Information and news about mobile technology

Smart Feature PhonesAccess to computing technologies and the internet are key to economic success in today’s post-industrial world. However, around 3.4 billion people, according to the Wall Street Journal, still do not have internet access. Smart feature phones may be key to increasing economic development in lower-income regions such as Africa.

Smart Feature Phones vs Smartphones

The primary barrier of a smartphone is financial: even the cheapest smartphones cost hundreds of dollars, a cost that is beyond the reach of many people in developing countries. On the other hand, smart feature phones can sell for as low as $20. Smart feature phones have a retro look but allow for plenty of modern features, including web browsing, email access, cameras and GPS systems. Compared to smartphones, the processing power of smart feature phones is limited, the screens are small and they lack advanced features such as high-tech camera lenses. Still, the absence of these extra features allows for longer battery life and greater durability, which are both major benefits for people in rural areas.

Mobile Phone Benefits

Mobile phones can greatly improve productivity in less ostensibly technological industries. Mobile phones are especially useful in industries such as agriculture where agriculture apps allow farmers greater market access and help increase their agricultural output. Mobile banking allows for safer and more stable commerce and marketing is often far easier and more effective online than in person. Additionally, remote communication between workers can maximize efficiency and weather advisory apps can improve productivity in any outdoor job. All of these functions are completely feasible on smart feature phones. Even illiterate people are able to use smart feature phones as models such as the KaiOS JioPhone features an extensive voice command system.

Increasing Popularity

KaiOS Technologies, a leading company in the smart feature phone industry, has spent much of the mid-2010s developing a mobile phone and operating system that can help stimulate emerging markets in the developing world. The company has formed partnerships with large telecommunications companies such as Orange and MTN, which are major operators in West Africa and South Africa respectively. So far, KaiOS’s efforts are paying off and the smart feature phone industry as a whole is growing rapidly. MTN alone plans on selling 10 million KaiOS-based phones between 2020 and 2023. Furthermore, smart feature phones have experienced “a 252% growth in demand in 2018.” KaiOS’s flagship product, JioPhone, is also selling well in India.

The Need for Infrastructure

As revolutionary as smart feature phones could be, the phones are not very useful without a reliable source of electricity and internet access. In 2017, only 22% of African people were connected to the internet, according to the International Finance Corporation. While some Africans lack internet access because they do not own a device, some are unable to access the internet due to high costs, lacking area connectivity and limited access to electricity.

The East African Cable System (EASSy), which launched in 2010, runs through 20 African states, reducing broadband costs by around 90%. EASSy has brought internet access to more than 250 million African people. In doing so, EASSy has contributed to economic growth in sectors, “increasing employment in some areas by as much as 10%.” Furthermore, internet expansion has helped East Africa increase its GDP by 14% since 2009.

The Road Ahead

Smart feature phones are on the rise in the developing world and may accelerate economic growth due to their affordability and digital functions. In the coming decades, these phones may significantly help formerly impoverished nations become major players in the global economy.

– Sawyer Lachance
Photo: Flickr

AgUnity fights PovertyAgUnity is a global technology platform working to provide rural farmers with cellphones equipped with technologies that aim to make agricultural work more efficient. Since its founding in 2016, AgUnity’s digital solution fights poverty by using cellphones to allow farmers the tools and resources to thrive in global supply chains. AgUnity’s technology provides resources to the “last mile,” or to those living in poverty in rural communities worldwide. Through “technology that builds bridges,” AgUnity fights poverty by allowing for both digital and financial inclusion in the agricultural sectors of developing countries.

How AgUnity Works

AgUnity operates through a “Super-App” that aims to reach remote communities and users, create strong lines of trade and solve issues involving transparency and transportation. The award-winning platform provides simple, connective and secure remote support at a low cost, with its operations securely recorded on a “dedicated blockchain ledger.” The company relies on extensive partnerships, a strong global network and “a framework of trust.”

