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It is easy for many to take the internet for granted. Roaming around the city, chatting with friends and staying connected with family using mobile applications is possible only because of internet connectivity. One might argue that the internet comes as a luxury element post healthcare, energy, food, shelter and education. The Internet can help people with communication and decision making. For example, farmers can charge their yields at a reasonable price post referring to market prices on the internet. They can even predict weather and harvest accordingly. Money transfers from people across the city can occur instantaneously. This list never ends. Now the internet giant Facebook is teaming up with a company to provide free internet. Here is why Facebook added Reliance as a friend.

Why Facebook Wants to Provide Free Internet

Back in 2015, Facebook experimented with Free Basics for providing basic internet services to the rural population of the world. However, things did not go according to Facebook’s plan because of the regulatory conditions across telecom sectors in different parts of the world. It violated net neutrality laws. After public consultation, the Indian telecom regulator banned Free Basics. Since then Facebook has been eagerly waiting to do something about it.

There are more than 400 million WhatsApp users in India. Added to this fact, Facebook’s core platform has more Indian users than any other country. However, half of the Indian population is still offline. Facebook wants to target that new user-base.

Reliance’s Jio Initiative

Reliance’s Jio initiative succeeded in doing what Facebook was not able to do. It succeeded in providing mobile phones and the internet at a very low cost. It was able to do so because of the revenue generated from other divisions of the organization and the exorbitant loan that Reliance opted for. This move wiped out the telecom sector foundation in India. Competitors such as Vodafone Idea and Airtel lost millions of customers to the new Jio network.

Internet services and call services were provided by Reliance Jio at free of cost in 2016. This move forced competitors to charge less, which in turn, resulted in the internet revolution. Most of the poor population across India started using mobile phones and the internet. As of December 2019, more than 370 million people across India had subscribed to the Reliance network

How Facebook Added Reliance as a Friend

Facebook’s failure in the past to enter Indian markets with the Free Basics concept taught the company an important lesson. Starting from scratch will not work all the time. Acquiring an existing player was an easy choice at this point. Mark Zuckerberg was intelligent enough to detect Jio’s achievements. Added to this fact, the market capitalization of Reliance was down because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Indian National Rupee was at all-time low-value trading around 76 INR for 1 USD. After recognizing these facts, Facebook acquired 10% of the stake in Reliance India Limited at $5.7 billion. Facebook can leverage Reliance’s data for targeted advertisements. It will realize a significant jump in advertisement revenues from the Indian region.

Benefits of Increased Internet Access

Education is not available to everyone. Fortunately, people from poor backgrounds can get access to quality education through the internet. Poor people can access online education sites like Unacademy, Coursera and edX at free of cost. Added to this fact, people search and apply for jobs mostly through the internet. All jobs are highly interconnected these days. Thus, the internet would certainly provide intangible benefits to the rural population.

Millions of people could come out of poverty because of free internet access. Economic growth, employment and productivity of a country will improve significantly because of the internet access provision. In fact, Internet connectivity can generate $6.7 trillion of the global economy and create new jobs. India is the second-largest market for internet connectivity ranked only below China. It has around 600 million internet users.

Moving Forward

Around 30 million local stores in India were not online yet. Reliance’s latest experiment JioMart is working towards enabling this dream. Local Kirana stores can connect to the entire Indian population through the internet. If WhatsApp pay is leveraged on this occasion, possibilities will become endless. Owing to all these facts, accepting Reliance’s friend request was a strategic move towards achieving Facebook’s dreams.

– NarasingaMoorthy V 

Photo: Flickr

10 Accomplishments Made By ThornIn 2012, Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore founded Thorn: Digital Defenders of Children. Thorn is an organization that works globally to fight sex trafficking and the exploitation of children. A documentary on the sex slavery of children in Cambodia inspired Moore to create the organization. Thorn created technology to help identify victims of sexual abuse and protect children from online sexual abuse material. Since its foundation, Thorn has made a large impact in eliminating one of the most common and overlooked crimes in the world. Additionally, Thorn gained traction as a very well-known and respected organization. Below are eight accomplishments made by Thorn.

