Information and news about mobile technology

mobile banking
More often than not, adopting a pre-existing idea is easier than creating a brand new one. The mobile phone is an example of this. In recent years, there has been an explosion in the adoption of mobile phones among people living throughout Africa. The impact of mobile phones includes paving a more secure form of mobile banking, and ultimately creating a shift in African culture.

Over the past decade, the use of mobile phones has increased in both developed and developing countries. According to the World Bank, mobile subscriptions have been increasing around the world every year – and African countries have made the biggest gains. In 2009, the US had 89 cellphones per 100 people, and 96 in 2013. Nigeria had 48 per 100 people in 2009, with 73 in 2013. South Africa had 91 cellphones per 100 people in 2009, and 147 in 2013. The greatest strides were made by African states.

According to The Economist, three phones exist for every four people, which describes the accessibility of these products. While mobile devices were initially created to function as telephones, Africans do not use them solely for communication. Just like people with iPhone’s in developed nation, Africans have access to a whole range of activities via their phones, including secure banking and e-payments.

According to Paul Edwards, the CEO of Emerging Markets Payments (EMP), only 15 to 20 percent of Africans have bank accounts. This number contrasts sharply with developed countries, where almost everyone has or is expected to manage a bank account as an adult.

Mobile banking has created a shift. Africa has a different banking culture than that of developed nations.

Furthermore, making e-payments and using mobile banking allows for less corruption. As all money transfers are electrically handled, transactions are instant and, therefore, significantly reduce the number of delays in payments.

Many Africans have used cash to fuel their informal sector jobs, but using less cash and more e-payments allows governments to track tax-able profits. Ultimately this creates a more regulated, tax-paying economy that will generate revenues for the state and further establish self-sufficiency.

The growing popularity of mobile phones displays a tangible shift in Africa’s culture. A public relations company named Portland conducted a survey of Twitter in Africa. They used devices that allowed for geo-location; by examining the hashtags in Tweets, they were able to look into the interests of Africans. Subjects ranged from Nelson Mandela’s death to football to public dissatisfaction with the government.

As Africans continue to use mobile phones for various purposes, the rest of the world will watch to see what this will mean for the development of Africa.

– Christina Cho

Sources: Foreign Policy, The Economist 1, The Economist 2, World Bank, Foreign Policy 2
Photo: CNN

Coinciding with the World Against Child Labor Day, the 2014 FIFA World Cup is taking place in Brazil this year and it is important to note the link between these two events. Although children in Brazil below the age of 16 are not supposed to work, about 3 million children below that age are currently subjects of child labor. In 2013, 10,668 violations of children’s rights were largely registered on the Brazilian government’s Secretariat of Human Rights hotline.

During the World Cup, children will be on break from school, making the opportunity to become victims of exploitation and abuse even greater than normal. The Brazilian government, however, has begun to take steps toward improving the situation. In an attempt to preemptively respond to what could be an increased period of abuse by child labor, the government has been raising public awareness, expanding its police force and has supported and approved legislation that categorizes any sort of sexual exploitation of children or adolescents as a “heinous crime,” meaning punishments for these types of crimes will be more severe than ever.

Additionally, in order to address the problem even further, UNICEF just developed an app called Projeta Brasil. Projeta Brasil, also partnered with organizations such as Save the Dream and the International Centre for Sport Security, allows smartphone users to immediately report any instances of child labor or child abuse they may see. The report immediately alerts local authorities about the location, time and circumstances in which the event was witnessed. It also provides the chance for victims themselves to report instances of exploitation. While the app primarily acts as a reporting tool, it also serves to raise awareness about various forms of child exploitation to look out for during the World Cup.

The app puts the power to help in the hands of both Brazilians and tourists alike, and can be downloaded in various languages, such as Portuguese, English and Spanish. If you’d like to download or learn more about the app, you can find more information here.

– Jordyn Horowitz

Sources: UNICEF Connect, Huffington PostGlobal MarchProjeta Brasil
Photo: WordPress

Tech Hub for Rwanda Startups
To make positive change in the world, we don’t just need tons of money, popularity or political influence, we need the right tools.

