Tag Archives: Mobile Phones

Gender Inequality in Côte d’Ivoire

In class today, we had a presentation on gender inequality by Keshet Bachan, a gender equality expert from Israel. Among her talking points, Bachan noted that there are many forms of violence against adolescent woman, including trafficking and prostitution, and that many women who come from poor backgrounds are vulnerable to this sort of violence.

In my country papers for this class, I researched the Francophone West African state of Côte d’Ivoire. Through this research and my interest in this nation, I have learned that it lags behind many of its neighbors in the different ICT sectors and that there is much gender inequality in the state. The government does not invest much money, if any at all, in women’s education or fertility. And along those lines and echoing Bachan’s presentation, female mutilation/cutting is a common practice. UNICEF defines female mutilation as “the partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for cultural or other non-therapeutic reasons.” This is particularly a problem in Cote d’Ivoire where a national law was adopted in 1998 to criminalize the activity. It is a problem among people who do not have access to education, the Muslim population and the Voltaïques and Northern Monde ethnic groups, where over 70% of the women are mutilated. Genital mutilation is not only a problem for the obvious reasons of discriminating against and suppressing women, but it also leads to child mortality and makes it easier for adolescent women to contract HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.

Genital mutilation in Côte d’Ivoire is a form of social integration and sometimes a required religious ritual of purification. Seeing that female mutilation was in direct conflict with four of the Millennium Development Goals, (MDG 3: promoting gender equality & empowering women, MDG 4: reducing child mortality, MDG 5: improving maternal health, MDG 6: combatting HIV-AIDS, malaria and other diseases) UNICEF has begun to take action to safeguard human rights in the country. Through advocacy for women’s rights, gender equality and access to education, UNICEF has been able to raise awareness about the issue and help curtail genital mutilation. They have also used nationwide technology campaigns on radio television and mobile phones to establish child protection networks and to empower adolescent and adult women. Between 2000 and 2006, national genital mutilation dropped in females from 44% to 36.4% in direct response to these radio and television campaigns. While we in the United States may scoff at the power that radio has to bring people together and raise awareness about issues, because we are so engulfed with social media and smartphones, radio is showing in Côte d’Ivoire that it is a reliable strategy to achieving gender equality in developing countries.


Smartphones and their increasing connection to cyber warfare

Last week, our presentations on ICT technologies and their applications in different ICT sectors educated us about the challenges that developing countries face when implementing these projects. We also learned how access to information is critical to all aspects of ICT4D and its’ different offshoots. We completely changed gears with the guest speaker on Tuesday but we still discussed how important this access to information is. Cyber security and cyber warfare have emerged in the last decade as innovations in technology continue to advance rapidly. In the world of cyber warfare, hacking and cyber espionage have become extremely common. In the CIA and NSA, the United States has hundreds, if not thousands, of workers devoted to keeping tabs on cyber terrorists and their organizations and preventing them from attacking us as well as ensuring that our data is secure.

But the questions about how secure is our data have come up numerous times over the last few years, as cyber espionage from China have emerged and individuals like such as Julian Assange and Edward Snowden have leaked U.S. military and government data. If one of the most powerful countries on earth’s private information and data is susceptible to two individuals, how secure is the technology we use in our own homes on a daily basis? We have talked all year about how mobile phones, especially smartphones, are a critical tool in international development and ICT technologies. But I learned from this CNN article that as smartphones, which have more than 100 times the computing power than the average satellite, provide more hope for ICT4D and digital communication they also make us more vulnerable to cyber attacks.

This is concerning because emails have become less and less secure in recent times, forcing people to rely heavily on their smartphones. And in developing and emerging markets, such as China, this is an even bigger problem because smartphone users download apps from third party sites because Google Play is banned. Many of the apps on these third party sites contain AndroRAT, a new software developed by hackers that makes it very easy to inject malicious code into a fake version of an app. Smartphones will continue to be a popular destination for hackers and as this technology becomes increasingly ubiquitous in the developing and developed worlds, we will need to find ways to secure mobile phone data and information.

Visa and MasterCard Boosting Services In Developing Economies Via Mobile Banking

Our class on Tuesday focused primarily on various effects of and issues with usage of mobile phones in the daily lives of some in developing nations. While we talked more about the basic effects of having a mobile phone on economic development, mobile phone access can influence connections to financial information and services. This past week, Forbes came out with an article about two major companies in the financial services sector and their plans involving growing developing economies. MasterCard and Visa see the growing mobile phone usage in developing nations around the world as an opportunity to increase their reach in such economies. While full financial services will not be available, the usage of mobile banking and mobile payment technology certainly has the potential to create great financial opportunities for people in those developing nations- whether they already have access to traditional financial services or not. These changes could lead to even greater economic development than already projected for many of the developing economies.

Telecommunication: The Future of ICT4D?

In the article we read this week for class, “Mobile Phones and Economic Development: Evidence From the Fishing Industry in India”, author Reuben Abraham discussed the impact of mobile phone technologies on developing rural populations in economic terms.  While the distribution of mobile phone technologies in the Indian fishing industry did not yield spectacular results, the fact remains that mobile technologies allow for the improved dissemination of information in developing economies, and, as stated in the article “information is power”.  One area where this aphorism rings especially true is in the new e-Policies of Sri Lanka, instituted in the early 2000’s- before the insertion of telecenters throughout the small island country, rural populations had very little access to information of any kind.

Now, there is technology information in place that allows anyone in possession of a mobile telephone or landline access to information from 77 government organizations in any of the country’s three main languages, Sinhala, Tamil, or English, simply by dialing 1919.  This online “Government Information Center” is part of the e-Sri Lanka project, which is one of the first World Bank projects designed to bring ICT to “every village, citizen, and business, and transform the way the government thinks and works”.  While there have been drastic increases in mobile phone use in the country since the implementation of this program in 2004, the government’s investment in “nensalas” or tele/knowledge centers has resulted in the most beneficial impact for the rural poor.  Access to these telecenters has allowed for farmers, students, and small business owners in rural areas the ability to gain information for themselves, even without a mobile phone or landline.

The nensala (nen meaning knowledge, sala meaning shop), provides easy access to computer technology, the internet, and IT skills training, as well as basic telecommunications- these nensalas have greatly improved literacy rates, computer knowledge skills, and economic flow for Sri Lanka’s rural population through an investment in information access.  The nensalas provide local radio broadcasts of market prices and crop/agricultural info to farmers, e-health and telemedicine facilities to rural patients, audio books for the visually impaired, and visual hearing aids for the hearing impaired, all through access to telecommunications and the online government services.

Mobile Phones: Not Just a Technology

Recently, our class discussions have focused on the benefits of using mobile phones for international development, as seen with the Fishing Industry in India and the mobile phone use in Africa. However, through our discussions and readings I have noticed that we primarily focus on the use of mobile phones for business or for alerts, such as disasters or availability of clean water, and sometimes forget that mobile phone use is highly dependent on the culture and main focus of its users. When writing “Dead China Make: Phones off the Grid,” the author used an article written by Genevieve Bell called “The Age of Thumb: A Cultural Reading of Mobile Technologies in Asia,” which assesses the ways that cultural practices affect Asia’s mobile phone use. Bell argues that mobile phones are not merely for business calls, as they also maintain individual identities and social roles in Asia. Bell’s article focuses on the ways in which mobile phones are being “deployed, consumed, regulated, rejected, and naturalized in urban Asia” to understand how phones are being used as cultural objects in addition to technological objects.

Bell looks at mobile phones as “objects for communications, manifestations of information, as a form of identity politic, and as sites of anxiety and control.” Her research found that, just as in the US, Asia uses phones to stay in constant communications with friends and family to find out the newest gossip, know where their family is, and if everyone is safe. A lot of families interviewed even purchased phones for their teenagers to keep in touch. She also discovered that these users also use cell phones for information, such as streaming sports games and finding up-to-date scores, online shopping and payments, ordering taxis and even providing prayer reminders to Muslims. Additionally, Bell realized that several Asian countries censor phones and monitor every text message sent, as they are concerned that it could negatively affect cultures. Lastly, and what I found most surprisingly, is that people use these cell phones as identities –  the way they decorate it with cultural symbols, the telephone numbers they choose, thinking that those numbers are lucky, and the photos and backgrounds of their family. All of these little things prove that cell phones are as much a technology as they are a culture.

Some might ask why bother focusing on the cultural aspects of mobile phones, when we are only using it as a technology object for development. Well, I think it is crucial to understand the cultural uses of phones in order to understand how best to utilize mobile phones for development. Giving a fisherman a phone, without understanding his culture, would probably drastically limit the success of the ICT4D initiative.

Mobile Money: Development’s New Banking System?

One of our classes this week focused on mobile phone case studies and some of the impacts of mobile phone implementation in rural populations. One of the studies, “Mobile Phones and Economic Development: Evidence from the Fishing Industry in India” by Reuben Abraham, was about Indian fishermen using mobile phones to check market prices of fish, coordinate with buyers, etc. The study concludes that there is some positive effects on reduced waste of fish, and a small increase in profits for fishermen, but overall the impact of the phones in the studied community was nothing super amazing. Abraham also asserts that information gaps in markets can be remedied by the creative use of technology, which inspired me to find some creative uses of mobile phone technology that might have a serious impact on development.

When I found the Mobile Money for the Unbanked program from the GSMA, I thought there might be some real potential in it. The basis of the program is to support mobile providers in rural and undeveloped areas to offer banking services to their subscribers. The reason that this is such an intriguing idea is that it uses the mobile platform to provide a service that is already so established in its standard form. The banking system in the US has adopted credit cards, debit cards, and even apps that allow you to check your accounts, but this program is a form of banking that is very new in is conception.

Mobile Money allows subscribers to load money onto their SIM card and use the money to pay for things like taxis or groceries. They can also withdraw cash from it at one of their provider’s locations. This is a great solution to the lack of banking in rural areas, and because of mobile provider recognition many people already trust these companies. The program also gives GSMA great data measuring tools for financial indicators, which is otherwise very hard to collect from people without any documented transactions. The website provides a really cool tracker tool that shows where they have employed the program and where they are planning to.

The Mobile Money for the Unbanked program is one of the really cool and successful examples of taking an existing technology and using it in a non-traditional way to improve ICT4D. I am really excited by the potential for mobile banking, and though there are now apps like Venmo, which allows people to make quick bank/credit transfers, making the mobile providers the bank is a very different approach all together. I will be interested to see if this catches on in the West, or remains in the developing world.

The Mobile Phone Gender Gap and Economic Development

Across a variety of indicators, a gender gap exists in favor of men. Mobile phone usage/ownership is no exception. In the developing world, men are 21% more likely to own a cell phone than women. This translates to roughly 300 million women.

As we spent a good deal of this week discussing the many benefits of mobile phone technology, one might note that these 300 million women lack access to these benefits, including improved communication, better economic opportunities, and increased access to information. Of women that do own cell phones, a large proportion (around 50%) use them to search for employment.

The mobile phone, as other technologies, is a tool for economic development. And, as we have learned throughout our IDEV classes, empowering women is an essential tool for economic development. It then comes as no surprise that Wayan Vota posits that women + mobile phones + mservices = economic development.

In this article, Mr. Vota considers the best way to translate female cell phone usage into genuine economic and social development. The solution: mservices. It has been found that women often do not have cell phones because they do not perceive a need for them. However, through improved mservices, women will likely more likely adopt this technology. The most important of these are mBanking, which would help women save money and improve their financial independence; mEmployment, which would help connect women with employment opportunities; mHealth, to help provide care to themselves and their families; and mAgriculture, because women make up most of locally consumed production. Access to services such as these might help lead to female empowerment and a good deal of economic growth and development. 


Mobile Phones in Rwanda

This week we discussed the use of mobile phones in developing countries. We read this article about how fishermen in India used their mobile phones to predict demand and anticipate which types of fish would be in demand. While reading more about this topic I found this article also from the ITID Journal that discussed how mobile phones impact “microoentrepreneurs” in Rwanda. Rwanda is one of the most underdeveloped nations in the world but even in this difficult situation in Rwanda mobile phones made a difference. Microoentrepreneurs are people who start businesses with 5 of few employees. In the developing world one household may be the site of multiple microenterprises. My article discussed the story of a baker in Kigali who credited his purchase of a mobile phone with the rapid expansion of his business. He claimed, “business increased 30% due to the mobile, so much so that he had been able to move his family into a larger more comfortable home.” Since buying his phone customers can call him to place orders, he can call his suppliers to buy materials, he can take orders from all over the city and not only his neighborhood, as well as constantly communicate with this employee. He has also been able to expand his business into wedding cakes orders, which are phoned in from throughout the country.

His mobile phone had the added bonus of allowing him to keep in close contact with his wife and children while at work.

Mobile phones expand the market place and make business owners better able to respond to the needs of their area. Microoentrepreneurs, like the baker in Kigali, can save time by calling suppliers and customers rather than having to visit them in person and increase productivity by expanding their customer base by taking phone orders.

There are countless uses for mobile technologies in the developing would but better technological infrastructure needs to be created to fully utilize all the possibilities of mobile technologies.

Tin Can: Connecting Individuals without Cell Service or the Internet

Tin Can, a new mobile phone application, allows mobile phones to communicate with each other without cell service or connection to the Internet. According to developer Mark Katakowski, Tin Can allows users to contact other participating mobile phones within 100 feet. While this range appears limited, the relay capability is actually much larger, given that all recipients can relay the message to phones within 100 feet, so the radius of information becomes larger with each recipient.

This application uses Wi-Fi radio capability to connect users, but ultimately does not require any Internet connection. Tin Can is currently available for smart phones only but Katakowski hopes to expand its potential in the near future.

Tin Can has the potential to revolutionize how individuals in the developing world communicate with each other. In areas where cell and Internet service is both expensive and unavailable, Tin Can can connect individuals through basic communication and even data sharing, which is largely unavailable in many areas of the world. This innovation could prove especially useful in organizing civil society events or mobilizing large groups of people, a task often reserved for Twitter when available. Protest efforts, such as those recently occurring in Egypt and Turkey, could have benefitted from this technology. This technology highlights the capability of collective data sharing in times of crisis, as outlined by Patrick Meier in his 2011 Ted Talk.

Tin Can could prove especially valuable for broadcasting in protest settings, where many individuals are in close proximity.

Tin Can faces one dominant criticism: it could potentially enable the spread of viruses or malware and, given the source anonymity of mass messages, these malicious hacks are virtually untraceable. Katakowski is currently examining solutions to this problem and recognizes that this weakness prevents Apple from sponsoring the app at the present moment.

Read the full article here.

Texts Saving Lives? An eHealth Initiative in Tanzania


Usually when I ignore a text on my phone I manage to evade calamitous circumstances. However, the use of mobile and SMS technologies in ICT4D initiatives increasingly places greater importance on the act of sending a text.

As with many ICT4D initiatives, mobile SMS based projects have often failed to achieve their desired impact. Just as frequently, it is difficult to draw meaningful conclusions from their results, which may further complicate project design. Yet another challenge lies in the scaling up of successful projects for application in different areas.

Launched in 2009, SMS for Life is one example of a promising eHealth initiative with the potential to significantly increase the efficiency of supply chains for malaria drugs. This collaboration among IBM, Novartis, Vodafone, Roll-Back Malaria, and the Tanzania Ministry of Health and Social Welfare monitors the availability of malaria reduction drugs in Tanzania to reduce the number of malaria-related deaths through increased access to these medications.

SMS for Life works by sending healthcare staff automated text messages every Thursday, which prompt them to check their stock of anti-malarial drugs. The health workers then reply with this information via free SMS to the central database system. If they haven’t responded by Friday, they receive another text reminder. On Monday, the system sends this gathered information to a district management officer who makes the arrangement to deliver the needed supplies.

According to Vodafone’s Mobile Health Scientific Adviser Dr. Diane Sullivan, “The SMS for Life solution shows the tremendous potential of mobile technology to deliver social good through lateral thinking by helping to ensure supplies of life-saving drugs.” Indeed, 3rd party evaluation results from the six-month pilot program in 229 villages suggest that Dr. Sullivan’s optimism for this public-private partnership is well placed. At the beginning of the pilot, 26% of health facilities had no dosage of artemisian-based combination therapies (ACTs), while at the end of the program this figure was less than 1%. Additionally, over the course of the period stock-outs reportedly dropped from 79% to 26%. By the end of the pilot, the number of people with access to malaria treatments, including ACTs and quinine injectables, increased to 888,000 from 264,000.

One likely reason for the success of SMS for Life is the model of a public-private partnership that combines the expertise of business, government and NGO professionals. Too often these actors fail to coordinate their activities in an effective manner, or they leverage power against one another. The SMS for Life model has streamlined the medicine supply chain and ameliorated many of these concerns. Certainly, another great advantage of SMS for Life is the potential it has to be scaled up and applied in other areas. Over 5,000 health facilities across Tanzania are using the SMS for Life system. To date, plans are in place for country scale ups following pilot programs in Ghana, Kenya, and Cameroon. Furthermore, this model could also be used to monitor other medicines.

While the SMS for Life model has positive implications for health systems worldwide, it is important to recognize that the system is not a solution on its own. Reporting on the supply needs of rural health clinics will not be effective without sufficient infrastructure to deliver drugs to these facilities. In addition, corruption stands to interrupt even the most efficient supply chain. Mobile and SMS technologies can be hugely effective tools for the provisioning of eHealth services, but they can’t do all the work themselves.

Read more about the Novartis SMS for Life initiative here.