According to the International New York Times, keeping mobile phones out of the hands of women has become a crusade for gray-bearded chauvinists in India. The cheap mobile is particularly troublesome to those who want to preserve old controls.
... The cheap mobile unsettles long-standing gender relations because it introduces a means of autonomy that was not present before. The sociologist Manuel Castells exquisitely captured the essence when he wrote that, “mobile communication is not about mobility but about autonomy.” It’s autonomy that makes a personal, private communications device so disruptive of old social structures.
Stories are common of village councils declaring (without any legal right to do so) that no woman under 40 should have a mobile phone. Mobile phones, according to this view, are especially dangerous in the hands of young people who can engage in clandestine courtships, which could lead to elopements or resistance to marriages arranged by family elders.
The mobile phone’s ancestor—the landline telephone-was also controversial when it debuted 130 years ago.
Soko (not to be confused with Soko Kenya) is an online marketplace that harnesses mobile technology to give otherwise unconnected African artisans, an opportunity to sell their wares online, cutting out the middleman and ensuring they receive more profits. PSFK reports.
In Africa, many artisans are self-employed and the majority are women (producing 60-80% of the continent’s goods), who face discrimination and a loss of profits because they need assistance reaching a wider audience. Soko create mobile technology that allows these artisans to take pictures of their handmade wares and directly upload them to the site, removing many of the technological and financial difficulties that come with selling abroad.
The technology works with basic texts (although Soko has also developed an app for Android phones), letting artisans text their information to the site, and receive mobile money via text. They then receive cash when they go to a designated kiosk, where they also ship the goods. Vendors do not need to have a smartphone, access to the internet or a bank account and Soko facilitates shipping and payments, allowing artisans to receive a larger profit than they normally would.
Innoz, or more commonly known as the “offline Google”, is changing the way information is exchanged in developing nations. PSFK reports.
Created by Deepak Ravindran and his India-based team, Innoz is set to become the world’s largest offline search engine that lets users access the Internet through SMS.
Deepak and his team even created an SMS app store, which currently has more than 10,000 apps. Users can now update their Facebook status or receive Twitter updates through a quick SMS. It does not stop there, Innoz has also created its own operating system “Brownie” that can be installed on phones. One added bonus to the OS is the standalone Android app that serves as a text-focused browser for search.
Operating in seven countries around the world and benefiting more than 120 million users, Innoz is facilitating change in so many ways.
The Indian government is preparing an initiative that would give a mobile handset to millions of rural households. The program, which has been under discussion since last year, is gaining speed ahead of parliamentary elections next year, according to the Hindu today, reports QZ.
The scheme is interesting not just for its scale—it aims to connect some 25 million rural families with cell phones that can access the internet—but its focus. Handsets will be given to the woman of the household, specifically low-income women that have been part of the government’s employment guarantee program.
The scheme gives residents a phone for a one-time fee of Rs 30 (about $0.50) and will provide a recharge every month for two years, according to the Hindu. (The packages are pretty modest: users get 30 minutes of call time, 30 text messages, and 30 MB of data a month, according to the paper.)
The idea behind the program—aside from earning political points before the election—is “bridging the mobile gender gap.” The goal is to help more women get connected to the outside world, which not only makes them feel safer and more independent but improves their productivity and in some cases their income.
Seven in ten Africans own their own mobile phones, with access essentially universal in Algeria and Senegal, according to Afrobarometer findings from across 34 countries, reports AllAfrica.
The report, based on face-to-face interviews with more than 51,000 people, reveals that 84% use cell phones at least occasionally, a higher level of access than reported previously by the United Nations. Internet use is less common - with only 18% using it at least monthly.
-- 72% of respondents report owning their own phone, and another 9% report access to a mobile phone in their household; only about 16% of the population reports never using a mobile phone.
-- Access to mobile phones is essentially universal in Algeria and Senegal (98% each), followed by South Africa, Cote d'Ivoire and Kenya (93% each).
-- Fourteen countries report access rates above 90%. In sharp contrast, Madagascar (44%) and Burundi (49%) both fall below 50%.
-- Frequency of use has also increased: 44% in 16 countries reported daily use in 2008, compared to 65% in those same countries in Round 5.
-- Fifty-nine percent of respondents report using mobile phones to send or receive text messages, and 16% use them to send or receive money or pay bills.
The average life of a mobile device in India is eight years, perhaps the longest compared with anywhere in the world. How is that?
