In his recent piece in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Peter Manzo urged issue advocates to make better use of cell phones as a tool for citizen engagement. (He also took the US telecommunications biz to task for lagging behind the rest of the world in providing state of the art services.) He concluded:

“To involve people today in mass social movements, we may need to find a way to use cell phones to do the equivalent of the Chileans' pot-banging in protest of Pinochet, or the cries of “I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!” from the film Network.”

This will require some very creative social innovation. Any ideas?”

The Agitator scratched our heads … it seemed to us that we've heard of a fair amount of cell phone campaigning. So we asked Guest Agitator Katrin Verclas from and the Nonprofit Technology Network to comment. And comment she does!

Seems like there's indeed a lot of cell phone advocacy underway. Here's her report, chock full of examples and “how to” resources, with links.

Pete Manzo is right but clearly has not looked around much. In his piece he calls for greater exploration of mobiles as a way to engage people. He quotes a gentleman who “noted that we have yet to use technology to tailor mobilization efforts to how people increasingly live and work. He went on to suggest that advocacy organizations should investigate how they might engage people through their cell phones.”

I'd like to meet that gentleman as he clearly gets it… and get Pete Manzo onto it.

Let's face it: With close to 3 billion mobile phones in the world, the cell phone is now the most ubiqitious technical device in the hands 'of the people.” An innovation in use and applications abounds and is about to explode. The future is mobile and we better get on with it. We here at are exploring the sways in which civil society organizations are and can use mobile phones. All around the world, mobiles are changing the way people organize themselves and their communities, conduct business, and transmit and receive information. For stories and case studies, see and for a series of strategy guides for nonprofits. (log-in is required to access the Guides.)
Just a few examples here:
A recent study found that getting out the vote via text message increases turnout by about 4% — see

I just got an email from a US-based organization that has done a lot innovative work setting up voicemail for homeless individuals that is now exploring how to integrate mobile phones into their work. We wrote up a few ways that we found interesting.

A South African environmental organization offers an information line to consumers about the safety and environmental sustainability of certain fish in restaurants and grocery stores, accessible via mobile phone

Protest movements from the Phillipines, Ukraine, Nepal and now Burma/Myanmar have used mobiles for mobilization to the point where cell phone coverage is routinely shut off by repressive regimes. We are writing about a few examples here:

In elections around the world, mobiles are used to monitor polling stations, diffuse rumors, and ensure accountability. We wrote about the recent elections in Sierra Leone where mobiles were a critical tool in ensuring a fair vote here:

Amnesty and People for the American Way, to name just a few, have experimented with mobile campaigns, more or less successfully. Some pointers on how NOT to do it (and how to) are here:

A number of public health organizations are providing sexual health information via mobile information channels:

A New Mexico conservation organization is building its activist email list with ringtones featuring endangered species, tripling the number of its supporters:

Human trafficking is combatted with information lines accessible via SMS/text message and sms hotlines in a few places around the world:

In short — there is a lot of innovation that is happening, and there is a lot of experimentation that needs to be tracked, where lessons have to be shared, and where we need to scale up. I believe that 2008 is the year where some of this work will 'pop' — and where we will see a lot more activity. We will certainly do whatever we can to make that happen!
Meanwhile, Pete, do read our blog and let's get started! And for the mobile equivalent of the proverbial Chilean pots, check out the do-it-yourself ringtones at and a good post about it here:

Katrin Verclas

Literally as we were preparing this post, the New York Times reports that Verizon Wireless has rejected a request from Naral Pro-Choice America to make Verizon's mobile network available for a text-message program. Verizon says it has the right to block (read: censor) “controversial or unsavory” text messages.

Sounds like the People's Republic of China, no?! Other leading wireless carriers have accepted the program. Do I hear an “Exercise Your Right to Choose … Cancel Your Verizon Service” campaign coming down the road?! How about on mobile?


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