Information and news about mobile technology

Mobile Data TrafficMany poverty-stricken individuals do not have access to the internet, creating a digital divide. The COVID-19 pandemic has revolutionized mobile data traffic around the globe, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. Mobile broadband supports access to education, work, healthcare, goods and services. It plays an imperative role in reducing poverty. With nearly 800 million people in the region still without access to the mobile internet, it has never been more urgent to close the digital divide.

The Need for Mobile Broadband

According to Fadi Pharaon, president of Ericsson Middle East and Africa, the increasing demand for mobile broadband provides an unprecedented chance to improve economic conditions for Africa. Currently, Africa is one of the quickest growing technology markets.

In addition to younger populations requiring technology to develop practical computer skills, during the COVID-19 pandemic, access to the internet is also crucial for remote learning and remote work to continue development and economic progression.

In response to the pandemic, sub-Saharan African countries that were able to implement telework adaptations had considerably greater access to the internet, as much as 28 % of the population, as opposed to countries that were not implementing telework, at 17 %.

Due to the increase of digitalization during the pandemic, these developments are expected to positively contribute to the region’s economic recovery post-pandemic. Research suggests that expanding internet access to cover an additional 10% of the region’s population has the ability to increase gross domestic product (GDP) growth by one to four percentage points.

The Mobile Broadband Demand

Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) delivered over 4G or 5G is a more affordable alternative to providing broadband in areas with limited access. By 2025, FWA connections are expected to reach 160 million, accounting for 25% of global mobile data traffic.

The estimated total growth of mobile data traffic is from 0.87EB per month in 2020 to 5.6EB by 2026, an increase of 6.5 times the current figures.

To keep up with the demand, service providers are predicted to continue upgrading their networks to meet their customers’ evolving needs.

Additionally, networks expect to see an increase in customers purchasing mobile data subscriptions. Long-term evolution (LTE) was predicted to amount to 15% of subscriptions at the conclusion of 2020.

Novissi Digital Cash Transfers

The Novissi cash transfer program in Togo is an example of why mobile broadband access is important in developing countries. To support struggling people in Togo during COVID-19, instant mobile cash payments were made to their mobile phones to address urgent needs. The program provided more than half a million people with financial assistance during a crisis.

Closing the Digital Divide Reduces Poverty

Experts suggest that funding infrastructure, increasing electricity access and developing approaches to support digital businesses will aid in economic recovery and continue to close the digital divide. While sub-Saharan Africa has seen an acceleration of mobile data traffic during COVID-19, more action still needs to be taken to support its citizens post-pandemic. Providing affordable access to mobile phones, mobile broadband subscriptions and internet access will help support the recovering economy and alleviate poverty in the region.

Diana Dopheide
Photo:Flickr

Viamo’s ServicesOver the last two decades, cellphone ownership has steadily increased, with 73% of the world having mobile broadband connections in 2020. In response to this trend, a group of Canadian and Ghanaian engineers founded Viamo in 2012. Viamo is a social enterprise that uses mobile technology to distribute educational materials and compile data. Operating in more than 20 African and Asian countries, Viamo reaches millions of people a year. Over its eight-year existence, Viamo’s services have diversified thanks to partnerships with more than 500 organizations.

The 3-2-1 Service

This toll-free service offers educational content and interactive training through interactive voice response (IVR). IVR is an automated system that communicates with the listener through prerecorded or synthetic speech, thus removing the need for literacy. Furthermore, Viamo translates all content into local languages so it can reach the largest number of people.

Many of the partner projects that Viamo undertakes end up on the 3-2-1 Service once completed. For example, Viamo’s partnership with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) to create Link It, a mobile service meant to connect farmers to markets in Nepal, saw the finished product integrated into the 3-2-1 Service platform.

Another example comes from Mozambique, where Viamo partnered with a coalition of groups including Chemonics and USAID to create a storm warning system. This system has been a part of Mozambique’s 3-2-1 Service since its creation in 2016.

Besides these, Viamo’s services through 3-2-1 include audio dramas, news and children’s educational programs.

The diversity of the 3-2-1 Service has garnered it more users than Facebook in some countries, with thousands of people utilizing it at any point in the day.

