Like many trailblazing solutions, Hilmi Quraishi's wildly popular mobile phone games that teach players about AIDS found success through not just hard work, but a novel idea and a bit of serendipity. The novel idea was approaching education about this very serious problem through the universal language of entertainment and using a widely-accessible technology to do it.
The serendipity was Quraishi’s Internet search for like-minded innovators that connected him with Changemakers—and ultimately led him to win a prestigious Ashoka fellowship. “With the support of Ashoka,” Quraishi said, “I am sure of being able to scale and replicate my solutions and new programs and ideas for the under privileged and un-reached communities of the world.”
He’s already off to a roaring start. Since he started distributing the games in 2005 he’s reached tens of millions of young people, first in India and now also in Africa—regions especially hard hit by HIV/AIDS, and where cell phones are nearly ubiquitous—with games designed to appeal to their passions for gaming and technology.
Cricket Safe, distributed in India, is modeled on a cricket match; another game, in Africa is based on soccer; some are in the form of quizzes, and others are set up more like chases, such as Ribbon Chase, in which a red ribbon races around the globe delivering messages to cities and trying to stay a few strides ahead of the HIV virus in hot pursuit. The more the player knows about HIV/AIDS and protecting against infection, the higher he or she will score.
In India alone there are an estimated 2.5 million are infected with HIV/AIDS. With over 300 million cell phone users, many of whom use their phones for playing games, Quraishi spotted a solution.
“We can’t always reach communities through formal means,” Quraishi, told Mint, an Indian business newspaper. “We need to have some fun.”
Hilmi’s company, ZMQ Software Systems, hasn’t stopped there. The company has created dozens of other games, including ones to raise awareness about climate change, such as Mission Lighting, which encourages the use of CFL lamps, and DeCarbonator, which promotes the use of paper bags and bicycle riding.
Up next are games addressing the UN’s Millennium goals, such as sanitation, clean water, and children’s health. In addition to games, Quraishi’s company has other technology-based solutions, including a text-messaging program to remind rural expectant mothers of their doctors’ appointments and offer tips on healthy pregnancy.
To encourage women to sign up, even though it’s usually men who carry the cell phones, ZMQ is negotiating with a cell phone service provider to reward participants with a free phone call every time the household’s expectant mother logs on.
It’s ingenious ideas like this that got Ashoka staffers so excited about Quraishi, whose first interaction with the organization was to enter—and win—2007’s Why Games Matter competition on Changemakers.
“The idea to deliver HIV/AIDS awareness information in the form of top notch, interactive mobile phone games to a generation of tech savvy consumers otherwise immune to or unmoved by traditional tools of messaging, including public service announcements in itself has a huge impact,” said Siddharth Barthakur of Ashoka’s India office, who supported Quraishi’s selection as a fellow. Quraishi is excited about his deepening involvement with Ashoka.
“As a social entrepreneur engaged in designing technology and ICT solutions for under-served communities,” he said, “I am sure that with Ashoka's support I not only will be able to design and implement new solutions but will be able to scale my Health-Care tools, Literacy Packages, Social Games and Communication solutions both locally and globally.” Sound like some serious fun.