Alex Pitkin

Alex Pitkin, COO and Product Owner of FrontlineSMS

“Having worked in the U.S. on projects for both FrontlineSMS and Delib, I appreciate that when it comes to community engagement, rulemaking, social impact and designing for local, that the US is more like 50 different countries. I’d like to share related war stories and develop partnerships where we can help each other.”

Meet Alex Pitkin. Alex is the current COO and Product Owner of Nairobi-based FrontlineSMS, an SMS messaging platform that enables organizations to connect with their communities, and helps them scale their operations. He is also a director of Delib, where he helped build its digital democracy platforms between 2006 to 2013. After finally figuring out his bike commute across East Africa’s “Silicon Savannah,” Alex has recently relocated to Brooklyn – talk about a commute! — and he’s likewise looking forward to learning how best to cycle NYC, and exactly what a “schmear” is. Follow Alex on Twitter.

How Did He Come To His Work?

Alex did his undergrad work in computer science at Bristol in the U.K., which he compares to Berkeley in terms of its activism and Patagonia-wearing campus. Initially, Alex deployed his skills as a technologist in AdTech and viral marketing, but he came to realize that “selling Nokia phones does not help anyone and people could do with real help.” And, he reasoned, since “government didn’t do things in a way that make basic sense,” he would focus on how to help those in the public sector solve these problems, which requires earning the trust of local communities. While at Delib – whose offerings include Citizen Space which enables rulemaking, and Dialogue which fosters community engagement – Alex learned that “accessibility is a key factor in changing how rules are made.” Alex defines accessibility in a very elastic way — not only in terms of the physical, but one’s proximity to an issue. Call it “cultural accessibility,” if you will. Alex originally joined FrontlineSMS as its first CTO in Nairobi four year ago, charged with building the platform into a scalable and dependable cloud-hosted application.

What Does He Do?

At FrontlineSMS —which focuses on SMS as an inclusive, accessible and digitized technology in hundreds of countries — Alex works closely with the tech team as the “Product Owner,” which means that his remit is working on the roadmap for the platform, taking in the community’s inputs and requirements, and designing messaging for the future.

Alex runs projects around the world across FrontlineSMS’s platform across a wide range of requirements and urgent demands. This might include data gathering and management – in Thailand, Indonesia, Mexico and East Africa it collects information and data from target communities, providing crucial feedback on services. In the U.S., schools and legal aid societies work off of FrontlineSMS to run their complex outreach and customer administration processes using SMS.

What Projects Is He Working On?

FrontlineSMS first became known as a tool for election monitoring. During national Nigerian elections ten years ago the platform enabled independent organizations to mobilize, facilitating the validation of an election. Today, election monitoring remains incredibly important. In this summer alone, fair elections in his host country Kenya are at risk.

While FrontlineSMS is working on literally hundreds of projects, here’s a sampling:

  • Connecting wheelchair users in Indonesia over SMS for feedback, repair hotlines, and administration.
  • Working with exploited agricultural workers in Mexico to support problem-solving by enabling data collection.
  • In the UK, FrontlineSMS offers tools for local community businesses, providing a platform for feedback loop data to support grant funding.
  • Since compliance is a major issue the world over, it has created medication tools for sex workers in Thailand offering reminders for drug-taking, feedback, and impact assessment.

How Did He Come to Civic Hall?

Alex recalls first learning about Civic Hall via his relationships with both the iHub community in Nairobi and OpenGovHub in DC. Additionally, Delib had been connected to Civic Hall for several years as well.

What is His Ask of the Community?

While Alex is keen about leveraging Civic Hall’s hivemind to unlock his NYC experience, he sees great value in Civic Hall’s as a co-learning space.

“Having worked in the U.S. on projects for both FrontlineSMS and Delib, I appreciate that when it comes to community engagement, rulemaking, social impact and designing for local, that the US is more like 50 different countries. I’d like to share related war stories and develop partnerships where we can help each other.”