Freedom Fone

Freedom Fone

Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
$100,000 - $250,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Freedom Fone is an information and communication tool, which marries the mobile phone with Interactive Voice Response (IVR), for citizen benefit. It provides information activists, service organisations and NGO’s with widely usable telephony applications, to deliver vital information to communities who need it most.

About You
The Kubatana Trust of Zimbabwe
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Section 1: About You
First Name


Last Name


Section 2: About Your Organization
Is your initiative connected to an established organization?


Organization Name

The Kubatana Trust of Zimbabwe

Organization Phone


Organization Address

PO Box GD 376 Greendale Harare Zimbabwe

Organization Country
How long has this organization been operating?

More than 5 years

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Your idea
Country your work focuses on
What makes your idea unique?

• Innovative – Freedom Fone is one of the first non commercial entities to take advantage of IVR for citizen information campaigns.

• Development Orientated – It can provide critical information to those who need it most.

• Accessible – It is not reliant on internet access for software users and callers alike. It takes advantage of one of the most affordable and widely used ICT’s, mobile telephony.

• Audio – The flexible pre-recorded nature of the audio clips, overcomes obstacles associated with literacy, language and dialect. It enables users to move past the 160 character limitation of an SMS.

• Global – There are no geographical barriers when implementing Freedom Fone.

• User friendly – Freedom Fone telephony based applications – such as audio voice menus, SMS polls, SMS messages and voice messages – are simple and easy to manage with the browser based interface. No techies are required!

• Scalable – It can be combined with VoIP to decrease call costs and increase scalability.

• Sustainable – It is designed to run off low powered computers and solar power.

• Affordable – Freedom Fone software is open sourced and free.

• Applicable – The possibilities for its use are endless – for instance it can be used in the health, education, agro-extension, democracy, employment and social support sectors.

• Two Way Communication – The leave-a-message functionality opens the door to two-way communication, which means Freedom Fone can be used as a platform for citizen journalism.

Do you have a patent for this idea?

Tell us about the social impact of your innovation. Please include both numbers and stories as evidence of this impact

The potential social impact Freedom Fone has, as an information and communication tool, is to broaden access to audio information and facilitate the development of two way communications with communities which have traditionally been underprivileged, marginalized and sometimes even stigmatized.

For instance, in Zimbabwe, it is common knowledge that the general population has very limited access to timely, varied information. Over the last 15 years the Zimbabwe government has strategically restricted diversity in the mass media through regulation and licensing. Freedom Fone is an ideal communication platform, in contexts where information is censored by the government.

One example is Inzwa, which means 'to listen' in Shona, a service which was run by The Kubatana Trust of Zimbabwe. The audio information service which piloted in Zimbabwe was first broadcast between July - September 2009. Despite the high cost of mobile calls in Zimbabwe, 4881 calls were received during this time and 2686 of these were from unique numbers. The audio files and transcripts associated with this service can be found at

Other examples of the practical, social impact of Freedom Fone, is Farm Radio International’s deployments in Tanzania and Ghana. These have drawn on Radio Maria listeners' desire for farming related information, and their broadcast program called, Heka Heka Vijijini (Busy Busy in the Village), has been adapted into short segment audio programs using Freedom Fone software, to deliver useful and practical information, particularly about chicken management.

Problem: Describe the primary problem(s) that your innovation is addressing

There are over 2,6 billion people at the bottom of the pyramid, who live below the $2 a day breadline. People at the bottom of the pyramid tend to remain further marginalized on the fringes of our society, without access to critical information. For instance, in developing countries, information flow is often blocked by restricted infrastructure, lack of resources and limited unreliable access to computers, email and internet. Other factors such as language barriers and low literacy levels exist, and in certain developing countries this information alienation is further compounded by restrictive and authoritarian governments.

Thus Freedom Fone has focused on knowledge sharing because in a globalized information age, access to relevant information is pivotal to development and vital for survival. It is our belief that information lies at the heart of development. Given the wide spread use and low investment required by individuals to connect to information sources through mobile phones, mobile telephony remains a critical means of empowering a variety of audiences. Mobile phone technologies can be leveraged to serve civil society by providing these marginalized communities with vital information.

For instance, Freedom Fone can be used to assist in emergency responses to potential epidemics e.g. cholera, measles, typhoid; to address the ongoing HIV/AIDS pandemic; to offer first aid advice for pre- and post-natal mothers, and to provide seasonal agro-extension services to small scale farmers. It can be used as a platform for citizen journalism, to gather audio reports from eye witnesses and to enhance civic engagement in electoral and voter registration campaigns or to canvass public views on a constitutional making process.

