A must read article by Lonnie Shekhtman for TriplePundit on exciting mobile innovations geared towards improving lives in the developing world, some based in their local markets and others developed internationally. Here are four noteworthy innovations focused on improving access to financial services and fair wages:
Labor Link allows companies to easily communicate information—via SMS and voice recordings—to workers across their entire supply chain, and to collect real-time data from them on satisfaction, working conditions and social impact...
Allows Kenyan consumers to pay merchants via their mobile phones, while providing a web-based application that enables small- and medium-sized businesses to accept and track these mobile transactions...
This replicates the MLP projected initiated by Bunyad Foundation, a non governmental organisation, with UNESCO in 2009. The programme, in its third phase, is using mobiles to teach as many as 1,200 people in five districts.
The project is set to start within a month. UNESCO will provide the mobile sets and other infrastructure for the project while learning and training content will be developed by the department. As many as 750 mobile messages on topics ranging from basic morality, religious values, health and hygiene, numeracy, language and teacher training will be sent to the teachers during the programme.
In Nairobi’s largest slum Kibera, government officials withhold public services like electricity, sewage and waste collection and only supply water two or three days a week. When water is available, vendors fill large hundred-gallon plastic storage tanks that tower from the rooftops. As a result, water in Kibera has become a commodity overpriced by a handful of private dealers. Stanford School of Medecine SCOPE reports.
While water is expensive and basic utilities are non-existent in Kibera, mobile phones are cheap and easy to access. So Stanford professors Joshua Cohen, PhD, and Terry Winograd, PhD, created a course aimed at combining emerging mobile technologies with human-centered design to improve residents’ living conditions.
One project developed in the class is M-Maji, a mobile application that uses a two-way SMS system to provide users with accurate and up-to-date information on the location, price and quality of water in Kibera. M-Maji means “mobile water” in Swahili.
Algorithms tell government workers where to seek out the telltale mosquito larvae that causes the disease. MIT Technology Review reports.
Last year, the city of Lahore, Pakistan, was hit with the worst outbreak of dengue fever in its history. The mosquito-transmitted disease infected some 16,000 people and took 352 lives. This year was a completely different story. There were only 234 confirmed cases and no deaths. The magnitude of the disease varies year to year, but some of the turnaround could be credited to a new system of tracking and predicting outbreaks in the region.
Researchers working for the Pakistani government developed an early epidemic detection system for their region that looked for telltale signs of a serious outbreak in data gathered by government employees searching for dengue larvae and confirmed cases reported from hospitals. If the system’s algorithms spotted an impending outbreak, government employees would then go to the region to clear mosquito breeding grounds and kill larvae. “Getting early epidemic predictions this year helped us to identify outbreaks early,” says Umar Saif, a computer scientist at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, and a recipient of MIT Technology Review's Innovators Under 35 award in 2011.
Music downloads, mobile payments and instant messaging may be common place in the developed world but in Kenya, the uptake of smartphones has been slower, particularly with many living on low incomes.
Spencer Kelly reports on how Kenyan entrepreneurs are convincing the tech goliaths like Facebook, Google and Microsoft to jump over the Atlantic and help grow their user base on even the simplest of phones - known as "dumb phones".
Dr Khizar Tauseef, WHO focal person on nutrition, said lady health workers will play a key role in the SMS referral system. They will identify malnourished children in their community and send their details through an SMS to the referral system.
The system will automatically refer the child to the nearest healthcare centre through an SMS and this message will be sent to all the concerned stakeholders, health experts and the children’s parents. When the child is taken to the healthcare centre, the referral system will automatically generate another SMS. The messages will continue to be sent till the child completes the treatment and becomes an active part of the community.
The surveillance system, currently functional in 18 districts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, will be expanded, said Dr Tauseef. The system will also help provide updated statistics on malnutrition in the country and will be accessible by everyone.
In honor of World Food Day, oAfrica Mobile put together a list of how African developers, governments, and organizations operating in Africa are harnessing mobile technology to improve agricultural practices.