One significant feature of AgUnity’s technology is the built-in digital identity (KYC) feature. This digital user ID records business transactions, and thus, empowers farmers to build a credit history. Having a credit history is essential for obtaining access to financial services such as banking, loans and insurance.

Another key feature is living income data, which tracks the impact of projects by monitoring the changes in income of farmers and their surrounding communities. This feature also helps farmers create a consolidated income record that can help them access credit and financial services.

Finally, the transaction record feature fosters cooperation between farmers and other stakeholders, reducing the likelihood of corruption in business activities. Despite the features’ centrality to the Super-App, AgUnity prides itself on constantly improving and expanding upon the app. AgUnity stresses the importance of not assuming all solutions will be universally successful. Instead, it regularly adjusts its technology to meet the unique needs of different places, communities and time periods.

AgUnity’s Progress

Today, AgUnity’s technology is utilized in nine countries with 328 total contracted cooperatives since its founding in 2016. The company’s work is recognized by major organizations such as the International Finance Corporation, the Mastercard Foundation and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N.  In addition, in September 2020, AgUnity beat hundreds of competitors in a competition held by Startup Avalanche, winning €200,000 worth of investment funding.

AgUnity’s COVID-19 Response

Given that the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately impacts those living in poverty, AgUnity prioritizes using its technology to help those who have experienced heightened financial hardships as a result of the virus. Specifically, in May 2020, the company started planning for a new initiative called AgUnity Response. The initiative will use the original AgUnity platform “to keep farmers in the food supply chain that have suffered from effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The platform will allow farmers to directly transact with consumers to help address the supply chain disruption caused by lockdowns and social distancing. In this way, AgUnity fights poverty. With the AgUnity Response App, products move from the farmer straight to a delivery driver, and then, to the buyer. This limits unnecessary handling in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Furthermore, “the AgUnity Response App is specifically tailored for farmers in rural and remote areas and for farmers with low-literacy, low-technology usage.” At the time of the initial announcement, the company was in the process of raising funds for the new venture.

Overall, AgUnity’s success in fostering economic empowerment is a strong example of the power of creativity and technological innovations in contributing to the global fight against poverty. As the company grows, its positive impact on people’s lives is sure to grow as well.

– Nina Lehr
Photo: Unsplash

Branch App The world of financial technology has a lot to offer low- and middle-income countries. Financial technology is essential to accelerate poverty reduction and enhance the growth and development of developing nations. One such innovation in financial technology is a mobile lending app called Branch. The Branch app has tapped into Africa’s emerging markets and the results are inspiring.

The Branch App

Branch offers mobile financial services that are accessible via smartphone. The advantage of this technology is that the app bypasses some of the restrictions that come with traditional institutions. Branch’s goal is to make money lending and credit building opportunities accessible to all people, which the company believes will “open new channels for personal empowerment and financial growth.”

Currently, Branch serves Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria and India. Its user demographic targets members of the middle class in areas with emerging markets. Branch recognizes that people in these areas are often underserved and is dedicated to servicing them with customer-first products.

The People Behind the Project

Matt Flannery and Daniel Jung co-founded Branch in 2015. Flannery, the CEO, previously developed and led Kiva, a nonprofit microfinancing company. Flannery then set out to create a “branchless bank” for Africa, resulting in a financial app that would provide accessible services to low- and middle-income customers. Flannery is a Skoll Awardee and Ashoka Fellow, making him a highly acclaimed social entrepreneur. He was also part of Fortune magazine’s “Top 40 under 40” list in 2009.

Recently, in March 2021, Branch added a new member to its team: Dayo Ademola, who will oversee Branch’s Nigeria operations. Ademola has more than 15 years of experience working with consumer-centric companies and banking institutions. She has former experience with global fintech and much of her efforts in the field have been toward improving financial inclusion in Nigeria. Ademola is particularly excited about continuing this mission and working with Branch to help Nigerians simplify their relationship with finances. Fortunately, Branch provides a successful avenue to do that.