Top 8 Accomplishments Made by Thorn

  1. In 2017, Thorn created Spotlight. Spotlight is software that helps law enforcement save time by identifying predators and victims quicker. In addition, more than 1,200 law enforcement agencies across the United States and Canada use Spotlight. Spotlight has helped reduce critical search time for victims by 60 percent. To date, it has identified a total of 16,927 traffickers and 14,874 children.
  2. In February 2017, Ashton Kutcher gave a 15-minute testimony in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the importance of ending modern-day slavery around the globe. He told a story about when the Department of Homeland Security reached out to his team at Thorn. The Department of Homeland Security needed help to identify the perpetrator of a 7-year-old-girl being abused and watched on the dark web for three years.
  3. In addition to Spotlight, Thorn creates a Technology Task Force. This made up of more than 25 technology companies. Google, Facebook, Microsoft and so forth work together to create even more software to prevent the sexual exploitation of children. Thorn has partnered with a variety of organizations, ranging from government to non-profits. Some other notable partners include Amazon, Twitter, Flickr and Verizon.
  4. In 2018, Thorn surveyed 260 sex trafficking survivors in order to understand the needs of survivors. This survey was able to give insight on average ages of victims, how victims know their traffickers and advertising.
  5. In the 2018 Thorn impact report, it reported that Thorn assisted law enforcement in identifying more than 10,000 victims of child sex trafficking in 38 countries around the world.
  6. In 2018, Thorn educated more than 2,000 teens on Sextortion. Sextortion is a form of blackmail that uses sexual content. Since creating its Stop Sextortion campaign, Thorn has educated more than 3.5 million teens about online sexual extortion.
  7. In 2019, The Audacious Project by TED gave a $280 million grant to eight recipients, Thorn was one of them. Thorn is using grant to launch new software called Safer. Safer helps companies, especially image-hosting websites, identify and eliminate sexual abuse content on their platforms.
  8. With a combination of the software that Thorn has created, the organization is currently able to identify an average of 10 kids per day.

Being less than 10 years old, Thorn has accomplished many things is a short period of time. Though the organization has fewer than 40 employees, Thorn is still able to continuously create and evolve its technology. Thorn already benefits thousands of children worldwide. It will continue to fight child sexual exploitation and trafficking for years to come.

Alyson Kaufman
Photo: Flickr

Disaster Response in the PhilippinesAnnually, about 10 tropical storms develop in the Philippines, with averages of eight to nine reaching land. These numbers do not include other disasters the country faces such as typhoons, earthquakes, monsoons and so on. Despite being one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world, efficient communication with technology in the Philippines allows social media, Google Person Finder and satellites, to provide the best relief efforts. Keep reading to learn more about the top three ways technology helps disaster response in the Philippines.

3 Ways Technology Helps Disaster Response in the Philippines 

  1. Social Media: Social media is indeed a connecting source and finds its strength in aiding the response to disasters with quickly spreading information that is, in turn, easily accessed. Popular media sites such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter updated by disaster area residents offer real-time updates about the current on-ground situation.

    Thanks to organizations such as the Standby Task Force, established in 2012 by Andrej Verity, these social media updates become pillars for relief and rescue. For example, in its use for supertyphoon Haiyan in 2013. These updates transform traditional on-ground humanitarian efforts into digital humanitarian efforts with online volunteers.

    Through a streamlined process, volunteers tagged Haiyan-related social media posts. Then, sifting through them for relevancy, otherwise known as digital micro-tasking. Finally, submitting them to the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs to compile a crisis map. With the widespread information thanks to social media, digital humanitarians take a hands-on approach to affecting the on the ground situation. Given that the combined concentration of thousands of volunteers provide time efficiency, a necessity when it comes to saving lives quicker.

  2. Communication Technology: Other communication technology such as Google Person Finder assists in finding missing persons in the Philippines. For instance, in 2012, monsoon floods from Typhoon Saola caused increased landslides and flash floods; flooding at least 50 percent of the country and creating severe rescue conditions with strong currents. There were at least 900,000 affected families and 11 individuals missing.

    For those looking for the missing or stranded, Google’s free Person Finder tool comes in extremely handy as all one needs to do is input the individual’s name. At the same time, Google cross-references entries from other websites with information about missing persons to ping and locate leads.

  3. Satellite Technology: After Haiyan, most of the traditional methods of mobile communication infrastructure diminished, thus requiring the need for something more reliable, such as satellites. Learning from the Haiyan damage, the nation’s most high-risk disaster areas now have mobile satellite equipment for easy deployment. This new tech brought forth by Inmarsat and the United Kingdom Space Agency, provides a reliable and sustainable communication method for the worst disaster days expected.

