Information and news about mobile technology

5 Calls App Makes Congressional Communication EasySince the results of the 2016 election, many people have been looking for ways to productively communicate their political positions. 5 Calls, a new nonprofit app and website created by a group of volunteers, provides an efficient pathway for contacting senators and representatives. Contacting Congress can be extremely influential in encouraging or preventing specific policy and legislation. The 5 Calls app makes congressional communication easy and provides a step-by-step guide to getting the most out of a call.

Activists of all stripes encourage the act of calling legislators, rather than emailing or ranting on social media. Congressional offices across the country tally the issues that are brought to them by the people in their district. These numbers are reported directly to representatives, making them aware of the issues that their constituents are passionate about. As stated on The Borgen Project website, “It’s not uncommon for a leader to support a poverty-reduction bill after as few as seven to 10 people call in support of it.”

The app’s website draws users in with, “Turn your passive participation into active resistance. Facebook likes and Twitter retweets don’t create the change you want to see.” Not only is the site’s strategy effective, but the 5 Calls app makes congressional communication easy.

Users enter their zip codes and receive their representatives’ names and phone numbers. Users can pick certain issues that they are passionate about, and are provided with a short and effective script specific to the issue that they selected. For example, some issues currently listed on the website include: “Keep Funding for ‘The Wall’ Out of the Budget,” “Demand Congress Support Healthcare for All,” “Urge Congress to Grant Asylum to Syrian Refugees,” “Keep the National Institute of Health Funded,” and “Ban the Use of a Brain-Damaging Pesticide.” The website also provides a summary of the issue’s context, explaining why it is relevant and why constituent calls are necessary.

The 5 Calls app makes congressional communication easy by providing phone numbers for representatives and senators based on a user’s zip code. The site is simple, aesthetically pleasing and effective. The 5 Calls app reports that users have made more than a million calls through the app. The site is run fully by volunteers, and all donations go to data updates and hosting the site. The app also offers an email alert option, which reminds users to stay involved and keeps them updated on current issues.

The 5 Calls app makes congressional communications easy, so there are no excuses for not advocating for personal political preferences. Calling Congress can make a difference, and apps like 5 Calls are paving a way for involvement and advocacy.

Peyton Jacobsen

Photo: Flickr

Photo: Flickr

Mobile World Congress 2017 Reveals Future of Development Tech
In March, Fira Gran Via in Barcelona, Spain hosted the 2017 Mobile World Congress, one of the largest events in the world to showcase the latest innovations and designs in mobile technology. The conference was attended by more than 108,000 visitors from 2,300 companies across 208 countries. Among the topics covered in its many domains was Mobile for Development, showcasing the future of development tech to combat poverty.

Keynote speaker and GSMA director general Mats Granryd addressed the unique advantage that mobile technology has in helping to achieve each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. These goals are proposed by the United Nations to ensure prosperity for all, protect the planet and end poverty worldwide over the next 15 years.

Granryd also discussed the future of development tech on social media, tweeting on February 26: “Mobile. The Next Element. Fundamental to our everyday life and #MWC17 is going to show what the future of mobile holds.”

Two separate seminars during the event focused on Mobile for Development, looking at both product and project development ideas in emerging markets. The Mobile for Development Rural Village illustrates the benefits farmers and rural populations can reap from mobile technology, which includes management of smart irrigation, solar power, natural gas and even weather forecasting.

Tremendous progress has already been made in providing mobile technology access to developing nations, with some of the greatest growth being in the financial services industry. There are nearly six times as many registered accounts with Mobile Financial Services today than there were in 2012, and 30 countries now have 10 times the number of active Mobile Financial Services agents than physical bank branches.

GSMA’s Humanitarian Connectivity Charter was also covered during Mobile World Congress 2017, which in 2016 was streamlined to include the growing population of refugees of political and natural disasters. The program’s major principles of enhancing coordination, scaling and standardizing preparedness and strengthening partnerships will serve the 21.3 million refugees worldwide, the largest volume of human displacement on record.

The Mobile World Congress will continue to be held in Barcelona, but a new division, the Mobile World Congress Americas, will be held in September in San Francisco. The addition of a U.S. event is more evidence of the powerful growth of the future of development tech, poised to improve the lives of people across the globe.

