Old phones get new life via Hope Phones

Medic Mobile provides cell phones to healthcare workers

In a time of increasing awareness about the magnitude of global health issues and what often feels like an individual's inability to make a difference, Hope Phones takes a simple idea and makes it easy to execute: recycle your old cell phones to help people.

The project, lead by PopTech-er and CEO of Medic Mobile Josh Nesbit, began while Nesbit was volunteering at an AIDS clinic in Malawi in 2009. While there, he witnessed firsthand how difficult it was for healthcare workers in rural areas to get access to their local healthcare facilities. Rather than field workers riding bicycles into remote areas to search for patients, or patients walking fifty miles or more seeking care, Nesbit had the idea that text messaging could save valuable time and resources. Using a laptop, 100 donated cell phones and the Open Source platform Frontline SMS, Nesbit helped set up a system so that remote healthcare workers could text medical records and other information to medical facilities. Nesbit says that in the first six months, about 150 additional patients were able to receive treatment that otherwise wouldn't have.

The initial success of the Malawi project (which became Medic Mobile) meant more phones and more funding was needed. After reading the statistic that in America, half a million cell phones are thrown out every day, Nesbit had a second ephiphany: recycled phones could help fund the efforts of Medic Mobile. The Hope Phones project was born as a way to expand Nesbit's original vision of providing technology to remote healthcare workers.  

Using pre-paid shipping labels (which can be downloaded from the Hope Phones site), cell phone owners can send in old cell phones they may have stuck in drawers, tucked in forgotten suitcases or in their kids' toy boxes. Hope Phones works with a recycling partner who responsibly decommisions the phones and transfers the monetary value of the recyclable materials back to Hope Phones. These funds are then used to purchase new, appropriate technologies for healthcare workers serving remote areas in eleven different countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America

In performing this service, Hope Phones really addresses two problems: providing funding for technology in rural and developing areas and figuring out what to do with your old phone. Hope Phones anticipates that if they can get just 1% of people to recycle their phones who would otherwise discard them, they could outfit 1 million health workers with new technologies while keeping toxic materials out of landfills. 

"It's a real way to connect with people on the other side of the world. There are people organizing Hope Phones drives all over the U.S. right now, with a new understanding of global healthcare challenges," says Hope Phones campaign manager Tierney O'Dea. "I'm passionate about our mission because it delivers a health benefit at home and abroad through one simple act." 

In addition to recycling individual phones, the organization also supports and encourages corporate recycling programs. In fact, Hope Phones would like to become the default "corporate retirement" place for company phones in order to make maximum impact. Companies and other organizations request collection boxes for drives or other events and in return can receive a tax deduction for the value of the phones. They've also recently partnered with Christy Turlington's "Every Mother Counts" campaign, with the goal of reaching 10,000 donated phones to provide the funding to equip two maternal care sites in the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

Since the telephone's 1876 invention, phones have helped people make connections, share information, and reach out to each other during times of crisis. Hope Phones takes the phone's utility to another level by giving it new purpose: that of saving lives. 

Follow these projects on Twitter:

@hopephones (Hope Phones)

@everymomcounts (Every Mother Counts)

Image: Hope Phones

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