Question Box was recently featured in Betterplace Lab's Trendreport. " Sie können nicht lesen? Sie leben in einem Slum oder auf dem Acker ohne Internetzugang? Sie sprechen kein Englisch oder Deutsch? Aber sie müssen unbedingt was wissen? Fragen Sie die Question Box, eine Sprechanlage, bei der man auf Knopfdruck mit jemandem verbunden wird, der im Internet recherchiert. Etwa wann der nächste Bus in die Großstadt fährt. Auf welche aktuellen Preise für Weizen sie sich beim nächsten Verkaufsgespräch beziehen können. Wie das Wetter morgen wird, falls sie sähen wollen."
Millions of people in the developing world lack internet access and the ability to 'Google' an answer to their questions. Question Box provides a simple solution.
For millions in the developing world who can’t just “Google it,” a box is providing the answers.
To begin, users push a green "talk" button on the metal intercom box and ask a question in their local language. An operator in a larger town with more Internet bandwidth will look up their questions online and relay the answers to the caller. The red button ends the call.
The Question Box was created by Open Mind, a nonprofit founded by Rose Shuman in partnership with the Grameen Foundation.
Internet access is not given a second thought in the developed world, but for billions around the globe, the Internet is far out of reach.
"Question Boxes leap over illiteracy, computer illiteracy, lack of networks, and language barriers," according to Shuman and fellow organizers. "They provide immediate, relevant information to people using their preferred mode of communication: speaking and listening."
Question Box Answers Questions In Remote Villages That Can’t Just Google It
By Michael J. Coren
January 4, 2012
Without an Internet connection or robust smartphones, many people around the world don’t have access to instantaneous information. Question Box--a mobile phone connected to an operator--can help villagers from settling bar bets to answering serious questions about health and farming.
Ask, and you shall receive. When it comes to information in much of the developing world, this simply isn’t true. Connectivity is like air in industrialized nations: We take it for granted that we can go online with a question in mind and search a good portion of human knowledge to find the answer.
But the next time you’re in a bar settling an argument by checking IMDb on your smartphone, think about how people in other parts of the world have to resolve these questions, or even more important ones. Rural areas without decent roads or schools, never mind an Internet connection, have little to link them to the outside world. For these places, there is now Question Box.
Question Box Founder Rose Shuman recently visited the Broadcasting Board of Governors in Washington, DC, home to media outlets such as Voice of America. In this video, Rose discusses what Question Box is, and how it is used in communities. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJm94jzex2g&feature=player_embedded
This Way Up, a program from Radio New Zealand, features an interview with Question Box founder Rose Shuman. This Way Up is a weekly two-hour show that explores the things we use and consume. 18 Jun, 2011 (11′29″) Check it out!
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Listen to the interviews and discussion - click the link below:
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.”
"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
Deutsche Welle DW radio QB - It's in English!
DW reporter Michael Atkin was present at a Question Box inauguration at Maher home for women and children. Hear his firsthand reporting of what he saw and experienced live, and how Question Box became accidentally involved in a competition between two local political parties when each claimed Question Box was their initiative!
Founder and CEO Rose Shuman recently was interviewed on WomanzWorld, a blog for women entrepreneurs. Rose shares her experience in building Question Box and advice on how to move the organization forward.
Read Complete Interview on WomanzWorld
Social Entrepreneur Rose Shuman Thinks Outside Of The Box
Interview by Natalie Sisson
I was fortunate enough to meet the phenomenal Rose Shuman in Santa Monica, LA over my Christmas break. Over coffee I got to learn more about this human ball of energy and inspiration. A TED Fellow and Social Entrepreneur, Rose is incredibly engaging and her enthusiasm is infectious.
What I admire most about Rose is that she cares passionately about every aspect of her enterprise. She describes herself as very opinionated and uppity as well as strongly motivated and unafraid of challenging situations..
Question Box is no exception. She knew that 4 billion people in the world aren’t online but increasing numbers have mobile phones. She asked how do you take the promise of the internet and deliver it to people speaking obscure regional languages? Her answer – why not build something that does it for you and uses the networking ability of GPS and mobile phone network infrastructures that even Grandma could use?
She spent three years incubating it and 5 iterations of software and produced a brilliant yet simple innovation. Literally a box with a big button on the front that’s hooked up by mobile phone, it helps users ask for exactly what information they want, when they want it, and how they want it – live, in their local language.
It’s currently being used in Pune, India and piloted last summer in rural Mbale and Bushenyi, Uganda. Callers ask about anything they wish – agriculture, education, sports, health.