By getting the right people together in one place, specifically one that fosters intellectual development and creativity, we can make great things happen.

This is the belief of kLab, a tech hub in Rwanda where young people can bring their startup ideas and receive free Wi-Fi, workspace and mentorship from professors, business owners, and community leaders.

kLab – which stands for “knowledge lab” – has been operating for over a year and was officially launched in October 2013. The center is funded by the Rwanda private Sector Federation, the Rwanda Development Board and the Japan International Cooperation Agency.

“The knowledge lab is an innovation center where fresh and young graduates come to work on their projects, especially in the tech industry,” said Jovani Ntabgoba, kLab’s general manager, at the launch.

kLab currently offers the services of 21 different mentors to its over 80 tenants. The startups at the center range from online shopping websites to improved medical technology. The mentors offer these young people the ability to truly flesh out their ideas and turn them into much more.

“The culture is collaboration, but it’s not just collaboration; it’s positioning oneself at an age where you receive the best mentorship that you cannot find anywhere else in Rwanda,” Ntabgoba said. “At kLab we have all of the knowledge that is required for a tenant to develop their business.”

The power of this collaboration has led to the beginning of many bright futures for startups that focus on the vision of the country of Rwanda: to turn the nation into a knowledge-based economy. However, young Rwandans are challenged daily by a lack of skills due to the fact that the educational curriculum is not yet “innovation-oriented.”

One of the more recent kLab successes is GIRA ICT – a startup that combats a large roadblock to widespread internet usage in Africa: hardware prices. By partnering with big name manufacturers like Apple, Samsung, HP and Lenovo, GIRA ICT allows consumers to pay for their devices in monthly installments in order to increase hardware ownership across the country.

“We started as a group of five entrepreneurs, so we came into kLab and they gave us a free space to work in. We could enjoy internet… they provided us with mentors,” said project supervisor Alphonse Ruhigira.

GIRA ICT has also been collaborating with the government to supplement the One Laptop per Child program. Founded by Nadia Uwamahoro, this effort provides teachers with laptops that they can pay off over a span of four years. So far, this has helped about 100 teachers to attain laptops and the number is steadily increasing.

“It’s a brilliant innovation and she is doing brilliant business,” says Jean Philbert Nsengimana, Rwandan Minister for Youth and ICT of Uwamahoro. “She’s taken computers to places where they were seeing and touching them for the first time by lowering the affordability challenge.”

Through efforts such as GIRA ICT, kLab is pushing Rwanda towards its goal of becoming a middle-income country by the year 2020.

“I want you to understand the uniqueness of this kLab compared to many other iHubs in the region. The uniqueness of this one is that you are in this building and you are not alone in this building,” said Michael Bezy, associate director of Carnegie Mellon University in Rwanda, who works with kLab in order to provide mentorship to its tenants.

“You look at that and you say ‘I have entrepreneurs here, I have a world-class university, I have IT businesses and I have IT infrastructure.’ That looks to me like a mini Silicon Valley,” said Bezy.

– Samantha Davis

Sources: Wired, kLab, Wired
Photo: Wired

InSight: Generating Micro-Business Financial Identity
A common obstacle for any business owner, regardless of which country they live and work in, is access to credit.

The twenty-first century has brought with it increasing dependence on loans and financial institutions for basic individual purchasing power – let alone entrepreneurial success.

An emergent non-profit organization has taken advantage of cell phones – a technology available to a growing percentage of the global population- to create wide spread access to these vital financial services.

For micro-business owners in the less developed world, there is an abundance of informal transactions and very little access to financial identity. Providing financial identity is something Shivani Siroya, a 2013 TED fellow, CEO and founder of InVenture, describes as the most important objective of her latest venture.

According to InVenture, 400 million people lack access to financial services due to insufficient credit scores, which means that they do not have a clear idea of how much they earn, spend or need to save. In other words? They lack financial identity.

Without financial identity it is not only challenging to manage a business, it is almost impossible to secure loans and credit lines needed to grow a business.

Siroya invented InSight, an accounting tool that enables individuals and small-business owners in the less developed world to keep track of their finances and build a financial identity for themselves. InSight is operated through SMS and compatible with any cell phone, it allows individuals to input their daily earnings and expenses, and utilize financial tracking tools. This process provides proof of growing businesses and the data collected is made available to financial institutions; making connections between those in need and those able to provide large-scale loans.

Siroya was inspired to connect micro-business owners to the credit market by creating a cell phone operated credit scoring service due to the misconception that divided the two worlds.

According to Siroya’s research, financial institutions largely disregard micro-business owners as potential credit recipients due to their “untrustworthiness,” a judgment passed based on the amount of their transactions comprised of cash, which is inevitable without access to financial institutions.

Siroya wants to change this perception and decrease the percentage of micro-businesses that currently operate under considerable credit constraints, which is currently an estimated 85 percent.

This is a dream that is being realized. As micro-business owners in the less developed world start to utilize InSight, their “buckets of receipts” are replaced with income statements on their cell phones.

Perhaps the biggest impact of all, has been for some InSight users who have reported doubling their savings for the first time.

Zoë Dean

Sources: TED Blog, InVenture
Photo: Vintage 3D

Drone strikes and the moral turbidity they incite have been hot international topics this year. Advancements in drone technology are happening more quickly than our understanding of their potential. The U.S. war on terrorism has become dominated by precision drone strikes, and other countries like Iran and China are quickly developing their own drones to counter. Stealth reconnaissance, missile guidance, and bomb delivery are just some of the ways Unmanned Aerial Vehicles are being used in combat to improve military power. Yet, the expanding technology can be used for more than just warfare, and, in the future, UAVs could potentially save more lives than they destroy.

Drones have a couple of advantages over humans in the exploration of dangerous areas in that they are both expendable and as resilient as you choose to make them. While many people are known for having thick skin, metal and high-density plastics are tougher. In Costa Rica, the Dragon Eye UAV successfully travelled into the plume of an active volcano. Obviously, going inside a volcano would be incredibly dangerous, but just getting close has proven difficult for scientists due to the toxic sulfuric ash, high temperatures, and ash and smoke clouds that can stretch for miles. Understanding more about how they erupt will lead an increased ability to predict eruptions and allow for earlier, more accurate warnings.

Smoke from forest and brush fires is just as harmful to human lungs and seriously obstructs vision. In 2012, just 13 people died from wildfires in the U.S., but over 2,000 homes were destroyed. Many of those who die each year are the firefighters who attempt to control these fires. Fireflight Unmanned Aircraft Systems has developed a lightweight UAV to assist firefighters that uses infrared cameras to locate people in danger and track the path of fires.

Natural disasters present other dangers to rescue teams than fire and smoke. Floods, typhoons, and earthquakes can level structures and make roadways impassable. UAVs are perfect for rescue missions into inhospitable areas like these. After being frustrated at the amount of time it took to locate and help survivors of Japan’s 2011 tsunami, Shane Coughlan developed OpenRelief to create affordable drones that could map disaster areas in real-time and better facilitate relief efforts. The drones will cost no more than $1,000 to make commercially and offer upgradeable sensor systems to customize for the needs of the disaster.

Perhaps the most innovative and amazing use of robots for disaster relief comes from a group led by Vijay Kumar at Penn State University. A team there has developed automated micro-UAV’s that can work in tandem to perform herculean tasks. Weighing less than ten ounces and with a diameter of 50 centimeters, these fully automated robots can map areas without GPS, lift hundreds of pounds in teams, maneuver through obstacles without guidance, and even construct basic structures, to name only a few of their capabilities. Getting help to those in disaster areas is becoming faster and easier as UAV design moves away from the battlefield.

– Tyson Watkins
Sources: TG Daily, USA Today, Linux Magazine, TED, Popular Mechanics, International Symposium on Robotics Research 2011, FireFlight Unmanned Aircraft Services

Presented yearly by Applied Materials Inc., The Tech Awards honor people who use technology to find innovative solutions to humanity’s greatest challenges.  More than 250 laureates have been presented with Tech Awards over the last 13 years. Past recipients of the event’s most prestigious award, the James C. Morgan Global Humanitarian Award, include former eBay President Jeff Skoll, Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan, former Vice President and Nobel laureate Al Gore, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Applied Materials’ James C. Morgan himself.

