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