Ken Banks

Digital Library

ACM Eugene L. Lawler Award for Humanitarian Contributions within Computer Science and Informatics

United Kingdom - 2016


For pioneering work developing FrontlineSMS, using mobile technology and text messaging to empower people to share information, organize aid, and reconnect communities during crisis.

Ken Banks, a self-described "mobile anthropologist," is an internationally recognized leader in efforts to empower people by leveraging the ubiquity of mobile phones, as well as familiarity of text messaging, by turning a laptop and phone into a communications hub.  Banks designed, coded and launched FrontlineSMS in 2005, and its breakthrough use came in the monitoring of the 2007 Nigerian Presidential elections.  Since then it has been used widely in the social and environmental sectors in over 170 countries, helping tens of millions of vulnerable people in the process, including helping family farmers in Laos, training rural medics in Ecuador, monitoring disease outbreaks across Africa, and promoting literacy in Niger.

FrontlineSMS was designed to be highly flexible, and this has been demonstrated by its integration into many other services including Ushahidi's crowd-sourcing platform, a powerful combination used in civil strife and natural disasters around the world.  It has also sparked the creation of new startups in the field of health, radio and micro-payments, among others.

Banks is currently the Entrepreneur in Residence at CARE International and was previously visiting fellow at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia.  He is also the recipient of numerous awards, and has raised millions of dollars for his work from the Rockefeller, MacArthur, and Hewlett Foundations, among others.  Banks also spoke on a panel to young people on Semester At Sea with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who wrote the foreword to his first book.  Banks is a mentor to many, and a passionate advocate who is deeply committed to technology-driving social change.

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