Wanji Games

With the help of Viamo, Peripheral Vision International established Wanji Games. These edutainment games feature branching path narratives, where listeners role play scenarios ranging from navigating gender-based violence (GBV) to managing money. By exploring a scenario’s different endings, the player can gain a deeper understanding of the subject matter to apply it to their lives. Since these are accessible via the 3-2-1 Service, these games are free to play.

Engagement Campaigns

Viamo helps its partner organizations transmit information to the general population through its comprehensive mass messaging system combining IVR, chatbots, SMS, mobile apps and social media. For example, in the past, Viamo had remotely trained Rwandan healthcare workers on mental health using IVR.

Surveys, Polls and Call Centers

Viamo’s relationship with network operators grants it the benefit of having access to customers’ demographic information. As such, Viamo can distribute surveys and polls to achieve a sample representative of the general population. Furthermore, since network operators disclose a customer’s geographical location to Viamo, it can map the results.

Due to the conflict in South Sudan, the government has prohibited journalists from reporting in the country. To bypass this issue, Viamo and Forced Out created a phone survey to measure the displaced population in South Sudan. The survey found that the war had displaced more than 40% of the nation’s population. This provided the international community with statistics to properly gauge the scope of the refugee crisis.

Viamo also has a variety of call centers integrated into the 3-2-1 Service. One instance of this is Legal Aid Forum Rwanda. Victims can call the call center to get legal advice and possibly get connected to a lawyer who could represent them for free.

Viamo’s Reach and Future Impact

Viamo’s services have reached more than 10 million people. With plans to expand into new areas, such as Latin America, Viamo will continue to have an impact in the foreseeable future.

– Riley Behlke
Photo: Flickr

How Airtel Helped Millions of Africans Get ConnectedPrior to Airtel’s arrival, implementing and maintaining a large scale telecommunications company in Sub-Saharan Africa seemed unthinkable. But in 2009, when Airtel set up shop in Africa, the cell phone, once a luxury available only to the upper-class, became a simple and affordable tool for the average person. With 99 million subscribers, the company represents a game-changing shift in the accessibility of mobile connections in Africa, as well as providing employment to 1.6 million people across the continent. When its first major operation in Sub-Saharan Africa began in 2008 with the acquisition and transformation of smaller telecommunications companies within the continent, the face of the average African cellphone user began to shift dramatically.

Airtel: Providing Affordable Mobile Access

While it is difficult to measure the number of unique users of mobile phones, as of 2019, there were 747 million SIM connections in Sub-Saharan Africa, accounting for 75% of the population. The increased accessibility of cell phone access in this region is largely credited to Airtel’s groundbreakingly affordable prices, with a basic handset, SIM card and prepaid credit voucher available for just $20.

A portion of Airtel’s impact is also attributed to the company’s radical construction of cell phone towers across sub-Saharan Africa. Airtel has targeted the capitals of all 14 countries in which they operate, with 4G live in each city, and plans to expand to rural areas as well. The company’s largest investment has been Nigeria, with the construction of 30,000 towers across the nation. From 2008 to 2018, rates of Nigerian cell phone subscriptions rose from two million to 172 million.

One of the most significant causes of the rise of mobile connection in Africa can be found in Kenya, where rates of cell phone ownership rose from just 1% in 2002 to 39% in 2014. The effects of increased mobile connections in Kenya are exemplified by the development of its online economy through developments such as Kenya Internet Exchange Point, an international axis for the country’s mobile technology. Today, urban Kenya serves as a hub for novel advancements in information technology that serves populations across the globe.

Additionally, thanks to increased rates of cell phone usage, mobile banking in Kenya has become more widely available than ever before. The accessibility of online banking allows those abroad to easily send remittances to underserved populations in rural areas, without the hefty fees that once came with international money transfer. This cash flow allows rural populations to lead improved lives, bolster the local economy and help fill the gap between developed and developing nations.

Mobile Access Improving Education

Evidently, cell phones in Sub-Saharan Africa have also come to fill an important role in the world of education. In one 2015 field study, smartphones were found to be utilized by students and teachers alike as multipurpose tools for education.