Roqua Montez, director of Public Relations for The Tech Awards, says that those who are honored at this event (individuals, non-profit organizations and for-profit companies) represent multiple nations and have impacted people across the world.

“Many of the laureates work in incredibly poor regions as they attempt to solve a particularly entrenched problem, say lack of potable water, medicinal needs or illiteracy. Their challenges are indeed specific to the problems they are working selflessly to do away with,” said Montez.

For their commitment to applying technology to philanthropy, the laureates are given a week filled with unique Silicon Valley business experiences and training, and an unrestricted cash award up to $75,000. The event culminates in The Tech Awards Gala, which occurs on November 14 at the Santa Clara Convention Center.

The Global Humanitarian Award is given to those individuals who, in particular, exhibit leadership and a broad vision to build a more just and equitable planet.

This year’s winner, Dean Kamen, holds nearly 500 patents for medical devices that have “expanded the frontiers of healthcare worldwide.” As an undergraduate, Kamen designed the first portable infusion device meant to provide drug treatments to patients who formerly needed round-the-clock hospital care.

Kamen’s DEKA Research and Development Corporation has since invented devices that have led to major breakthroughs in medicine and clean energy. Through the company, Kamen has overseen the creation of a portable dialysis machine, a vascular stent and the iBot (a motorized wheelchair that has the ability to climb stairs.)

His other achivements include leading the development of a robotic arm for soldiers with amputations, the Segway ® Human Transporter, a diabetic insulin pump, and several water purification devices for the developing world.

His greatest philanthropic impact, however, lies with the 1989 founding of FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). Dedicated to motivating adolescents towards an understanding and enjoyment of science and technology, FIRST serves over 300,000 young people in more than 60 countries each year. High school participants are also eligible for the organization’s scholarships, which total more than $16 million. With FIRST, Kamen hopes to inspire the next generation of technological leaders.

Kamen will accept the Global Tech Award this coming November. The gala will be attended by more than 1,4000 esteemed innovators, gathered to celebrate the power of technology to address global challenges and benefit humanity.

– Samantha Davis

Sources: Applied Materials Inc., The Tech Awards
Photo: Yeti Robotics

Tech companies’ new hot spot for investment and expansion? Africa. It may come as a surprise to many that the world’s largest information technology (IT) firms are taking their business to the continent, but Africa is ripe for technological development in myriad ways. For starters, Africa’s middle class is growing rapidly – the World Bank predicts a 2013 growth rate of nearly 5.6 percent. Nearly everyone owns a cell phone, and access to the Internet and higher education is increasing.

According to representatives from the world’s top IT companies – IBM, Microsoft and Intel – the reasons for technological expansion extend beyond shifts in socioeconomic factors. IBM’s Director of Research – Africa, Dr. Kamal Bhattacharya, believes technology is a means to solving Africa’s deep-rooted problems. IBM recently established a research center in Nairobi, which officially opens at the end of October. “We believe research for Africa…has to be done on the ground in Africa” as opposed to in the United States, Dr. Bhattacharya told BBC, “and this is why we set up and made this investment.” Development must be done within local environments in order to make the biggest impact and create practical products.

Microsoft’s 4Afrika Initiative follows in similar footsteps. The program focuses on training, infrastructure, expansion of access to broadband and agriculture development. For Fernando de Sousa – head of the initiative and a Mozambique native – Microsoft’s investment in Africa is more than skin deep.  As he told BBC, “It’s not just about networks, it’s not just about PCs. It’s about the end economic impact, it’s about the skills.” Creating opportunities for both knowledge and technology development, says de Sousa, will in turn create larger economic growth and success throughout Africa.

Marcin Hejka – Intel’s Europe, Middle East, and Africa Managing Director – sees Africa as a pool of untapped potential. Hejka believes Africa will follow a similar model like that of Eastern Europe. “People doubted that Russia could yield successful exits,” he explained to IT Africa News, “and now they are doing billion-dollar deals. Africa is growing at the same pace and it will catch up.”