Private companies, budding IT entrepreneurs, NGOs, as well as governments are all involved in a variety of mobile phone-based products, services, and applications aimed at boosting small-scale agriculture. Perhaps the apps out of Kenya (iCow and M-Farm) earn the most global recognition, but dozens of other projects are serving a similar need.
Researchers have mapped precisely how human travel affects the spread of malaria in Kenya by using cell-phone location data. The effort is the largest-ever to use cell-phone data as an epidemiological tool. MIT Technology Review reports.
The study captured the anonymized travel habits of nearly 15 million Kenyans between June 2008 and June 2009. Their movements were gleaned from 11,920 cell towers. The data was then mapped against the incidence of malaria as recorded by health officials.
The results made clear that malaria outbreaks during that period began in Kenya's Lake Victoria region and spread east toward the capital of Nairobi. This suggests that health officials could avert transmissions by focusing their efforts in the lake region, says Caroline Buckee, an epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health and one of the authors of the study, which is being published today in the journal Science.
... Mosquitoes spread the malaria parasite. But infected people—particularly those who are immune and travel without feeling symptoms—can spread the disease widely if they're later bitten by mosquitoes that go on to bite other people. Malaria kills about a million people each year, most of them children under age five in sub-Saharan Africa.
Sales of mobile phones in India are all set to reach 251 million units in 2013, according to a report by technology research firm Gartner, Inc. Tech2 reports.
... According to the report, the low-cost feature phone market in India accounts for over 91 percent of total mobile phone sales.
Anshul Gupta, principal research analyst at Gartner, said, “The Indian mobile phone market is very competitive with more than 150 device manufacturers selling devices to consumers. Most of these manufacturers remain focused on the low-cost feature phone market.
Google has added India to its list of over 50 countries that can send free text messages from Gmail, as noted by IBN Live. The new service lets Indian Gmail users send an SMS from a Gmail window to a mobile phone and receive replies as chat messages. The Next Web reports.
The feature went live on October 10 for both regular and Google Apps users.
Users won’t be able to send unlimited messages, though, as they will have a maximum credit of 50 texts that will be replenished when SMS replies, which will be billed at the standard rate, are received. That system should help curb spammers from using the service without placing an undue burden on users. If a user runs out, credits will slowly recharge, or they can be purchased.
Following the recent strike in Kenya by state-employed teachers, lecturers and doctors, the country’s treasury has said it will cover the approximated $300 million USD cost in wage increases through cost cutting and introduction of new taxes, including on mobile money transfer services such as Safaricom’s M-Pesa. The Next Web reports.
The tax measures announced by the finance minister Robinson Githae will include a 10 percent excise duty on cash transactions using popular mobile money transfer systems.
M-Pesa is the largest mobile money transfer service provider in Kenya, with more than 14 million subscribers. The mobile money service has proved to be a crucial service for revenue growth for the Vodafone-owned Safaricom. It is estimated that M-Pesa handles some 2 million transactions per day.
This announcement by the finance ministry will surely have caught the mobile service providers by surprise, coming a day after Airtel Kenya removed transfer costs on its mobile money services to allow subscribers to send money through their phone at no cost, in a bid to cut into M-Pesa’s market share.
Just a decade ago, Afghans had to travel to Pakistan to make international calls. The landline phone infrastructure had completely fallen into disarray during the civil war, and there were no mobile phone operators. The first American diplomats and U.N. workers to return to Kabul after the fall of the Taliban carried backpacks full of costly satellite phones for the new Afghan emergency government. USAid reports.
But smart, early regulatory decisions by Afghan lawmakers, based on technical assistanczze from USAID and other donors, engendered the rapid growth of a profitable and competitive sector, pushing down airtime prices well within reach of normal Afghans. Today, Afghanistan is awash in mobile phones, with more than 18 million active subscriptions in a country of 28 million.
This explosion of mobile users has created a network that bridges the country’s formidable urban-rural divide while transcending gaps in physical infrastructure, low literacy rates and pervasive insecurity.
The near-ubiquity of mobile phone coverage has allowed Afghanistan to join the vanguard of countries experimenting with innovative new uses for the mobile channel, using the networks to extend services and information cheaply to populations lacking access through other means. Among the most promising is mobile money—the ability to safely store and transfer “e-money” via SMS, avoiding the expense and danger associated with moving cash, while extending the reach of basic financial services from the 5 percent of the population with accounts in brick-and-mortar banks to the 65 percent of Afghans who use mobile phones.