A study of mobiles in India by Ann Stevens of OCAD University, Canada, attempts to address the following issues. Is the longer-than-world average lifespan of the Indian mobile phone a sign of a healthy and robust economy and society? How does the long lifespan manifest itself in Indian society? Can constructive re-use extend the life of mobile phones before they reach industrial recyclers? The study combines primary, secondary and field research in Delhi, Mumbai and Pune.
Two years ago, an estimated 20,000 people in and around the city of Lahore contracted the deadly tropical disease. This year, the region has recorded just a few dozen cases of dengue fever, which usually involves a high fever, horrible headache, and severe bone and joint pain. NPR reports.
What triggered the sharp decline in dengue cases? Fortuitous weather patterns may have helped to keep the mosquito population low. But many leaders also credit a mobile phone app — and the public health campaign that uses it.
"We pull up the trash, put it in the basket, tie up the bag and take it away," says sanitation worker Tanvir Channa. He says that he doesn't often think about his role in combating a deadly epidemic. "Whatever I do, it's just to provide for my kids," the thin 30-year-old says.
To make sure workers like Channa don't skip out on their tasks and allow the dengue mosquitoes to breed, they're followed by an investigator who uses a smartphone to their progress. In this case, it's a tall man in plaid shirt named Mohammad Saleem Taqi.
"I open this application, called Clean Lahore, to enter a field activity," he says. "I take pictures before and after the work is done, enable location services to map this spot, and then send it on to my supervisors."
"Of course it seemed strange at first," Channa says, of having his picture taken on the job. But now he believes the monitoring campaign is to his benefit because the photos show supervisors that he's on the job and can't be marked absent.
Across town from the sewer, men with the fishery department tip a bucket of water into a small neighborhood pond. Dozens of tiny tilapia fish swim into the pond. These fish have a taste for mosquito larvae and naturally curb the mosquito population.
As the two men work, an inspector snaps a photo of them with the Clean Lahore app.
The app is the brainchild of Umar Saif, a Cambridge-educated computer scientist, who now manages part of the anti-dengue campaign.
A cloud-controlled metering and payments system hopes to create efficient energy use. arstechnica reports.
In this underdeveloped "LEGO village called Remba, located on a tiny island in the middle of Lake Victoria, Leaf and his team have set themselves a lofty challenge: proving that micro-grids, combined with a mobile-payments system, can bring power to rural East Africa. And what's more, they want to prove that it's good business.
Using an installation of wind turbines and solar panels, combined with a cloud-controlled metering system and a payments system that lets users pay for power using their mobile phones, Leaf says they can take micro grids out of academic circles and make them a business reality. Starting with Slum Island.
"The whole industry at the moment feels like it's alight with the word 'micro grid,' but very few commercially viable examples are out here yet. It's still university territory, research territory," he says.
A telehealth service gives free medical advice to women lacking healthcare access in the country's biggest city. Salon reports.
A recently launched telehealth service aims to give the poorest sections of society access to basic health advice for free from a mobile phone.
Distance to hospitals and clinics, the cost of transport, and low levels of trust in government-run services leaves men and women unable to seek the medical help they may need.
A strict social code for many women presents an additional obstacle. Low literacy rates – 57 percent of women are illiterate in Pakistan compared with 26 percent of men – and a lack of basic health knowledge compound the problem.
When women are able to travel to a clinic or hospital, they are usually accompanied by a male relative, leaving many unwilling – or unable – to explain their medical problem to the doctor.
Aman Foundation’s telehealth service is the first of its kind in Pakistan, though similar services have been running in India for a few years.
Global access to mobile technology is growing at a rate that outpaces even access to basic services like elelctrictiy, sanitation and banking. In fact, nearly 70% of the world’s population has access to a cell phone, even if they don’t personally own one. [via The Rockefeller Foundation]
The affordability of mobile phones, combined with open source data and apps, has the potential to transform the landscape of international development. While the speed at which mobile technology is advancing is exciting and invigorating, there are still several challenges to harnessing and scaling the opportunities presented by mobile technology.
The report, Scaling Mobile for Development: Harness the Opportunity, analyzes market and user data to provide a fuller picture of activities in the mobile sector and present recommendations on how to accelerate economic, social and environmental impact with mobile solutions.
In this installment of Digital Diversity, brothers David and Christopher Mikkelsen tell the story of how their organisation, Refugees United, was born, using mobile technology and the world’s largest database to help reconnect separated refugee families.
We built the organisation into what it is today – a technology non-profit which helps thousands of refugees in their quest to find missing loved ones."
It grew from a deeply personal experience with a young Afghan man named Mansour who we met in 2005. Not only did he lose his past to the Taliban, but also all contact with his parents and five siblings during their escape.
