RLabs Mobile Advice and Support

A few months ago RLabs as part of the SAFIPA programme hosted Finnish journalists who had an interest in the work we are doing in Cape Town. Below is a video that tells the story of our mobile advice and support service at RLabs, also using the JamiiX solution (grant received by SAFIPA)that was developed through the RLabs Incubator. Special thanks to Lauren for this great video that was sponsored by the Finnish Foreign Ministry and will be shown at schools and across various places in Finland showing an example of community driven innovation. The mobile counselling service is also supported by the Vodacom Foundation.

RLabs luo sosiaalisia innovaatioita Kapkaupungissa from global.finland.fi on Vimeo.


10 to 250,000 in 30 months

After 2 years of providing Mobile Support Services, RLabs have managed to surpass the 250,000 barrier through all its services. This is all thanks to a partnership with MXit and JamiiX providing information and mobile counselling services in the areas of substance abuse, HIV/AIDS, depression, abuse and other areas in need. This milestone is proof that technology can be used to bring change in society. A special thanks to all the counsellors and content providers who have done an amazing job in sacrificing their time in making a difference in the lives of others.


How Twitter is changing lives on the Cape Flats and beyond

Over the last two years Twitter had a very big impact on the lives of many in the RLabs community on the Cape Flats. The journey with this micro-blogging platform started in 2008 when a number of young men and women were introduced to Twitter for the first time by Rafiq Philips from Web Addicts fame. Most of this group were ex-drug addicts and ex-gang members who found Twitter to be an outlet where they can share their voices of Hope. In the beginning stages all the tweets were between the group encouraging one another and telling their stories of hope to the rest of their followers. What we saw was that the lives of those tweeting had a major transformation not just by the stories (See Video below) they were sharing but also having an impact offline. Instead of only using twitter as a news, media and sharing online tool it was also used as a gateway to positive messages that the group could disseminate offline with family, friends and wider community. These ex-gangsters were now calling themselves “Twitter Gangsters” also known as “Twitsters” even had the opportunity to share some of their stories at a World Bank event. One of the “Twitsters” (aka Brent Williams – no relation to Evan Williams) who was an ex-gang leader said he has more followers on Twitter than what he had when he was leading a notorious gang and he can now through Twitter leave positive footprints in the community.

It did not stop there, the group who were trained in using Twitter then started the Twitter School where they empowered women in the community to share their stories and encouraging one another. These Twitter Schools also moved into public areas where Social Media Surgeries were hosted to share twitter with community members.

This gave birth to the world’s FIRST Social Media Factory, where trained community members who are unemployed are given opportunities to create extra income through being part of a team managing social media strategies for businesses, organisations, schools and public figures. This meant that those organisations who are in need of having their Social Media Strategy being managed or outsourced not only get access to these services at very good prices but also the teams implementing these strategies will consist of a mix of experts and community members like our Twitsters and Twitter moms. Exciting when a housewife who have no other form of income can use her Twitter skills and manage the Twitter stream for an organisation via her mobile phone. She would then be rewarded for each tweet thus being able to make a basic living via the Social Media Factory system. No wonder one of these moms shared some insight to why she believe all women should be on twitter (See video below).

However what really got us excited was when we were able to give people in need access to our advice and support services via Twitter. This meant that access to LIVE support in the area of substance abuse, abuse, depression, stress and coping and debt counselling were now only a tweet or instant message away. These services extended beyond just the Cape Flats and reached the rest of Southern Africa.

Although most of the users accessing these services do so via Mobile IMs such as MXit the opportunity to reach wider audiences with Twitter has assisted us reaching close to 200,000 users to our mobile support services. The integration of Twitter with JamiiX gives us hope that we would be able to extend what we are doing to other parts of the world and changing it one tweet at a time….


Why Social Services should go Mobile

It has been one month since we’ve re-launched our Angel support service a partnership between Reconstructed Living Lab (RLabs) and MXit. Since then the service had over a 100,000 subscribers with just over 47,000 regular subscribers. Organisations who are working with youth should consider the use of Mobile phones as part of their programmes and below you will find reasons why:


– Most of the users of the service is youth (82% aged 25 and younger)
– Our LIVE mobile counselling service on average receives 200 queries per hour with approximately 92% being identified as youth.
– Most youth request further support, but prefer having it via the Mobile medium. Even when we recommend centres to attend or websites to visit they want a solution that they can access via their mobile phone.
– We’ve developed Mobile virtual support sessions with experts or professional counsellors and achieve 100% referral rate compared to 26% when referral is telephonic and/or face-to-face.
– Most youth are expert mobile phone users and would be able to transfer relevant information in required formats (text, audio, video, images)
– Youth tend to promote mobile services faster and easier to their friends/buddies/contacts via their mobile phones.
– The average number of contacts/buddies/friends youth will actively chat to daily is 19 (based on mobile interviews with LIVE conversations). Most youth would have more than 50 contacts/buddies/friends in their Mobile Instant Messenger (MXit).

