Information and stories about technology news.

Maintaining mobility and independence can be challenging for millions of disabled people around the world. While a physical handicap may make life more difficult no matter where you live, many physically disabled people in the developing world aren’t able to purchase a wheelchair either for lack of funds or they simply because aren’t available. That’s where The Wheelchair Foundation comes in.

The Wheelchair Foundation, a branch of the Global Health and Education Foundation, works to provide wheelchairs to the people that need them throughout the developing world. The chairs are given at no cost to the families that receive them. An estimated 100 million people in the developing world are physically disabled and either wheelchair-bound or in need of a wheelchair to move around. The Wheelchair Foundation works with many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that operate in the countries to which the wheelchairs are delivered and from there, the chairs are equipped and delivered in person. The organization also distributes chairs to Americans in need by working with Goodwill, Catholic Charities, and groups that work to help American veterans.

Organizations such as this one are great because of their specialization and their use of existing networks. Specialization without the great connections could lead to a less efficient organization but utilizing their relationships with other NGOs and government programs allows The Wheelchair Foundation to be a real success that addresses an important problem that many people in the developing world face each day.

– Kevin Sullivan

Source: The Wheelchair Foundation
Photo: Mental Floss

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has partnered with U.S. technology and communications giant, Cisco, to provide Burma with two new technical education centers. The two Cisco Networking Academies will provide valuable skills in information and communications technology to the developing nation, and provide citizens with job-ready abilities to bolster the country’s growing information and communications tech (ICT) industry.

The USAID Administrator, Dr. Rajiv Shah, has said that technology infrastructure can create stable and continued economic growth and development, and that “ICT can expand economic opportunities, transform public service delivery, and provide more opportunities for citizen engagement.”

Cisco has been a continual partner of USAID, having established networking education centers in over 165 countries, which have provided relevant skills for entry-level careers in ICT while also developing other valuable general career abilities including “problem-solving, collaboration, and critical thinking.”

In Burma, Cisco has agreed to donate the equipment needed to start the two Networking Academies and the training for 15 faculty members. Sandy Walsh, Director of Cisco’s Social Innovation Group, said that Cisco is dedicated to providing education to help continue technological development in “emerging economies,” and that the academies will aid Burmese citizens in gaining career skills needed in the 21st century.

Three additional American tech leaders, including Intel, Microsoft, and Hewlett-Packard, participated in a technology delegation to Burma, also led by USAID, in hopes of continued collaboration that will increase internet access and promote digital literacy and government openness. The partnership between USAID and Cisco hopes to create alliances with American tech companies, the local government, and the private sector to increase “social and economic development” using technological resources.

 – Christina Kindlon

Source: USAID
Photo: VOA

Is A 'Silicon Savannah' The Answer To Poverty In Africa?While many African economies are showing tremendous growth, a new struggle is beginning among African nations to establish technological hubs and assert themselves as leaders in Africa’s emerging technological boom.

Perhaps following Egypt’s lead, Ghana and Kenya have begun constructing entire cities focused on IT research and software development. Ghana plans to create Africa’s largest building, a 75-story tower reaching over 885 feet backed by the telecom group RLG. Some 4,000 miles away, Kenya has invested $14.5 billion to create what it has nicknamed “Africa’s Silicon Savannah.” Konza City will be a tech city focused on software development.

These cities are a great improvement and move toward the direction of developed nations, but the actual number of jobs may be a future problem. Cities like Konza may be new to Africa, but they are common in the developed world and often supported by a network of adjoining developed tech-savvy cities.

However, the unique advantage African based tech communities have is the first-hand access to the emerging markets in Africa. African economies have been growing exponentially and are set to outpace their Asian counterparts in the coming years. Being so closely linked to these markets will allow African tech communities to better assess and meet the needs of the quickly developing markets. While a “Silicon Savannah” may not be the only answer to poverty in Africa, it will definitely help on the road to development.

– Pete Grapentien

Source ZD Net

Arab Spatial Tracks Food SecurityA new web-based tool called Arab Spatial has recently launched and will provide aid workers and researchers access to valuable data relating to food security and malnutrition information throughout the Middle East. Previously, aid workers and activists noticed a lack of data on resources including food and water – data that is typically used in important policy and resource distribution decisions. Even if a country did have relevant information on these issues, the data was not efficiently being shared between countries and regions.

Now, researchers and aid workers can turn to Arab Spatial, an online tool developed by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) that should house all food security information for the Arab world in one easily-accessible location.

Food security is an enormous issue in the region, where many countries must import many of their basic food staples, and where war and fighting have exacerbated hunger and perpetuated poverty. Abeer Etafa, the representative of the World Food Program, said that “millions of families” throughout the region were having difficulties obtaining food, and with the events surrounding the Arab Spring and other civil unrest and upheaval, have had to face rising instability and lost wages as well.