At the student level, 37.5% of surveyed students in Ghana, 36.9% in Malawi and 60.9% in South Africa reported receiving funding for their education, including uniforms, books and lunches through their smartphones. Aside from a source of mobile money, school children also used smartphones for their calculator applications, internet search abilities and as a light source in areas with little to no electricity. In other words, smartphones fill crucial gaps for students with limited access to educational resources in and outside the classroom.

Likewise, in all three countries surveyed, teachers reported using their smartphones to access more detailed information in the classroom. As one teacher in Ghana reports, “I try to get current issues for illustration in class.” In short, the mobile connection in Africa represents radical economic growth that allows those stuck in poverty to become upwardly mobile and create better lives for themselves and their communities. By working to allow the average, often underserved person, to easily access a cell phone connection, Airtel has created a new world of possibilities for the future of development in Africa.

Jane Dangel
Photo: Flickr

4 Mobile Services Reducing Maternal and Child MortalityA woman in Africa is more likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth than a woman in Western Europe. The lack of nurses and midwives in comparison to Europe can make a significant impact on pregnancy and postpartum healthcare as well as maternal mortality in Africa. However, organizations and businesses are helping improve African women’s living conditions. Here are four mobile services reducing maternal and child mortality in Africa.

Springster

This mobile platform “connects marginalized and vulnerable girls to online content designed to equip them with knowledge, confidence and connections they need to navigate the complex choices of adolescence.”

Springster’s content can be accessed through social media channels like Facebook to provide a space for girls to engage in topics like puberty, education, money management and relationships. The app is based on sharing real-life experiences, helping girls make positive choices and change their lives for the better.

A major innovation with the app is Big Sis. Big Sis is a chatbot designed to provide personalized information about questions related to sexual health. This enables girls to find advice and answers 24/7. The app has impacted many girls’ lives with the reassurance and advice from shared stories and experiences from other girls like them. As a result, they are able to provide guidance and support from each other.

Mum & Baby

This service sends free health information via SMS three times a week to mothers, caregivers and partners. When people sign up for the service, they provide their age, location and stage of parenting they need help with from early pregnancy to taking care of a five-year-old.

After giving out personal information, Mum & Baby sends out personalized messages depending on the information given. Along with the messages, there is a free mobile site that does not use data. Instead, it offers articles, videos, tutorials and tools like the immunization calendar, due date calculator and pregnancy medicine checker.

A study was conducted to see the impact Mum & Baby has on people using the service. The study found 96% of users found the information via texts helpful and 98% of users say they would take action to care for themselves or their children.

Of the mothers and pregnant women surveyed, 95% of them say the information they received influenced their decision to breastfeed. Moreover, 96% of the people surveyed were influenced to get their kids vaccinated. More than 650,000 children were immunized as a result of free text messages.

RapidSMS in Rwanda

This mobile service has a similar style to Mum & Baby in the sense that it shares information via SMS. However, with this mobile platform, community health workers are equipped with mobile devices to collect and use real-time data on key maternal, neonatal and child health indicators.

The data is collected within the first 1000 days of life from pregnancy to childbirth to up to two years. This also includes a broad range of areas of childcare such as antenatal care, delivery, postnatal care, growth monitoring and even death indicators such as maternal and child mortality.

The indicators are recorded using the mobile platform and generate reminders for appointments, delivery and postnatal care visits. There is also an emergency care platform called Red Alerts. There is also a creation of a database of clinical records on maternal care delivery.

UNICEF did a study on RapidSMS to measure its effects on maternal and child mortality. It has contributed to some changes in the use of healthcare services and maternal and child mortality but has overall made improvements on health outcomes for mothers and children in Rwanda.

M-Mama’s Ambulance Taxi

This application “uses mobile technology to connect women in rural areas of Africa to emergency transport.” The project started in 2013 to help women in rural Tanzania gain access to healthcare where almost half of the women there give birth at home without the assistance of a healthcare worker. Many mothers and children die from preventable birth complications due to the lack of health systems and delayed access to care.

The people of M-Mama intend to change that and reduce maternal mortality rates which is a challenge faced by the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals.

The process of M-Mama’s ambulance taxi project starts when a patient makes a call to a 24-hour dispatch center. A call handler will then access the condition of the patient using the app, which would indicate whether the patient needs a transfer to a health facility. If healthcare is required, the nearest taxi will be notified and identified through the app, requesting the taxi driver to take the patient to the hospital. This way, taxis act as a cost-effective ambulance for the patient. The driver will then be paid after safely escorting the patient to the hospital.

