Jokko Initiative

Country Profile: Senegal


14,221,000 (2013)

Poverty (Population living on less than US$1 per day):

22.3% (1990-2004)

Official Languages

French (Wolof, Peul, Sérère, Mandingue, Soninké, Diola and Manjaque are recognised regional languages)

Total Expenditure on Education as % of GNP

5.6 (2010)

Access to Primary Education – Total Net Intake Rate (NIR)

71.1 (2014)

Total Youth Literacy Rate (15-24 years)
  • Total: 69.8% (2015)
  • Male: 75.9%
  • Female: 63.6%
Adult Literacy Rate (15 years and over, 1995-2004)
  • Total: 55.6% (2015)
  • Male: 68.4%
  • Female: 43.8%

UNESCO Institute for Statistics

Programme Overview

Programme TitleJokko Initiative
Implementing OrganizationTostan
Language of InstructionFrench, Fulani, Soninke, Mandinca, Wolof and Diolaa
Programme PartnersUNICEF Innovation and the Center for Effective Global Action (CEGA).
Date of Inception2007

Country Background and Context

Senegal is ranked 154th out of 186 countries in the United Nations Development Programme’s Gender Inequality Index. Inequality between the sexes is reflected in the country’s literacy rates, which show concerning differences between men and women. Despite a clear improvement in the literacy rates of adults (aged 15 years and over) in the past decades (from 36.9% of men and 17.9% of women in 1988 to 61.8% of men and 38.7% of women in 2009) women’s literacy rates remain significantly lower. According to UNESCO’s Education For All Global Monitoring Report (2014), the disparity is greater still among women in rural areas. It reports that “only 20% of rural young women could read in everyday situations in 2010, compared with 65% of urban young men” (UNESCO, 2014: 21). While Senegal continues to lag behind in terms of literacy and gender equality, there has been spectacular growth in mobile technology and the use of mobile phones since 2000. Subscriptions for mobile phones increased from 250,251 in 2000 to 11,470,646 in 2012.

Tostan is one of a number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to recognize the potential for mobile learning in Senegal. Tostan was set up in 1991 to empower rural and remote African communities through programmes of non-formal education based on human rights. It is active in Guinea, Gambia, Mauritania, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Somalia and Djibouti, as well as in Senegal. The organization aims to inspire positive social change in governance, education, health, environment and economic growth, as well as addressing the cross-cutting issues of child protection, early childhood development, female genital cutting, child/forced marriage and the empowerment of women and girls (for more information on the Tostan Community Empowerment Programme see:

Programme Overview

The Jokko Initiative was developed to complement Tostan’s established Community Empowerment Programme by strengthening the organization’s literacy and post-literacy activity. The Jokko programme aims to increase communication and collaboration within communities, with special emphasis on empowering women, through a mobile phone-based group message system. The programme seeks “to harness the potential of mobile phones firstly as pedagogical tools to teach and reinforce literacy, organisation and management skills, and secondly, as social mobilization tools that help to build consensus around local development initiatives” (Debar and Jensen, 2013: 6).

The programme is implemented by Tostan in partnership with UNICEF Innovation and the Center for Effective Global Action (CEGA). Tostan is responsible for designing, testing and implementing the two phases of the programme. UNICEF Innovation provides funding for the project, promotes it within the United Nations and provides technical expertise on the development and maintenance of RapidSMS community forum. CEGA designs the project evaluation methodology and conducts baseline and follow-up surveys.

The Jokko Initiative was created not to replace traditional classroom-based literacy learning, but, rather, to enhance it by giving participants the opportunity to practise their skills in a culturally relevant, useful and engaging way. Jokko means ‘communication’ in Wolof, the most widely spoken regional language in Senegal, and reflects the programme’s aim of encouraging group decision-making in rural communities. The group SMS text messaging service provided by Jokko opens up new ways of communication within villages, while strengthening connections between its members. Participants can communicate with a network of people within their community simply by sending a text message.

The programme was successfully piloted in 10 villages in Velingara in southern Senegal, before being extended to 200 villages in the regions of Kolda, Ziguinchor, Tambacounda, Kaolack and the Fouta between September 2007 and December 2008. Velingara is typical of the sort of area the programme aims to reach: ‘Approximately 58 per cent of the population in Velingara is less than 20 years old. Velingara is a very rural area, with less than 25 per cent of the population living in urban areas’ (Debar and Jensen, 2013: 9).

Aims and Objectives

Programme Implementation: Approaches and Methodologies

The Jokko initiative consists of two phases. During the first, participants learn how to use the mobile phones; in the second, they use the phones to communicate with each other, specifically through SMS text messaging.

Phase 1: Mobile Phones for Literacy and Development (MPLD)

Tostan’s local trainers facilitated 23 sessions on mobile phone literacy and the potential of mobile technology for community development in each of the 200 participating villages, as part of the Mobile Phones for Literacy and Development (MPLD) module. The module takes three months to complete, with participants attending three sessions each month.