Dan Krajewski

Photo: Flickr

Quality of Life in Africa
The mobile phone continues to be one of the best weapons in the fight against global poverty. According to Global Mobile Suppliers Association (GSMA), currently six in ten individuals worldwide have cell phone access, and most of those people reside in developing countries where basic living necessities such as clean water are scarce. In Africa, up to 93 percent of the population has access to cell phones. This access provides opportunities for organizations to design anti-poverty programs, and as a result, their cutting-edge apps improve the quality of life.

Earlier this month, the Red Cross Society of Côte d’Ivoire (RCSCI) debuted its RCSCI mobile app with a threefold purpose: to improve living conditions, bolster healthcare programs and assist authorities with enforcing international humanitarian law compliance. It boasts features including regular updates on volunteer projects and educational posts on how and where to donate blood. It also provides 24-hour emergency alert notifications, ensuring that response time is quicker than ever after a natural disaster.

“We are thrilled with the launch of our new app, and the opportunity to provide aid to those in need and improve humanitarian efforts throughout the region,” RCSCI secretary general Emmanuel Kouadio stated.

The RCSCI provides one of many examples of how groundbreaking apps improve the quality of life in Africa. Last month Nigeria began a new program called “SMS for Life 2.0.” Designed as one part of a comprehensive information communications technology (ICT) development initiative, the program focuses on improving healthcare for Nigerian citizens by monitoring the availability of medicine and improving the safe delivery of drugs. The program is being implemented in each of the 36 Nigerian states and is already in use at more than 250 facilities.

In addition to SMS for Life 2.0, app designer Vodacom has created a school management program using mobile technology to provide reliable, quality meals for students and is planned for use in 4,000 schools across Nigeria’s Kaduna State. Chief Officer of Vodacom Business Vuyani Jarana recently told IT News Africa, “Vodacom is taking the lead in leveraging mobile technology to address healthcare, education and agricultural challenges in Africa.”

Both RCSCI and Vodacom are continuing to broaden their programs in efforts to eliminate poverty, with a focus on the future of agriculture as the next phase of development. Eventually, it is hoped that near-universal access to mobile technology will alleviate the lack of access to other vital resources in Africa.

Dan Krajewski

Photo: Flickr

Red iPhone 7
Recently, Apple released a special edition of its iPhone 7 in collaboration with Product Red, a licensed brand owned by (RED). The red iPhone 7 fights AIDS, as each purchase contributes to the Global Fund to support HIV/AIDS programs and contributes to the goal of an AIDS-free generation.

The device’s bold finish was created in recognition of more than 10 years of partnership between Apple and (RED). “Since we began working with (RED) 10 years ago, our customers have made a significant impact in fighting the spread of AIDS through the purchase of our products, from the original iPod nano Product Red Special Edition all the way to today’s lineup of Beats products and accessories for iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said.

Made available to order online worldwide and in stores March 24, the red iPhone 7 fights AIDS through its ties with the Global Fund. Founded in 2002, the Global Fund is a partnership organization between governments, civil society and the private sector to the AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria epidemics. Apple is the world’s largest corporate donor to the Global Fund and has contributed more than $130 million through its partnership with (RED). The distribution of the Product Red iPhone achieves a global reach of the world’s most loved smartphone, while providing access to life-saving medication in disadvantaged countries, allowing customers the unique opportunity to make a difference through a single purchase.

The various (RED) HIV/AIDS programs are centered mainly in sub-Saharan Africa, home to more than two-thirds of the world’s HIV-positive population. Since (RED)’s launch, it has generated $465 million to support the Global Fund and impacted 90 million people through HIV/AIDS grants in Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Rwanda, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, and Zambia. One hundred percent of all money raised by (RED) goes directly to Global Fund HIV/AIDS grants that provide testing, counseling, treatment, and prevention programs with a specific focus on eliminating transmission of the virus from mothers to their babies.

While the latest release of the familiar Apple product might seem like yet another technological addition, the greater cause behind it is certainly worth significant attention. The red iPhone 7 fights AIDS by delivering tangible forms of aid and treatment for individuals affected, emphasizing how even a pocket-sized object can have an immense impact on those in need.