    Another example is the Tacloban Health Cluster which utilizes satellites to canvas and coordinates public health response in the worst disaster-stricken areas, allowing better tracking of diseases and medical conditions throughout disaster times in hospitals and clinics. This data collection does not only help respond in real-time. Additionally, it is beneficial for understanding health trends after a storm to allow for a more proactive approach following the next impending storm the islands are known to face.

Elizabeth Yusuff
Photo: Flickr

Cool Roofs

First researched in the 1980s, cool roofs only became a reality around 2001. This cooling technology naturally cools the house, while being cheaper and more energy-efficient than traditional roofs, prompting many parts of the world to consider shifting towards them. The world will benefit financially, environmentally and even comfort-wise from the addition of cool roofs.

The Problem

Over 1 billion people in developing countries face significant risks from extreme heat, with no access to electricity for cooling. Another 2.3 billion can only afford inefficient, unhealthy air conditioning models that use HFC gases that are thousands of times more polluting than carbon dioxide. The energy demand from developing countries is predicted to climb more than 33-fold by 2100. Americans alone consume the same amount of electricity for air conditioning as the total electricity used for all the needs of 1.1 billion people in Africa. The introduction of cool roofs, though a seemingly insignificant change, would not only help people in developing nations but those in developed countries as well.

How it Works

Cool roofs are created by using cool roof coatings, which are thick, white or reflective paint applied to the roof, it covers or shingles to protect the roof from UV light, chemical and water damage, maintaining and restoring the roof itself, making it last longer than traditional roofs. The paint reflects the sunlight, keeping the house cooler than can a traditional roof, which absorbs the sunlight instead. In so doing, cool roofs can reduce indoor temperatures by 3.6-5.4 degrees Fahrenheit (2-3 degrees Celsius) and can reduce the internal temperatures of individual rooms by 20 percent. As for urban heat island effects, they can reduce urban temperatures up to 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius).

Benefits

In addition to reducing cooling costs and increasing roof life, cool roofs are environmentally friendlier than traditional roofs. They reduce air temperature, retard smog formation and decrease power plant emissions (carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxides, mercury) and reduce electricity demand in the summer. When the house itself is already cool during the summer, people do not need to use as much air conditioning, thus reducing the usual strain on the electricity grid.

The people who would likely benefit first from the addition of cool roofs are the estimated 630 million people that may already have access to electricity, but have poor quality housing and may not be able to afford a fan or the money to run it. Regions with the highest population of these people are China, India, Nigeria, Brazil, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Philippines, Sudan and Iraq.

Regions That Are Shifting To Cool Roofs

Mexico is participating in the Global Superior Energy Performance Partnership (GSEP) and is working towards installing more cool roofs. Mexican authorities are not yet aware of the advantages of cool roofs, thus the goal is to communicate the impact on energy efficiency, economy, health and comfort that cool roofs will have on the population. This technology saves energy and saves money on air conditioning as well.

South Africa is also part of the GSEP and has begun a Cool Surfaces Project, a collaborative agreement between the American and South African Departments of Energy. People in South Africa need technology that will provide them with the benefits that cool roofs provide (fire retardancy, passive-energy usage, waterproofing, low cost, low maintenance, cooling), making it a perfect fit for them. This project will save them a lot of money and energy, as well as influencing nearby regions to follow suit. Kheis, a rural community of about 15,000 in South Africa, is one of the leaders in developing this cool roof approach to provide a respite from the heat.

Globally, when less money and energy is devoted towards air conditioning either in the first or the third world, more can be done to confront other problems. The installation of cool roofs creates jobs, reduces the strain on electricity grids, naturally cools buildings and even lowers the net temperature of local areas.