... In partnership with Ericsson, a provider of telecommunications equipment and services, we built an innovative mobile platform that allows refugees to take the search for missing loved ones into their own hands.
Refugees United’s systems provide access to a simple SMS that can be a lifeline connecting a disconnected person with the rest of the world, and with their missing family. Millions of pieces of data – such as tribes and clans, places last seen and personal traits – are securely analysed and paired to create matches for more than 190,000 refugees who are already registered in our database.
The 2010 introduction of the SmartCare system — developed by Zambia's Ministry of Health and the U.S. Center for Disease Control — helps to catch disease outbreaks before they spread too widely. Mashable reports.
Instead of holding patients accountable for paper "exercise books" documenting their medical histories, the details of individuals' diagnoses and treatments can now be stored on a smart card they hold in their wallets, as well as locally at their health clinic and in the larger SmartCare network.
"The SmartCare card came in because we had a challenge," healthcare manager Ignicious Bulongo says. "Patients would go home and didn't care what happened to their exercise books."
The advantages of the digital system expand beyond its portability: Computerizing the communities' medical records helps Bulongo and other clinicians like him to catch disease outbreaks and medical trends earlier than ever before.
"If there's any outbreak, we'll catch it. The system will show if we see six cases of the measles within one day in people coming from the same area," Bulongo says, noting a recent bilharzia outbreak the clinic found with the help of the electronic system.
Favorite Ken Banks for National Geographic on how text messages and Facebook have helped raise awareness about the dangers of pesticides and informed farmers on how to adopt more environmentally-sustainable agricultural practices
... To make the system sustainable, we knew we needed to find an inexpensive solution,” said UNDP’s Dimitrija Sekovski. “And that’s what we came up with – an innovative way of notifying farmers that cost less than $1,000 to develop: text messages and updates on a Facebook page.”
Walking between the apple trees in his orchard, Mr. Petkovski pulls up the messages on his mobile phone. “Here’s the SMS we received about the codling moth on Friday:
Apple trees in the area of the village of Rajca have been infected by the codling moth. The apple trees should be treated in the next 10 days. For more info, visit the Facebook page or call the Association of Farmers.
In India, an explosion in mobile phone usage has seen former 'untouchables' form successful political parties, and is playing a critical role in the liberation of women. Political Scientist Robin Jeffrey on NBC says the ubiquity of mobile computing has also changed local banking, and reinvigorated the music industry.
In India, the autonomy brought by the cheap mobile phone can blow up long-standing social relationships.
.. The key element of the mobile phone, emphasised by the scholar Manuel Castells: it’s not the mobility, it’s the autonomy. Every owner of a basic 2G mobile has the potential to be a broadcaster and a global networker.
... Cheap mobile phones have made it possible for poor people to politically organise. A striking example occurred in the vast northern state of Uttar Pradesh (UP) in 2007. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) had been created in the 1980s to work for the benefit of 'untouchables', who constituted more than 20 per cent of UP’s population. Though ‘untouchability’ has been illegal in India since 1950, vicious prejudice remains, and Dalits (as ‘ex-untouchables’ are now known) are poor, rural and often illiterate.
To everyone’s surprise, the BSP won a majority in its own right in the 2007 elections. How? The party was based on true-believing workers who for the first time had the ability through their mobile phones to link constantly with each other, with party strategists and with influential voters.
"M-Pesa is a wildly popular mobile payment system in Kenya, which allows citizens of a country with a poor banking infrastructure to easily transfer money to each other using ubiquitous dumbphones. Currently the system only works in the local currency, but there are plans afoot to allow users to transfer Bitcoin — which would help Kenyans working abroad send money back home without paying high international bank transfer fees."
World Vision recently conducted a pilot project in Afghanistan where parents are sent text messages in their local language throughout a pregnancy and during the first year of their baby's life. The Star reports.
World Vision says the pilot was successful and that 22 per cent more women delivered babies at health facilities and 20 per cent more women received prenatal care. Afghanistan's infant mortality rate is the worst in the world, according to U.N. stats
Smallholder farmers stymied by lack of information can see realtime market prices for their produce thanks to M-Farm, and now they want to sell to Tesco, too. The Guardian reports.
M-Farm enables farmers to inquire current market prices of different crops from different regions and/or specific markets, aggregate their needs/orders and connect them with farm input suppliers and enables themfarmers to sell collectively and connect them with a ready market.
The Guardian explains that farmers selling snowpeas through M-Farm are now getting 90 Kenyan shillings (about 68p) a kilo, double what they were getting previously. About 5,000 farmers are using M-Farm as a middleman. The advantage for farmers is that they can count on a reliable buyer.