Actions: Describe the steps that you are taking to make your innovation a success. What might prevent that success?

Marketing & Promotion:
We are in the process of publically launching Freedom Fone version 1.5. The main marketing mediums we are using include our website, e-newsletter, updates to other Listservs, focused media promotion, SMS, audio demo promotion, Twitter/Facebook, and regularly blogging. We are also attending, presenting papers and offering demos at various global conferences/workshops. The major challenge is ensuring that the correct marketing angle and publicity message, reaches the focused target audience.

Deployment & Outreach:
We are currently supporting two deployments, the Inzwa Service and Farm Radio International. We will continue to offer support to other service organizations which show an interest, particularly those with existing technical and audio capacity. This will include regularly monthly training/technical support for local NGO’s in Zimbabwe, which with time we hope to extend to other regions. The major challenge is not having enough staff/funds to support all deployments at full capacity, free of charge. The compromise is to support all users to some extent, but to focus major efforts on deployments which we believe match our requirements, strategic priorities and focus regions.

Partnerships, Fundraising & Business Development:
We are currently fostering partnerships with media constructs, other developers, deployers and relevant businesses such as cell phone networks, VoIP and mobile money transfer providers. We also continue to apply for additional funding and collaboration for the ongoing development, for Freedom Fone v.2.5 and beyond. We are exploring offering additional services, such as specific consultancy based work, in order to be less reliant on donor funds and shift to a more sustainable social entrepreneurial business model.

Results: Describe the expected results of these actions over the next three years. Please address each year separately, if possible

Freedom Fone is currently launching version 1.5, will be launching version 2 in September, and will be launching the final release in December 2010. As our current funding will be complete by June 2011, we hope to secure further funds for development, establish greater collaboration and partnerships with the open sourced software development community and to increase our revenue streams through increased consultancy work. From the focused, intensive media promotion and showcasing to potential implementers, Freedom Fone should increase from two current deployments, to at least five key deployments. We would aim for these to be securely up and running, as soon as is possible, but would remain supportive of these initiatives for as long as is necessary.

The first half of 2011, will be focused on final testing and fixing all known bugs, offering existing deployments ongoing technical support and initiating, training and promoting further deployments using the stable version 2. From continuously marketing Freedom Fone globally and supporting key deployments, it is hoped by the end of the year there will be at least 15 sustainable and strong deployments of Freedom Fone. We will contract an editor to start documentation of case studies to-date, so that there is online documentation and literature to assist future users of the software. If further development funds are secured or if developers cover the costs of additional improvements to the software, then development will continue onto Freedom Fone v.3. The core team will continue to strategise project transition.

It is hoped that by this stage Freedom Fone will be fully out there and taken up by others in the open sourced software development community and by users that it should have enough legs to run further on its own. Freedom Fone office should by this stage have shifted to a fully self sustainable business model, from increased revenue streams separate from the software.

How many people will your project serve annually?


What is the average monthly household income in your target community, in US Dollars?

$100 ‐ 1000

Does your innovation seek to have an impact on public policy?


If your innovation seeks to impact public policy, how?

Not directly, but it could have an impact on public policy, if it was taken up by a service organization which was focused on public policy. Or by building a demand and access to this technology and use, it could encourage legislation modification in the ICT sectors, such as mobile, wireless and VoIP regulation in Zimbabwe.

What stage is your project in?

Operating for 1‐5 years

Does your organization have a board of directors or an advisory board?


Does your organization have a non monetary partnerships with NGOs?


Does your organization have a non monetary partnerships with businesses?


Does your organization have a non monetary partnerships with government?


Please tell us more about how partnerships could be critical to the success of your innovation

Partnerships are critical to our success, as we are a small but dynamic team, operating on what is often a tight budget, focused on developing open source software. Partnerships are an effective means of increasing the numbers of developers, deployers and end users involved. The heightened levels of engagement and collaboration mean that more people are involved in testing Freedom Fone, improving Freedom Fone and helping to ensure its widespread use. Freedom Fone would not be possible if it weren’t for partnerships.

