundation that funds technology-driven projects to bring about social change, largely in African countries.  The Trust focuses mainly on innovation, transparency and citizen empowerment.  The Indigo Trust makes grants to African projects or programmes, or to organisations who operate at least partly in African countries. We believe that access to information for all empowers people to change their own lives and communities. The Indigo Trust is one of the 18 Sainsbury Family Charitable Trusts (SFCT). The Trusts work and fund autonomously across many different sectors and geographic regions but share offices and administration. For more information see our blog:

GOOD Magazine covers Question Box!

Question Box: Bringing the Power of the Internet to People Without Computers

Google is great. Ask basic questions, get instant answers. You do it every day, and are more efficient for it. That access to information can be a matter of life or death or business survival in rural villages in the developing world, but the people who need basic information the most often don’t have internet access or computers. They may not even be able to read or write. So Rose Shuman, of the nonprofit Open Mind, came up with a plan to bring the value of a Google-type search to even the most remote parts of the globe.

Question Box is like a "fairy Godmother internet librarian for the village," Shuman explained to the Guardian's Activate conference in New York. It's a powerful idea, but Shuman’s willingness to change course when it wasn’t working also provides a lesson for development aid organizations, as she explained to GOOD.

Read full article on

Question Box Article in International Trade Forum

International Trade Forum asked Question Box Founder Rose Shuman to write an article detailing how our service and philosophy relates to Aid for Trade.

Question Box: Crossing the digital divide

Rose Shuman, Founder, Open Mind - Question Box
April 01, 2011

By removing the obstacles to technology, language and literacy, Question Box – an initiative of US-based not-for-profit Open Mind – is breaking down the barriers to eradicating poverty by providing easy access to information in hard-to-reach areas in India and Uganda.

A central tenet of Aid for Trade is bringing marginal producers into the global economy. However, how can that connection be made, to share the full benefit of free and open trade, when the producers suffer severe information asymmetry? Frequently, middlemen exploit the information advantage, cutting out a significant portion of the profit. Lack of timely information also affects income when producers are unaware of broader trends at planting season. An incorrect decision can result in crops that are worth little because of global overproduction or that are destroyed by unexpected agricultural epidemics.

Notes from the field - Santa Monica & Papua New Guinea

From Hayley, Open Mind - Question Box intern over the summer from Stanford.

Hi, I’m Hayley!

My interest in Open Mind started last fall when I read an article about Question Box in the newspaper. I had just returned from a summer spent teaching in a rural school in Papua New Guinea and I was brainstorming ways to continue helping my students. The idea of a live, local-language hotline struck me as genius. My students had few textbooks, and no additional resources such as libraries, computers, or educated adults. But they did have cell phones.

This summer I’ve been multitasking. During the day I’m interning at the Open Mind office in LA. I’ve spent most of my time working on the how-to-create-you-own-hotline manual that is designed for community organizations in the developing world. The manual will eventually be part of an online toolkit to guide organizations starting their own Question Box-style hotlines. I’ve also had the chance to learn a bit about grant writing and the daily operation of Open Mind. Simultaneously, I’m attempting to start a hotline for my old students in Papua New Guinea. I’m working with students at Divine Word University, one of the most prestigious universities in the country, to set up a call center where the university students will answer primary school students’ questions about everything from education to health to career paths.


Open Mind - Question Box Featured on BBC Digital Planet

BBC Digital Planet recently featured Open Mind-Question Box for a second time, interviewing Open Mind-Question Box Founder Rose Shuman and Open Mind India Chairman Dr. Nikhil Agarwal.

Listen to the interviews and discussion -  click the link below:

QB BBC interview Sept 2010

Rose & Nikhil emphasized using technology that local populations are already familiar with, so that development organizations can focus on their initiatives and not on teaching new technologies. Rose unveiled upcoming plans to launch an online guide that will teach community organizations how to start their own live, local-language hotlines. The BBC announcers lauded the Question Box initiative, saying “It was a good idea when it started; it continues to be a good idea.”