Since M-Mama’s start, there has been a reduction in maternal mortality of 27% in the Lake Zone regions of Tanzania.

Conclusion

These mobile apps are reducing maternal and child mortality rates in Africa. Through the mobile services’ resources and aid, young girls can make better decisions and expecting mothers can get the help they need, despite their remote locations. Reducing maternal and child mortality by 1% can increase GDP by about 4.6% in African countries.

However, one issue that stands in the way is the lack of access to mobile phones and the internet. Women in Sub-Saharan Africa are 13% less likely to own a phone and 37% less likely to access the internet on mobile.

The more investment there is to reduce maternal and child mortality in Africa, the more it will generate social and economic benefits for Sub-Saharan Africa. To do that, governments and non-profit organizations need to work to close the gender gap and develop mobile health services. These efforts will help women be informed and make healthier decisions.

– Jackson Lebedun
Photo: Flickr

Innovative Projects Empowering WomenIn our booming technological world, the gender digital divide continues to suppress women’s access to technology and the global economy. In low- and middle-income countries, women are 10% less likely to own a mobile device than men, and 23% less likely to use the internet. A 2019 report from the GSMA highlights four main reasons for the divide, including affordability, literacy and tech-literacy rates, safety and security, and relevance to daily life. The report also estimates that closing the digital divide in just mobile internet usage by 2023 could increase GDP growth by $700 billion in low- and middle-income countries over the next five years.

Through the U.S. government’s Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative (W-GDP), presidential advisor Ivanka Trump and USAID Administrator Mark Green launched the WomenConnect Challenge. With this funding, initiatives seek to shrink the barriers of digital illiteracy and “technophobia” fueled by a lack of complex resources, such as Internet access or formal education. That these barriers unequally limit women and girls leaves entire populations further and further behind in an increasingly digital world. In the first round of the challenge in 2018, USAID awarded more than $2 million to an initial nine projects working to close gender-based digital divides. The W-GDP initiative hopes to connect 50 million women in developing nations by 2025.

The First Projects that Received Funding

  1. Mali Health – Launched in 2019, the Mali Health application’s trial run proved useful in the lives of 65 women, most of whom live under the poverty line. The women were provided with a smartphone as well as training on the app’s features. The app allows users to search for medical information, advertise their small businesses and connect with larger markets using voice navigation in their native language. An upcoming feature will allow users to voice-record their medical questions and receive a recording back from a doctor. Surveys from the trial run indicate that innovative projects empowering women with knowledge and information boost women’s views on gender equality.
  2. GAPI and Bluetown – GAPI-SI and technology partner Bluetown established the Women in the Network program in Ribaue, Mozambique in late 2019. The project created content “clouds” for locals to access at lower costs than traditional network access, as well as a rent-to-own cell phone program. Additionally, they are training a team of Ribaue women in technology and internet use so that they may bring this knowledge to their peers and promote widespread connectivity.
  3. GramVaani – Meri Awaz Meri Pehchan, or “My Voice My Identity”, is an app from GramVaani enabling women to connect with other women and spread important information securely in Bihar, India. The application is voice-based, removing the literacy barrier from the equation. Women are trained as “reporters” and sent to rural communities to play informational recordings. They gather voiced comments on topics ranging from government programs and water availability to women’s rights. Innovative projects empowering women such as GramVaani make an impact through the dissemination of knowledge, a resource that cannot be taken for granted.
  4. Viamo – The Calling all Women program from Viamo makes use of a voice-based informational platform called the 3-2-1 Service, which allows for individuals to share valuable information for free on topics like health, hygiene, and financial literacy. The information has reached over 150,000 people in Tanzania and Pakistan. Additionally, Viamo’s program includes recorded lessons for women on mobile technology and the internet to help bridge the gender digital divide.
  5. Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) – HOT’s project #LetGirlsMap trains women and male allies to map data from Tanzanian villages and report significant issues via mapping platforms. The program has reached 78 villages and has partnered with schools to gather and disseminate knowledge on gender-based violence and economic literacy. Such innovative projects empowering women and girls help them to confront gender norms and inequality while learning about technology and the economy.
  6. Evidence for policy design (EPoD) India at the Institute for Financial Management and Research (IFMR) – EPoD’s project Mor Awaaz utilizes a preexisting government program that is distributing 2 million mobile phones to women in rural India. Mor Awaaz offers training and voice-recordings for women on technological literacy and has reached 11,000 women so far, eliminating barriers like caste, mobility, and affordability.
  7. AFCHIX – Innovative projects empowering women like AFCHIX are addressing inadequate internet access in poor communities. AFCHIX created four women-led “community networks” in Kenya, Namibia, Morocco and Senegal. In these countries, women in community networks lead development projects to bring internet access to their communities and learn the skills needed to upkeep the hardware. They serve as both technicians and role models.
  8. Equal Access International – Based in Northern Nigeria, Equal Access International created the Tech4Families program to address the cultural norms that prevent women from accessing technology. Tech4Families launched a radio production in August consisting of twelve episodes that teach listeners about the benefits of technology and justify women’s use of technology via religion and social concepts. They will be meeting with families to discuss the show’s impact and the next steps toward destigmatizing the idea of women in tech.
  9. Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) – Low-income women in the Dominican Republic are often unable to access credit from financial institutions because they do not have a credit score. IPA, along with the World Bank, a couple of American universities, and other institutions use machine learning and specialized algorithms to redo the credit-earning criteria for women, separately from men. This will allow more women to gain financial credit, and many have reported that they will use the money for entrepreneurial endeavors, to feed their families, and to invest in education.