The winner of Tanzania's Startup World, The Next Web’s global startup competition held in Dar Es Salaam was Safari Yetu.
Safari Yetu changes how consumers buy bus tickets in Tanzania; currently buying a bus ticket for travel means going to a bus station a day earlier than the expected travel date, spending two to five hours in traffic just to get your ticket and then do the same the day you are traveling.
With Safari Yetu, you pay online or via mobile, receive an SMS reservation or ticket and go to the bus station once; the day you are traveling.
Amai Blessing is not a street vendor anymore. She’s an authorized Econet dealer.
“I was a vendor, selling at the shops, but now things have changed. My business is growing” she told us. From selling an average 400 airtime cards a day as a street vendor, Amai Blessing says now she sells between 3,000 and 4,000 cards a day.
If we take 3,500 as the average number of cards she sells a day, this means she makes about $175 a day (3,500 cards x 5 cents). which gives her give us a monthly figure of $4,550.
To put her income in context, for a tech manager for a very large international NGO in Zimbabwe, gross salary wasn’t even half of her airtime business.
Using text messaging for technological advances makes sense in a continent where hi-tech sits cheek-by-jowl with fading technology. The Guardian reports.
One service, SlimTrader, allows customers to use their phones to get information and availability, and to pay for services ranging from airplane tickets to bags of fertiliser.
While in many parts of the world, such a service would use the internet, this option was not available for a large majority of Nigerians using basic feature phones. Instead, SlimTrader can be used entirely by text message. "We took the idea from what it could be in the western world to what it really has to be in the developing world. We went a step further, and said let's make SlimTrader useable on any phone," Femi Akinde, founder of Slim Trader said.
Innovations like SlimTrader are a small part of a new technological revolution in sub-Saharan Africa. In west Africa, which has lagged behind its eastern neighbours, a new breed of home-grown entrepreneurs is adapting technology to local challenges.
They have 230 volunteers in four proviences that send text messages to regional malaria workers so they can help the patient get intervention and treatment quickly. In addition, the system maps cases in Google Earth so they can map trends and respond appropriately.
Watch their video on YouTube, which explains the entire process.
Despite all its cutting-edge technology, Google Inc. has turned to the humble text message to break into Nigeria's booming economy. The AP reports.
The search engine has started a service in Nigeria, as well as in Ghana and Kenya, which enables mobile phone users to access emails through text messaging.
... A $20 mobile phone is as close as many in Africa will ever come to owning a computer. "We don't want to just come in and start looking for how to generate profit," said Affiong Osuchukwu, Google's Nigeria marketing manager. "We consider (sub-Saharan Africa) to be an investment region. We know we have to invest resources and time to develop the market in order for the market to become valuable to us in a way that we can do business."
A new innovation from India called Nano Ganesh, seeks to transform the way farmers manage their water systems by giving them the freedom to turn pumps on and off, from any location, with their mobile phone. The Christian Science Monitor reports.
Santosh Ostwal, cofounder of Nano Ganesh, created mobile-based technology that gives farmers the flexibility to remotely switch water pumps on and off from any distance using cell phones or landlines. Ostwal, an electrical engineer by trade, had a personal connection to the plight of farmers. After observing the hardships his 82-year-old grandfather faced in tending his farm and monitoring the availability of electricity to operate water pumps, he began to construct a remote control that farmers could use within 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) of the farm.
He later modified the remote control by expanding its range to 10 kilometers (6.2 miles). In 2008 Ostwal altered the technology so that it could function over an unlimited range granting farmers the flexibility to start and stop the flow of water from anywhere there is a mobile connection.
BlackBerrys and iPhones aren't much use in Burma, where its only network is frequently jammed, data services are scarce, prices extortionate, lines crackly and most phones don't roam. For decades, its telecoms industry has been a shambles. The Sydney Morning Herald reports.
