Smarter Planet -- How Cognitive Boosted UNICEF's Social Biz -- A Smarter Planet Blog

Solomon Assefa, IBM Research

Solomon Assefa, IBM Research

By Steve Hamm

IBM researcher Solomon Assefa likes to operate at the intersections of scientific domains and social institutions. It allows him to envision ways of using cutting-edge technologies to tackle new challenges.  In a recent example of how his approach can pay off, he made the connections that resulted in a small team of IBM scientists helping boost a United Nations Children’s Fund social networking project that could improve the lives of millions throughout the continent of Africa.

The UNICEF project, called U-report, got its start as a text-messaging system for gathering information from young people in Uganda. Initially, UNICEF surveyed people via their mobile phones to get information about what was going on in their lives. The flow of messages turned into a torrent when youngsters, unsolicited, started reporting all sorts of problems in their communities–everything from dry wells to child abuse. More than 240,000 people signed up for the program. UNICEF’s staff couldn’t handle the deluge of messages.

If you want to learn more about the era of cognitive computing, download a free chapter of Smart Machines, a book by IBM Research Director John E. Kelly III, at the Web site of Columbia University Press, http://cup.columbia.edu/static/cognitive.