According to a new World Bank study, 75% of the plantet’s population now has access to mobile phones. As we have explored through various reports in this class, phones are used in myriad ways. Health and financial services are becoming inextricable from mobile phone technology, and the impact is being seen through employment and government sectors. While this study encapsulates a great deal of information, I would like to focus on something we have not directly covered in class–employment and the role for government involvement. According the this study (Information and Communications for Development 2012), the mobile phone industry has become a major source of employment opportunities on both the supply and demand side (Kelly and Minges pg. 8). Interestingly, one chapter of the work is focused on something referred to as business incubators or mobile labs (mLabs) for supporting entrepreneurial activity in the mobile industry, as well as new economic opportunities related to trading goods and services that exist only online. In an interest to learn more about this concept I found this site : mLab Southern Africa. MLab Southern Africa is classified as a “mobile solutions laboratory and startup accelerator” which provides entrepreneurs and mobile developers with the tools they need to develop innovative mobile applications and services. They work to build a sustainable technology business that will meet the demands of a growing base of mobile consumers in Africa and around the world.
We are witnessing an entire new app economy develop! According to the aforementioned study, more than 30 billion “apps,” were downloaded in 2011 –”software that extends the capabilities of phones, for instance to become mobile wallets, navigational aids, or price comparison tools” (World Bank). As we have seen, new apps reshape and create new livelihoods for many individuals in the developing world–the very creators of that technology reflect a new economic sector.
If the larger goal at hand is to empower the poor, it can be seen that mobile phones are a critical platform for unleashing tools and services. But these platforms are problematized by cost, control, and barriers to innovation. Those of us who are excited about opportunities for technology and development (and all these new Apps we have investigated) must recognize the tensions presented by any combination of technologies and social, governmental, and economic structures.