Nyssa Jordan
Photo: Flickr

Development of India

Thirty years ago, India was considered by many to be the poster child for global poverty, with what the CIA World Factbook described as “environmental degradation, extensive poverty and widespread corruption.” However, in the decades since, India has grown tremendously, threatening to eclipse existing global superpowers, in fact, the country is projected to become the world’s third-largest economy by 2025. Here are five reasons for the rapid pace of development in India:

5 Reasons for the Rapid Pace Development of India

  1. Risk Management in Farming – Farmers are the backbone of a thriving society. However, the field of agriculture is full of risks, as bad crops, bad weather and other unexpected circumstances can lead to ruin for a would-be farmer, particularly in a country like India, which experiences ongoing monsoons that can completely ruin a farmer’s crops. This is why India has begun to implement risk management programs that insure farmers’ crops against monsoons and other disasters, a practice common in developed countries. When the Indian government implemented the PMFBY risk management scheme in 2016, the country saw the market premiums for agricultural goods increase by 300 percent.
  2. Quickly Growing Cities – A large part of India’s development has taken place in its cities. Two-thirds of the economic growth of the country comes from its cities, which are projected to have economies the size of small countries by 2030. This is largely due to the large influx of new citizens to the cities, which is projected to add 300 million residents by 2050. This comes at the cost of tremendous overcrowding in the cities, but India is working to develop new methods of urban sustainability that will keep the growth provided by its massive cities going.
  3. Investing in Renewable Energy – When India began to take off as a world power, the country was able to quickly develop its energy systems due to a rapid and early adoption of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind energy. This is because, due to the lack of preexisting infrastructure and the country’s sunny climate, it is cheaper for the Indian energy industry to harness solar energy than to harness energy from coal and gas. Today, solar energy alone makes up 30 percent of the energy produced in India and has the capacity to produce 30 GW of power in 2019. This access to cheap and reliable energy has helped India’s development by allowing the country to power its cities and even export energy to other countries. With that said, many households in India still lack access to electricity, which has caused many in the country to criticize the government’s export policies.
  4. Increased Focus on Breastfeeding – Although this point may seem oddly specific, it is vital to India’s development. The ability of children to breastfeed has been shown to improve their overall nutrition and reduce child mortality. Over the last 10 years, the percentage of babies who are breastfed in India has increased from 46.4 to 54.9 percent. This is partly due to a government program called Mother’s Absolute Affection, which works to make mothers and health care providers more aware of the benefits of breastfeeding and the nutritional needs of a developing baby.
  5. Thriving Tech Industry – In recent years, India has become almost ubiquitously known for being one of the largest tech powerhouses in the world. Most of this growth has been concentrated in start-up companies, turning India into a gigantic Silicon Valley. Of note, Bangalore, India’s biggest tech city, is considered by experts to be the second-fastest growing startup city in the world (behind Berlin) and the country has been rated the world’s top exporter of IT services.

Overall, India is one of the world’s fastest-growing countries and it is because of smart government policies, targeted economic development and stronger social services that help ensure that people aren’t left behind.

Kelton Holsen
Photo: Flickr

 

 

Technology and PovertyTechnology advancements have made it easier than ever to participate in global poverty reduction efforts. From smartphone apps to browser extensions and charitable websites, keep reading to learn the easiest ways to help fight global poverty.

Apps That Help Fight Poverty

Smartphone apps may be the easiest form of providing assistance. Most people carry a cellphone with them wherever they go, so the ability to connect and help others is literally right at their fingertips. The five apps listed below are just a few examples of how technology can help to reduce poverty.

  • OLIO – OLIO is a food-sharing app based in the U.K. that allows people and local businesses to post food items nearing their best-by or sell-by date for other people to pick up. To date, over 1 million people have joined the app and 1.8 million portions of food have been shared. To post items, download the app, add a picture and description of the item, list when and where it can be picked up and wait for someone to claim it. To request items, scroll through the local listings, request what is needed and arrange to pick up through a private message.
  • ChowberryChowberry is an online Nigeria-based app, similar to OLIO, that has the goal of “reach[ing] millions of food-deprived individuals with affordable nutrition through innovation and enabling technologies”. Chowberry works with orphanages and faith-based organizations, as well as everyday customers to deliver soon-expiring food products to those most in need.
  • Share the Meal – Share the Meal was created by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP). The WFP helps 80 million people with food assistance and is the world’s largest humanitarian agency fighting against hunger. Download the app, donate 50 cents (or more) in a few seconds and feed a child for the day. You can even check the app to see where the meals will be distributed.
  • WeFarm – WeFarm is a farmer-to-farmer digital network that allows farmers to connect to other farmers in various parts of the world, without the use of the Internet. More than 1 million farmers have been helped using WeFarm and over 40,000 questions and answers are sent in each day. Farmers can text their local WeFarm number a question they have, and other connected farmers can respond with their answers and suggestions.
  • Donate a Photo – Donate a Photo is an app created by Johnson & Johnson that allows users to “donate” a photo for a cause. Simply take a picture of any subject, choose what cause to donate it to and upload it. For every photo donated, Johnson & Johnson will donate $1 to a certain charity. So far, there have been more than 4.5 million photo donations benefiting more than 200 causes including Save the Children, RED (fight for AIDS) and A Leg to Stand On.