Mikaela Frigillana

Photo: Flickr


A food crisis in Somalia has its citizens on the brink of another famine. Waiting on international or government aid is a slow process, so Somalis are turning to each other for support. “Combining 21st-century social media with the age-old clan network, the bedrock of Somali society as well as its safety net,” as Ben Quinn from the Guardian puts it, communities of Somalis around the world are using WhatsApp to sponsor families affected by food insecurity.

Humanitarian organizations like the U.N. have warned that 6.2 million Somalis are on the verge of famine, but foreign aid has been slow coming. Saad Ali Shire, the foreign minister of the republic of Somaliland, says that Somalia needs immediate aid in the form of life-saving supplies in the next two to three weeks to avoid a declared famine.

Aid organizations are trying to prevent a repeat of the famine that killed 260,000 Somalis between 2010 and 2012. Britain’s Department for International Development gave £100 million to Somalia, but the money only covers a small fraction of the need.

With the response to the food crisis in Somalia lagging, networks around the world are turning to social media to support people in need of life-saving aid. Users of WhatsApp are forming groups and pooling their resources to sponsor Somali families. The groups figure out how much aid they can provide based on the formula that says families can survive on $60 per month.

The group then deposits money into a Dahabshiil bank account. Dahabshiil is an African international funds transfer company started in 1970. The company was initially set up so that migrants from countries in East Africa could send money back to their family and friends still living there. Dahabshiil now allows groups like the Somali clans to transfer funds during crises in addition to offering banking services to the World Bank, Oxfam, the U.N. and Save the Children.

After WhatsApp groups deposit money into a Dahabshiil account, they nominate a five-person committee to withdraw the money and buy supplies for families — usually powdered milk, rice and water.

The network is growing every day, and members are primarily of the Somali diaspora. Forty-five thousand people in Canada identify their ethnic origin as Somali, and tens of thousands of people in Minnesota are also a part of the Somali network addressing the food crisis in Somalia.

The WhatsApp network is a tremendous start, but some smaller Somali groups are struggling to provide aid of their own resources and are turning to aid agencies for financial support. While prominent humanitarian organizations are doing their best to give aid, the process is slow-moving in a time of urgent need.

How to donate: Ocha, World Vision, MSF, Concern, WFP.

Rachel Cooper

Photo: Flickr


Since appearing on the popular show Shark Tank, the LuminAID solar lantern has become well-known for its durability and variety of uses. The company designed its first lamps after the Haiti earthquake in 2010. They are designed to be an easy way to access light in areas without electricity and are marketed to individuals in countries lacking infrastructure or refugees who are living in transit.

The organization has now invented a new version of its lantern: the PackLite Max Phone Charger. The lantern is like the original, but also includes a battery and USB port that can charge mobile devices. The battery can be charged by the solar panel through 12 to 14 continuous hours of direct sun exposure. The fully-charged lantern can then give 50 hours of light and fully recharge a smartphone.

The new lanterns target refugees. LuminAID noticed the need for phone charging capabilities while distributing its original lantern in refugee camps. Refugees use their mobile devices to contact family members and get help in emergency situations. One nonprofit partner, SCM Medical Missions, already plans to ship aid supplies to Syrian refugees in Jordan, having previously distributed the first LuminAID model to refugees living in Greece.

The LuminAID solar lantern is part of the organization’s “Give Light, Get Light” program, which prioritizes giving lanterns to people living in areas lacking traditional sources of light. The lanterns are inflatable, lightweight and waterproof, making them essential for individuals living in especially unforgiving situations.

LuminAID also sells to consumers in retail stores and through its website, but emphasizes humanitarian efforts. It partners with numerous nonprofit organizations and NGOs throughout the world to distribute the lanterns. One consistent customer is ShelterBox USA, which provides disaster relief to communities in unexpected danger. The organization obtains donated lanterns from LuminAID or buys them at a lower price.

Backers of the LuminAID solar lantern’s online Kickstarter campaign can receive the LuminAID solar lantern and a charging cable for $30. Backers can also pledge more to receive a lantern and send one to a Syrian refugee. The company also has a goal to send 500 lights to refugee camps in Jordan.

