Mobile for Social Impact Series: Strengthening Community Engagement With a Texting Program

Mobile for Social Impact Series: Strengthening Community Engagement With a Texting Program

Mobile for Social Impact Series

This post is the first in a series about the use of mobile in the social sector. This series, as well as a forthcoming collection of three digital guides on this topic, are made possible through the generous support of the Vodafone Foundation.

Share your thoughts on how mobile technology is used for social impact with the hashtag #MobileImpact.

An Update on Our Mobilize-4-Fitness and Text4Wellness Programs

As a New York City resident, my mobile phone is not only a necessary accessory to keep me occupied on the bus and in long lines at Shake Shack. I can use my phone to access up-to-date information about my local community. If I text “BEACH” to 877-877, I will receive updates on City beach closings and water quality, while texting “NYCSCHOOLS” to 877-877 provides me with information about our public schools. Texting “CARE” will enroll me in a service to receive personalized reminders for people who are HIV positive.

Many government agencies and nonprofits use SMS (text messaging) to share information with their constituents, and some even provide two-way services, which allow users to send information back to the program and interact with service providers in real time.

SMS programs hold significant value; they provide people in a community with timely, easy-to-digest information about relevant issues. What we have found at ZeroDivide is that SMS programs are a powerful way to reinforce in-person collective efforts.

“Text messaging is accessible, it’s inexpensive and it’s always with you,” said Vanessa Mason, ZeroDivide’s senior program manager for eHealth.

ZeroDivide and the Institute for eHealth Equity (IeHE) are currently working with church congregations in Atlanta, Cleveland, Columbus and Dallas to implement two related SMS programs, funded by the Aetna Foundation, to improve health outcomes for African-American women. The programs, Mobilize-4-Fitness and Text4Wellness, use text messaging to provide information about physical activity, nutrition and wellness to members of historically African-American congregations via culturally appropriate text messages.

The initiatives specifically target female congregants between the ages of 19 and 55, and the messages encourage participating women to make healthy lifestyle choices and participate in local group-fitness activities.

“These two programs are about making health more accessible and integrated into one’s daily life and priorities,” said Mason, the manager of the two programs. “Given that many African-American women see being part of a faith-based community as a bedrock of their social lives, this is a great opportunity to leverage the assets that are already in their church, including their fellow congregants and the health ministers, to achieve better health outcomes.”

Mason said that churches are a particularly compelling community in which to launch such a program, since the church is full of peers and family members who can provide support for women who are trying to develop healthier habits.

“Texting provides an opportunity for women to engage with health information at the point of decision making,” said Mason. “It’s exciting to see communities engaged in promoting and protecting their health where they live, work and play.”

You can read more about these projects in the official press release. The full results of the programs will be published in May 2015. Until then, you can follow the Text4Wellness Facebook page and the #eHealthEquity hashtag to keep up to date on the programs.


SMS strategy, mobile campaigns, eHealth Equity