Browser Extensions That Help Fight Poverty

Browser extensions are another easy way to help others. Unlike apps, which require a little effort to use, extensions require none other than downloading them. Although there are several extensions to choose from, Tab for a Cause is probably the most well known. As creator Alex Groth says, this is a way “where everyone can be giving to charity regardless of your monetary worth at that time.”

Tab for a CauseTab for a Cause is a web app/browser extension that works off of opening new tabs. Each time a new tab is opened, the page displays blogs and articles related to various issues to help raise awareness and education as well as ads to help generate revenue which is then donated to different organizations and charities. Tab for a Cause has partnered with Water.org, Room to Read, Human Rights Watch, Conservation International, International Peace Institute and Save the Children. To date, Tab for a Cause has raised $791,766 for various charities.

Websites That Help Fight Poverty

The following sites offer ways to help fight global poverty in the easiest ways possible in many cases at no additional cost to the website user.

  • FreeRice – FreeRice is a website that allows users to essentially play a game to donate food and money to those in need. Each question answered correctly refreshes the page and provides a new sponsored ad which in turn generates money donated to the World Food Programme. Although most donations go towards providing grain for vulnerable families, the company also provides other types of food assistance, “depending on where needs are greatest.” So far the organization has donated the equivalent 202 billion grains of rice to families experiencing hunger.
  • The Hunger Site – The Hunger Site is a partner of GreaterGood, an organization that raises money through online auctions for charities around the world. Although The Hunger Site works like a store with items available for purchase with proceeds being donated, they have a quick, easy and free way to help as well. At the top of their page, they have a “Click to Give” button. Clicking this button donates a specific amount of money from sponsored advertisers to provide food for areas in need, and since 1999 the organization has funded more than 714 billion cups of food. GreaterGood has several offshoots of this campaign, with similar sites for breast cancer, Alzheimer’s and diabetes research, literacy awareness, animal shelter donations and a few others. Overall, since 1999 and through the use of these websites and their online auctions, GreaterGood has raised and donated over $50 million to charities around the world.
  • Amazon SmileAmazon Smile is a project of Amazon that works exactly the same and offers the same products. The difference is that when shopping through Amazon Smile a portion of the proceeds will be donated to a charity of the shopper’s choice, without any additional cost to the shopper. As of 2018, Amazon had announced that it had made over $100 million in charitable donations since the Amazon Smiles program was launched in 2013.

– Jessica Winarski
Photo: Flickr

Technology to promote literacy

Papua New Guinea (PNG) is an independent state comprised of about 600 small islands, that also shares a land border with Indonesia. PNG uses technology to promote literacy in a number of ways. PNG broke off from Australia in 1975 but still receives substantial economic, geographical and educational gains from the country. However, the Australian government reports that in spite of their economic growth and middle-income country status (due to agricultural and mineral wealth), “PNG’s social indicators are among the worst in the Asia Pacific. Approximately 85 percent of PNG’s mainly rural population is poor and an estimated 18 percent of people are extremely poor.”

The World Bank details that PNG also faces a “vexing” situation regarding their remoteness and number of languages. Communities in PNG are very closed off from one another and land travel is strenuous. PNG has 563 airports and air travel has proven to be the common way to get from one place to another. At over 800 languages, PNG is recognized as “the most linguistically diverse country in the world.” As a result of these two factors, PNG’s education system faces a variety of challenges. PNG was ranked 153 on the Human Development Index in 2017, and its adult literacy rate was reported to be 63.4 percent in 2015. Australian Aid and the Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) cooperated to produce The SMS Story research project, a way to use technology to promote literacy.

The goal of the SMS Story Research Project was to ascertain whether daily text message stories and lessons would improve the reading ability of children in grades 1 and 2 in Papua New Guinea. The text messages were sent to elementary school teachers in the Madang Province and Simbu Province using a free, open-source software program called Frontline SMS. The project was a controlled trial with two groups, one group of teachers received the message and the other did not. About 2500 students were evaluated before and after the trial. Using statistical testing, it was determined that the reading ability of the group who received text messages was higher than that of the group that did not.