The campaign already surpassed its fundraising goal, and the new solar lantern is expected to be an extremely helpful product for refugees from Syria and other war-stricken countries who need constant access to their mobile devices. Refugees rely on mobile phones as an essential support system to contact their families and others who have been through similar situations. LuminAID’s new solar lantern with phone charging capabilities will help refugees remain connected throughout their journeys.

Lindsay Harris

Photo: LuminAID

Africa Smartphone Plant
When discussing typical hotspots for smartphone usage, Sub-Saharan Africa isn’t usually the first place that comes to mind. However, thanks to a recent software licensing deal with Google, a South African startup is set to open Africa’s first smartphone plant. After receiving $10.8 million in funding, the Johannesburg-based Onyx Connect is set to begin production in the first quarter of 2017.

Why is Africa’s first smartphone plant so important? While some companies in South Africa are already assembling smartphones from imported kits, Onyx is taking advantage of local talent by manufacturing the device and saving on import duties. The plastic cases are being produced locally, and Onyx has its own research and development capability. Because of this, Onyx claims that it could make a smartphone with one gigabyte of memory and a camera for roughly $30.

The company is licensed to load Google software, including Android and Chrome, onto devices sold under its own brand or products it makes for others.

Africa’s remarkable average annual growth rate of 5.1 percent over the past decade is largely due to increased trade. This continued growth in the world’s most underdeveloped continent creates good jobs and reduces poverty, which in turn helps Africa gain strong economic and trade ties with the U.S. and serves to benefit both parties.

The region has already seen massive leaps into the 21st century with the number of smartphone connections across the continent almost doubling over the last two years, reaching 226 million. Though this is a significant advancement, it leaves ample room for growth to supply Africa’s population of 1.2 billion.

By supporting local production, this deal also helps Google boost sales in Africa, which is one of the few regions where it isn’t the outright browser leader. The company is setting up a distribution center in Ethiopia within the next 12 to 18 months which will create 600 jobs, according to Bloomberg Markets.

Africa’s first smartphone plant is likely to be a big step towards the region’s digital revolution.

Mayan Derhy

Photo: Flickr

Augmented Reality
No other app has taken the world by storm like Pokemon Go and for good reason. The popular mobile game uses a system called augmented reality (AR), which combines the virtual world with the real world to create an immersive and interactive experience.

Users of Pokemon Go have been seen wandering the streets with their phones out, trying to catch creatures as they pop up all over town as a result. The phone camera activates when a Pokemon is found, displaying the creature in the user’s immediate surroundings.

AR has been a lumbering force in technology since the 1970s. Sports channels used an early form of AR, overlaying analysis and information on top of real-time matches.

App developers have been utilizing AR to deliver information more frequently since the arrival of Pokemon Go. Nonprofits could easily tap into AR’s potential by using it to spread awareness for their causes in interactive and accessible ways. Four years ago, an organization called Save the Children tried exactly that.

Save the Children teamed up with Aurasma, an AR developer, to create a rudimentary app that opened a video when users pointed their phones at Save the Children newsletters. Users had the option to click through to a donation page after opening the video.

Save the Children Senior Digital Fundraising Executive Alexandra Bono commented on the campaign.

“At Save the Children, we are always looking for new ways to engage people with the human stories behind our life-saving appeals,” said Bono. “This campaign, facilitated by Aurasma, brings together these two channels in a compelling new way which we hope will support donations to our East Africa appeal.”

Crisis, a charity to help the homeless, also used Aurasma’s AR app in an art exhibit dedicated to homelessness in the United Kingdom. Viewers could point their phones at the artwork on display to open interviews with the artists.

Now that advanced technology allows apps to display changing landscapes as users walk, the possibility for new charity-related apps is endless. For example, an app could superimpose a real-time image of Rwandan streets onto a New York intersection, giving users a glimpse into Rwandan conditions.

Quit, an anti-smoking foundation, created a similar app that displayed a pair of lungs through webcam. The lungs’ condition accurately reflected the damage done by smoking. If users said they were young and smoke-free, the lungs displayed would appear perfectly healthy. If users said they were lifetime smokers, the lungs appeared blacker and shriveled.

Charities can effectively grab the attention of Generation Y by continuously innovating and finding new ways to manipulate technology.