– McKenna Black
Photo: USAID

ShopUp Helps with Poverty Eradication in Bangladesh
Bangladesh’s economy has grown exponentially in the past 20 years. This raises its GDP per capita by 344% in total since the year 2000. In the last five years alone, this same figure surged 48%. Despite this progress, a significant portion of the country still lives below the poverty line — roughly 20% of a population of 164 million. Recent innovations in poverty eradication in Bangladesh are working to boost economic prospects and facilitate financial security for all of its citizens.

One of these innovations in poverty eradication in Bangladesh is the digital platform ShopUp. ShopUp is co-founded by Afeef Zaman, Siffat Sarwar and Ataur Chowdhury. It began with the goal to empower owners of Facebook businesses with the technical means to grow. More than 50% of Bangladeshis are self-employed. Many of them are operating e-commerce and social commerce shops through Facebook as their source of income. Also, it quickly became evident that clients’ lack of access to capital was hindering their businesses’ growth. After partnering with BRAC in 2018, a Bangladesh-based international development organization, ShopUp now aims to help small business owners acquire credit and other financials when they cannot afford the high cost of formal services.

How ShopUp Benefits Small Business Owners

Transaction records through sites like Facebook can be difficult to track and formalize for loan purposes. ShopUp automatically collects the relevant data from sales on Facebook Messenger. As a result, the merchant can more easily apply to loans from microfinance institutions. Furthermore, the process is quick. When a seller is ready to apply for a loan through ShopUp, the algorithm analyzes 25 different data points from the business’s profile. Additionally, it estimates an appropriate loan ceiling. It only takes 24 hours after approval for the financier to distribute the funds that the borrower requested.

Moreover, it increases access to capital. The service benefits microfinance enterprises by conducting a thorough and efficient online appraisal of the small business applying for the loan. Also, this allows for a significantly lower appraisal fee. This means a higher number of loans can be approved. Growth in the microfinance sector advances the market economy and creates more employment opportunities. In addition to financial assistance, ShopUp provides promotional assistance. Merchants can purchase advertisements for their shops via the service without needing to connect a bank account or credit card. Curated ad placement grants increased visibility. This results in a larger potential customer pool for emerging businesses.

Gender discrimination in Bangladesh means that women tend to face more barriers than men when it comes to employment. With ShopUp’s low cost and ease of access, it is an effective tool for female entrepreneurs to start their small businesses. Women’s participation in the labor force in Bangladesh rose to 36.2% in 2019, in part, due to the expanding market of e-commerce. Furthermore, that same year, 80% of ShopUp’s users were female.

