Does SMS still have any value?

@UReportzim Avatar
U-Report kids celebrating

As the access to the internet increase and more and more people switching towards using ‘over the top’ services such as WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook the old means of communication called SMS may slowly be losing its appeal.

Having appeared on mobile devices as far back as the 1980s, the communication medium though having taken a beating over the years, refuses to give up the ghost. If you ask yourself when last you interacted with SMS, most probably the answer would point to you either receiving a call-me-back or some notification from your mobile money wallet advising you that money had entered your account (we won’t talk about those messages that the mobile networks sends to you almost on the hour as if to remind you that your cellphone is still working).

But there’s someone out there who’s using the communication medium for the ‘good’.

Enter UNICEF in partnership with Zimbabwe Youth Council (ZYC).

The United Nations program that provides long-term humanitarian and developmental assistance to children and mothers is presently embracing SMS technology in a big way in Zimbabwe.

Running an operation coined the U-Report, this is essentially an SMS platform that allows them to poll young people on different development issues in and around Zimbabwe allowing them (UNICEF and ZYC) to identify hotspots for areas affected by various issues; i.e food security, drought, child marriages, drug abuse, HIV testing and counselling services and even access to adolescent sexual reproductive health. Visit for results of these and other polls.

Once the results are in from these polls, they will be used for evidence based programming by UNICEF and ZYC will lead the advocacy work with all stakeholders especially the Government of Zimbabwe to affect and include the voices of the respondents in policy making.

Essentially subscribers sign up to the U-Report by sending a specific keyword to  33500 (from any mobile network) after which a simple once-off profiling takes place answering questions such as whether you’re male or female, your age and what name you’d like to us (if you prefer you can use a nickname instead).

Once this has been done, based on the answers that you’ve given you’ll be sent a 4-8 question poll, asking questions for a specific topic that UNICEF will be researching for that particular week.

UNICEF have developed the technology in such a way that your number remains anonymous on their system to the extent that they can’t even see you by your number, but by a unique username that you’ll be given.

The best part? It’s totally FREE to the respondents (end users) and because done through SMS, the need for access to the internet is non-existent.

So, why don’t we give it a try?

Techzim have teamed up with UNICEF and come up with a simple poll that will help us understand what the internet needs of Zimbabweans are. No more than 6 questions you’ll be in and out of it faster than being answered by a certain mobile network’s call centre agents.

Simply SMS the word SUBSCRIBE to 33500 and follow the prompts thereafter.

We’ll post the results in a follow through article after a week.

Oh, not to be out done, UNICEF have also setup Facebook Messenger and Twitter bots that allow those with access to respond too.


  1. Tech zim fan

    Tech zim UNICEF, mave kumberi. Chimbotipirai kuti success yenyu iyi ikubvepi? Chinyi chamuri kugona kuita? Tozokuudzai pamuri kutoita..ha ha

    1. Tech zim fan


  2. Langton

    This is a noble idea. But to be honest we all know mist of the problems in Zimbabwe, youth unemployment…and neither your Techzim nor UNICEF have the capacity to solve that!

    1. Chris Mberi

      It takes initiative to make a change. I feel this will engage youths into meaningful debate and as more questions come so will answers come. What idea do you bring to the table

  3. @code_writer

    At least one thing i liked is that they are embracing the use of bots. I tried interacting with the twitter bot (@ureportzim) but im just getting same responses. I believe bots ought to be smart. Rather than matching input to output or replying users with predefined responses, bot engines should understand the user input and then build a response based on a natural language framework.

    I understand the need of SMS though in marginalised areas, but bots should crack the nut in tech savvy youths as conversation ought to be on-going, interactive and more engaging.

    1. Chris Mberi

      Are you suggesting AI