UNICEF and Partners bring free information to Eastern and Southern Africa


While access to the internet is increasing worldwide – global Internet penetration grew seven fold from 6.5% to 43% between 2000 and 2011 –  millions of people still lack access to quality, credible information. In some instances this lack of information can be life threatening; in others it constrains growth within society as well as in the economy.

Billions of people remain offline and are unable to access the knowledge economy. The technological revolution can only be a game changer when more and more people can access the net. And a game changer is exactly what is needed.

Today almost 6 million children (under five years) still die every year from preventable illness. That’s five million … and from preventable ills. These illnesses can be avoided if parents and caregivers are more informed about things such as breastfeeding, handwashing with soap, safe sanitation, and HIV and AIDS prevention.

Enter the Internet of Good Things (IoGT)

The Internet of Good Things is an initiative led by UNICEF that provides free access to educational content and lifesaving information on mobile phones. As a result IoGT helps bridge the digital divide and connect those who are currently disconnected.

UNICEF, through a partnership with Free Basics by Facebook and Mobile operators, provides a freely accessible mobile website called the Internet of Good things (IoGT) in 11 countries in Eastern and Southern Africa. The only thing people need is a web-enabled mobile phone and a Sim Card from one of the participating Mobile operators. The data is free!

IoGT provides information from health to HIV; sanitation to safety; education to equity. Such access to information is both a human right, and a life saver. It can enable people to make informed decisions regarding their health, finances, and education. It is especially important during the early stages of a child’s development.

In order to reach a vast audience, including UNICEF primary target audience, the hard to reach and the most marginalized, UNICEF is investing in many communication and promotion initiatives. A mix of mass media and more personal one to one promotion has and is being explored.

Mass media such as TV remain a key enabler when it comes to raise awareness about Internet of Good Things at scale. Two country offices have managed to strike partnerships to put the message out there in a LOUD way: “You can now access updated and localized essential education protection and Health information on mobile! “

The Angola country office, through a partnership with MOVICEL was able to broadcast the below TV advertisement.

The South Africa office aired a Public Service Announcement (PSA) around ECD Best Practices featuring a man and a woman. Thanks to a great partnership, this video including a link to IoGT for viewers who would like to learn more was aired more than 30 times! Have a look at the 30 seconds video

Whilst the PSA was being aired on major networks in South Africa, a paid Facebook campaign was run. It is a good idea to complement a TV campaign with a social media or Adwords campaign whilst is being broadcasted as it multiplies the potential touch points with the target audience.

Social media can also be used on its own and Facebook is a great tool to reach a very targeted audience. A mix of both organic and paid campaigns are regularly launched by country offices to raise awareness on messages hosted on Internet of Good Things. This is especially important in times of emergency when information needs to be broadcasted widely and quickly about the spread of epidemics. 

In October 2016, UNICEF Angola ran a Facebook ad campaign to promote good health practices by driving people to their Internet of Good Things website focusing on Yellow fever and Cholera. Ads were created to direct the targeted audience to health and emergency prevention content on Internet of Good Things (and accessible for free, without data charges when accessed via Free Basics by Facebook).

UNICEF Angola was able to have their ads reach more than 1.3 million people with relevant content and information. Unicef wishes to bring more people online with Internet of Good Things. Facebook ads can be good to grow awareness but to drive people on the internet when they’ve never used it before, SMS can be a pretty powerful tool.

In June 2017, UNICEF and Facebook partnered to pilot a SMS campaign. Overall 2 SMS were sent to 160,000 FBS-eligible phone numbers in South Africa and Tanzania.

The campaign consisted of two one-way messages over the course of two days with a promotional message and link to the Internet of Good Things on Facebook’s Free Basics site. The SMS was sent in English in South Africa and English and Swahili in Tanzania. This SMS campaign was followed by a survey sent to 100 respondents about the campaign designed to capture some insights from recipients

25% of respondents in Tanzania and 49% in South Africa self-reported clicking on the FBS link they received in a one-way SMS. In both countries, the youngest segments of targeted audience were the most likely to click on the links provided – even though the topic of the campaign was on Early Childhood Development and care practices for babies.

There are many more ways to reach the population at scale with our health, protection and education messages so that we can save and protect more lives. We are currently exploring flyers and posters in Health and ECD centres and radio messages. Good partnerships are also crucial to continue to scale. Internet of Good Things must use existing mechanisms, such as frontline workers, women’s or youth groups, and committees, to reach a larger audience especially mobile and remote populations, minorities and marginalized groups, migrants, and those living in informal urban settlements to health services.

In recent interviews, target users of IoGT in South Africa pointed that their recommended approach to increase knowledge and usage uptake of the IoGT was dependent on mass media and on-the ground communication efforts. The two types of promotion methods that users report as the most applicable was radio and workshops in the community.

In South Africa all users with a Cell-C SIM card can go to Freebasics.com for free (it won’t cost them any data) and access Early Life Tips and the Internet of Good Things.

UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere. For more information about UNICEF and its work visit. For more information about UNICEF and its work in South Africa, visit: www.unicef.org/southafrica