Continued Growth of ShopUp

Investors recognize the potential for ShopUp to increase innovations in poverty eradication in Bangladesh. The founder of eBay, Pierre Omidyar, led a seed round in 2018 encouraging other major companies to assist in funding ShopUp’s endeavors. Google and Amazon were among the contributors for this round which resulted in a $1.62 million investment in the digital service. Data collected in January 2019 show that the platform served 380 individuals after launching the partner project with BRAC. This means it lends out a total of more than 3.1 million (BDT).

ShopUp is just one example of the innovations in poverty eradication in Bangladesh that are putting the country on track to continue its recent economic growth. Widespread Internet usage facilitates a digital market economy that has already provided new opportunities for financial gain. Having accessible services within the market for lower-income individuals is a crucial step in the process.

Jennifer Paul
Photo: Flickr

Innovations in Poverty Eradication in Turkey
Turkey is a nation that sits on Europe’s gateway to the Middle East. The country is physically located between Greece and Bulgaria on the European front and Syria, Iraq and Iran in the Middle East. Concerning rates of absolute poverty in Turkey, the numbers have decreased from 36.5% to 9.3%, since 2003. Also, Turkey ranks as the 19th largest economy in the world. However, recent financial challenges are threatening that status and potentially, future progress. Before there was a need to deal with the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, Turkey tackled the Syrian refugee crisis. In this line of action, Turkey took on the responsibility of integrating and assimilating 4 million refugees. Fortunately, foreign organizations like the World Bank have made innovations in poverty eradication possible, empowering Turkey to pursue avenues of poverty eradication through domestic ventures.

Innovations in Poverty Eradication in Turkey (Rural Poor)

Policymakers in Turkey are aware of the weakest sector, namely agriculture. Both geographically and socially, workers in the agriculture sector in Eastern and Southeastern Anatolia, experience the highest poverty rate in the country. This figure is reported at 46.6%.

Development projects have been proposed by Turkey and are supported by a specialized U.N. agency called the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). The rural poor have been receiving aid for the last 30 years from the IFAD, amounting to about $189 of $661 million, spent across 10 projects. Notably, this aid has impacted 1.3 million households. Importantly, the IFAD has targeted rural infrastructure, which has been their greatest investment. The construction of roads in villages, as well as investments in irrigation, led to the improvement of markets and mobility. In a broad analysis, these elements in society help improve the quality of life for the rural poor. Moreover, it is the rural poor who are most affected by inequality and a lack of resources.

Innovations in Poverty Eradication in Turkey (Refugees)

The Emergency Social Safety Net program (ESSN) was implemented in November 2016, to provide refugees with their essential needs via monthly cash transfers. Innovations in poverty eradication in Turkey are crucial as poverty affects about 76% of ESSN refugees. The Facility for Refugees administers ESSN in Turkey and the E.U. (i.e. its member states) also have a financial stake in the program. This makes the ESSN the largest-ever humanitarian aid program financed by the E.U.

The World Bank also plays a major role in poverty eradication efforts and calculations in Turkey. The World Bank recently reported that the implementation of phone surveys is underway, to help mediate the refugee population. As a result, Turkey is now able to track levels of poverty and assimilation among refugees within five subnational regions.

Ultimately Turkey has the right programs and the right international bodies in place to continue trying to combat poverty. Yet, poverty in Turkey remains complex. In addition to the reality that COVID-19 disproportionately affects poorer communities, Turkey must be mindful of integrating millions of refugees with different backgrounds, into Turkish society. Having fewer resources to do so, the government agenda necessitates a shift to a focus on the economic crisis.

– Ilke Arkan
Photo: Flickr

Mobile BankingMicrofinance programs are a popular development tool that gives poor households loans and access to formal banking and other financial services so that they can generate income and market their enterprises. Others have questioned the true extent of the effectiveness of this bottom-up approach to development in actually reducing poverty in recent years. However, the rise in access to mobile banking in the developing world brings hope of a new generation of microfinance.

Microfinance as a Development and Poverty Reduction Policy

Mobile phones have been one of the fastest-growing devices in the developing world. International reports found that global mobile phone ownership is growing exponentially, especially among young people in emerging economies. Although ownership is higher in developed economies, a median of 45% of people in developing countries now owns a cell phone compared to only about 25% 10 years ago. The new groups of people with access to technology have created opportunities both for investors and the world’s poor.

