Thank you to Ben Roberts, Group Chief Technology and Innovation Officer, Liquid Telecom for his contribution to this blog post.

For developing countries, the prospect of dealing with exponential growth in numbers of people infected by or dying from coronavirus is indeed a grim one due, in large part, to the already depressed capacity to handle regular medical needs. Over and above the immediate effect on those infected by the virus, millions more are adversely affected by quarantine and lockdown measures in their countries. Their ability to earn the daily wages or small business income to feed themselves and their families is either drastically reduced or completely eliminated. In African cities there are large populations that characteristically live in high density urban settlements and/or slums which presents their governments with unique challenges in trying to implement preventive measures against the spread of COVID-19.

One of our platform users, Liquid Telecom, sought to find out how such areas are being affected by this pandemic. Their deployment is collecting data regarding the social and economic impact of COVID-19, especially in Africa. It was started as a partnership with the Kenya Private Sector Alliance who are working for the interests of all industries in the private sector in Kenya. All data collected is anonymous. The overall objective is to collect and analyse data for social development research, to bring meaningful and rapid insights on the effects of the pandemic. The use of the platform allows for collection of near real-time data from the ground to support private sector, governments’ and development partners' efforts in responding to the crisis.

With Ushahidi’s technical assistance, they installed a standalone instance of the Ushahidi platform and have so far commissioned five surveys seeking data on the following areas:

  1. Reasons for self isolating,
  2. The effects of social distancing
  3. The impact these changes on SMEs in Africa,
  4. The effects of working from home
  5. An awareness/knowledge survey.

Typical of technically adept users, Liquid Telecom also contributed to the enhancement of our platform’s user-experience:

“We have written custom code in Golang to speed up the data extraction from the Ushahidi platform. We hope this contribution, which we will open-source, will benefit Ushahidi and its future users.”

Within 22 days, since March 23rd 2020, they have seen over 4000 surveys completed in over 15 countries, which is indeed a great response to their call for data. Their efforts have been lauded by, among others, Zimbabwe-born telecoms mogul Strive Masiyiwa who has encouraged his multitude of social media followers to take part in responding to their surveys.

Analysis of the data collected so far displays both expected and unexpected trends. Early findings from the SME impact survey indicate that 89% of respondents say that their businesses are performing worse due to Coronavirus and the measures imposed by their governments to prevent its spread. 14% of those feel their businesses can only survive up to one week in the event of a total lockdown while 37% feel that they can only survive up to one month. 18% of respondents believe their governments have instituted support measures for SMEs but don’t know how to access said support, while 48% are certain there is no support available from their governments at all.

On the Coronavirus knowledge survey, over 10% believed the virus is transmitted by mosquito bites or sexually which is a truly surprising result.

From the working-from-home survey, over 25% said their home space is not conducive to working at home. And about 30% (213 out of 664) are resorting to using personal email accounts to do their work for their employer. This presents a major on cybersecurity and data protection risk to both private sector and government employers.

To further enhance the quality of their research findings from within the African continent Liquid Telecom seeks support through the encouragement (ideally through digital channels) of people in Africa to keep filling out the data surveys in their deployment. They also need volunteer data scientists and researchers to synthesize the data into accurate, useful information that stakeholders in Africa can effectively utilize in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

As with any worthwhile effort, partnering with other organizations is not uncommon. Liquid Telecom have been supported by several organizations and individuals and felt they would be remiss if they didn't appreciate them in this forum:

“A big shout-out to the Ushahidi team, Professor Tim Unwin, the Center for the Science of Social Connection at the University of Washington, The UK Kenya Tech hub and Dr Strive Masiyiwa for their assistance and guidance so far.