As Founder and CEO of Open Mind, she’s on a mission to bring Internet information to everyone who lacks access. On a daily basis she handles major strategy and company vision, investor relations and fundraising, business development, marketing/collateral development, complex international project management, research, operations management. What’s more she directs 15 team members on three continents, including engineering staff!
Pranali Kalbhor stands on her toes and peers into the little box outside her father’s kirana store. Then, she presses the green button on the box like she has seen her father do, clears her voice and asks in Marathi: “Bharatache pahile pradhanmantri kon (Who was the first Prime Minister of India)?” The voice at the other end says “Jawaharlal Nehru” and Pranali preens. The nine-year-old’s teacher had asked the class to find the answer to the question and now she knows....Read More
UPDATE- Voice of America features Question Box for listeners of its Special English program. Interestingly, we have just received news that a German publisher is using this same recording to teach English in Germany!
Voice of America recently interviewed Open Mind - Question Box Founder Rose Shuman. The piece was broadcast on Voice of America all around the world, including India and Uganda. Its target audience are people learning English, which we find very cool.
Mark Beckford of nComputing wrote a great article about Open Mind - Question Box.Essentially, he explains how Question Box vaults over the slow bandwidth speeds found in most of Sub-Saharan Africa.
Read the original post, or read it after the jump:
October 8, 2009 — 06:00 am
Question Box in India
A Simple Solution for the Information Divide
I guarantee that anybody reading this blog takes for granted the wealth of information at their fingertips. Looking for something? Google it.
But for the billions of of people in the developing world that don't even have a mobile phone, what do they do?
Last year at SoCAP '08 I met a young woman with an intriguing social venture called Open Mind. She had attended the panel I was hosting on ICT for Development and approached me after the session about a project called Question Box. Her name was Rose Shuman and she had an idea for a free telephone hotline service to bring information to those in the developing world that don't have access to a phone or computer.
The value proposition she presented was remarkably simple: put a box in rural communities where people don't have fixed-line or mobile phone service. They just push a button and are connected to an operator who has a PC with an internet connection. The operator can look up the question using the internet and provide that information for free.
She was looking for feedback on the idea, and if I recall correctly, I believe I told her I saw two potential obstacles. The first was the ability to scale a non-profit project that was dependent on manufacturing and deploying these devices to villages across India. The second was the proliferation of the mobile phone and how she could tap into that device as a way to deploy the service. Both of these had to do with getting the business model right.
I hadn't talked to her about the project since then, but last week she forwarded me an article about Question Box in the New York Times. She has since partnered with the Grameen Foundation and has received funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, so I'm happy to see her finding early successes.
She has expanded this service to Africa. In Uganda, they had to modify the service away from a device-centric model to a mobile-phone centric model. Africa has terrible broadband connectivity. Wayan Vota, who writes and manages the OLPCNews and Education Technology Debate blogs, sent me this screen shot of his broadband speed in Nigeria:
As you can see above, he was getting modem speeds of around 14.4 to 28.8 kbps. Open Mind thus decided to hire Question Box "agents" who have mobile phones and wear prominent shirts in order to identify them.
These agents then phone into the a call center in a central location with decent broadband connectivity and ask the question on behalf of the individual. The agents get compensated with free cellphone air time. They plan to expand the service to existing mobile phone users who can text or call the center directly.
A new similar service recently cropped in the US cryptically called KGB. You text a question to 542542 (which is KGBKGB on your phone key pad) and for 99 cents they text you back the answer. The service wasn't that impressive when I tried it out specifically for this article. I asked the question: "Are there other similar services like KGB in developing countries like India?" The unhelpful answer was: "KGB does have simmular services in other countries but we do not divulge the mane of the services." That is not my incorrect spelling, that answer is verbatim from my mobile phone. And there are other services.
I have often discussed the three requirements of a disruptive innovation. It must be simple, easy to use, and provide a unique value to the user. And to be successful, it needs to adopt a business model that works for that specific user group. Rose's venture meets all of these requirements, especially in simplicity.
You can't get much simpler than a service that requires you to just push a button.
Dialing for Answers Where Web Can’t Reach
By RON NIXON
KAMPALA, Uganda — The caller was frustrated. A new pest was eating away at his just-planted coffee crop, and he wanted to know what to do. Tyssa Muhima jotted down notes as the caller spoke, and promised to call back in 10 minutes with an answer.
Each day, Ms. Muhima and two other young women at this small call center on the outskirts of Uganda’s capital city answer about 40 such calls. They are operators for Question Box, a free, nonprofit telephone hot line that is meant to get information to people in remote areas who lack access to computers.
The premise behind Question Box is that many barriers keep most of the developing world from taking advantage of the wealth of knowledge available through Web search engines, said Rose Shuman, the service’s creator. That could be a drag on economic development.