Notes from the Field

Brendan Cassidy is interning with Open Mind - Question Box in Pune, India this summer.  He is a third-year Computer Science and Education student from Carleton College in Northfield, MN. This is his journal entry:

Over the past four weeks, I have been working for Question Box in Pune. The challenge we immediately faced was to provide Lend A Hand India (LAHI) with three Question Boxes. They hope to use boxes for remote education—students can listen to a lesson from a teacher and then respond to questions or ask questions of their own. Future LAHI-specific incarnations of the Question Box may feature radio technology, allowing one instructor to deliver a lesson to multiple sites simultaneously, so that many students can receive a quality education.

To prepare the boxes for LAHI, we first had to take down boxes that weren't in use, and traveling to those locations was a great experience. I didn't have an opportunity to see them in use, but I definitely got a better handle on what the project is about by seeing the communities in which the boxes were being used. Next, we constructed some simple circuits to go inside of the boxes.

Previously, a user had to hold a button for a while before a call was made, but with the changes we made, a user now only has to press the button for a moment. This will make the boxes easier to use, which will hopefully enable more people to use them. Finally, we applied new stickers and coats of paint. The new boxes are looking great!


We are now working to create comprehensive manuals on the Question Box, covering everything from assembly to maintenance. I'm excited for the opportunity to work with people from the community to make sure the manuals are clear and accessible, and I'm looking forward to making something that might help Question Box spread all over the world.


Question Box Poster Presenting at ICTD2010 London in December

Open Mind—Question Box has been selected as a poster presenter for the 2010 International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies. This is our first published paper!

The ICTD is a conference on ICT4D (Information and Communication Technologies for Development). The conference is “a forum for researchers, practitioners, and all those with interests in the use of information and communication technologies for development practice”. Click here to read more about the ICTD201:

We will be presenting a paper titled, AppLab Question Box: A Live Voice Information Service in Rural Uganda, as a poster. The paper was coauthored by Nathaniel F. Futterman, the Uganda Project Coordinator, and Rose S. Shuman, the Founder and CEO of Open Mind. It is an overview of a pilot program where we set up a hotline in two districts in rural Uganda from April through September 2009. The pilot tested the interest and viability of a live agriculture/general hotline in rural Mbale and Bushneyi, gathered information on the informational needs and interests of the target population, and compared a live, voice-delivered information system against an alternative, SMS-based (text messaging) system. The pilot proved the possibility of running a live, local-language hotline using a simple and inexpensive infrastructure. It also showed a unique perspective of the issues of trust surrounding information provision and the role of intermediaries in facilitating trust in this setting.

The ICTD conference is being hosted by the UNESCO chair in ICT4D and the multidisciplinary ICT4D Research Centre at Royal Hollowy, the University of London, this December 14th and 15th, 2010. Come check out our presentation if you’re around!

New Hotline in Thajavur

The hotline for dairy farmers in Thajavur, India is operational! Open Mind—Question Box has been working with Arohana Dairy Private Limited to create a hotline which will contribute to the organization’s goal of creating highly productive dairy clusters by empowering and involving dairy farmers. The hotline's focus is on questions related to animal husbandry.

So far, phones have been installed at milk collection centers in four of the ten villages Arohana is working in. Dairy farmers can use those phones to get a direct connection to Tamil Nadu Veterinary and the Animal Sciences University where experts are available to answer their questions. The hotline Operators will use the opportunity to collect information about the dairy farmers and their questions. Arohana will analyze the resulting data to find trends in the way the dairy farmers think, common misconceptions they may have, and how they get their information. Hopefully this analysis will allow Arohana to refine its programs and initiatives to better help the local dairy farmers. Meanwhile, the self-sustaining hotline service, which uses coin-operated phones, will be directly and immediately helping the diary farmers.

