mVAM is recruiting an intern!

Join the team!

Join the team!

Ever wanted to get involved with the mVAM project? We’re happy to say that we’re recruiting an intern! If you’ve just graduated or are still in education with at least 2 years of undergraduate experience and are interested in communications and food security we want to hear from you!

To see the full vacancy follow this link to the WFP careers posting and send us a message if you have any more questions to

Deadline for applications is 18th August 2017


VAM Talks episode 12: Monitoring Nutrition Remotely

Episode 12:   3 August 2017

Logo2Alice Clough interviews Lauren Landis, director of WFP Nutrition, Kusum Hachhethu from mVAM and Todd Rosenstock from ICRAF about mVAM for Nutrition

Postcard from DRC

Congo Call Center operator on the phone with a WFP beneficiary to discuss WFP’s activities

Congo Call Center operator on the phone with a WFP beneficiary to discuss WFP’s activities

Greetings from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)! Two members of the mVAM team recently travelled to Kinshasa to help the WFP Country Office assess how to improve upon its current mVAM system and see what other mVAM technologies we could roll out in the coming months.

mVAM data collection in DRC is conducted nation-wide in collaboration with the Cellule d’Analyses des Indicateurs de Développement, more commonly referred to as CAID. CAID is part of the Congolese National Government, housed within the Prime Minister’s Office, and is responsible for collecting food security and other indicators on a regular basis. Since April 2016, CAID—with technical support from WFP—has been collecting remote food security data across more than 50% of the country. Now this is quite a feat when you consider the vast size of DRC (it would cover most of Western Europe!) coupled with the fact that in many places there is little network coverage.

Map from:

Map from:

During the visit, the mVAM team met with CAID to discuss how to improve its data quality and expand to areas not yet covered by mVAM. This included a visit to the Congo Call Center (CCC). They have a team of operators dedicated to conducting the monthly calls so we went to discuss any challenges they encounter when placing calls. We also brainstormed different ways share the information that CAID collects with the general public. They currently produce a monthly bulletin called ‘m-kengela’ that shares price information and other food security-related details but they also want to share this information with a larger audience. So, together we explored the possibility of creating a Free Basics website that would be accessible to a larger audience. Given the success of our Free Basics pilot in Malawi and the fact that there are two participating mobile network providers within the country, we decided that this would be an ideal way of creating a nation-wide price website. We therefore met with cell phone companies and spent time with CAID mapping out what their site might look like.

Discussions are now underway vis-a-vis the next steps and the mVAM team and CAID are hard at work preparing for the launch of its first Free Basics price website. So stay tuned for more details as rollout takes place over the coming months!

mVAM falls in love in Nepal

WFP/Gaurav Singhal

The mVAM-NeKSAP team (WFP/Gaurav Singhal)


The mVAM Team is on the move again. This time our travels took us to Kathmandu, Nepal, where we’re not only excited at the prospect of using mVAM for the first time, but mVAM has also fallen in love and is soon be a proud parent!

The Government of Nepal currently runs a key-informant based food security monitoring system it calls NeKSAP. Each trimester, community leaders in 74 of 75 of Nepal’s Districts gather and use convergence evidence to assess the criticality of the food-security situation in their respective area. This exercise has proven invaluable in directing programming and resources not just for WFP but also for the government and other development/humanitarian organizations across the country. But the process is cumbersome and a bit imprecise when it comes to understanding and responding to a vastly complicated humanitarian landscape (think about the 2015 earthquake in Kathmandu and climate change!).

In 2016, an extreme drought in the high-altitude plateaus of the Mid-Western and Far-Western Development Regions of the country prompted the WFP Nepal Country Office to conduct a face-to-face food security baseline assessment. Given the persistent acute food insecurity in the region the team, collaborating with the Government of Nepal, requested assistance to create a seasonal food security monitoring system, leveraging the agility, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness of mVAM.

This region is so remote that in the past WFP preferred to use airlifts than trucks to deliver assistance. This could not have been a bigger challenge for mVAM given issues with selection bias and phone-ownership. This was compounded by the fact that government insisted on nothing less than high-quality, representative, publishable statistics that could be used in official government figures. If only there was some way we had to reach the most remote and inaccessible regions as well that can only be reached by travelling for several days on foot! As it turns out, the NeKSAP system has provisions for a small network of skilled enumerators to live and work in these regions.

Rural landscape in Bajhang District, located in the North Western region of the country WFP/Bikkil Sthapit

Rural landscape in Bajhang District, located in the North Western region of the country
WFP/Bikkil Sthapit

That is when we had brainwave borrowed from South Asian tradition: an arranged marriage for mVAM (don’t worry, there was a courtship first)…and mNeKSAP was conceived combining the best of traditional face-to-face assessment with mVAM! Why only rely on one survey mode?  For individuals without phones we decided to use the NeKSAP enumerators to do traditional face-to-face assessments.

Furthermore, all the individuals were first interviewed in a face-to-face pre-winter baseline. This means that not only is the data representative, ensuring coverage of non-phone owners, mNeKSAP also provides a rare panel data set, re-interviewing the same individuals every trimester over a year.  Panel data is the gold-standard for doing causal inference. There is much more work to be done of course but we’ll keep you updated on this exciting new collaboration.