Branch’s Success

Since its launch in 2015, Branch has made significant advancements toward improving banking accessibility in Africa. Since its establishment, Branch has facilitated $350 million in loans. This is a significant accomplishment since Branch operates in countries with new markets and limited resources. Fintech investments in Nigeria have grown nearly 200% in the past three years, showing that these emerging markets are increasingly recognized as valuable.

Flannery and others see the African markets for the significant opportunities they present. Fintechs, especially those with a background in social entrepreneurship, have the power to transform African markets and improve social and economic stability in these countries. As it stands, Branch has more than four million customers and has issued more than 21 million loans in the countries it operates in. If the  Branch app continues to spread across Africa and other developing nations, Branch has the potential to vastly improve financial inclusivity and lift millions of people out of poverty by providing financial solutions that cater to those with minimal resources.

Samantha Silveira
Photo: Flickr

Improve Agriculture in Africa
Agriculture in Africa is a major contributor to the continent’s economy. Africa has ideal farming conditions with large amounts of freshwater. Furthermore, it has about 65% of the world’s uncultivated arable land and an estimated 300 days of sunshine. Agriculture is able to boost trade, feed the hungry and help end poverty. Many countries in Africa began to invest in agriculture through the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP). Some of these countries are Zambia, Niger, Togo, Mali and Ghana. Additionally, communities have recognized that agriculture has the potential to create jobs, improve food security, sustainable resources and so much more. Farming in Africa has become a major focal point due to these benefits. As a result, an app is attempting to improve agriculture in Africa.

Smallholder Farms

A smallholder farmer is a person who works on a small piece of land growing crops. Many of these farmers grow crops and farm livestock. Families typically run the farms and those farms are often their main source of income. There are more than 500 million smallholder farms around the world. Furthermore, the farms contribute to about 75% of the continent’s agriculture production and 50% of livestock products.

Despite having suitable land for farming, a lot of the older generations in Africa discourage their children from farming. The land has the ability to grow an abundance of crops, yet African countries spend close to $65 billion importing food. The African Development Bank stated that the key to improving the economy is to focus more on farmers and providing better equipment, knowledge, training and technology.

The App for Farmers

About 33 million smallholder farmers exist in sub-Saharan Africa. Thus, as mobile phone usage has been increasing, The Haller Foundation created an app,  Haller Farmers, to reach these farmers and improve agriculture in Africa. The app underwent testing at the Foundation’s demonstration plot in Mombasa, Kenya and researchers found that it would be able to help farms.

The majority of smallholder farmers in Africa have limited access to agricultural skills, technology and knowledge. Haller Farmers includes more than 60 years of farming experience that are low-cost and organic. In addition, the app is easy for people to use. The app is free to download from the Google Play store and farmers can download the practices so users do not have to connect to WiFi or use data.

Haller Farmers provides smallholder farmers with information in English and Swahili. Here are examples of some of the resources the app offers:

  • Low cost and organic farming techniques
  • Innovative ideas
  • Step-by-step instructions
  • Conservation information
  • Techniques for crops that require minimal water
  • Haller team contact
  • Encouragement for youth farming

The purpose of the app is to aid smallholder farmers and improve agriculture in Africa, provide choices that can improve ecosystems and re-empower the farmers. Furthermore, farmers will be able to receive high-quality farming techniques and information as phone accessibility increases. About 48% of the population relies on agriculture in Africa. Thus, it is necessary to continue helping the continent’s farmers in innovative ways to bring reliable information and tools to the agricultural population.

– Sarah Kirchner
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Mobile Gender Gap
Mobile phone usage directly correlates to social welfare, women’s empowerment and gender equality in households and society. Many sub-Saharan African and West Asian countries failed to meet the quota for gender equality in 2015. Additionally, South Asia has the most prevalent mobile gender gap.

