Bright and strikingly blue, Blue Messenger Bicycles (BMB) are mounted with a megaphone, an amplifier, a battery, and a USB stick. They broadcast recorded messages and collect feedback from communities in South Sudan.
In 2020, South Sudan grappled with historic floods, the COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns, economic fluctuations, and recurrent local conflicts. Many found their families newly displaced or affected by these compounding challenges.
Recognizing this vast unmet need in communities, a network of young innovators in South Sudan founded Voice Post as a social enterprise under the slogan “Information is Aid”.
“We believe information is a human right and therefore not affording a radio should not be a barrier to getting informed,” said Atem Peter, a Voice Post founder. “We believe two-way communication is more effective in making sure communities are well informed and heard.”
The Voice Post team launched a pilot in Juba during the onset of the pandemic. Their concept has gone on to win the South Sudan’s National NGO Forum Most Innovative/Transformative Peace-Making Program Award in November 2020.
After proving their concept worked, and with support and technical expertise from UNDP South Sudan’s Accelerator Lab and Communications Unit, the team received 50 bicycles in October 2020 to expand their reach.
The programme covered 720,000 households from October to December 2020, reaching about 2,160,000. When faced with information fatigue, the team shifted messaging to malaria, diarrhea, and polio public health information campaigns. They also collected more than 100 complaints, reports of rumors, and feedback from community members.
“Vulnerable groups such as children, elderly and people with disabilities tend to not move far out of their homesteads. Since BMB passes by their homes while amplifying audio messages with life-saving information, they become delighted and informed,” said Mabior Ajuong, BMB’s programme manager.
While the BMB concept is straightforward, no such initiative with similar scalability exists in South Sudan aside from radio. The Voice Post team has spent the past months improving the construction of the bikes, as well as how they track and provide accountability for their riders and their reach.
The Blue Messenger Bicycle fleet is powered by 46 men and four women volunteer, who rang from high school to university students. In addition to the bright blue of their bikes, the teams wear reflectors to maximize their visibility as they cycle with information across Juba.
The team is developing a sustainability plan in consultation with UNDP’s Accelerator Lab, and has begun contacting civil society organizations and businesses with their unique value offer, to fund expansion of the social enterprise initiative in future. They aim to extend Blue Messenger Bicycle services to four more locations in 2021.