Although the struggle of millions to obtain the food necessary to survive is known, it has been very difficult for researchers and aid organizations to quantify; IFPRI says that not many countries in the Middle East have poverty figures widely available, and even when they do, it is unclear how accurate said figures are.

To combat this issue, Arab Spatial will aggregate data on food based on national, regional, and local areas, and the data can be used to create maps showing “more than 150 food security and development-related indicators related to poverty, malnutrition, disease, production and prices, public finances, exports and imports.”

IFPRI also asserted that economic development and proper nutrition and food security are vital to each other, and one cannot be successful without the other. It is clear that eradicating the challenges to make food accessible will create sustained economic growth and development throughout the Middle East.

IFPRI hopes that Arab Spatial will be used by government officials, researchers, humanitarian aid workers, and journalists, and most importantly, decision-makers in addressing food security.

Christina Kindlon

Source: IRIN

Mobile Money Africa Set To Return In 2013
The fifth annual Mobile Money Africa Conference is projected to gather over 400 mobile banking industry leaders in Johannesburg, South Africa to discuss ways to move the market forward.

Mobile Money is a mobile banking concept that has taken root in African communities in rural areas where the nearest bank is often several miles away. Mobile bankers use their cell phones to transfer money from one person to another with only the use of a SIM card.

While Mobile banking continues to spread slowly, primarily throughout the developing world, its biggest markets are in Africa. 15 of the top 20 Mobile Money-using countries are located on the African continent. Generally about 10% of people in these countries use Mobile Money, but in Kenya the number of users reaches 68% of people.

Mobile banking continues to spread through developing nations because the fees for banking are too high and the locations are too sparse. Mobile Money Africa works to help alleviate these problems and develop a stronger market, possibly in alliance with traditional banking methods.

This year, Mobile Money Africa will be hosting the Mobile Money Awards – a contest in which Mobile Money innovators are recognized and rewarded by the industry. The conference is slated for the 28th and 29th of May.

– Pete Grapentien

Source: BizCommunity
Photo: IT News Africa

How Myanmar Will Avoid Being Earth's Most Isolated CountryHaving less cell phone usage than North Korea has made Myanmar one of the most isolated countries on the planet. Upon the United States’ decision to lift sanctions on the country, USAID was happy to sponsor a delegation of executives from Cisco, Google, Microsoft and other organizations to explore the possibility of establishing tech training centers in the newly open Myanmar market.

A little over two decades ago, the U.S. imposed sanctions on Myanmar when the military junta killed thousands of civilian protestors in one brutal onslaught. Currently, a new civilian government has been established and many of these sanctions have been lifted.

Companies like Google and Microsoft are offering Myanmar more than just tech services by establishing training centers in the country. The effect of these centers will be a reinforcement of Myanmar’s technological infrastructure.  The widespread availability of internet and cellular service allows a greater opportunity for online learning and social organizing via websites such as Twitter which can be used through either SMS messages or the internet.

Another avenue that becomes easier to access is international development and trade. By contributing to tech growth, Google, Cisco and Microsoft are also helping Myanmar contribute to the global economy. This in turn allows Myanmar to grow its own economy and strengthen foreign relations.

-Pete Grapentien
Source Yahoo News

Beyoncé is Helping Girls Run the WorldWho runs the world? According to a very popular song of Beyoncé’s, girls do.

And now to show just how much she believes that Beyoncé has partnered with the clothing brand Gucci, as well as famous superstars such as Salma Hayek, Adrianna Huffington, Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, and Jada Pinket-Smith to start a campaign called Chime for Change. The Chime for Change Campaign is, as written by’s Sarah Karmali, an initiative that aims to raise funds for and awareness about supporting the projects of girls and women worldwide “through sharing ‘powerful stories’ about inspiring females.”

By sharing different women’s stories, the Chime for Change Campaign wants to strengthen and unite all the voices speaking out for women and girls across the globe with hopes of, as stated on TED (a nonprofit that brings together thinkers, philanthropists, and doers), “raising an alarm and drawing attention where there is work to be done – with a focus on Education, Health and Justice.”

The campaign – thought up by Salma Hayek and Gucci Creative Director, Frida Giannini – will feature a series of ten films that highlight the power of technology and tell inspiring stories of women across the world. Each film will be narrated by Hayek and will feature new music by Beyoncé. The first film has already been released and in it, Salma Hayek praises the advent of technology for helping connect women and girls in ways that were previously unimaginable. The video goes on to show how change that creates equality for women, gives girls everywhere the opportunity to go to school and provides women access to the care they need is occurring and necessary for improving not only communities but the whole world.