"We are having to turn down farmers who want to join our service because we can't find enough buyers," said Abass. "Spreading ourselves too thinly would be really risky for us."
This is why M-Farm is seeking to forge relationships with UK supermarkets. Supermarkets have a reputation for driving down the prices of their UK suppliers, but Abass says they could help smallholder farmers in Kenya.
Kenya levied a tax on mobile-money transfer systems at the turn of the year. That was largely aimed at soaking up some of the profits generated by M-PESA, a simple phone-based service operated by Safaricom that acts as a bank account and debit card for millions of Kenyans. Uganda followed suit this month, extending excise duty to all mobile-related activities; and Tanzania is expected to copy them.
Communication between beneficiaries and food aid providers in the Western Sahara refugee camps in Algeria suffers as the number of food distribution points increases. [via favorite Ken Banks for National Geographic]
By using what was already in place - a mobile phone in each household - independent researcher Rosa Akbari capitalized on existing flows of information as they worked without technology and used FrontlineSMS to ease the communication within the camps.
According to AllAfrica, the finance ministry of Uganda will set up mobile phone alerts for the public, civil society and the media to monitor public expenditure in the next financial year to improve accountability.
Social media and a dedicated website will also be used to monitor budget expenditure alongside an integrated payroll and pension system which automatically matches public sector recruitment to wages and salaries eliminating wastage on ghost workers.
Obstetric fistula, an abdominal injury that occurs in unattended childbirth and causes incontinence, is among the most intractable challenges of extreme poverty. Bloomberg reports.
In Tanzania, a pilot program that relies on mobile-phone communication hasbrought fistula sufferers in remote areas to a central hospital for reparative surgery.
In 2009, hospital staff members, with support from the United Nations Population Fund, decided to find the patients. They assembled a countrywide network of volunteers and armed them with mobile phones and basic training to identify potential patients.
Candidates were then diagnosed over the phone; those who appeared to be suffering from obstetric fistula were sent money for bus fare ($30 on average) through a mobile-phone money-transfer service, in care of the volunteer. Volunteers, in turn, received small incentive payments (about $3.50 a referral). This strategy has more than tripled the hospital's fistula operations, from 150 in 2009 to 500 last year.
Google Inc. and the Grameen Foundation set out to improve awareness of sexually transmitted diseases and reduce risky behavior in rural Uganda through text messaging. Instead, the program spurred infidelity. Newsday reports.
Participants in the project texted questions on sexual health topics to a service set up by Google, Grameen and the local mobile-phone provider. Using its search technology, Google worked with Grameen to develop a way to pick up key words in the texts and reply with templated answers. Infidelity jumped to 27 percent from 12 percent of those involved in the project, one of the findings of a soon-to-be published Google-funded study by Innovations for Poverty Action, a non-profit organization.
The unexpected result exposes kinks in the growing field of mobile health, which is bringing together technology companies, wireless carriers, drugmakers and non-profit organizations to explore applications ranging from diagnostics to disease tracking.
In Western Kenya, “Sambaza” is both a marketing slogan and means for despair. It means “to spread.” Bloomberg Businessweek reports via @ranck.
Vodafone-owned Safaricom, the dominant mobile provider in Kenya, uses it as a brand name for a service that allows customers to transfer airtime to each other. According to a new study (pdf) funded by the Institute for Money, Technology and Financial Inclusion (IMFTI), the word has also come to refer to the way money in a mobile account slips away, drip by drip, as friends and family ask for favors.
People who work in economic development use the term “unbanked” to describe the roughly one in three people in the world who don’t have a formal bank account. They represent 60 percent of adults in developing countries and 77 percent of adults making less than $2 a day.
According to a paper published in March that looked at text and call data in three African countries to figure out what drives adoption of mobile money, the authors discovered a gap between rich and poor. First, you’re more likely to use mobile money if you’re more likely to make calls and send texts. That is, you’re more likely to use mobile money if you’re spending money already anyway. Second, people with more contacts who have mobile money accounts are more likely to have accounts themselves. This is true in each country, regardless of how developed the mobile money market is.
So data show that, even within poorer countries, the poor lag the rich in mobile money adoption.
Worldwide, at least a billion people don’t have access to cellular communications because they lack electricity to run traditional transmitters and receivers. A new low-power cellular base station being rolled out in Zambia could bring connectivity to some of those people. MIT Technology Review reports.
Weighing just five kilograms and consuming just 50 watts, the gadget provides connectivity to 1,000 people and is “the lowest-power consumption outdoor base station in the world,” says Vanu Bose, CEO of Vanu, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company that built it.