Information and news about mobile technology

Tech Solutions That Improve Humanitarian Service Delivery

With natural disasters like the recent earthquakes in Mexico and Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose and Maria wreaking untold havoc, the question of how to improve humanitarian service delivery is all the more pertinent. Technology is quickly changing the way we respond to crises and will continue to transform our responses in the future.

According to the GSM Association, increased mobile connectivity is a lifeline that has made service delivery more efficient. Network operators can get in touch with anyone connected to a mobile device to warn them of incoming disasters and provide them with strategies to prepare for the worst. The rise of social media has given political leaders and news organizations similar powers to connect with their citizens and audiences.

In addition, mobile devices make humanitarian cash transfers easier—it is far more convenient and quicker to send digital money than cash—and improve access to energy. Especially in the developing world, many people live off the traditional “grid” but are covered by pay-as-you-go energy providers, who partner with mobile services, to ensure easy and orderly digital payments.

According to the World Economic Forum, robots are making a difference in how humanitarian aid is deployed, and they will likely do so to an even greater extent in the future. Certain areas become too dangerous during disasters for human responders to be able to assess needs or deliver aid, and robots (including drones) have the potential to mitigate that. Indeed, drones are currently being used, albeit in a limited manner.

With the number of people affected by humanitarian crises nearly doubling over the course of the past decade, technological solutions like these will be vital to minimizing the effects of the growing displacement crisis and the security risks and poverty it causes.

Gisli Rafn Olafsson believes one of the most important effects of technology on humanitarian service delivery is its potential to encourage a “bottom-up” approach that will soon replace the current, unwieldy “top-down” paradigm. With technology, the beneficiaries of humanitarian response can organize their own responses to wars and natural disasters rather than wait for help to arrive. A grassroots network is invariably the strongest tool and the best solution to improve humanitarian service delivery.

Chuck Hasenauer
Photo: Flickr

Mobile Market Technology Empowers Farmers in Sub-Saharan AfricaAlthough Africa as a continent possesses 54 diverse and independent nations, those nations located below the Sahara Desert are often grouped into one region. Though it is helpful to use this regional grouping in some instances of data gathering and processing, it is also important to ensure when doing so that the individuality of the nations is not lost and is, instead, carefully noted, as such individuality creates significant statistical differences. For example, although it can be easily asserted that 54 percent of the total African work force is found in the agricultural sector, such a statistic is entirely off-base when considering the case of nations such as South Africa, Angola and Mauritius, where less than 20 percent of all employment is found in agriculture, or nations like Burundi and Madagascar, where over 80 percent of employment is in the agricultural sector.

That being said, the impact of a nation’s agricultural systems is still so significant that a one percent increase in agricultural per capita GDP would actually cause a decrease in the poverty gap five times larger than a one percent increase in per capita GDP of any other area. Further, it is a widely shared belief amongst development economists that the area most impacted by agricultural growth is in non-farm income and employment. In other words, no matter how large or small a nation’s agricultural sector is, it has an immense impact on the nation overall. As a result, it is no wonder that addressing the agricultural sector is inherently necessary in the effort to address the 40 percent of the world’s poor that live in the Sub-Saharan Africa region.

Such is exactly why the work of Esoko Networks Limited is so important. As a technology platform that works to bridge the information gap for farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa, Esoko strives to improve the production yield and make farmers more market savvy through multiple facets – and all through the personal ease of the ever-ubiquitous mobile phone. Esoko provides up-to-date market information such as current prices and also includes weather alerts – the latter being an increasingly serious matter, as fluctuating environmental conditions due to climate change has forced changes in agricultural practices in many areas. Additionally, Esoko allows individuals to share information regarding agricultural practices and technologies, old and new, effectively creating a farmer-specific library of information from which to learn and improve one’s production.

Perhaps most exciting, this technology also has a feature which allows buyers and sellers to identify and connect with each other – creating a mini-market that can focus specifically on interactions between smallholder farmers while also providing access to larger markets. As a final measure, Esoko has included a system to survey the individuals who use their technology. This system has been so effective that it has brought down UNICEF’s profiling error rate to an astonishing zero percent – it was previously at 55 percent.

Overall, Esoko has been found to increase income for those farmers who use it by about 10 percent- and all by simply creating a network for farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa to communicate, connect and learn.