All Tostan supervisors and regional coordinators working on the project attended a workshop on mobile phone literacy and the potential of mobile technology. The training was led by the project coordinator with the support of Tostan’s IT department, Tostan Senegal, and other partners. The knowledge gained from the training was shared with local trainers at each of the regional coordination meetings.

Each class attracts, on average, around 50 learners. They are trained in the practical uses of standard mobile phone functions, with a special focus on applications such as sending and receiving text messages and storing and retrieving contact information. Those applications are particularly useful in improving the literacy skills of participants, as they read and write messages and navigate their way around the phone’s menu.

Traditional and participatory learning and communication methods are used to support the learning of participants. These include explaining functions through transitions from concrete examples, to semi-concrete and abstract explanations. The menu of the mobile phone, for instance, is introduced as analogous to a mango tree, with each section of the menu represented as a part of the tree. The students begin with a concrete example, planning a climbing route on a real tree to get a specific mango. This is then translated into a semi-concrete diagram of a tree on the classroom wall. Finally, the students move to the abstract, with the tree diagram becoming the menu diagram and the mango a specific function.



Phase 2: The RapidSMS Community Forum

The RapidSMS community forum was developed to encourage learners to send text messages in order to improve their literacy skills, increase their communication with other members of the community, help them exercise greater influence over community decision-making and provide a platform on which learners can exchange information more speedily.

The forum was the result of the collaboration between Tostan and UNICEF, which developed the RapidSMS framework. Available in local languages, including Wolof, Diolaa, Soninke and Mandinca, it allowed participants to send a single text message to all members of the community, using a special number, the so-called “numero jokko”. Learners subscribed to the service by sending a message to Tostan, which cost five US cents. Every time a message was sent to “numero jokko” the sender paid the same amount. The cost of resending messages to all the subscribers, however, was covered by the programme.

The service has been used to announce community activities and events, such as meetings, vaccination campaigns, weddings and funerals. Unfortunately, it ended in 2010 due to financial unsustainability, specifically, the cost borne by Tostan of sending the messages to all the forum’s subscribers.

Teaching and Learning Materials

The Jokko Initiative uses many of the ‘traditional’ literacy tools used in Tostan’s other programmes, such as blackboards, chalk and flipcharts. In the early stages of the programme, participatory research led to the development of drawings and posters , such as the mobile phone poster, shown below. This poster allowed Tostan’s trainers to draw what happened on the screen of their phone when they touched a button.



Development of the RapidSMS forum meant new additions to Tostan’s Community Empowerment Programme’s (CEP) materials, including around 10 training mobile phones per class, and 10 SIM cards. To keep the logistics of this project as light as possible and to ensure its scalability and cost-effectiveness, Tostan required participants to bring their own mobile phones to the classes and to use their own phone credit when exercises involved sending a text message or placing a call. The small number of mobile phones Tostan provided helped ensure that those without mobile phones were also able to participate. At the end of the programme, mobile phones and SIM cards are either distributed to a local community committee (to be used at their discretion), or collected by Tostan field staff and transferred to another CEP village where Jokko classes are running.

Selection and Training of Facilitators

Tostan facilitators are given training on the CEP programme and on each new module. Their capacities are developed so that they can run classes in phase one of the Jokko Initiative and lead sessions in partner communities.

Initial selection takes into account the applicant’s covering letter, their proficiency in the working language, and the skills identified during screening. The best of those who pass through this stage are selected at the end of the facilitators’ training seminar.

For the pilot programme, Tostan used former facilitators already familiar with Tostan’s approach and vision. Tostan facilitators are now trained on the Jokko Initiative, and the MPLD module has been integrated into Tostan’s Community Empowerment Programme and its training guide for facilitators.

Identification and Recruitment of Participants

Participants in the Jokko Initiative also participate in the Tostan Community Empowerment Programme. The programme is introduced to participants via local Tostan field trainers.

Before the programme begins, the mobile phones used for training are presented to the village chief and the local imam, who are asked to publicly endorse Tostan’s rules for using the phones. Finally, it is explained to the community how the phones will be used once the sessions are complete.

Monitoring and Evaluation

CEGA monitored and evaluated the Jokko Initiative from 2009 to 2010. It designed a data collection instrument, identified potential comparison groups, analysed the data and wrote up the results. CEGA collaborated closely with Tostan’s Monitoring Evaluation, Research and Learning Department in conducting the evaluation. CEGA reviewed every message sent to the community forum between December 2009 and May 2010. Each of the 570 messages were translated into French and categorized by topics, such as health, education, the environment and the economy. Sending the messages enabled participants to develop their ability to write messages with a mobile phone, and to communicate about community events related to health (vaccinations, distribution of mosquito nets), education (enrolling children in school), the environment (bushfires) and the economy (income-generating activities). Use of mobile phones also allowed Community Management Committees to communicate and share information on topics of concern, to share with the community dangers, negative practices or decisions that might impact upon them, and to understand community members’ concerns, the topics that interest them and the challenges they face. This resulted in a bank of useful data to guide interventions and the policies of partners and local authorities. The outcomes, strengths and difficulties identified in the evaluation were shared with stakeholders. Particular emphasis was placed on the contribution of mobile phone use in sharing information about sickness, and about issues of concern on health, the environment and the economy.

