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.
In it’s own words e-Health International is an “innovative project that aims to significantly improve the health of individuals across the world in areas poorly served for health care.” e-Health International is trying to create an efficient web based platform that can facilitate access to education and telemedicine services to a myriad of health care providers, professionals, teachers and the public in general. The website is accessible from any web enabled device, but is intended to be especially helpful for users accessing the web from a mobile device/internet capable cell phone.
e-Health International has four main components:
- A community Portal providing a single online access point
- A e-Learning platform for awareness, education and training
- A geo-Health service using geographic information system technologies to improve monitoring and surveillance
- A telemedicine service including remote diagnostic and consultative tools
e-Health International recognizes the increasing global trend of m-Health, the use of mobile technologies to convey healthcare solutions (especially in the developing world). Their response to this trend is to combine these new technologies in e-Health, health education, geo-Health tools, and social networking to “promote health and develop solutions to tough health problems worldwide.
e-Health International is a really exciting concept to me. By acting as a facilitating hub for these developing technologies, they can provide cutting edge health services to anyone with a web capable cellphone around the world.
Link to the website: Here
When viewing ICT4D projects, it is easy to point out the flaws and failures that plague the majority of them. Whether it be infrastructure problems or improper assessment of the target population, it is disheartening to say that even the greatest ICT projects are unlikely to reach their goals. When you go online and search for ICT success stories, the pickings are slim, and every success is countered with a heavy but. However, through all of the negative stories I found one that made me rethink how people are defining failures.
Earlier in the year our class had previously discussed the M-PESA development project that allows cell phone users in Kenya to have mobile money services. The project deemed to be a huge success, and students in previous years have discussed in lengths about the benefits of this mobile banking program (See blogpost ‘Further Information on M-Pesa‘). With the undeniable benefits of this business in my mind, I was intrigued when I came across an article detailing of this projects failure.
In the article “Mobile Phones Will Not Save the Poorest of the Poor” authors Zimmerman and Meinrath discuss how projects such as M-PESA are ‘leaving a substantial portion of the nation’s poor in even more dire straits.’ They mention high costs and the resistance of mobile phone companies to expand infrastructure to the rural parts of Kenya, as reasons for M-PESA’s failure. However I found it hard to agree with them, leading me to question the extent as to why some projects are deemed failures.
In my mind M-PESA is a success, and although its services fail to impact everyone in Kenya, it is having a huge impact on those who are capable of using it. It is illogical to claim that this project is a failure, and the authors’s expectation of a development program to affect everyone is far-fetched. This article made me realize that just because some projects are labeled as a failure, it doesn’t mean that they truly are.
After reading Abraham’s research article “Mobile Phones and Economic Development: Evidence From the Fishing Industry in India” and our classes discussion on how ICTs can impact developing economies, I became really interested in other ways mobiles can help foster development. Throughout my research I stumbled across the Grameen Foundation, who has recently partook in the Community Knowledge Worker (CKW) initiative. This program “helps poor, rural farmers in Uganda by providing them with up-to-date, accurate information” through the use of smart phones (Grameen Foundation).
Community Knowledge Workers are local Ugandan natives who are equipped with smart phones in order to give ‘fellow farmers vital information on treating their diseased crops and sick animals, the best crops to plant and when to plant them based on weather forecast, and market prices at different locations (Grameen Foundation).” Much like the Farm Radio International initiative, CKW hopes to increase farming efficiency and productivity in order to advance Uganda’s developing economy.
In addition to financing these Workers, the Grameen Foundation is introducing the Ready Set, a solar panel that can charge up to ten phones per day or provide the village with up to ten hours of light. By adapting to such infrastructural drawbacks and recruiting native Ugandans, it seems that the CKW program will prove to be a sustainable development project. The video below highlights Grameen’s project and shows how the CKWs can help rural farmers fight ‘information poverty.’
An installment from the National Geographic series Digital Diversity that shows how “mobile phones are being used throughout the world to improve, enrich, and empower billions of lives” greatly coincides with the report by Farm Radio International, “The new age of radio: how ICTs are changing rural radio in Africa”. Both the report and the article state that radio is extremely important for agriculture and increases awareness productivity and knowledge. The article stated an interesting point that having other farmers speak on the radio creates a sense of community as well a larger impact. Rural farmers are more apt to take advice from people they can relate to and trust (like a fellow farmer) than a radio producer or radio host. The FRI report stated that there were some concerns about the availability of the shows since they are not always accesible, but the article states there is a higher chance of the farmers listening if they air them at night when they are relaxing in their homes.