Kudos to Question Box Heroes

Over the past few months, a collection of extraordinary people have been providing extraordinary support to Question Box. We want to offer appreciation and recognition to:

John Digrado, CPA - John has led the charge to get all of Open Mind - Question Box's paperwork in order and up to date with the Federal and State tax and regulatory boards. John has filled out hundreds of pages of government forms, organized our books, and generally been a great intermediary between us and the government. Thank you John!

Brendan Cassidy is our summer intern in Pune, India.  Brendan is improving the Question Box hardware, and creating formal manuals and documentation.  He's doing a great job and surviving monsoon season.

Caitlin Feeney is just about to finish her 2 month internship. She's diligently cleaned up all of Open Mind's contact files, secured a free account for us at to manage the contacts, created our upcoming newsletter (our first!) and translated our entire site into  Mandarin Chinese!

Hayley Tobin has just come on board, and already has drafted a manual and new website content. We're looking forward to her assistance through September.

Arjun Sivakumar has worked with us for two summers, and we are sad to lose him to law school! Arjun has written countless grants and conducted significant research.

Software engineer Chokha Palayamkottai, founder of Integralops, has volunteered his company's engineers to build the next generation of Open Question software! This software will enable organizations to run their own Question Box hotlines from their offices. Big thanks to Open Mind Board member Farida Paramita, who is managing the project, and who designed the user interfaces.

Megan MacMurray has been terrific, cleaning and updating our website and enabling new features. Thanks to Geetika Agrawal for being part of the online Question Box collective and offering design guidance.

Lastly, thank you to Raymond Ellis, Rebecca Seguerre, Nitin Gambhir, Oliver Zee, Kristin Cornuelle, and Rene Kathawala at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP for securing Open Mind's 501c3 status, walking us through trademark and IP issues, and working on contracts. We are very grateful for your time and contributions.


Question Box's strength lies in our volunteers, community, and partners. We invite you to join us with your talents to bring knowledge and understanding to the world.

A Young User at Maher Home for Children, Vadu, Maharashtra, India


Rose Shuman to address the Africa Gathering in London

africa_gathering Rose Shuman, founder of Open Mind and Question Box Project will be speaking at an exciting Africa Gathering in London themed "World leading technologies changing Africa" on July 3rd, 2010.

Africa Gathering brings technophiles, thinkers, entrepreneurs, innovators and everybody else together to talk about positive change in sustainable development, technology, social networking, health, education and good governance in Africa. More info...

Rose Shuman is a featured speaker at the Guardian's ACTIVATE 2010


In a video interview with the Guardian, Rose Shuman talks about the pace of Internet spread in the developing world ahead of the ACTIVATE 2010 summit.She is a speaker at the summit.


The Guardian's Activate Summit is a unique and powerful gathering of global visionaries at the Guardian's headquarters in London.Its a packed day of ideas and inspiration, providing insight into how the web and the myriad technologies that weave it all together are reshaping our world.

Question Box in Deutsche Welle

Deutsche Welle Logo Question Box gets written about in Deutsche Welle.


"Maher founder Sister Lucy Kurien, 54, said Question Box was useful for students who need help with homework and want to find out about exam results. Although that information has been available online, students couldn't access it - until now.

'It has been very difficult for them, unless they get (the information) from the newspaper or the radio," she said. "And we have a simple television program, but we don't have a television cable connection. It has been very difficult.' " Read full article

Open Mind is Now a 501(c)3 - Help us celebrate with a donation!

Hello supporters and friends of Open Mind - Question Box! We are pleased to announce that Open Mind has recently received 501c3 Status from the IRS - It's official!  That means that all donations from US residents are now fully tax-deductible under the law. To celebrate, we are starting our first-ever fundraising push! Open Mind is raising $30,000 in order to build a Question Box Total Toolkit that will enable any organization to build and run their own local language telephone hotline. Can you help? Please Donate Now!

IRS 501c3 letter text