Kailee Nardi
Photo: Flickr


There are over 500 million smallholder farms in the world. Most of these farmers live on less than $1 a day and are highly vulnerable to severe climate change and other factors that can hurt their farms. On top of that, many of these farmers do not have access to the Internet to learn about ways to help their farms or even to help other farmers.

One company, WeFarm, has developed a way to connect farmers without having to have an Internet connection. WeFarm has implemented a free, peer-to-peer service for farmers to share information via SMS, rather than through the Internet.

WeFarm explains how this works with a simple example: “Rose’s crops are suffering from a disease, so she sends a simple, free text to the local WeFarm number.” Rose’s question would then be posted online and sent to certain WeFarm members via SMS. From there, Rose would receive answers within minutes, according to WeFarm, without having to leave her farm or needing an Internet connection.

Because of the use of SMS, these farmers can use simple mobile phones to access this information. Especially now that over 90 percent of smallholder farmers now have access to a basic mobile phone. Over 290,000 farmers have registered with WeFarm. Of 387,000 questions asked, over 540,000 answers have been given. In the six years that WeFarm has been operating, they have made it much easier for farmers to access crucial information, with the only cost being purchasing a basic mobile phone.

As of now, WeFarm is only available in three countries: Peru, Kenya and Uganda. Their website even shows a live feed of questions as they are asked and answered, along with a map to show where the questions originate from.

Although WeFarm is still young and growing, they have created an extremely helpful concept that can be implemented in many parts of the world without an Internet connection. WeFarm has created a way – by using a basic mobile phone – to share necessary information at a low cost to farmers around the world; its success thus far brings hope that WeFarm’s progress will spread to other countries and help farmers all over the world.

Rebekah Covey

Photo: Flickr

Crowdfunding App for Refugees

EdSeed, a new crowdfunding app for refugees, connects education facilities, donors and displaced university students on mobile phones. The app offers refugee students an opportunity to raise the money they need to attend an acclaimed university. It also provides an accessible and reliable method for people and corporations to donate to refugees in a way that will help them become self-reliant.

There is an estimation that, of the 65 million refugees in the world, only 1 percent have access to higher education. At least 200,000 Syrians had their post-secondary education interrupted when they had to flee their home country. No longer on the path to a degree, most of these previous students now find themselves struggling economically in a world that values educated workers.

The app gives students a social media-style profile where they supply details such as degree, university, career aspirations, past academic performance and personalized videos and pictures. Donors can filter their search to find the type of students they wish to support. Individuals can choose between $10 to $100 donations, while corporations can donate from $10,000.

Students can share their edSeed profiles on other social media sites, and the app will also campaign for specific profiles monthly who aren’t receiving as much attention. The students can also monitor their funding process and amounts.

EdSeed partners with universities and scholarship foundations who will verify student profiles and will receive the funds directly, providing a trustworthy platform for donors. The app hopes to raise 6,000 scholarships within three years.

Since its start in April, 500 students have already signed up and 12,000 individual and 3 corporate donors have expressed interest. However, edSeed hopes to accelerate its growth to handle more traffic.

EdSeed hopes to expand beyond higher education and provide funding for apprenticeships, mentoring organizations and other types of degrees that will provide refugees with a quicker route to economic independence. This crowdfunding app for refugees is on its way to help thousands of students worldwide.

Hannah Kaiser

Photo: Flickr

Female Genital MutilationIn 2017, five female Kenyan students created i-Cut, a female genital mutilation protection app that provides medical and legal assistance for girls who will or have gone through genital mutilation (FGM), a process where the outer part of the genitals are either partially or completely cut off.

The creators of the female genital mutilation app are Ivy Akinyi, Stacy Owino, Cynthia Otieno, Mascrine Atieno and Purity Achieng, who refer to themselves as the Restorers. According to CNN, Dorcas Adhiambo Owino was the girls’ mentor on the project.

The female genital mutilation protection app i-Cut, as explained in Ebony, has five options: “”help”, “rescue”, “report”, “information on FGM” and “donate and feedback”.” “Help” alerts the authorities when FGM is about to occur, and “Rescue” gives young women information about places to receive medical treatment after FGM. “Report” informs the authorities that an instance of FGM has occurred.

Although FGM is illegal in Kenya, it is still heavily practiced, with one in five girls experiencing it. According to Mashable, FGM is seen as a rite of passage in many communities, preparing young women for marriage and purportedly discouraging premarital sex. These traditions are commonly found in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

Unfortunately, girls experience many challenges after FGM. According to Mashable, young girls are often unable to go to school, which prevents many of them from being employed. There is also a connection between girls who become young wives and mothers and FGM. Worse still, many girls die as a result of the process.

The creators of the female genital mutilation app have a personal connection with FGM: even though their tribe is opposed to the practice, a friend of theirs from school went through it. The friend, as they explained to Reuters, was intelligent, but dropped out of school after the procedure was done. The app is meant to combat situations like this.

i-Cut is currently one of the technological innovations competing for the Technovation Challenge award of $15,000, and is the only African country represented this year. “Sponsored by Google, Salesforce and Adobe, Technovation challenges girls aged 10-18 to create an app that solves problems faced by their communities,” according to CNN.

Regardless of whether or not they receive the prize, the young inventors of the female genital mutilation protection app are content that the app gives young girls a way “to decide their own destinies.”

Cortney Rowe

Photo: Flickr

Bill Gates once referred to the Internet as “the town square for the global village of tomorrow.” Even with fewer Internet users than the rest of the world, Africa has begun to find its way to the so-called town square, as women’s mobile Internet use in Africa has increased dramatically in this part of the world.

A recent survey found that the number of women who use mobile Internet in Africa has surpassed that of men, as more and more women use the Internet in search of entertainment and tools for empowerment.

Global software company Opera and digital reading non-profit Worldreader joined forces to conduct a survey on the Internet habits of people in Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa.

Opera ran a survey of 1,500 men and women between the ages of 14 and 44 to better understand how people use the Internet on their mobile devices. These results were combined with data from Worldreader, which provided information on the mobile reading habits of 50,000 of the app’s users in those three countries.

Together, Opera and Worldreader found that women are equally as “tech-savvy” as men. Women use their Internet browsers just as frequently as men do, and 60% of women surveyed in Kenya and Nigeria reported using the Internet over eight times a day. Not only do women use the Internet as much as men, but they also tend to purchase larger data packages in all three countries.

In addressing these statistics, it is important to understand why women are using the Internet so frequently. The survey found that two motives—entertainment and empowerment—were the reasons behind women’s Internet use.

Across the board, women in these three countries engaged with a broader variety of content on the Internet than their male counterparts did. One in three women who took part in this survey said that they used the Internet to browse lifestyle, music, and entertainment content.

However, women found it just as important to use the Internet for empowerment purposes. Many women were interested in ways that they could improve their lives in areas such as education, property rights, and health. They also emphasized the importance of having access to the news.

For many women, access to the Internet could be the key to greater educational opportunity. As women’s mobile Internet use in Africa continues to increase, more and more women will be equipped with the tools they need to empower themselves and improve their quality of life.

Jennifer Faulkner

Photo: Flickr

Mobile Phones in Sub-Saharan AfricaIn the rural farmlands of Tanzania, a woman is preparing to plant her crops for the season. She is part of the more than 50 percent of Sub-Saharan Africans who use agriculture to survive and feed their families. Her knowledge stems only from experience and word of mouth. In a constantly changing climate, inevitable questions arise. How much fertilizer does she need? She can either waste time walking to find an expert or an agricultural extension officer, or she can go on her mobile phone. 500 miles away, a family in Kenya is terrified that their crops may succumb to the dryness of the land and die, leaving them with nothing to sell or eat. Their mobile phone allows them to research the weather, giving them peace of mind when it says that the rain is coming, or allowing them to plan ahead when it is not. Mobile phones in Sub-Saharan Africa are already showing their potential.

For these people, a cell phone can mean a world of difference, and it doesn’t end with just agriculture. From education to banking to health, mobile phones opened up to a whole new realm of possibilities for the citizens of developing countries.

The GMSA Mobile Economy 2017 report predicts that mobile phones in Sub-Saharan Africa will reach half a billion users by 2020. This is more than double the number at the end of 2016, making it the fastest growing region in the world. The report attests the climb in numbers to the increased affordability of mobile devices and the improved market for used devices. In addition to the accessibility of information generated by mobile, the economy benefited as well, supplementing 3.5 million jobs in 2016. Tech start-ups are thriving in a mobile Africa as well. According to GMSA, “some 77 tech start-ups across the region raised just over $366.8 million in funding in 2016, growth of 33 percent compared to the previous year.” The opportunities that mobile platforms allow are attracting both talent and investment, according to GMSA.

Sub-Saharan Africa had 140 mobile money services in 39 countries as of December 2016, giving more and more users easy access to paying their bills online and sending/receiving money between friends and businesses. Zazu is Africa’s first digital-only bank, providing users with a debit card, a point-and-pay feature that utilizes the phone to scan payments with participating merchants and a mobile app to access transactions.

The mobile community provides impoverished people the chance to access financial services to make investments, save money and manage expenses. M-Pesa, for example, is a widely-used money-transferring mobile platform that recently added a savings and credit feature. According to GMSA, the platform lifted 194,000 Kenyan households out of poverty since 2006.

The report notes that there are more than 1,000 mobile health services that target families in developing countries. Sub-Saharan Africa makes up 25 percent of the global “disease burdened” population but only accounts for three percent of health workers. Living Goods supports health needs in Sub-Saharan Africa via a mobile platform run by trained health professional agents, focusing on child deaths with simple and affordable solutions. The agents use the mobile platform to identify diseases such as malaria and send automatic SMS reminders to the patient ensuring that they complete the whole course of treatment. Pregnant women can sign up to receive weekly messages with advice on maternal health and nutrition according to where they are at in their pregnancy. Living Goods even sells its own brand of food with nutrients and vitamins, often too difficult for people in developing African countries to access.

Mobile technology also allows those in poverty to receive better educations. Eneza Education is a learning platform utilizing mobile phones in Sub-Saharan Africa, enabling users to communicate with teachers and lesson programs via SMS, the web and Android. Students of all levels can take courses in any subject and interact instantly with teachers via their tablet, computer, or mobile phone. They also offer small business courses and teacher refreshment courses (which is hugely important, considering only about one-quarter of pre-primary teachers are trained in Sub-Saharan Africa). Eneza already has over two million subscribers across Africa and over 300,000 questions have been answered by their live ask-a-teacher feature.

Kytabu, out of Nairobi, allows users to essentially lease required learning and teaching materials (such as textbooks) online through their mobile device. The application provides exams, educational videos, group-chat classrooms, audiobooks and learning games.

Although accessibility to mobile phones in Sub-Saharan Africa is relatively new, the innovations made so far are a great testament to the technology’s potential. Clearly, the simplest technologies have the power to improve developing countries and make strides towards the elimination of poverty. In a modern world where phones have become grouped with simple technology, they are becoming as much of a right as water filters and electricity.

The things which we take for granted every day hold so much power. Think of what a cell phone can do.

Katherine Gallagher

Photo: Flickr

Apps That Feed the Hungry
Nowadays people can do almost anything with a smartphone: order groceries, plan a vacation or pay for mass transit. There are even apps that feed the hungry around the world. About one in nine people do not have enough to eat, but the following smartphone apps are changing that, one meal at a time.

Here are three apps that feed the hungry:

  1. Chowberry
    Nigerian entrepreneur Oscar Ekponimo developed this mobile app to put discounted, expiring food in the hands of people who desperately need it. The organization currently operates in four locations in recession-stricken Nigeria, with the help of 20 supermarket partners. Here is how it works: Families on tight budgets sign up for a free account; they search for products set to expire in as little as a week to more than a few months. Users choose whatever cereals, grains, drinks, cans and packaged goods they want. Then they pay online and pick up their goods at participating stores. Some products are as much as 70% off original prices, which makes it easier for impoverished people to feed themselves and their families. Exact numbers of the app’s impact are unavailable at this point, as the site has yet to go public. But, in a three-month pilot, the company had 3,000 daily hits.
  2. Pocket Rice
    With this free mobile app, users earn virtual grains of rice each time they answer a trivia question correctly. The virtual rice accumulates like a point system. But unlike regular trivia games, Pocket Rice’s points become a valuable food source for people in need. When users “donate” their earned rice, co-founder James Downing buys real rice. In-app advertising pays for the rice, so users can play trivia while helping solve world hunger — all for free. The rice goes to targeted areas through the company’s partners, agencies like the United Nations World Food Programme, World Vision and now The Lasallian Foundation. According to in-app text, Pocket Rice’s current project focuses on children in Sri Lanka. The goal is to reduce child mortality and increase babies’ birth weights. Trivia users have earned more than 324 million grains of rice and fed 16,000 people since Pocket Rice’s start in 2013. Users of the app allowed Downing to purchase around 3,500 pounds of rice in 2016 alone.
  3. Share the Meal
    The World Food Programme spearheaded Share the Meal, which lets any smartphone owner feed a child with spare change. People all over the world can download the app for free and start saving lives with donations as small as 50 cents. More than just throwing money at a cause, the app has a tool that lets people track their donations. Users can choose where they want to share a meal, learn about the children the Programme helps and follow their donation’s impact. Users have provided for more than 14 million meals since Share the Meal’s launch in 2015. The meals feed school children and refugees in places such as Haiti, Yemen and Lebanon.