We would like to learn more about how your initiative is financially supported. Please explain your business plan/revenue model

Freedom Fone were the recipients of an award from the Knight News Challenge, in May 2008, which provided funds for 3 years. These funds will be complete in June 2011. In 2008, The Kubatana Trust of Zimbabwe received further funds from Internews Europe, under a Human Rights Grant, to support all its projects. In addition to this, Internews Europe directly paid a project architect for Freedom Fone development, for 100 days. Freedom Fone is currently developing its business plan, to include additional revenue streams by offering services and products, such as equipment, consultancy services, technical support, conceptual development, training and workshops.

The Story
What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?

Brenda Burrell, an information activist in the pro-democracy movement in Zimbabwe, faced with tight government control over mass media and recognizing the wide spread use of mobile phones, was looking for a new communication channel. She knew she wanted to use an audio telephony platform, even before she knew exactly what Interactive Voice Response or IVR was. At the Mobile Active Conference in Toronto in 2005, she met with various activist techies, who introduced her to what she had been looking for. With a fellow developer, they secured “Proof of Concept Funding” and developed a Freedom Fone prototype called Dial-Up-Radio prototype. In 2008, Freedom Fone, secured funds from the Knight News Challenge, which has enabled to move forward development, up to the point of recently publically launching Freedom Fone v1.5.

Tell us about the person—the social innovator—behind this idea.

Brenda Lynn Burrell is the co-founder and IT Director of, Zimbabwe's civic and human rights information portal and the Technical Director of Freedom Fone. She has a background in social justice activism and has 9 years of experience working in the pro-democracy movement in Zimbabwe strengthening the use of information communication technologies in civil society organizations. Widely respected in Zimbabwe, Brenda has worked tirelessly to provide more democratic access to information for all Zimbabweans. Brenda has a BSc (Botany & Zoology) and a teaching diploma (HDE), has a background in programming and is interested in integrating technology with traditional activist outreach.

How did you first hear about Changemakers?

Newsletter from Changemakers

If through another source, please provide the information


Does your project address any of the following barriers to women’s technology access and use?

Women’s time poverty, Economic or institutional constraints, Women’s lack of involvement in the technology development process.

If you checked any of the boxes above, please explain how.

Freedom Fone addresses women’s time poverty, as it offers information on demand 24/7, so that callers can call into the information service whenever they have spare time. For instance, this can be in the evenings after household and family related chores.

Freedom Fone addresses economic or institutional constraints, as for the primary receipts (NGO’s, service organizations, information activists) it aims to be a user friendly, low cost, low power, highly scalable, do-it-yourself platform which does not require internet access for the users and callers alike. This means that many primary recipients, which would normally not be able to use such tools – due to how complicated they are to use, how expensive they are to buy or run, or how dependent they are on internet or smart phones – are now able to access Freedom Fone and enjoy the benefits it provides. Due to its simple easy-to-use nature, women users and callers, who may traditionally have avoided such technologies, maybe encouraged to give Freedom Fone a try.

Freedom Fone addresses women’s lack of involvement in the technology development process, as Freedom Fone has been developed and managed by an 88% women’s team.

Does your project involve women in one or more of the following stages of the technology lifecycle? Identification of the problem the technology will solve:

Technology design, Market research, Technology introduction, Technology training, Technology supply and distribution, Assessment and evaluation.

If you checked any of the boxes above, please explain how you will ensure women’s involvement in each relevant phase of the technology lifecycle.

As an organisation, Kubatana and Freedom Fone, is a women’s initiated and run organization. It currently consists of 7/8 women who handle the technology design, market research, technology introduction, training supply and distribution and assessment and evaluation. When additional support or supplies are needed, Kubatana is inclined to look for other women to offer these services.

Although the project was built by women, it is not gender biased in terms of who uses Freedom Fone. However many of the deployment opportunities are centered around women, such as FTX wanting to use Freedom Fone to counsel rape victims, or Women’s Net wanting to use Freedom Fone for 16 Days of Activism, or TTC planning to use Freedom Fone to inform sex workers of their rights.

If women are a focus of your project, how did this focus evolve?

The project was adapted to focus on women as a response to this challenge..

Which type of women will your project reach directly?

Rural, Peri-urban, Urban, Low income, Middle income, High income.

In what ways does your project team/leadership involve women?

It is led by a woman/women., It is led by a woman/women from a developing country., The core project team includes women., The core project team includes women from developing countries..

Has your organization formed any new partnerships in response to this challenge? If so, with what type/s of organization/s?

Multilateral/bilateral, Non-profit/NGO/community-based organization, For-profit, Government, Women's organization, Other.

Has your project leadership had prior experience with the following?

Working with women, Working with technologies, Working to increase women's economic empowerment through technology, Working on innovation.