Social Good, Social Media

Jamaica becomes first Caribbean country to launch U-Report

There’s a way to change the dialogue about our youth: from what we as adults say is good for them, to what they themselves say – that’s the goal of U-Report. Two years of investigation, finding the budget, planning and development became real when UNICEF Jamaica became the first country in the Caribbean to launch.
 
U-Report allows young persons (aged 13-29) to sign up to receive weekly polls on issues that matter to them. It’s youth-driven: Christopher Harper the project coordinator is himself from that demographic. Meanwhile he has a team of youth advisors from high school age and up.
 
They’ll use Facebook, Twitter; and FLOW (thanks again!) are allowing customers FREE access via SMS. These and more channels TBA will allow the target audience to easily opt-in as U-Reporters to receive and respond to polls.

Jamaica will join other countries worldwide, which have so far recruited more than 5 million U-Reporters. 1,000 U-Reporters have signed up and 44 per cent responded to the first poll.

The platform upon which U-Report is built, RapidPro, can be used to build other messaging applications. For instance, Matthew McNaughton from the Kingston-based SlashRoots Foundation used the platform for a maternal health application in Nigeria while working for the World Bank.
 
Initially, when at UNICEF Jamaica we first thought of RapidPro uses in Jamaica it was actually not for U-Report. We’re were thinking of starting a chatline, which youths could message for cyber-related help. NSPCC and mobile network O2 have something similar in the UK, but for their’s youths have to call-in. Jamaican youth are about messaging – mainly WhatsApp; and for everything else, Instagram.


 
Other uses of RapidPro have included emergencies to help distribute relief supplies, including after the hurricanes in the Caribbean last year; and during the ebola crisis to assign health workers (no, that was not in the Caribbean!).
 
Back to U-Report. It won’t be enough just to hear the youth; they’ll only remain interested as long as they see action. UNICEF and partners will be using the information to influence their programmes; and of course share in the media.
 
Top of the list will be achieving CHANGE. Effective uses elsewhere have included breaking down myths associated with HIV, to increasing the number of youths getting tested and knowing their status; and helping to force through legislation against child abuse.
 
Working on this project for me has been another reminder of the brilliance of Jamaican youth, seen in Chris himself who has really made the project come to life. But that same youthful brilliance is one that is all too often held back. 

In 2015 UNICEF commissioned a youth survey that gained 3,000 respondents:
 
* Only 8% felt government took their views into account when making decisions about them.
* Only 9% felt youths were making their voices count.
* 81% wanted to leave Jamaica for better opportunities.
 
So, no small task ahead then!

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