Videos via phone reach developing nations

U. ILLINOIS (US) — Short animated videos that can be viewed on cell phones are delivering important messages about issues such as farming and infectious disease to people in developing countries.

Scientific Animations without Borders (SAWBO), established out of the University of Illinois, created the videos to cover topics such as health, agriculture, and disaster-relief. These two minute videos are accessible through cell phones, allowing the videos to reach a widespread audience in a cost-effective way.



When targeting a diversity of language and cultural groups educational animations become much cheaper than filming, and narration can easily be recorded in any language.

With 793 million illiterate adults in the world, according to the United States Central Intelligence Agency, SAWBO’s animations have the potential to provide educational materials appropriate for this population, as well.

“Cell phones that can both play videos and have Bluetooth technology are key to changing how we can deploy information,” says Barry Pittendrigh, an entomology professor at Illinois.

The animations are hosted on an online sharing system called the Sustainable Development Virtual Knowledge Interface, making it possible for videos to be easily downloaded by local educators onto computers, which can then be placed on cell phones and delivered to the community with Bluetooth technology.

Mobile teaching device

About 1.6 billion people, or a quarter of the world population, live without electricity in their homes, but more than 70 percent of the world’s cell phone subscriptions are in developing countries, according to mobiThinking.

One of the first videos focused on how to protect cowpeas, a staple in many parts of Africa, Asia, and Central and South America, from insects, using local plants such as neem seeds or common materials, such as plastic bags or sheets.

Another animation illustrates how to boil or treat water to avoid exposure to cholera. All videos are available in multiple languages.

Currently, these videos are being tested in the field in multiple African countries. This work is supported by the Dry Grains Pulses CRSP and U.S. Agency for International Development.

Abroad and at home

Pittendrigh says the feedback from the field has been highly positive. One suggestion that the team is taking into consideration is having other ways to implement these videos besides limiting them to just cell phones.

“For example, in West Africa, video viewing clubs have emerged in rural areas. Based on this feedback we are developing an online sharing system for a diversity of file formats, such that the videos can be downloaded and delivered through a variety of different approaches and on different electronic devices,” he explains.

Pittendrigh believes the SAWBO animations could be beneficial in the state of Illinois and the United States, as well.

“These videos are for people of all literacy levels and the great advantage of this approach is we can easily add new languages,” he says. “The approach we have taken could easily be used for outreach programs and would allow for a cost-effective manner to deploy information to many different language groups in the state; potentially at a fraction of the price of some traditional extension approaches.”

SAWBO animations could be an additional resource for some Hispanic populations within the state who do not speak English, expanding the videos’ target to include populations with language barriers. Pittendrigh says, “If, or when, resources become available to do work within the state, we would welcome the opportunity to focus on critical issues that are much closer to home.”

However, for now, SAWBO has progressed in the six months since it launched. Pittendrigh says the team has received numerous requests from international development agencies, as well as multiple agencies in Illinois, for videos regarding dozens of topics anywhere from HIV/AIDS, to child safety concerns.

“To date, all videos from SAWBO, once developed, have been given freely to the world, so that educators around the world can freely access these materials to get critical information out into the hands of people that need it the most,” Pittendrigh says.

More news from the University of Illinois: