Tag Archives: mobile technology

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.

Personalized Development

A recent article in the Washington Post discussed the new use of mobile information technology in revamping the health care system. Ritu Agarwal, founder and director of the Center for Health Information at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, suggests an alternative to the current system. He suggests the creation and implementation of mobile technology that tracks and maintains the users information regarding health and their behaviors, ultimately serving as a constant reminder to stay on track. He calls for a restructuring of how Americans do health care to “personalized medicine,” where medicine, prevention, and treatment is entirely tailored to the individual.

In the American system of scientific medicine, doctors take a passive role in responding to patient’s systems as they arise. The holistic approach involves the individuals lifestyle and emphasizes prevention over treatment. So is it possible that the advent of mobile information technology can actually create a more holistic approach to healthcare? Could technology be used to help return the ways of our world to its more natural roots?

I believe so. But I also believe it could be used for much more. In many developing countries  the current health care systems are so inefficient and poorly managed that the implementation of “personalized medicine” would be meaningless. However, the International Telecommunications Industry’s 2012 report gives evidence that mobile technology is on the rise. Globally, active mobile broadband subscriptions increased nearly 40% from 2010 to 2011. This growth jumps to nearly 80% in the developing world in the same year . With the ubiquitous of mobile technology, couldn’t this “personalized healthcare” approach be transformed to “personal development.” Imagine software that helps an individual track their budget, warns them when an area has becomes dangerous, informs a woman on methods to confront her husband regarding contraception. Development, as we all know, is not one size fits all. What if we could tailor development to the individual?

Mobile Phones and Social Media

As we discussed in class, the World Economic Forum recently created the Global Information Technology Report. One topic in the report stood out to me. It was about social networking. I read that since its beginning six months, Google Plus had over 40 million users while it took Facebook over three years to reach a little over 20 million. That was really shocking to me.

But more interestingly, mobile broadband has been creating many shifts and has made significant changes in the industry. Many prominent internet sites such as Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft are now extremely focused on mobile devices and how to create the best user experience. Facebook recently state that over 250 million people actively use Facebook through mobile devices (being more active in this way than non-mobile users). And Microsoft’s next PC operating system (Windows 8) is being designed to run on processors that are used in mobile phones today. I remember the first cellular phone that I came across when I was about 6 years old. It is truly crazy to think how quickly mobile technology and social networking has advanced so quickly.

Mobile Phones, and now internet, come with us almost everywhere we go and now are personalized and tailored for our specific needs and interests, which are unique to each person. The report recognizes that mobile broadband has the potential to impact important aspects of societies such as healthcare, education. Mobile broadband has the capacity to empower individuals in ways that were not even dreamed of a few years back. It is crazy to think how far we have come so quickly.

Here is a map of mobile phone history and usage:


The Importance of ICT Accessibility

When I first approached the subject of ICT4D I was somewhat skeptical of the immediate need of information and communications technology in developing countries. I figured that programs focusing in on healthcare, education, and gender equality are more important to the developing world. However, through this week’s lecture and a recent article on RYOT.com, I realized that it is through the use of ICTs that these three ideals are able to be promoted and sustained.

During this week, we discussed that one of the main problems with the spread of ICTs is the difficulties of accessibility. Without proper devices or nearby locations to access such technologies, there is little hope for ICTs to spread and help develop these countries. In order to fight this obstacle, Earth Institute Director Jeffery Sachs has pledged to train 1 million health workers in sub-Saharan Africa. This new campaign provides workers ‘mobile phone and broadband access to sophisticated medical resources’ in order to deliver health care to the rural poor.

Jeffery Sachs, along with Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Novartis CEO Joseph Jimenez announced the campaign earlier this week, and have hopes to ‘equipping and deploying one million health care workers by the end of 2015’ across sub-Saharan Africa. This pledge of ICTs to rural Africa will have huge impacts on these countries which are plagued with disease and have high maternal and child mortality rates. Through the accessibility of such simple technologies, the largely incompetent health care services in sub-Saharan Africa have the potential to develop and modernize.

ICT’s During Natural Disasters

In her article , over a year ago, Suzanne Choney suggested different ways to utilize the ICT’s at your fingertips during Hurricane Irene. The article is fairly informative, explaining how to take advantage of facebook, what Twitter accounts to subscribe to, and which Federal Department websites to regularly check. This is all well and good, but as Ms. Cohen put it on Thursday “we need to stop focusing on the next new shiny technology and really start bringing some value to people in need through our ICT use.” This is a great point because while the average Joe is more excited about the new Angry Birds app coming out, there are much more impactful technologies we could be initiating. One class member suggested that these disaster time services should be provided to everyone with a mobile phone – not just smart phones, and potentially provided without internet access. This is a great idea, especially considering how quickly the internet goes when a hurricane hits. Choney provides some very beneficial services, including the American Red Cross facebook page, the Dept. of Homeland Security homepage, and the @NotifyNYC Twitter page. These are all incredible resources, but when you take into account the reach they effect without a clear internet connection they lose a lot of their value.

Using Cell Phones to Combat Poverty

New research has found that social media and access to ICT is a confirmed pathway out of poverty. This finding is huge in the ICT world because it proves that merely a mobile phone can lead to an increase in income. This kind of result is something that academics, government officials, and NGOs have been looking for to confirm a way to overcome poverty and inequality. This study occurred during 2008 and 2010 where, during dramatic food price increases and economic crisis, “the income of the poorest people who had access to mobile phones went up.”

An African woman using a mobile phone in her village.

Adding education and entrepreneurship skills, another finding suggests, increases income even further. How? Well, mobile phones can be used to grow income with communication networks, checking on food prices, job offers, or even finding ways to send money to relatives. Farmers in Uganda and Rwanda can send SMS messages to a free number to hear what coffee prices are in local markets. M-Pesa, the East Africa mobile-based service that we studied in class, was discussed as a hugely successful initiative that enabled 17 million people to deposit, withdraw, and transfer money.

What experts are looking to do is to “create platforms that bypass traditional barriers of cost and accessibility and equip youth with the skills and information they need to seek out opportunities.” The mobile technology can become a bridge to many different connections. Like the case studies that we looked at in class regarding India, Kenya, and Afghanistan, given the chance, mobile phones can make a huge difference.

Role of Mobile Based Applications in India’s Social and Economic Transformation

This article examines India’s growth in the technology sector over the last decade and discusses the socio-economic impacts of recent increases in mobile technology.  Today, india is experiencing “technology leapfrogging” in the telecom industry.  The term “technology leapfrogging” is used frequently in this paper; it describes the bypassing of technological stages that other countries have gone through.1  India is further along in the ICT development process than many LDC’s; mobile technology is both accessible and utilized by both the rich and the poor.

What struck my interest about this paper is the classification of mobile applications into two major categories: “lifestyle enabling mobile applications” and “livelihood enabling mobile applications.”  Lifestyle applications refer to those “used primarily by the rich and the middle class users, who are mobile, computer literate and have access to information. The primary objectives of these kinds of applications are for entertainment, increasing productivity and improving the ease of life.”  Livelihood applications are “targeted at the bottom of the pyramid and the poor category. The primary objectives are social inclusivity, social and economic coverage, solving the information asymmetry, raising the income potential.”  This distinction between mobile technology applications based on the user profile makes it much easier to accurately gauge progress on an individual level.

The authors suggest a “causal relationship within the same country between higher mobile penetration and higher economic growth.”  To support this, they provide a very useful statistic, which I think supports many of the concepts we have been learning about in class: that “Indian states with high mobile penetration can be expected to grow faster than those states with larger mobile penetration rates, by 1.2% points a year more on average for every 10% increase in the penetration rate.”  I think that it is very impressive that increases in penetration produce an increase in the rate of growth.

While this isn’t my country for our class, I think this article is very insightful because it shows ICT development in a country that has already made some progress in this sector.  It talks about challenges for development at this level.  These challenges and potential problems differ from those I have read about for Madagascar, which is much lower on the ICT development scale than India.

Additional citation: 1http://www.ictregulationtoolkit.org/en/Section.1829.html

Innovation in the African Context; Mobile Phone Charging Solution in Kenya

According to the report, Gender Assessment of ICT Access and Usage in Africadiffusion of ICT is highly uneven in the African context, with use concentrated in urban areas, leaving rural areas almost untouched (Gillwald, Milek & Stork). As we have discussed in class, access to these technologies is limited by income, gender, and education. With knowledge of these constraints, I seek to explore the arrival of high-speed internet links in Kenya, which is  best exemplified by the thriving mobile phone market to be found there. Although cell phones have become increasingly available, Kenyans face a problem that we are unaccustomed to considering in the United States; access to a power source.

Pascal Katana was well-aware that electricity sockets are hard to find in Kenya. He also knew that bikes are everywhere, which has lead to an ingenious Kenyan solution for charging mobile phones. I highly encourage all of you to watch this short video. Katana has created a method of charging mobile phones using the energy generated by bicycles!

It is important to remember that the ICT4D movement provides an incentive for creativity, invention, and resourcefulness.  This is an example of a tread in innovation with the potential to narrow the user divide, especially in terms of rural versus urban use.

Ken Banks of BBC offers insights in his article, Mobiles offer lifelines in Africa

“If there’s one thing I’ve noticed over the past 16 years working on-and-off in Africa, it’s this. Africans are not the passive recipients of technology many people seem to think they are. Indeed, some of the more exciting and innovative mobile services around today have emerged as a result of ingenious indigenous use of the technology” (Banks 2009)

Some examples of this innovation cited in Bank’s article. Definitely worth exploring:

  • Service called “Call Me:” customers can send a fixed number of free messages per day when they’re out of credit requesting someone to call them (this came about after the practice of calling someone’s phone and hanging up to indicate that they wanted to talk).
  • Now, in a growing number of African countries payments for goods and services can be made through your mobile phone
  • Pascal Katana (recent inventor of the bicycle charger!) invented a “Fish Detector” which is able to “acoustically detect shawls of fish and alert nearby fishermen by SMS”.
  •  Morris Mbetsa invented “Block & Track” mobile phone-based anti-theft and vehicle tracking system.

I wonder however, how this ingenuity applies to the gender ICT gap. Kenya is cited in Gender Assessment of ICT Access and Usage in Africaas having a mobile phone ownership disparity that I see as being relatively large. Surveys show that 58% of men own mobile phones, while only 49% of females have ownership (Table 6, pg. 12).

I had the opportunity to travel throughout Kenya this summer. Even in rural Maasai villages, I saw cell phone use by the dominant males. However, it was not the cultural norm for women to even speak in such villages. They certainly did not have cell phones. In urban settings, such as outside of Nairobi, men and women had phones. But I did notice many more men using them than females. I feel it is also worthy to note that I never saw women on bicycles. I find myself wondering, will Katana’s invention add to the gender disparity?

“The Digital Divide Will Cease to Exist”

According to IBM researchers, the digital divide will cease to exist in five years, with the prediction of 80% penetration of mobile divises in the world. The argument is that with this level of penetration, communities will be able to access the information that will lift them out of poverty. Weather reports will help them determine when to fertilize crops, and mobile technology will help them more easily determine when services will reach them.

I argue that this is a very narrow view of the digital divide. This argument does not take into account the fact that even if these communities have access to mobile phones, electricity may be a problem. More than that, accessing information in their own language, or knowing how to most effectively use phones (ie. mobile banking etc.) Along with this comes the fact that even as mobile devices are pentrating the developing world, the western world is still developing new technology every day. There is nothing to say that something may revolutionize our way of living just as mobile technology has, that the poorest of the poor will not have access to.

Though I do agree with the sentiment that in some very specific ways the digital divide is growing smaller, I believe IBMs argument lacks a broader view of what the digital divide is, and how hard it will be to truly change.

Transformation of ICT and the Use of Mobile Technology

Throughout time, we have seen incredible transformations of information and communication technologies. In its earliest forms, information has been shared through old evidence of writing, smoke signals, drums and other primitive means of communication.  However, in recent years, we have seen an unprecedented growth of information and communication technologies, dubbing this time period the ‘information age’.  In particular, the rapid growth of mobile cellular technology has revolutionized the way in which individuals from impoverished and isolated communities function and access information.

In Africa, the growth of mobile technology has created many opportunities to improve the healthcare and wellbeing of many citizens.  In 1994, the first mobile network was launched, however such technology was scarce and costly.  In 2012, mobile has become much more accessible, with 65% mobile penetration and becoming the fastest growing mobile market in the world.

An interesting company that I came across is called Praekelt, which provides mobile services and technologies for emerging markets and marginalized communities throughout Africa.  They created a product called TxtAlert, which sends automated text messages to patients that may not have airtime on their phone. The tool can remind HIV-positive individuals to take their medication, inform patients of upcoming appointments or allow for rescheduling of appointments.  Clinics have the ability to send a “Please Call Me” message to patients and then a TxtAlert operator will call the patient and assist with the appointment.