It was found that the schools participating in the study had little to no reading books in the classroom and that students in groups without an SMS story were “twice as likely to be unable to read a single word of three sub-tests (decodable words, sight words and oral reading).” It seemed that many classrooms in PNG did not provide easy access to reading materials or proper reading lessons.

Amanda Watson, a researcher involved with the project stated that the SMS stories were helpful to the teachers as well. She says, “The teachers actually received almost like a reminder to teach, a bit of a motivator to keep teaching and they received that every single day and we think that really helped them to realize that they’re supposed to be teaching reading every single day, five days a week.” This suggests that before the trial, some of the teachers may not have promoted reading as much as they should have, either due to lack of access to materials or not realizing its importance.

Daniel A. Wagner, of the University of Pennsylvania and his colleagues, detail the importance of using technology to promote literacy in countries with minimal access to education or educational materials in their paper, “Mobiles for Literacy in Developing Countries: An Effectiveness Framework”. He underlines the importance of promoting literacy through information and communications technologies (ICTs) in today’s world where there are “more connected mobile devices than people” and provides several examples of organizations that are working towards increasing literacy through ICTs.

The Bridges to the Future Initiative (BFI) is run in South Africa by the Molteno Institute for Language and Literacy. They aim to “improve literacy through interactive, computer-based lessons” created by the University of Pennsylvania’s International Literacy Institute (ILI). They provide access to educational materials and issue students with “mother-tongue resources” in regions where computer sources or books are mostly in English. Comparably, Ustad Mobile is an application in Afghanistan that runs offline on phones. They center around instructing reading comprehension, listening, and numeracy. Teachers and students can download and share lessons; the app also includes exercises, videos and interactive quizzes in order to “mobilize education for all”.

BBC Janala is another project using technology to promote literacy in Bangladesh. It is a multi-platform service and can be accessed through TV, internet, print and mobile phones. BBC Janala concentrates on teaching English through three-minute audio lessons, quizzes, TV shows, newspapers, textbooks and CDs.

Illiteracy is an issue in Papua New Guinea; most likely due to the lack of reading materials and importance placed on literacy. However projects like, “The SMS Story” are all over the world and are working towards using technology to promote literacy one step at a time.

Jade Thompson
Photo: Flickr

Technology in West AfricaThroughout history, new technology has always been one of the key factors in driving both the economy as a whole, as well as a specific economic sector. New inventions drive new innovations, and as a result, significant advancements are made. Now, technology is driving agriculture in West Africa as well, with both new and familiar ideas paving the way forward. Here are some of the most notable technologies and advancements pushing agricultural expansion in West African countries like Ghana, Senegal, and Nigeria.

Clean Energy in Ghana

One of the keys to most modern technology involves energy: sustainable energy, of course, being among the most ideal (and often cheapest) options. Solar power is making electricity available for more and more West Africans every day. There is also a massive project in the works to create a solar power facility in Ghana. Composed of 630,000 photovoltaic modules, the Nzema Solar Power Station will bring electricity to the homes of more than 100,000 Ghanaians. With this clean energy, new technologies that push agriculture and other economic sectors forward can be powered.

Access to Smartphones

Tied closely with the push for energy is the advancement of the smartphone across West Africa. Smartphone ownership has increased to around 30-35 percent in Ghana, Senegal and Nigeria. Smartphones are an absolutely integral driving force for agriculture and technology in West Africa. With access to a smartphone and the internet, farmers can gain easier and more convenient access to information about local markets and upcoming weather forecasts, improving their ability to adapt to shifts in both the environment and the economy. Not only that, but smartphones also allow farmers to purchase insurance and get other financial services, such as banking.

Technologies Boosting Agriculture

In Nigeria, one company named Hello Tractor is making use of the increased spread of smartphones by creating an app designed for renting and sharing tractors with farmers. Farmers can use the app to communicate with nearby owners of tractors, and schedule bookings for the usage of those tractors on specific days. This reduces the barrier of entry to farming as a profession, and as a result is a massive boon to the agricultural sector. With West African companies such as Hello Tractor innovating upon smartphone technology and the Internet of Things, technology in West Africa is once again driving agriculture.