The dramatic decrease in the cost of broadband is a major factor in Africa’s foreseen technological success, making it a strategic investment location. Intel, according to IT Africa News, has more offices than any other venture capital investor, with offices on the ground in 25 countries and investments in more than 55 nations worldwide.

Why should IT companies bet on Africa? “There is an unserved demand,” Hejka iterates, “and whoever figures out how to deliver on this demand will be profitable.” Technological expansion in Africa will not only bolster investing corporations, but also sustain socioeconomic development through Africa’s future.

Mallory Thayer

Sources: BBC, IT News Africa
Photo: IBM Research

Africa Mobile Technology Essential Development
The number of wireless devices in the U.S. outnumbers the population. With a population of 315 million in 2011, there were approximately 328 million mobile devices in the U.S. Americans enjoy mobile devices, as do an increasing number of the African population. Paul Kagame, current president of Rwanda, captured the growth of mobile devices in Africa by stating, “In 10 short years, what was once an object of luxury and privilege, the mobile phone, has become a basic necessity in Africa.”

Let’s look at some examples:

  • Nigeria: A decade ago, landlines dominated in Nigeria, with about 100,000 phone lines. Today, Nigeria has close to 100 million mobile phone lines and the landline company is no longer in operation.
  • Kenya: In the last decade, mobile phone subscribers have increased 500-fold. Additionally, in 2009, mobile phone sales increased by more than 200 percent when the 16 percent general sales tax was removed. The sales continue to rise.
  • Rwanda: In 2010, mobile phone users grew by 50 percent. Doubled in one year!
  • South Africa: 72 percent of those between the ages of 15 and 24 have cell phones.
  • Africa as a whole: 650 million Africans, particularly the youth, use mobile phones for both social and functional purposes. This by far surpasses the number in the U.S. and Europe.

Although mobile phones across Africa generally consist of low-end Nokia phones used for the Short Messaging Service (SMS), smartphones with Internet capability are on the rise throughout the continent. In some African countries, mobile phones are more common than clean water, bank accounts and electricity, according to the World Bank and African Development Bank.

Why has there been an explosion in mobile phones? The main cause is the increasing reliance on mobile phones by youth. The youth, ages 15 to 24, depend on their mobile device not only for communication, but also for listening to the radio, transferring money, shopping, using social media and more. With some Africans only making $2 a day, many will occasionally skip their meals in order to pay the $5 and $8 monthly cell phone expenses.

Mobile devices are also used as a way of combating many social issues in Africa:

  • Activism: Mobile devices have offered communication, transparency, organization, openness, and empowerment to the electoral process.
  • Education: As mobile devices are more common and more affordable than PC’s, they are used as tools to deliver teaching content. As more than half of the parents in Africa are illiterate, there is hope that these teaching tools will have a positive impact on the education status of African children. In South Africa, MoMath, a mathematical teaching tool, has been launched.
  • Disaster management: With constant wars and genocide occurring throughout Africa, displaced persons are commonplace. Through mobile devices, displaced persons are able to reconnect with their families.
  • Agriculture: Agriculture is one of the largest employers throughout Africa. Through mobile phones, farmers are now able to make better decisions, resulting in more profit. Farmers use mobile phones to research weather information, market prices, and micro-insurance schemes.
  • Health: According to the World Health Organization, nearly 30 percent of drugs supplied in developing countries are fake. Through SMS, buyers can send the code found within a scratch card on the medicine packaging to find out if the drug is fake or not. This is a life saving resource, as in Nigeria, nearly 100 babies died due to ingesting a solvent usually found in antifreeze through their teething medication.

By 2016, there will be an estimated billion mobile phones on the continent of Africa. This has a huge impact for potential investors. In Kenya alone, the use of mobile devices has had a big economic impact. The mobile device industry contributed about $3.6 billion to the country’s GDP and has provided numerous employment opportunities.

– Caressa Kruth

Sources: CNN, The African Report, Washington Post
Photo: Evidence4Action