Mobile banking accounts and transactions are now accessible in two-thirds of the developing world. Moreover, they are beginning to exceed the number of traditional banking methods in some regions. This growing market is not only multiplying the success of banks but also giving entrepreneurs new ways of selling and profiting from their labors. Through mobile banking services, customers are also gaining access to loans and insurance to protect themselves and their families if they become vulnerable to falling back into poverty.

Mobilizing Myanmar

Mobilizing Myanmar is a prime example of the impact of these new financial programs. A woman from Myanmar started this program to increase tech and communication access for women and the poor with the support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. She was inspired by having limited connections during her childhood in Myanmar. In 2013, the program noted that SIM cards cost over $2,000 USD and now, thanks to its hard work and partnerships with the Myanmar government, over half of the adult population has a cell phone. The successes of this approach to microloans and development has gained the attention of major international aid organizations due to its potential to boost people out of extreme poverty. This is because reports have indicated that users had better health outcomes, more financial stability and security and new sources of income.

Benefits of Mobile Banking

Mobile banking has also been more accessible for users who are illiterate as many apps are pictorial, especially those pertaining to farming. Agricultural productivity is yet another opportunity for mobile finance services to increase market access and demands. Mobilizing Myanmar also cites access to a phone and mobile money as an opportunity for online learning for children unable to attend school. It also presents new opportunities for women in the developing world as approximately 42% of women across the globe are not incorporated into the formal financial system. Mobile banking can help women gain control of their household finances. It has also proven effective as a means for group savings in parts of Myanmar.

While questions remain in many regions of access to a cell tower of even basic electricity to power cell phones in order to operate mobile banking, the cost of setting up these systems is a relatively low-cost investment. Also, once set up, these financial systems and microcosms, with regulations in place, can sustain themselves and reinvest in their communities. Thus, although mobile banking is by no means a perfect solution to lifting the world out of poverty, it has proven to be an effective development tool and a reliable investment. Mobile banking is just one way that modern technology can help the world’s poor lift themselves out of poverty.

Elizabeth Stankovits
Photo: Flickr

mobile phone developmentWith simple communication, monitoring and data collection, the full capabilities of mobile phone technology in developing countries are being put to work. Keep reading to learn more about the benefits of mobile phone development in developing countries.

Monitoring

Monitoring and regular, real-time updates on the conditions of everything from crops to the spread of disease are a huge help for organizations dedicated to mobile development. Farmers can use a wireless sensing network (WSN) to monitor crop and soil conditions as well as irrigation systems for better water management. Simple, inexpensive and low-powered sensing nodes communicate information directly to farmers’ mobile devices. Farmers can also use their mobile devices to check and monitor rising and falling market prices.

In 2013, UNICEF partnered with Ugandan farmers to track and monitor the spread of banana bacterial wilt, a disease that threatens bananas, one of Uganda’s major food staples. Through mobile phone polling, UNICEF was able to map the areas of farmland where bananas were infected and bring that vital information directly to farmers.

Health workers are also utilizing mobile monitoring particularly to track and prevent the spread of infectious diseases. Innovative Support to Emergencies Diseases and Disasters (InSTEDD) is a data collection software used to record incidents of communicable disease. Health departments in Thailand and Cambodia have piloted an early warning disease surveillance initiative. Using SMS, InSTEDD has been used to track diseases at the local and national level. Health officials hope that the use of such mobile development will help them track, prevent and prepare for potential disease outbreaks.

Communication and Information Delivery

SMS provides a cheap and fast means of communication. Although a very basic messaging service, it is compatible with even the cheapest mobile phones. Even this simple text service is being put to work to improve lives around the world. In 2014, IntraHealth International and UNICEF created mHero, a two-way mobile phone-based communication system. Using SMS, ministries of health exchange real-time information and data with health workers in the field. This timely flow of communication helps health workers perform better-informed care and provides them with reliable support.

Rapid communication is also being used to alert residents in Bangalore, India to water availability. In Bangalore, people may have to wait up to 10 days for water to be available. NextDrop is a phone-based program that uses text messaging to notify residents when their water will next be available. With 75,000 registered users, NextDrop communicates vital, timely information about the water availability, so that residents need not waste their days waiting.