VAM Talks Episode 11: IDPs in Nigeria test our chatbot

Episode 11:   20 June 2017

Logo2Jean-Martin Bauer and Seokjin Han travel to North-Eastern Nigeria to test out our humanitarian chatbot with IDPs affected by the Boko Haram insurgency,

After the rains: sprouts of green and mVAM in South Sudan

Our South Sudan mVAM operators at work (WFP/Angie Lee)

Our South Sudan mVAM operators at work (WFP/Angie Lee)

Greetings from an ever-green Juba! The last time we reported from South Sudan it was dry and dusty everywhere. This time our visit coincided with the start of the rainy season – a welcome respite to the scorching heat that lasted for months.

Other than the heat, there are many challenges in South Sudan, particularly when trying to set up an mVAM system. South Sudan is one of the worst ranking countries in terms of mobile phone penetration and connectivity: according to 2016 ITU data, approximately 24 percent of the population have mobile cellular subscriptions and merely 4.3 percent of households own a computer. The ongoing conflict has only made the situation worse. We found out that network coverage has significantly deteriorated since mVAM activities first started in February 2016. A case in point: one major network operator, which reportedly had the largest outreach in the country, reduced its coverage from 70 to 15 percent. Our mVAM operators told us that completing a 10-minute survey with one single phone call was nearly impossible, because the line is constantly dropping.

Even when a call does go through, it is extremely difficult to pinpoint the respondent’s location. People are on the move fleeing the conflict (more than 950,000 South Sudanese have crossed the border into Uganda alone according to the latest UNHCR estimates) and phone numbers keep changing (the average shelf life of a SIM is short as people are on the move and network coverage varies greatly between different areas). To make things even more complicated, the administrative boundaries of the country are also shifting (in addition to the existing 10 states, an additional 22 states have been newly created).

Being mindful of these challenges, we had previously recommended that the country office start contacting a pool of key informants who are easier to reach and were able to collect data on markets, displacement, and road access in the Greater Upper Nile Region. However, even here we are confronted with the challenge of collecting data in a highly politically-divided context. Relying exclusively on key informant sources can give you a biased picture of the situation on the ground, especially where the informants speak for specific interest groups. It is therefore necessary to triangulate various sources of key informant information and complement them with other secondary or even primary household data when possible.

Does all of this mean that there is no future for mVAM in South Sudan? On the contrary, we found that the demand for mobile surveys is there both for WFP and the humanitarian community at large. After all, South Sudan is a complex emergency where ‘putting boots on the ground’ is often not possible and we need all the creativity and tools we can muster. In fact, WFP South Sudan has been conducting mobile surveys for market monitoring and rapid emergency food security assessments (the latest one took place in select famine-affected counties). Similarly, other NGO and development partners on the ground are also conducting mobile surveys for programme or food security monitoring.

Moving forward, we have identified, together with the South Sudan VAM team, two areas of opportunity where we can scale mVAM: i) urban food security monitoring in selected hotspots and interest points and ii) complementing the early warning bulletin jointly produced by the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management and WFP with mVAM key informant data.

Green fellows like these are often found at WFP premises (WFP/Marie Enlund)

Green fellows like these are often found at WFP premises (WFP/Marie Enlund)

Are you conducting mobile surveys responsibly?

Twitter card data responsibility

The use of mobile technology is a tremendous opportunity to better communicate with people in humanitarian settings. However, these advanced capabilities also involve new privacy and security risks for people in the communities where remote mobile surveys are implemented. We therefore collaborated with the International Data Responsibility Group and Leiden University’s Centre for Innovation to draft a practical guide: ‘Conducting Mobile Surveys Responsibly: A field book for WFP staff’.

The field book outlines the main risks for staff engaged in remote data collection and details best practices for data security, privacy and responsible data approaches in the very complex environments in which WFP operates.

data responsibility front page

VAM Talks: Episode 10


Alice Clough interviews the VAM team in the Afghanistan country office about why they’ve started using mVAM’s remote food security monitoring system.



VAM Talks: Episode 9

Logo2VAM’s Arif Husain and Jean-Martin Bauer travel to New York for a hackathon run by Nielsen where the participants try to build a food security surveying chatbot.

Calling all developers: Join us at #Hackforhunger


Have you ever wanted to help out the World Food Programme? Sign up for our Chatbot Hackathon!

When: Our partner Nielsen is holding a 24 hour ‘Hack for Hunger’ Chatbot Hackathon from Saturday, January 7th to on Sunday, January 8, 2017 at their global headquarters.  The Hackathon is sponsored by Nielsen, the world’s largest data and information company, and their data science subsidiary eXelate and Nielsen Marketing Cloud. You can sign up at this link

The Challenge:  Build an ‘emergency response chatbot’ to revolutionize how we get the information we need to respond during emergencies.  

The United Nations World Food Programme is the world’s largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger. When there is a crisis, we get the bags of food or cash assistance to people to make sure they don’t go hungry. We currently assist around 80 million people in 80 countries around the world. But to do this well, we need to know where people are that need the most help.

The chatbot you build will allow community members to report to WFP about food security conditions in their local area. This information can save lives after a disaster like Hurricane Matthew in Haiti where roads were destroyed and ports were closed for days. WFP can chat with community members and find out what is happening on the ground in order to get assistance to the areas that need it most.

Our Chief Economist Arif Husain will be at the hackathon to tell you more about the World Food Programme’s work in emergencies and technology’s potential to accelerate our response. For more info on  work we’ve been doing on chatbots with InStedd, read our blog: chatbot prototype

So, are you up for the challenge?

To Register: Sign up at this link – we’re looking forward to seeing you there!  Interested engineers or developers should be highly experienced in Java, Javascript, PHP, Ruby, Hadoop, SQL and development in Android, HTML, and iOS. UI/UX, Product Management, QA and HTML/CSS experience also welcome.