InnovaLatino and the Survey of Mobile Phones in Latin America

Mobile phones are becoming the new computer. The continued revelations of all the applicable uses of these small devices are creating a hype leading to new innovation ideas in the developing world. Originally, especially in terms of education, disaster relief, and even health information dissemination, computers were always the first solution to the problem, both providing and using them in developing countries and communities. But what many communities in developing countries have actually latched on to, for financial and convenience purposes, is instead the cell phone. By recognizing the mobile-use patterns, developers have been able to refocus their research and programming to incorporate the overwhelmingly popular device for solving problems in the developing world, like the research initiative InnovaLatino.

An INSEAD article by Robert Goldsmith evaluates the growing mobile market in the region and states how, like many other developing regions, “Mobile telephony in particular is substituted for the absence of good landline telephony, and at times even substituted for good transport or financial infrastructure.” Ironically is how the statistics showed that “the countries most likely to witness explosive growth of mobile telephony are those with the ‘worst’ indicators of infrastructure.”  So what does this mean for development priorities? Are there costs in ICTs advancing before these physical sectors of society have advanced? Does the region have the capacity to support the extent of leapfrogging that it is experiencing? Can the trend continue before reaching a plateau? And what will the costs be?

The initiative took on an immense responsibility by choosing to focus on the overall region, especially because there is so much diversity within the 20+ countries. It was started almost three years ago in 2009 when evidence of the technology explosion was just surfacing. After it’s original boost in 2009, like many other programs started with the initiative to survey certain areas for developmental capacity, the program has experienced a slow start but has successfully launched in 8 major countries thus far, holding two of the newest launches last May 2011 and November 2011. Its progress will be interesting to follow.

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