As we are continuously trying to improve our Social services through the use of mobile phones, it is advisable for organisations working in this space to start considering the more active use of mobile phones.


Mobile Counselling via the Holidays

This year will be the second year in a row that we will be pressing through to offer advice and support to people accross South Africa using mobile phones as the medium. During this time of the year we intend reaching thousands of people in need of support. The power of mobile phones allows us to offer counselling services to people in remote areas as well.


96 Hours of HIV/AIDS support using Mobile Phones

Yesterday marked 96 hours of LIVE activity by the National AIDS Helpline (NAH) offering HIV/AIDS support to people in need. This is really exciting because the counsellors still have the same passion using mobile phones as another medium to reach people impacted by this epidemic. As we celebrate World AIDS Day 1 December, we would like to celebrate with NAH on achieving 3 months of mobile counselling using the Advice Support system. The service that runs 2 hours a day Mondays to Thursdays have offered so much support to people accross South Africa and the latest stats shows why we are on an exciting journey to bring about change in the lives of people searching for hope:

3873 Conversations

682 Subscribers

41,122 Messages

To add the National AIDS Helpline on your mobile instant messenger or chat application do the following:

– Add redchatzone@gmail.com as a Jabber or Google Talk contact.
– Accept the contact

This service is available every week Mondays to Thursday between 3 and 5pm.


Substance Abuse Mobile Counselling Launch

Today was one of those days where we will be taking the Advice Support service to another level in collaboration with 4 other Non-profit organisations and supported by Department of Social Development. The Substance Abuse Mobile Counselling pilot project will investigate the use of cellphones as a counselling and support medium for people who are impacted by substance abuse.

All the NGOs came together today for the oficial launch of the mobile counselling pilot and having a group of people working together, coming from different backgrounds was amazing to experience as the dream and vision for establishing many of these Reconstructed Living Lab spaces across South Africa are moving towards becoming a reality. Although all the mobile counsellors from the various organisations came together for the launch at the Impact Centre, the group will be working remotely with the support hub being at the birth place of Advice Support Network at IDM’s Impact Centre.

With all the excitement in the air and representatives from different organisations coming together through the purpose of using cellphones for social change seeing the impact the session of the launch had on those in need of support was incredible. During the first two hour session of the pilot, 103 subscribers made contact with us and 2034 messages were sent to people in need of support in the area of drug addiction.

The best part of this good start is that it is only the beginning as we will see more lives be reconstructed through people and the use of technology.


Fast Track training with National AIDS Helpline


Above some of the counsellors of the National AIDS Helpline busy with our innovative Fast Track Mobile Counselling training programme to support capacity development. This is a mentorship approach to allow counsellors to provide training to peers in order to increase capacity if needed. This is one way of dealing with the large numbers expected using the Advice Support Network system.


National AIDS Helpline: Pilot training

After a long day of travelling in Johannesburg it is so exciting to be part of the rollout of the world’s first HIV/AIDS Mobile Instant Messaging counselling service by the National AIDS Helpline. This week it will be further training with the counsellors and training with the supervisors of National AIDS Helpline who will be managing the services locally. This initiative has been made possible by Cell-Life and their partners who are sponsoring this service.

To add the HIV/AIDS mobile counselling service do the following:

– Add redchatzone@gmail.com on your mobile chat service and accept the contact.
– This service is currently available Monday to Thursday 3 – 5pm.


Support group celebrates success

Weekend Post
Today an article appeared in the Weekend Post by Yolande Stander “Support group celebrates success” featuring the work we’ve been doing over the past year using mobile technology to support people in need:

“THE South African group who conceptualised using social media like MXit to address social problems affecting young people has celebrated one year of success – and sealed a deal with a Bay company to further their progress.

The success story began a year ago with 12 men and women who called themselves The Reconstructed. All had experience of either drug addiction and dealing as well as gangsterism but, fully rehabilitated and trained to council people, they began using MXit to reach out to those at risk.

The brainchild behind the principle is social entrepreneur and information technology lecturer Marlon Parker.

Parker was in Port Elizabeth this week to introduce non-profit organisations, NGOs, community-based organisations and charities to social media and help them use these technologies as strategic tools for engagement, relationship building with stakeholders, networking and fundraising…..