35 million missed calls.
That’s the number of calls that people across India made to fight political corruption.
In 2011, the social justice leader Anna Hazare wanted to pressure politicians to pass the Jan Lokpal Bill, a long-stalled policy to fight corruption. After the public initially sent 80,000 SMS in support of the campaign, Anna invited people to join the movement by making ‘missed calls’ to a local number. In two weeks, supporters placed over 35 million calls – that’s a 437-fold increase in participation!
While this experiment demonstrated the power of ‘missed calls’ as a tool for civic engagement, it fell short of becoming a sustainable model. Without a platform for data aggregation, list cutting, and a cost-effective way to purchase local numbers, the campaign failed to replicate and scale its initial success.
To build on the pioneering work of Anna and his team, we’ve designed a mobile petition tool called /Crowdring, which works by turning free ‘missed calls’ into signatures on a petition.
We believe that /Crowdring has the potential to become the easiest and cheapest way to bring the world together around social justice issues.
It doesn’t require any app or phone credit to use, and can work on any mobile phone, including the most basic GSM model. /Crowdring facilitates two-way correspondence that is free for the user, and can be scaled across cities and continents.
It’s open source and available for anyone to tweak, hack and share.
Here’s how /Crowdring works:
1. A human rights activist in Nairobi launches a campaign to support the rights of small farmers across Africa. She logs onto the /Crowdring site and creates a petition that is linked to local phone numbers across the Continent.
2. Next, she places ads in local and national media, asking the public to make a free ‘missed call’ as a way of showing support for the rights of farmers. Millions of citizens in Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa see these ads and are compelled to take action. After placing ‘missed calls,’ they receive a free SMS in their local language that thanks them for joining the campaign, shares key facts about land rights, and invites them to participate in local events.
3. At a UNHabitat summit in Nairobi, the activist presents millions of mobile signatures to politicians and successfully pressures them to pass and enforce progressive land reforms in their national constitutions.
Global mobile culture.
‘Missed calls’ – also known as ‘beeps,’ ‘flashes’ or ‘fishing’ – are intentionally dropped phone calls that are logged by the recipient, but neither the caller nor the recipient pays any charges. Common in emerging economies where calling rates can be costly, people use ‘missed calls’ to send simple signals and messages, such as ‘I’m thinking of you’ or ‘I’m ready to be picked up’ – avoiding fees for SMS or talk time.
In collaboration with our development partner, ThoughtWorks, we’ve built /Crowdring v. 1.0 – a working prototype of a web and mobile platform that is ready for testing!
Over the next three months, we’ll be working with our partners in Rio, Nairobi and Bangalore to see how /Crowdring can engage members and enhance how we advocate for change.
With your support, we can meet our goal of raising $15,000 to bring /Crowdring to these three cities and continue to make this tool free for activists and community organisations everywhere.
If 500 people donate $30 each, here’s what we can fund:
- $6,000 worth of bulk SMS, local phone numbers, and web hosting
- $4,000 to support community trainings and public workshops
- $3,000 towards international and in-country travel and accommodations
- $2,000 of local media ads and public service announcements
*The first 100 people to donate, will have their name listed on the /Crowdring website as a founder!
And with your help, here’s what we’ll be able to make happen:
- We will use /Crowdring to run three social justice campaigns that focus on the root causes of inequality and poverty;
- We will train 15 community organisers and campaigners in Rio, Nairobi and Bangalore to use the /Crowdring platform and mobilise thousands of their members via ‘missed call’ campaigns;
- We will empower the next generation of activists and campaigners by documenting and sharing best practices with the open source community.
We are a group of activists, technologists, campaigners and designers based in NYC, with partners in Brazil, India, and Kenya. Our core team includes staff from /The Rules, ThoughtWorks, and Purpose. Our partners are Meu Rio – a movement to mobilise citizens to affect local policies in Rio de Janeiro, Jhatkaa – a grassroots advocacy group uniting Indian voices across class, caste, region and religion, and Infonet – a civic society organisation advancing technology to promote citizen voices in Kenya.
Risks and challenges
The quality of our platform will rely in part on the quality of local service providers. We will select the best local providers to ensure reliable coverage and platform integration.
We take a proactive stance on securing user privacy and protecting data.
We will protect user information through password hashing and encrypt our database to block third parties from accessing personal data.
We will mirror our website so that in the event that our IP addresses are blocked, we will migrate to alternative proxy servers and ensure that users continue to access the site.
Finally, we will develop protocols to determine country-specific risk thresholds, train our partners in best mobile campaigning practices, and verify security protocols through an independent third-party.
And one last risk – we may miss all of your calls :)Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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