Whether it is the invention of the telegram or the use of cell phone apps, technology has always made the world seem smaller. Today, three apps that feed the hungry are continuing that tradition. Chowberry is bridging the gap between Nigerians in need and retailers willing to help, Pocket Rice is turning phone users’ love of trivia into life-saving food and Share the Meal is making it easy for charitable people to feed children around the world.

Kristen Reesor

Photo: Flickr

Mall for Africa
Mall for Africa is a patent-pending app, payment system, web service and platform that allows people from African nations to buy from U.S.- and U.K.-based e-commerce sites. This opens up local populations in Africa to products and stores they might not have access to otherwise. The app and site provide secure logins, delivery and accept local payment methods. Since its inception, Mall for Africa has joined forces with other companies and expanded its brand to give African shoppers even more options.

Chris Folayan is the CEO and founder of Mall for Africa. While studying for a business degree in marketing at San Jose State University, his family in Nigeria would send him detailed lists of things they wanted him to bring them when he visited. He started the business after he couldn’t board a plane because he had too much luggage with him. He recognized the demand and developed an app to bridge the gap.

The company works by shipping through the app and absorbing all the risks U.S. and U.K. e-retailers are wary of. The app takes care of payments in various currencies, security concerns and fraud, charge-backs, delivery confirmations and customs clearing. As a result, popular companies and brands —Amazon, eBay, Macy’s, Apple, Zara just to name a few—are now shipping to African countries.

Additionally, individuals can use the app for more than entertainment and commodities. In an interview with How We Made It In Africa, Folayan explains that it is also a tool of empowerment for the African people. It is how some schools get textbooks, computers and other supplies necessary for the academic year. Hospitals have ordered equipment that used to be unavailable to them. People have even started their own businesses now that they can gather the items they need.

Folayan went on to say that international brands are recognizing that the African consumer base is invaluable. This puts these consumers in a position to request stores to stock African brands. If this becomes the case, African designers will be able to use Mall for Africa to sell their goods abroad.

Since its humble beginnings in 2012, Mall for Africa has grown exponentially. GroceryDirect and FashionDirect connect African consumers to even more products and goods. These services are both powered by Mall for Africa. Even with these expansions, Folayan sees room for improvement in the app. Currently, it is available to people living in Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya. However, the founder hopes to include other countries in the future.

Jada Haynes

Photo: Google

Richie Sambora is not just known as the guitarist of the band Bon Jovi from 1983 to 2013, but he is also known for his humanitarian work, now including being the co-founder of Csnaps, the new humanitarian app that allows celebrities to take pictures with fans and raise money for a charity of the celebrity’s choice.

“Fans are always going to ask their favorite celebrities to take pictures with them,” Sambora said in an interview with People Music. “By using Csnaps, you get a picture with your favorite star and money goes to help good causes and those in need, so it’s a win-win for everybody.”

Charities must register with to be eligible for donation. Among the registered charities are The Humane Society, PETA, Smile Train, and the ALS Association.

The app also benefits publicists and celebrities, who can break news about their clients on Csnaps and have the media purchase it. Not only does this raise money for a charity their clients care about, but it allows the publicist to control what is said about their client, and the client gets new followers and good publicity.

So how does it work? A fan approaches a celebrity and asks for a selfie. Using the catchphrase, “Csnaps only please,” the celebrity will take a selfie with the fan through the app, and for a minimum of three dollars, 80 percent of which goes to a charity of the celebrity’s choice, the fan has their picture and a sense of contentment knowing that they have helped save a life, or make someone’s life better.

Csnaps is available on iTunes now, but no plans have been announced for it to be on any other platforms. Hopefully after witnessing Csnaps’ impact, other charities and platforms will join in on the goodwill.

Kelsey Alexis Jackson

Photo: Flickr