There are also other technologies which may be potentially transformative to agriculture in West Africa. The more recent advancements in 3D printing may offer another pathway to increase efficiency. In West African companies with less intricate transportation infrastructure, 3D printing offers a cheaper way to obtain farming tools by producing them yourself rather than paying expensive shipping fees. In Nigeria, there is a permanent set-up dedicated to manufacturing replacement parts for local industries in order to provide them more efficiently and at a lower cost. The market for this is expanding as well, as there are U.S firms investing in this technology in the region. The installment also offers training programs for local workers so that they can learn the skills necessary to operate such technology.

Another potential, yet controversial advancement is in the sector of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). In Ghana particularly, cowpea is a crop prized for its energizing properties, eaten traditionally by farmers before working in the field. However, the crop is dying faster each year due to insects. GMOs could offer one potential path to solving this issue and stabilizing cowpea for West African farmers. Though scientists are still in widespread debate about the safety and usability of genetically modified cowpeas in particular, the technology could regardless offer another potential path to advancement for the West African agricultural sector.

Future for Technology in West Africa

Ultimately, the most important and consistent technology for the future of agriculture in West Africa is found in information technology. Smartphone presence becoming more widespread allows access to market data, weather data, financial services, and even access to rental services like those of Hello Tractor. Western Sydney University is also working on a mobile application specifically streamlined for usage by farmers, providing access to many of these services all in one app.

Overall, it is clear to see that technology is driving agriculture in West Africa. With all of these new advancements, it is reasonable to expect West Africa to continue pushing its agricultural sector forward. With solar power expansion, 3D printing, smartphone access, and rental services like Hello Tractor, the informational landscape of West Africa will be transformed significantly over the next several years.

– Jade Follette
Photo: Flickr


Now, more than ever, the world is becoming more interconnected. While the new societal and political inter-dependencies are obvious, even fields like manufacturing are a part of this trend. One product serves as a glaring example of this phenomenon: the smartphone. This hand-sized piece of technology has a shocking amount of components from a shocking number of places. Tech giant Apple sources materials from nearly 45 countries to make its products. While global interconnectedness can certainly be a positive thing, especially in worldwide manufacturing arrangements, at-risk communities in this process can pay a price. Though there is potential for exploitation at many stages of production, it is especially bad at the raw materials stage. Mining toxic minerals like nickel, cadmium and cobalt can come at a high cost to human health. Unfortunately, the production of smartphones harms children in poverty.

To explore the specific threats to child laborers, it is helpful to focus in on one microcosm within the larger mining industry. One particularly harmful mineral in cell phone production is cobalt. Largely mined by hand, cobalt is a silvery-gray metal that people use for many different products, including metal alloys in jet engines and powerful magnets. It is also common in lithium-ion batteries, which are rechargeable energy sources that power mobile devices. The rise in the prevalence of electric cars, which use the same technology, means the demand for cobalt is only rising.

What Conditions Do Children Face?

While countries like Russia and Cuba produce this ore, workers mine more than 50 percent of the world’s cobalt in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Due to this high rate of production, most of the exploitation in cobalt mines occur in this country. As mine operators struggle to keep up with demand, the poverty rate in the DRC stands at nearly 65 percent.  That means that many desperate people are willing to work in dangerous conditions for hardly any money.

In January 2016, Amnesty International published an investigation into human rights abuses in the DRC’s cobalt mines and it found horrifying conditions. Workers face permanent lung and skin damage, as well as immediate physical harm from cave-ins and other accidents. Not only that, but the investigation also found children as young as 7 years old employed in these conditions. This is how the production of smartphones harms children in poverty.

Children told Amnesty International that for 12 hours of work, they could expect to earn only $1 or 2. When government or industry authorities visited mines, supervisors order the children to hide or stay away from the mines for a few days so others would not spot them. These poor conditions and ill-policed regulations are the reasons why cobalt is known as “the blood diamond of batteries.”

How Can People Fix This Problem?

Some companies have taken the initiative to reduce child exploitation, especially in the years following the 2016 Amnesty International report. Electric car-maker Tesla and its battery provider, Panasonic, have worked hard to pursue cobalt-free battery alternatives. These companies managed to cut cobalt use by 60 percent in six years. However, current technologies have reached their limits. Removing more cobalt will start to pose a longevity problem, as well as a fire-risk.