Regina Park

Photo: Flickr

Mobile Banking in Southern Africa
The World Food Programme (WFP) is unveiling a new initiative to make mobile banking in southern Africa more accessible.

The World Food Programme is a humanitarian agency dedicated to fighting hunger worldwide. They work to provide food both during and after emergencies and international conflict. For the former, they provide the necessary sustenance where it is needed by victims of war, disaster, and such. Once the conflict has passed, the WFP continues to provide food to help communities rebuild themselves. However, their work extends beyond just providing people with access to nutrition.

In the case of their newest initiative, the WFP will also be providing money transfers and mobile banking in southern Africa. The cash-based transfers will allow for people in eight countries to more easily access the money they have to tap into local markets. Increasing cash availability and access in developing countries has been shown to allow local economies to flourish. A study by the WFP showed that for every U.S. dollar made available boosted the local economy by up to $1.95.

In their 2015 Annual Letter, Bill and Melinda Gates argued that mobile banking in developing countries will revolutionize the way in which the global poor raise themselves out of poverty. The poor, Gates explained, not only lack money but when they do have it, they often lack the means to access it. Now, mobile phones are changing the way they do business.

Between the marginal costs of digital transactions and the fact that more than 70% of adults in many countries have mobile phones now, mobile banking in southern Africa can be highly profitable. This provides incentives for companies to get in on the ground floor of these services, where competition between them will no doubt foster faster innovation and better technologies to address the challenges unique to global poverty.

The WFP has had success with mobile banking in the past. Recently, they unveiled a similar, pilot program in Ghana.

In an interview with the WFP, Adams Inusah, a farmer, said, “I like receiving money through my mobile phone because I can go and cash the exact amount I need for food and save the rest to buy seeds for my farm.”

Both the World Food Programme and the Gates Foundation believe that mobile banking in developing countries will pave the way for stronger economic growth and prosperity.

Sabrina Santos

Photo: Flickr

tracking healthcare dataWith assistance from UNICEF, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in India has introduced an Android-based tablet application called Auxiliary Nurse Midwives Online (ANMOL). This app makes recording and tracking healthcare data easier and more efficient.

In India, there are 293,000 Auxiliary Nurse Midwives (ANM), according to UNICEF. They are village-level health workers and are the first point of contact between communities and health services in India.

Typically, ANMs serve 3,000 to 5,000 people each and their work consists of providing primary health care services, nutrition and immunization programs, as well as child health and family planning services.

One crucial aspect of their job is collecting and tracking healthcare data. This is often seen as a slow, time-consuming process since ANMs must enter the data into registers, which are eventually entered into a central server.

The time spent maintaining registries could easily be reduced, which is ANMOL’s main objective. Manually updating the information is also problematic, as there are risks of information being entered incorrectly, or too late.

The ANMOL app is a multifaceted mobile tablet-based application and offers a solution to improving data collection and the overall standards of child and maternal health service provision in India.

It makes the work of ANMs paperless, bringing them online and exponentially reduces the time it takes to enter healthcare data into the central database.

“[ANMs] are able to use the tablets to enter and update the service records of beneficiaries on real time basis, ensuring prompt data entry and updates,” stated a report by UNICEF.

“ANMOL is aimed at improving the quality, effectiveness and timeliness of the delivery of quality services, specifically to rural populations, to ensure better healthcare for women and children,” said Dr. Srihari Dutta, Health Specialist at UNICEF India.

The app brings awareness to rural populations and educates them on different healthcare initiatives.

India, the world’s second most populous country, will benefit greatly from such an application, which allows for rapid entry of millions of individuals’ health information.

According to Matters India, in addition to data collection, ANMOL complements the roles of ANMs as counselors by providing readily available information about newborns, pregnant women and mothers in their respective areas.

“Prevention and awareness about non-communicable diseases, which are largely linked to our way of living, dietary habits, and lack of exercise will go a long way in ensuring that the country remains healthy,” said Shri J.P. Nadda, Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare.

On April 6, 2016, the Ministry of Health tweeted, “ANMOL App is Aadhaar enabled and will help in the authentication of records of field workers and beneficiaries. #digital health #TransformingIndia.”

Michelle Simon

Photo: Flickr