MobileActive in South Africa

    by Bev Clark
    October 22, 2008

    Brenda Burrell, technical director of Kubatana.net has attended the two previous MobileActive conferences and has found them very useful. It was at the 2005 MobileActive Conference in Toronto that Brenda first discussed the idea of Freedom Fone and where she was able to meet developers to help her make her idea a reality.

    In 2007 Brenda traveled to Sao Paulo as a participant at MobileActive.

    In 2008 Kubatana submitted a request to MobileActive to facilitate a presentation on Freedom Fone with a live demo. We were pleased to be accepted and three members of Kubatana attended MobileActive in Johannesburg.


    The MobileActive Conference gave us the opportunity to network with, and learn from, the variety of activists, practitioners and service providers who attended. We cannot emphasise enough how important it is for activists such as ourselves living in a repressive media environment to get out, meet and be inspired by others.

    Brenda presented Freedom Fone in two back-to-back mini talks. The Kubatana team collaborated with the Tactical Technology Collective (TTC) to bring Bobby Soriano out from the Philippines in order to both assist in trouble shooting Freedom Fone both in and outside of the conference activities. Bobby also presented the new TTC toolkit, Mobiles in-a-box, as well as having a million meetings with a lot of other groups.

    Bobby Rocks!


    Our presentation on Freedom Fone generated much interest and we are excited by a few potential collaborations. One of these is working with Stephanie Walters, a consultant representing the Institute of War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), to disseminate information using mobile phones, on sexual violence in the DRC.

    We were also happy to make connections with representatives from AfricaFiles, Cell Life, Balancing Act, UNICEF and Google.org.

    Our team took the opportunity to learn from a variety of presentations. These included Mobile Tech in Citizen Participation, Innovations in Mobile Social Marketing, Mobiles in Disaster Relief and Mobile Phones for Activism and Advocacy. The depth of the presentation of Hernan Nadal from Greepeace Argentina was particularly useful.

    We were pleased at how many activists and organisations at MobileActive were willing to collaborate with us and share information. In particular Laurie Butgereit from the Meraka Institute (African Advanced Institute for Information and Communications Technology) specifically offered her organisations assistance in making available any of the software that they have developed available to us. Peter Benjamin from Cell Life also looks like an exciting partner as we take Freedom Fone out into the world.

    The MobileActive Conference allowed us to reconnect with impressive folk working in a variety of areas, for example Chris Csikszentmihalyi who remains a valuable supporter and mentor in our project, Toni Eliasz from Ungana-Afrika, who is always worth listening to and learning from, Mark Bellinsky and Emily Jacobi of Democracy 2.0 Burma Youth Program (check out their Knight News Challenge Garage entry), Peter Benjamin, Russell Southwood (Balancing Act), Al Alegre and many others.

    We continue to be inspired by so many activists working for a better world.

    A conversation with David Sasaki from Rising Voices, Chris and Dan from the MIT Media Lab, and Juliana Rotich from Ushahidi, gave us a chance to check in with other Knight affiliates and hear about their favourite sessions and their thoughts on mobile technology and activism.

    The MobileActive Conference also gave us the opportunity to check in with some of the women we are working with in preparation for the AWID feminist conference in Cape Town in November. Cheekay Cinco helped us find our F Spot in an interview she did with us analyising the feminist undercurrents of our work.

    Outside of the conference we re-connected with Supreme Court Justice Edwin Cameron. Living openly with HIV, he is an outstanding role model and we valued speaking with him about many issues, including personal stuff like ways to keep our batteries charged in Zimbabwe’s exacting environment. We also checked in with Phumi Mtetwa the director of The Lesbian and Gay Equality Project (LGEP) who reminded us that there is still so much work to be done in making South Africa a safer place for women.

    Thanks and high praise go to Katrin Verclas the director of MobileActive for facilitating such a valuable learning exchange.

    Viva women in mobile activism!

    Tagged: activists freedom fone mobileactive

    2 responses to “MobileActive in South Africa”

    1. Bev, Thank you for your inspiration from Zimbabwe! Please keep us posted of small and large ways that we can help around the world. Thank you also for your attention to women’s issues. Peace. Andrius

    2. Thank you, Bev and Bren! I am so glad that this gathering was so useful for you! What a privilege and pleasure to work with all of you. The projects and people represented at MobileActive08 was astonishingly diverse and rich and incredibly innovative. What an amazing field, isn’t it?

      We are very grateful that you were there, and thank you to the Knight Foundation for its travel support to the citizen media and mobile grantees to make that happen!

      With deep gratitude and thanks for all the work you do,


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