Data Collection

Polling, surveys and civilian reports have long been used to supply organizations with information about the populations they are serving to provide better and more efficient aid. Mobile phones reduce the need for face-to-face interviews to collect data as well as cut costs of landline calls, allowing health workers to reach more people in less time. With larger pools of responders, health surveys inform officials of a more complete summary of the population. The Performance Monitoring and Accountability 2020 (PMA2020) is a global survey project with the goal of providing women and girls with access to modern contraceptive methods by 2020. Through household surveys, PMA2020 collects fertility data to estimate the total fertility rate of a given country.

UNICEF created their own reporting system using mobile devices called U-Report. This messaging and reporting tool empowers users to speak out about issues that matter most to them. Active in 53 countries and with more than 6 million users, U-Report has been used to engage in issues from employment discrimination to child marriage. Data is then shared with policymakers so that they can make informed decisions. U-Report can be used with multiple messaging services including SMS so that even users with basic mobile phones can participate. The service is free and anonymous to encourage as many users as possible to report. UNICEF utilized U-Report’s messaging system to send alerts to users living in the path of Hurricanes Irma, Jose and Maria and using SMS shared vital information with families during the major floods in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.

With the help of mobile devices, almost every corner of the world is reachable, from the poor living in the largest cities to the most rural communities. Aid organizations are making vital use out of the communication and data collection capabilities to help those who are most in need. Mobile development is helping to ensure that everyone has the tools and information to make informed decisions, ask for assistance, and pull themselves out of poverty.

– Maya Watanabe
Photo: Flickr

Technological consumer base in West AfricaThe whole of Africa is known for being an incredibly poor continent. While improvements have been made in certain aspects of life that have provided citizens with better and easier lives in some regions, Africa is still in need of advances that work towards lessening poverty throughout this vast nation. The growing technological consumer base in West Africa, particularly the digital economy and mobile outreach, is becoming a very big deal.

When it comes to technological advances in smaller countries or regions of countries, some nations are way ahead of others. This is largely due to the fact that certain countries have more money than others to invest in these advancements. Even though money may be limited, some areas have found ways to achieve technological improvements.

The technological consumer base in West Africa has experienced a major increase in users in only a decade. Subscribers for the mobile economy of West Africa have reached 47 percent, up from 27 percent ten years ago. These advancements have created new opportunities for government, various industries, start-up businesses, and more. A conference held in April 2018 addressing West Africa’s digital revolution in the last ten years revealed two major factors that contributed to this new digital age: people and technology. People are the ones who rely on, create, and consume technology in increasing numbers while technology and technological advancements continue to broaden their impact the more they are improved upon. The conference was devoted to these two factors in an attempt to bring continued support for integrating mobile and digital technology into society in these regions and bolstering the new growing base of users.

An example of the impact of the increasing technological consumer base in West Africa occurred in 2017. To begin, 85 percent of the world’s population lives in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Large companies such as Google realize that what works for citizens in western culture may not work in the most heavily populated regions of the world. When 1GB of data can cost a consumer almost 10 percent of monthly income, better user options must be considered to grow the consumer base. Recognizing this, Google broadened the YouTube Go app to Nigeria. This app is data-friendly and allows viewers to save and watch videos offline. Google also created an app called Datally for Android which helps users conserve data. As an internet conglomerate, Google realizes that areas like West Africa are the future of the world’s growth. It focuses on ways to enable these areas to grow in a technological age and improve life for its citizens.

Organizations, such as the World Bank Group, have been promoting a digital economy in all parts of Africa. A digital economy will connect Africa’s citizens to various industries, services, information, and each other. In addition, it will provide people with a digital ID to validate their identity and help them connect to necessary government services. Citizens will also gain easier access to formal financial services including mobile money, such as e-commerce and online markets. West Africa’s most recent technological developments and increasing consumer base provide proof that these advancements are possible, they work in these regions, and they make life better for its citizens. This can influence other regions of Africa to continue developing a digital economy.

West Africa’s growing technological consumer base is a possible stepping stone to a better future for Africa as a continent. This growth of the digital economy in Africa that will give citizens much-needed resources, provide more economic opportunities, and create a better way of life.

– Haley Saffren
Photo: Flickr