Because cobalt will remain in use for at least the near future, it is essential to protect impoverished child workers. Most simply, because this issue seems far away, it is easy to forget its gravity. For that reason, remembering the power of consumer impact is important. Pay attention to how companies operate and support businesses that perform the necessary due diligence to run responsibly.

For example, Apple, like many large tech and development companies, has a website with details about the ethics of its supply chain. Read up on brands’ efforts, and make sure to voice any concerns (or potentially, any support) at a website like this one.

What Can People Do to Make a Personal Impact?

Direct habits also make a difference. Try to avoid buying new electronic devices if possible. There are many websites, such as Gazelle, where customers can buy like-new phones to prevent the need for mining new cobalt. Additionally, if a device bites the dust, consider recycling its components. While lithium-ion batteries cannot go into the usual blue recycling bins, resources like this one at call2recycle can help identify the most convenient option.

Lastly, consider learning more and keeping up with the latest news on the Cobalt Institute’s website. This group is a non-governmental trade association that provides information and assists in identifying and solving problems in the cobalt industry. With 62 years of experience and all of the major producers in membership, this group has great influence in these matters.

While today, the production of smartphones harms children in poverty, improving conditions are just around the corner. With responsible choices, better supply chain management and technical innovations, this problem could soon be one of the past.

– Molly Power
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Artificial Intelligence Helps the Impoverished
Artificial intelligence has evolved from a futuristic fantasy to our living reality. The possibilities for artificial intelligence-based solutions are continuously developing. Therefore, the potential to expand the reach of various initiatives to help those in poverty is increasing. Recently, companies have recognized that artificial intelligence helps the impoverished by contributing to various sustainability initiatives in impoverished countries. The globally impoverished disproportionately suffer from the negative impacts of environmental issues. Artificial intelligence can help those in poverty restore a sense of empowerment in struggling communities.

How Artificial Intelligence Helps the Impoverished with Sustainability Goals

  • Wadhwani AI – The focus at Wadhwani AI is to bring artificial intelligence to communities in need (and thus that are the least likely to have access to artificial intelligence). One of their current projects focuses on cotton farming. Cotton is the third-largest crop in India with 75 percent grown by small farmers who struggle to have a stable income. Pests are a huge problem for small farmers for both economic and mental health reasons. After 40 percent of cotton crops were destroyed by a pink bollworm attack between 2017-2018, 100,000 cotton farmers committed suicide. As many pesticides have proven unreliable over time, Wadhwani AI is developing technology to detect pests, reducing crop losses and pesticide use.
  • GringgoRecycling collection is incredibly limited in impoverished areas. Generally, only 40 percent of trash is collected in South East Asia. Gringgo, based in Indonesia, uses an app to help collect plastic waste. The app connects waste collectors to uncollected recyclables in their area that can be sold for a profit, increasing income for waste workers and cleaning up waste simultaneously. Recycling facilities purchase these recyclables and convert them into various commodities. For example, plastics can be converted into fuel for the cement industry. Selling waste back to recycling industries (effectively taking it out of the waste stream) reduces ocean pollution, as many landfills are located near rivers, causing much of the collected waste to end up in oceans. Gringgo aims to increase recycling rates by 50 percent by 2022 and reduce the plastic in oceans by 25 percent by 2020 in South East Asia.
  • Makerere University – Air pollution causes more than 700,000 deaths in Africa yearly. Additionally, 98 percent of cities in low and middle-income areas do not meet air quality guidelines. Finding solutions to reduce air pollution is imperative. Based in Uganda, Makerere University demonstrates how artificial intelligence helps the impoverished by aiming to improve air quality. By using low-cost technology, Makerere University hopes to obtain more data on air pollution and the communities most at risk. Sensors attached to taxis around Uganda track pollution and will ultimately forecast future air pollution rates. Policymakers will use this data to make informed decisions regarding industrial changes to reduce air pollution. As data on air pollution rates in specific communities is currently lacking. However, this study could raise awareness among citizens about the unhealthy pollution rates in their own communities.

AI expansion is inevitable; it is already happening. While there are many possibilities for how artificial intelligence can help the impoverished, companies may also question the ethics of new technologies and possible impacts. That being said, it is clear that artificial intelligence can help those in poverty when paired with an open dialogue with those involved in terms of how to help.

– Amy Dickens
Photo: Flickr