Tools for development: food sustainability, basic health care, education and… cell phones?
As the global technology industry expands, cell phones are reaching rural locations in some of the poorest nations and contributing to their development. Some companies, such as Digicel, are even going beyond communication to improve lives and communities.
The founder of Digicel, Denis O’Brien, has pledged a 20%-philanthropic focus with his company. “So many companies in emerging markets do nothing for the country or the people. We are not modern-day conquistadors. We want to do some real good in the counties we invest in.” In Haiti, Digicel is everywhere: hand-painted onto billboards that line the streets of Port-au-Prince, phone cards available at many small roadside stores, and in the hands of the majority of Haitians. The number of people with cell phones has been increasing since 2009, when nearly half of all Haitians had access to phones; a significant increase from the 5% who had access when Digicel began.
The increased affordability and usage of cell phones has made a considerable impact in reducing poverty. It has transformed the way business and agriculture sectors operate. Prior to cell phones, truck drivers would search the Haitian countryside for farmers in backyards and small orchards with crops to sell. Now, truck drivers are able to locate farmers and pick up larger yields of crops, instead of having to search for those who are selling crops. This secures markets and prices and increases efficiency for both the farmer and seller. In addition, travel costs are significantly cut.
As a company, Digicel aims to improve education in Haiti. “O’Brien knows every inch of Haiti, what the needs are and how well Digicel is doing to meet those needs.” They also provide opportunities for micro-businesses to participate in village phone programs. Digicel, the largest telecommunications operator in the Caribbean, has also made profound impacts in the Pacific. Expanding to Tonga, Vanuatu, Fiji and Samoa, with similar goals in sight.
– Maris Brummel