Text to Change Takes on Child Trafficking

The mobile for health industry in Africa continues to expand. “We can teach larger organizations a lot,” the group’s founder tells us. “We move really fast.”

Text to Change


As the mobile for health space grows, its issue areas expand as well. The subject of human trafficking has recently caught the eye of one notable mobile health player in Africa, a group called Text to Change. Text to Change is getting ready to roll out its first human trafficking SMS alert campaign in the country of Cameroon, in cooperation with the children-focused local partner, CIPCRE.

Text to Change started in 2007 in Uganda and is now expanding to 12 countries throughout the continent. They were one of the early players in mobile for health and their early success helped them win contracts with the likes of UNICEF, while still staying small and grassroots. “In terms of speed and implementation, we can teach larger organizations a lot. We move really fast,” founder Bas Hoefman tells Fast Company.

And now that speed is being put to the test in one of the greatest public health threats the world faces today: the trafficking of innocent children for sexual exploitation, an ill that is spreading throughout the country of Cameroon.

The initiative will allow people to report cases of child trafficking via SMS by sending free texts with location information and then the CIPCRE representative follows up with an immediate phone call and action plan. The location component also allows the organizations to map trafficking cases throughout the region.

The first series of messages alerting folks to signs of child trafficking will be sent to 200,000 people.

And Text to Change has experience with mass health communication campaigns via mobile. They were one of the first to launch mobile health quizzes, wherein their high response rate made them well-known throughout the region and in the world of public health non-profits. “In all modesty, we’re now one of the biggest players in Africa. We targeted 15,000 people with our health quiz. That was our initial idea over three years ago in Uganda,” says Hoefman.


What makes Text to Change stand out is they are still relatively small, Hoefman says, not bogged down by the bureaucracy that characterizes most of the large non-profit aid organizations.

“We are independent,” says Hoefman. “We work together with the private sector, use local content, and we work with all mobile operators, making ours a flexible program that works with software in Africa.”

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About the author

Jenara is an overseas reporter for Fast Company and a freelance writer/producer in Asia, regularly on CNNGo, and a graduate of Harvard and UC Berkeley.