The “two way” versus “one way” communication was also mentioned in the FRI report, letters being the only option for farmers to contact the hosts or programs, though the article shows that many are utilizing their mobile phones and texting in questions and comments (around 20 texts a week per program). The FRI report states that there are more listeners when the program sends out text alerts around 30 minutes before hand. Both these usages of SMS are beneficial, quick, and painless. The benefits of radio are not only seen in agriculture, many could be seen seen in other sectors such as health. For instance, how farmers find out how to prevent or treat poultry disease can be transferred for human diseases and treatments. Overal the widespread penetration, accessibility, and affordability of radios’ make them great for less developed nations and should be utilized more often.
Télécoms Sans Frontières or TSF is a telecommunications humanitarian aid organization that works in distasters areas to set up satellite-based telecoms centers that offer broadband Internet, phone and fax lines. The need for an organization of this sort was made evident to its founders after their visits to the former Yugoslavia and Kurdistan during the first Gulf War. They saw that large numbers of people were being displaced without any way to contact their families. With this in mind TSP was founded in July 1998, with the use of their first satellite phone, and worked almost exclusively in refugee camps providing the means for those effected to contact loved ones. After a number of years of working face to face with individuals to help them contact other individuals they opened up their first telecommunications center open to larger actors in humanitarian aid in 2001 in northern Afghanistan.
They operate out of three international bases in Thailand, Nicaragua, and France that monitor satallites 24/7 and can deploy teams to effected areas in a matter of hours. These teams set up telecommunication centers that provide phone lines and access to broadband internet. According to their website these telecomm centers allow people, “to send and receive information on logistics and urgent needs of the population in the early hours of a crisis” and “to strengthen coordination on the ground between local authorities, humanitarian agencies and organizations in the seats of the world.” (Translated by Google for easy reading). Their services also allow people to get personalized assistance and psychological support, facilitate family reunification and contact family abroad.
(Woman using a TSF phone at a telecommunication station.)
One of the characteristics of this program is to provide aid only when necessary and to to only stay until UN agencies or the local governments can set up more permeant lines of communication, which usually takes 45 days. Since their inception they have worked in over 60 countries, 600 NGOs and numerous UN agencies and governments.
TSF works on a different platform form that of Mission 4363 in that TSF provides both the service and the tools, such as laptops to access internet and phones to place calls, while Mission 4363 utilizes the technologies already present in a community. In providing the technologies those who use TSF as a way to communicate have to count on those they are trying to reach to have access to those same technologies. They also focus more on intracountry communication, unlike Mission 4363 that uses people from outside the effected areas to provide more information on locations and such that may not be available in the effected areas
Though the article title is perhaps optimistic, Salon’s recent “Smartphones Bust up the Digital Divide” provides a succinct outline of some numerical evidence of the recent global explosion of smartphone usage as well as its potential benefits in the developing world. The article cites data which states that in December of 2012, 23% of global website visits were conducted via mobile device, and this number continues to climb. Though it’s difficult to establish the exact effects that smartphones have had on the digital divide to date, Andrew Leonard points out the incredible advantages in efficiency offered by mobile devices and suggests that these benefits can and will be exploited on an ever-more-global scale. The article also cites Bill Clinton’s recent speech at the Consumer Electronics show (which has drawn negative attention for statements regarding gun control) in which he emphasized the economic and social benefits of Internet access via smartphone in developing countries. Though the William J Clinton Foundation has not previously demonstrated a focus on ICT4D, public endorsement by such a widely respected figure marks an important step for the field.
Another important statistic to note is that holiday PC sales fell this winter for the first time in 5 years, highlighting the ongoing paradigm shift in the field of computing and info tech. Indeed, the article mentions several times the “implosion of the now ancient desktop/laptop regime.” That being said, I’m not convinced that pocket-sized smartphone devices will ever fully eclipse the use of larger desktop computers for things like word processing and textual research. Cool stuff, though.