There is a 28% difference in cell phone usage between men and women. On average, women earn less salary than men and are less likely to receive an education. As a result, many women are illiterate. This severely limits a woman’s sense of independence and financial liberty. Cell phone usage is one large indicator of gender inequality. According to GSMA Connected Women, women are 10% less likely to own a cell phone than men in low-to-middle-income countries.

Women’s Empowerment

Mobile phone usage directly links to a sense of empowerment and freedom. According to the Mobile Gender Gap’s 2019 report, women with access to mobile phones in developing nations are more involved in decision-making within the household and community. Furthermore, cell phones allow women to make decisions regarding contraception and easily find information on HIV testing. Many women living in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa are unaware of the opportunities that come with mobile phone usage.

There are numerous benefits to closing the mobile gender gap. Women become more empowered, connected, safe and are able to access information and services with ease. Additionally, closing the gender gap allows for considerable commercial and economic progress. Including women in technological advancements aids in building the society and economy substantially.

According to a Food Policy study conducted in Uganda, mobile phone usage directly connects to an increase in household income, women’s empowerment, food security and improved dietary quality. Small farm households that use mobile phones improve social welfare as well. Furthermore, the study found that eliminating the mobile gender gap increases economic and social development in developing countries. The GSMA reported that if the gender gap is closed by 2023, an additional $140 billion would be generated in revenue for the mobile industry.

What’s Being Done

Since 2014, 250 million women have obtained cell phones. While the gender gap is certainly shrinking, there is still a significant disparity. However, the GSMA Connected Women Program is working with mobile operators to combat this inequality. It aims to break down the barriers women face when accessing and using mobile internet services. The organization’s goal is to significantly reduce the mobile gender gap and provide commercial opportunities for the mobile industry. The Connected Women has reached more than 19 million women in the past three years.

Similarly, the Mobile Phone Literacy Project aims to sustain and spread mobile literacy interventions for women and girls. For example, female participants in the mobile-based post-literacy program in Pakistan have exhibited notable literacy improvements.

The benefits of mobile phones and internet services are momentous. Women experience a sense of safety, empowerment, financial independence and have increased access to learning services. Projects such as the Mobile Phone Literacy Project are helping to eradicate gender inequality. While the mobile gender gap is steadily closing, there is still much more to be done to maintain gender equality.

– Nina Eddinger
Photo: Flickr

Mobile Money accountsMobile Money refers to digital payments that require no bank account to complete the transaction. A telecom provider, Verizon in the United States, for example, performs the function that a bank account would traditionally carry out. Mobile money accounts are particularly prevalent in emerging markets such as sub-Saharan Africa because individuals and small businesses in these places lack access to formal savings accounts and credit.

Mobile Money in Sub-Saharan Africa

There are more than one billion registered mobile money accounts worldwide and sub-Saharan Africa makes up nearly half of those accounts. The implementation of digital finance has the capability to boost an emerging nation’s GDP by 6% ($3.7 trillion) by 2025. Boosting sub-Saharan Africa’s economy by this amount would be the same as adding an economy the size of Germany to the global market.

COVID-19 Accelerates Mobile Money Usage

African governments have worked to increase the use of mobile money accounts to stimulate the national economy by reducing barriers to sign up. Rwanda implemented lockdown restrictions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and mobile money transfers doubled within a week after the placement of these restrictions. Other African nations followed Rwanda’s lead and also eased restrictions on mobile money accounts, hoping to accelerate economic growth amid the global crisis.

The Success of Mobile Money in Africa

Roughly one in 10 African adults utilize mobile money accounts, which equates to about 100 million active accounts. This is more than double the number of accounts in the second-biggest region for mobile money, South Asia. MTN, the largest mobile telco in Africa, has 171 million customers, far outweighing leading African banks such as Ecobank and Barclays Africa, which have between 11 million and 15 million customers.

Mobile phone penetration in Africa is on average 80%, whereas banking penetrates approximately 40% of Africa. Telcos have found ways to create client experiences that are attractive to African consumers, with minimal restrictions and time investment necessary to set up mobile money accounts. There are often no transaction fees on bill payments and merchant acceptance is widespread, making mobile money an attractive way for African citizens to build wealth and manage their finances.