“So I was thinking, why not bring the information to them in a way that’s most convenient and useful to them?” said Ms. Shuman, who is based in Santa Monica, Calif.Jon Gosier
Question Box connects operators like Phiona Joyo Tee, left, Lydia Apio and Charlene Rwemereza Abireebe with people who have questions, especially about agriculture.
Instead of searching for information themselves, people in two rural agricultural communities in Uganda can turn to 40 Question Box workers who have cellphones.
The workers dial into the call center and ask questions on behalf of the locals, or they put the call on speakerphone so the locals can ask for themselves. The operators then look up the requested information in a database and convey it to the workers, who pass it along to the villagers. The workers are compensated with cellphone airtime.
The service is a joint effort of Open Mind, a nonprofit group founded by Ms. Shuman, and the Grameen Foundation, which is best known for promoting small loans for the poor. It has received financial backing from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The Question Box service was first introduced in remote villages in India two years ago, and it came to Uganda in April. The Ugandan version takes advantage of the explosive popularity of cellphones in Africa. Cellphone use has more than tripled in the last few years, and nearly 300 million Africans now have cellphones.
Where rural villages were once cut off and isolated from urban centers, cellphones now offer a lifeline, providing access to banking, news and business opportunities.
That is a big technological advance, but for most Africans, Internet access is still too costly and slow. Question Box was conceived as a way of overcoming both the expense and the scarcity of Internet connections. Eventually, Question Box will allow farmers and others to use the hot line with their own cellphones or through text messages.
In June, Google introduced a similar effort in Uganda, also involving the Grameen Foundation, that allows people to find information on topics like health and agriculture via text messaging.
Nathan Eagle, a fellow at the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico who has done research on cellphones and development in Africa, said that while services like these can be helpful, they must be responsive to the needs of their users.
“We can’t sit in our offices in America and decide what is useful to people and what is meaningful in their lives,” said Mr. Eagle, who also runs a cellphone-based business in Kenya. “The services only add value if they are open-ended.”
Ms. Shuman said this was the aim of Question Box. The service, she said, is first and foremost a tool for economic development. Uganda’s agricultural sector employs over 80 percent of the country’s work force, and receiving timely information about crop prices or the most current planting techniques is crucial.
“In this way we are helping farmers make decisions regarding where to sell, what to plant and how to best take care for their crops,” Ms. Shuman said. “It’s all about giving communities the ability to help themselves.”
Not all of the questions that come in are business-minded. Some are about sports — “Which is the better football team, Manchester United or Barcelona?” — or historical trivia.
In India, villagers can use Question Box through an actual box — a metal one with a push-to-talk button. They ask a question and an operator in a distant city will either look up the answer on the Web immediately or ask the callers to wait a few minutes before getting back to them.
In Uganda, though, that model proved unworkable because Internet connections are so slow. So the operators at Question Box search a locally stored database created by Appfrica Labs, a Ugandan company that hosts the call center. The database contains answers to past questions as well as a repository of documents, government statistics and research papers.
“A lot of this information isn’t even available on the Internet,” said Jon Gosier, chief technology officer of Question Box and founder of Appfrica Labs. “The real value in this database is that it contains a wealth of data that only pertains to the local areas.”ReelGeek
Most of Uganda’s rural agricultural communities are simply too remote to make it cost effective for Internet providers to offer service there, Mr. Gosier said. “Even in the next 10 years I don’t think you’re going to see areas like this being wired. That’s why Question Box will continue to be an important tool for getting people in these areas the information they need.”
To read the article on New York Times' website, please click here.
Rose Shuman has just been named a TED Fellow. Joining the ranks of a hundred distinguished innovators, Rose will be attending TEDIndia in November. Jon Gosier, Open Mind - Question Box CTO, is also a TED Fellow.
TED CONFERENCE ANNOUNCES 103 FELLOWS FOR TEDIndia 2009
NEW YORK, Sept. 14, 2009 — Organizers of the TED Conference will bring 103 TEDIndia Fellows to Mysore, India, to participate in TEDIndia, the first-ever TED in Asia. TEDIndia, “The Future Beckons,” will take place Nov. 4-7, 2009, on the high-tech campus of Infosys Technologies Ltd.
The TEDIndia Fellows are a diverse group of men and women, representing not only India, Pakistan and Bangladesh but also Indonesia, Canada, Tajikistan, the United States, China, Nigeria and Oman. TEDIndia Fellows include engineers, environmental scientists and pollution experts, human-rights activists, musicians, athletes and filmmakers. One is a female Olympic-class sailor. One runs an innovative rickshaw business. One is a robotics developer. All are committed to the spread of great ideas.