The optimistic message of the video, as well as celebrity appearances (both Salma Hayek and Beyoncé appear in the first video), is encouraging, not only to the future success of the campaign but also to the importance of what technology can do. It shows how technology can connect people everywhere and bring attention to empowering stories across the globe.

Click here to watch the first video.

– Angela Hooks

Sources: Huffington Post, TED
Photo: Chime for Change

Can Soap Operas Help Fight Poverty?While the era of the soap operas may be coming to a close in the United States, in many Arabic countries soaps are becoming more and more popular. This increase has come from the unusual mix of American melodrama characteristics (love, family turmoil, deceit, etc.) with cultural values that audiences can identify with.

Surprisingly, soap operas have a history of influencing impoverished communities for the better. In South Africa, a soap opera addressed safe sex and it was found that the viewers of the soap were four times more likely to use condoms than non-viewers. In Mexico City, a soap opera aired that discussed the issue of child literacy. This caused enrollment in literacy programs to skyrocket throughout the entire city.  Even in Colorado, many low-income families increased their child’s health insurance after viewing a soap opera discussing child health problems.

One of the ways in which soap operas can aid in the fight against poverty is through awareness. With such a large audience, a soap opera could be an incredible tool used for spreading awareness about social, health, and economic issues facing impoverished communities. In this way, altering the content of a soap opera to contain relevant content for viewers would only increase ratings.

Although the effectiveness of soap operas being used as an educational tool isn’t full-proof, the idea of altering soap operas, at least slightly, to educate impoverished communities on governmental and social issues seems like an effective strategy to raise awareness about social issues, injustices, and aid in the struggle against poverty.

– Pete Grapentien

Source: Al Jazeera

Are Tech Entrepreneurs the Future of Africa?

Two days ago, Apps4Africa announced the winners of its 2012 competition for innovative technological solutions to current African problems. Does this mean Tech Entrepreneurs are the Future of Africa?

300 submissions were narrowed down to the best three: Ffene, a business management app from Uganda; SliceBiz, a crowdsourcing program from Ghana which encourages investing small amounts into high growth start-up businesses; and Prowork, a project management tool for businesses.

As the globalization of technology becomes even more widespread, African entrepreneurs are using technology and online services to solve basic and complex problems within their community. In countries that face stark problems meeting basic needs, this type of entrepreneurship is critical in becoming self-sustaining.

However, one of the largest obstacles within many communities is that the culture of entrepreneurship is just beginning. The big problem many young entrepreneurs are facing is that investors find this upstart mentality too risky or time-consuming to devote a lot of time or money into it.

While the ideas for new technological solutions and start-up businesses are sprouting up in more and more African communities and tech entrepreneurs are becoming more and more valuable to national economies, one of the most highly needed commodities is mentoring.

– Pete Grapentien

Source: CNN


Mobile money, or mobile payments/mobile banking, is a rapidly growing industry that serves as an alternative to traditional banking. What is mobile money and why is it important is a question most acutely significant to those in developing countries.

Of the 2.6 billion people in the world who live on less than $2 a day, about 80 percent of them do not have access to a bank account. This is completely understandable due to banking fees and lack of access to banks. Thus, for this population, all transactions are chiefly done through “informal financial tools.”

Payments are made in cash or through physical bartering (e.g., food, livestock, traded goods, etc). Or, for bigger expenses, people are forced to go through other informal means of acquiring money like money lenders and payment couriers although these methods are unreliable, hard to access and can carry even higher fees. Meaning that those living in poverty are further hindered in breaking away from their circumstances.

At the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Financial Services for the Poor (FSP) team believes that given the right financial tools like mobile money, poor households can capture more opportunities. Mobile phones serve as virtual devices for holding money and making payments electronically, like a bank account and/or credit card. Paychecks can even be credited to mobile devices. Access to mobile phones is widespread in all regions of the world, far more than traditional banks.

In an effort to further develop these technologies, FSP has partnered with the Electronic Transactions Association (ETA) and created an industry-wide competition for finding new and innovative electronic payment methods via mobile banking.

This has “the potential to make a profound impact on the global market, particularly to un-banked or under-banked consumers in the developing world. Thus far, we have seen a large drop in costs and increased access when mobile channels are used,” says Megan Oxman, a program officer with the FSP.

It is expected that the mobile money market will grow from a $13.8 billion dollar business in 2013, to $278.9 billion by 2018. The more the industry grows, the more reliable and accessible this form of “banking” will become, allowing for more stability and development within impoverished communities.

– Mary Purcell