How Mobile Money Reduces Poverty in Africa

Studies predict that by 2025, 84% of Africans will have access to a mobile SIM card connection. Furthermore, mobile money payments will be crucial to the success of individuals, businesses and the overall African economy. Mobile payment technology allows people to manage their money securely, regardless of credit history. It also removes the barriers that people typically experience with bank account access. Mobile money essentially allows for financial inclusion. Mobile money transactions have the potential to reduce poverty in Africa and financially include millions of previously excluded people.

A study by the Gates Foundation found that mobile money directly impacts an African household’s ability to deal with shocks and extreme poverty. For example, in Uganda, mobile money increased food security by 45% for households far from a bank. In Kenya, mobile money account holders who experienced a shock had no decrease in consumption level, compared to a 7% decrease in consumption for households without a mobile money account.

The Future of Mobile Money

Mobile money fosters financial resilience and thus reduces poverty levels. Households with mobile money accounts are able to respond to unforeseen events. For example, if there is a flood, a household with access to mobile money can rely on the easy transfer of money from friends and family to support them even if they live far away. Since mobile money account usage increases per capita consumption and savings, it thus reduces the rate of poverty.

Mobile money has long-term impacts on poverty, especially in female-headed households. It has the power to empower millions of women. Digital payment platforms can give women in male-headed households more financial independence and can help them increase their savings.

According to research, increased consumption rates due to mobile money account utilization drove 196,000 households out of extreme poverty in Kenya. The ability of mobile money to lift African households out of poverty is impressive and shows promise for the continent’s future economic development.

Tatiana Nelson
Photo: Flickr

digital finance sourcesIt is no secret that cash is becoming more and more obsolete in developed nations. Venmo, Cash App, Square, PayPal, Zelle and Google Pay — none of these popular money transfer services require a physical transfer of cash. The onslaught of a global pandemic has only accelerated the shift to cashless transactions amid efforts to minimize physical contact. China is rapidly moving forward with central bank digital currency (CBDC) trial rollouts while the United States Federal Reserve is conducting ongoing research to potentially develop its own CBDC, a “Digital Dollar.” In lower-income nations, digital finance sources have the potential to transform economies.

Digital Finance in Developing Countries

In developed countries, the notion of an entirely cashless society is not far out of reach. However, the story is very different in developing nations. Many individuals are excluded from participating in even the most basic financial systems and instead rely primarily on physical cash. As of 2017, about 1.7 million adults globally were “unbanked.” This means they lacked any account with a financial institution or mobile money provider. This is nearly one-fourth of the world’s population.

Some of the most commonly cited barriers to account ownership include insufficient funds and inaccessible banking services. Virtually all unbanked adults live in developing economies, with women over-represented among this cohort. Digital finance services delivered via mobile phones, the internet or cards, function as a means of including these unbanked populations. The benefits of digital financial inclusion are prolific.

Digitizing Financial Inclusion

The strong link between financial inclusion and a wide array of global development goals is becoming increasingly clear. Significantly, seven of the 17 U.N. Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 explicitly mention financial inclusion as central to achieving these objectives.

Digital technologies offer financial services at lower costs, fostering opportunities for large-scale inclusion by enabling institutions to serve lower-income customers profitably. Such broadened financial access can sustainably transform emerging economies. A 2016 report by the McKinsey Global Institute estimated that digital finance alone could boost the annual GDP of all emerging economies by $3.7 trillion by 2025 due to productivity gains of businesses and governments.

Digital services include those such as M-PESA, a mobile phone-based transfer, payment and micro-financing service. Mobile money has lifted an estimated 196,000 Kenyan households out of extreme poverty from 2008 to 2016.