In March 2010 CEGA conducted a follow-up survey, which covered mobile phone usage, literacy and numeracy, social networks and the experience of participants in using the community forum.

Finally, 160 out of the 436 forum subscribers were interviewed by phone, and asked about their location, age, occupation, number of messages sent and secondary users in their household.

Anecdotal evidence was also collected by the case study authors, researchers and Tostan staff via interviews throughout the Jokko Initiative pilot and its subsequent implementation.

Impact and Challenges

Impact and Achievements

The findings of the CEGA were positive. There was a 40% increase in the number of participants able to use a mobile phone, and a 60% rise in the number of participants able to read the text messages they received. At the community level, the number of text messages sent and received increased by 400%. The proportion of women able to read the messages they received increased from 8.5% to 63%. This was reflected in the quantity of messages they sent, which rose from one to eight every three weeks.

Text messages were, in the main, sent to community members, friends and family and mostly concerned community events and financial and medical problems. The number of participants who owned a mobile phone rose from 16% to 29%. The proportion of women who owned a mobile rose similarly, from 12% to 25%. The interviews conducted during the study show that participants, women especially, experienced a sense of empowerment in addition to improved literacy after completing the Jokko programme.

As well as increasing the literacy and mobile phone skills of participants, the Jokko Initiative also increased learners’ awareness of human rights, particularly the rights of women within communities. In one case, use of the RapidSMS forum saved a girl from female genital cutting: “CEGA learned that a man in one of the Jokko pilot villages had intended to have his daughter undergo the practice of female genital cutting, despite the fact that his village had made a public commitment to abandon the practice. Using RapidSMS, community members had diffused information about the man’s intentions. The man eventually changed his mind due to the mounting social pressure that had been accelerated by mass texting” (Debar and Jensen, 2013: 26).


“My husband is in Europe. Before I took the Tostan classes, I could only call or wait for him to call me. I can text him and it saves us both money. He is surprised and happy.”M’Berry N’Diaye, Jokko Initiative learner
”I used to have to call my son over to do all my calculations for me at the market. Now, I can do all the calculations on my own and make sure that no one is cheating me.” Jokko Initiative learner



Many challenges were identified during the delivery of the programme, the main one being the high cost of the RapidSMS community forum, which led to its termination in December 2010.

Technical problems, such as a lack of electricity, also proved challenging. Not all of the participating villages have electricity, which makes it difficult to charge mobile phones. However, participants often develop innovative ways to get around this, using generators, car batteries or solar panels to charge their phones. Most of these approaches, however, require mobile phone users to pay a fee of about 200 CFA francs (between 20 and 25 US cents) in order to charge their phones (Jaschke, 2010, p.63). This makes it impossible for some Tostan participants, often among the poorest and most marginalised in their communities, to access the service.

Translating the contents of the programme into the local languages was an additional challenge. The mobile phone literacy module was first developed in French, and then translated into six local languages (Wolof, Fulani, Diola, Soninke, and Mandingue). RapidSMS was available in French, Fulani and Diolaa. The process of translating and testing modules proved particularly time-consuming and meant the project incurred some unplanned costs. Finally, the mobile phones sold in Senegal are only available in French and English. As a result, educators had to rely on the icon system and the mango tree analogy to explain the use of the phones to participants who did not speak those languages.

Lessons Learned

The successful implementation of the Jokko Initiative was only possible because the right environment was created and because it was introduced to people at the right time. Both mobile phone literacy and the RapidSMS forum began with a discussion of the benefits and development the service would bring to the community. It was explained that mobile technology would be used only to complement more traditional means of communication, which are a big part of Senegalese culture. It was also necessary to base the programme on an understanding and practice of democratic behaviour, human rights, problem solving, hygiene, health and literacy. The learners are empowered by the programme, frequently passing on what they have learned to others. Younger participants learn faster and help the older ones, who are less familiar with mobile technology. Students often share new knowledge with family and community members who did not take part in the programme.




As noted above, Tostan required class participants to bring their own mobile phones to the class and to use their own phone credit when sending a text message or placing a call. This helped ensure the project’s scalability and cost-effectiveness.

In order to revive the RapidSMS community forum service, Guillaume Debar and Justine Jensen have recommended than Tostan explore a new partnership model with national telecommunication companies and try to obtain discounted prices for SMS text messaging (Debar and Jensen, 2013: 26).



Malick Niang
Coordinator of the Jokko Initiative in Senegal
Tel: (+221) 77.648.81.14
E-mail: malickniang (at)