Organizations of all sizes making an impact in Uganda

One question I’ve pondered frequently is the tradeoff between working with smaller vs. larger organizations. While being a member of a small team allows you to have greater autonomy and responsibility, you may find your capacity and influence limited. The bureaucratic structure of big organizations may lead to inefficiency, though the weight and experience of a large institution can help you accomplish larger projects. Luckily, this summer, I didn’t have to choose: as an AidData Summer Fellow placed at UNICEF Uganda, I gained valuable experience working in an international NGO’s large country office while being supported by a small team at AidData in Williamsburg and Development Gateway in D.C.

Never having worked abroad, I was impressed by UNICEF’s scale and impact in Uganda. I worked primarily on two data-driven UNICEF programs called DevTrac and U-report. DevTrac is a tool used by UNICEF primarily to track site visits to monitor programs in the field. This database of site visits, specific locations, and evaluative information is used by all UNICEF program officers who travel into the field several times a month. Creating this dataset has brought together information not only useful to internal UNICEF operations, but also informative to other development partners and local government stakeholders who are interested in site-specific data from the field.

U-report is another tool that has reached an impressive number of Ugandans. UNICEF utilizes mobile technology through this free SMS program that allows Ugandans to report on what’s happening in their community. Development partners and local leaders can then use this crowdsourced data to take citizen voices into account as they make decisions, thus completing the feedback loop between donors and community stakeholders. After two years of U-reporter recruitment, there are over 260,000 Ugandans participating in this program. As U-report’s numbers continue to expand and the data grows as well, Uganda gains a powerful tool for the future.

Impressed by UNICEF’s achievements in Uganda? I certainly was. However, I was also lucky to be supported by AidData, a research and innovation lab formed by a partnership between the College of William and Mary, Brigham Young University, and Development Gateway. I enjoyed having a small core of staff supporting our research activities throughout the summer. Though the organization is growing, AidData is able to coordinate their activities and partnerships well as they build geospatial capacity of other organizations. UNICEF and other Summer Fellow host organizations certainly benefited from AidData’s expertise in geocoding and research on data for development.


  1. After discussing the potential power of crowdsourcing for democratic involvement in a one credit government class I took on Digital Citizenship, it’s really interesting to hear about it put into practice in a developmental context. This technology (U-Report) sounds very easy to use and seems to hold great potential for the future. It can allow local citizens to take ownership of problems and suggestions as well as provide valuable information for NGOs and governments.