The Benefits of Digital Finance Sources

  • Increased Security: Digital footprints provide greater transparency and hold individuals and institutions accountable, reducing vulnerability to fraud and corruption.
  • Time and Cost Savings: Digital services are quicker and more efficient, lowering costs for both providers and consumers.
  • Financial Inclusion: The lower costs and convenience of mobile services make them accessible to more people, including those living in remote or rural areas.
  • Women’s Empowerment: Women with access to financial services like loans, savings accounts and mobile payments can achieve independence. It has been found that women with digital savings accounts also spend more on development endeavors like education.
  • Higher Tax Revenues: Digital finance has been proven to increase tax-paying compliance, and in turn, government revenues.

Given the wide-ranging benefits of digital finance sources, it is clear why many organizations are attempting to accelerate the transition from cash-based to digitized economies in the developing world. A growing number of groups such as the U.N.-based Better Than Cash Alliance are working to extend the reach of financial services by using digital technologies to go where physical banks cannot, bringing access to mobile money, savings accounts, credit and insurance to the under and unbanked. Digital finance is more than a trend of modern societies. It is a vital tool for achieving inclusive and sustainable development in emerging economies that are still far from being cashless.

Margot Seidel
Photo: Flickr

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

Phones Are Providing a New Relief From the Poverty Wave In IndiaThe recent technological revolution booming in the developed world is showing positive results. To that end, many people are urging the distribution of these technologies to developing countries like India. Rural villages in the country have largely not been part of the mobile phone trend. Even certain urban areas remain hidden from these new technologies. Several nonprofit organizations and recent government movements have vowed to fight this reality, looking to increase the availability of cell phones and cell phone data in India. Here are three ways India is using phones to combat poverty.

Increasing Education Opportunities

Many rural villages in India focus on agriculture as their primary form of livelihood. Most farmers only earn around $2 per day. In 2010, a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, mPowering, partnered with a charity working in Orissa, India to distribute mobile phones to village residents. mPowering relied on cell phone towers in the area to give farmers and other rural families more functionality. The nonprofit’s initiative, conducted in the Indian village of Juanga, saw a 19% increase in its school attendance for children. In addition, more women were able to gain access to important health care needs through a so-called point system loaded onto communal phones. People can then redeem these points for commodities like food and clothing. As a result, the Juanga experiment found a 67% decrease in reported diseases.

Government Intervention for Economic Stimulation

The Indian government has developed a scheme to hand out phones to children and impoverished families because more than 10% of Indian families cannot afford to purchase a cell phone. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the country is distributing phones to children learning online. In the Punjab region, 75 million children should receive a handset. These initiatives are a direct response to the rising fear that more than 24 million children worldwide could lose access to proper education.

According to a UN report, if online school without other alternatives continues, this very fear might become a reality. The Indian government’s push to include children in its mobile phone plan is just one step to introduce mobile devices to the general population. It has also developed a $6.65 billion scheme to increase the production of electronic goods within the country. The move has helped increase the number of phone manufacturers in India, which rose from two to more than 200 in just a few years.

A Variety of Options for a Variety of Users

Estimates show that more than 900 million Indian citizens do not own a smartphone or have access to the internet. However, recent economic growth has turned India into a leading market for cheap phone data options. As a result of this spark in data growth, companies developed a variety of cell phones and cell phone software to reach a wider demographic. There are currently more than 100 smartphone brands that dominate the Indian cell phone market, with Chinese manufacturers holding more than 75% of the space. Recently, companies like Apple have begun to market lower-end budget phones to expand their outreach in India as well. Growing demand and relatively low tariff rates have allowed mobile phone markets to gain millions of users in mere months. The launch and future cultivation of 3G and 4G networks are only expediting initiatives that use phones to combat poverty.

The expanding economy in India is allowing newer technologies to reach a wider range of consumers. The target audience in the country has slowly shifted from urban individuals to inhabitants of impoverished rural regions. As India’s economic prosperity grows, using phones to combat poverty ensures that people receive more education, are better off and experience inclusion.

– Mihir Gokhale
Photo: Flickr