It's no surprise this country of 60 million people has the world's second-lowest mobile phone penetration after North Korea; SIM cards are made prohibitively pricey to prevent its tiny network from becoming overloaded, while emailing and web-surfing on phones is so rare it's almost a bourgeois concept.
Even getting hooked up to the network is cumbersome. Visitors must rent SIM cards at the airport on arrival while many Burmese can only afford one-time SIMs with a number that expires after a few days when its $US20 of credit runs out.
But as Burma races ahead with economic reforms, the telecoms sector, riven with graft and mismanagement and lagging behind even Asia's poorest countries, is on the verge of a major shake-up as part of a "reform plan" to liberalise one of the world's last remaining greenfield telcos markets.
Details of the plan are scant, but Burma appears to have finally got its act together and insiders say it could announce its plans this week.
Read full article. Image left: A public call office phone shop on the side of the street in Rangoon (Reuters).
During the early years of mobile in Africa, the Short Messaging Service (SMS) was at the heart of the revolution. Today the next frontier for mobile use in Africa is the internet. CNN reports as part of their special month-long series, "Our Mobile Society."
"Mobile is fast becoming the PC of Africa," says Osibo Imhoitsike, market coordinator for Sub-Saharan Africa at Norwegian firm Opera, whose mobile browser is enjoying an impressive uptake on the continent. "In fact there isn't really anything more personal than a mobile phone nowadays."
Last October, for the first time ever, the number of Nigerians accessing the internet via their mobiles surpassed the number of desktop internet users., figures from Statcounter show.
The trend has continued since then. Most of those devices will be low-end Nokia phones, tens of millions of which have already been sold on the continent. The more expensive "smartphones" are however also increasing in popularity, as prices drop. Blackberry's market share has been rising in the developing world, bucking the trend in Europe and North America.
Below are seven ways that mobile phones have transformed the continent:
Information technology is a powerful tool for experts working to provide secure access to water for personal use, food production and business in developing nations. Alert Net reports.
Giving poor people proper access to safe water and sanitation would save 2.5 million people a year from dying from diarrhoea and other diseases spread by a lack of hygiene, according to charity WaterAid.
The widespread availability of mobile phones has enabled the development of low-cost solutions aimed at improving water security and reducing poverty.
Three quarters of the world's 7 billion people have access to a mobile phone, according to a World Bank report. There are 6 billion mobile subscriptions worldwide, of which almost 5 billion are in developing countries.
This is where mobile networks come in -- they have led to the development of communication services that aim to increase the transparency and reliability of water delivery. For example, mobile technology has allowed service providers to monitor water supply to prevent theft and leakages, while offering more effective repairs and billing.
But these innovative efforts still face huge political and logistical challenges, complicated by the risks linked to climate change, experts say.
Counterfeiters in Uganda are thriving thanks to the country's weak anti-counterfeit laws, reports The Independent.
Uganda is reported to have the highest number of substandard and fake mobile phones in the region. Of the 48% of the population that have mobile phones, 30% are carrying fake phones and government nearly loses an estimated Shs 15 billion annually in tax revenue through fake mobile phone purchases.
While some people deliberately buy counterfeit phones because they are cheaper, other unsuspecting customers just fall victim to counterfeiting tricks. According to Moses Bbosa, a phone vendor on Wilson Street, many people fail to notice that phones labeled as ‘Sum Sang’ (instead of ‘Sam Sung’) Sony Ericsson, Nokia and Samsvng are fakes.
... As Uganda bides its time drafting a new Anti-Counterfeit Bill, mobile phone users in neighboring Kenya have have until September 30 to replace their counterfeit mobile phones with genuine ones. The government has stepped up the campaign to educate Kenyans on the risks associated with using counterfeit mobile phones and steps the consumers should take to establish if their mobile phones are genuine.
The measure is intended to ensure that all mobile phones are genuine to safeguard the health of consumers and to protect the interests of consumers from “unnecessary risks in this era of mobile banking.” According to industry statistics, 10% of all the active mobile devices in Kenya are counterfeits. Contravention of the new measure attracts a fine not exceeding KShs 300,000 ($3,600) or imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or both.
This has sparked a fear that the counterfeits phones being phased out in Kenya could flood the Ugandan market unless the government takes quick action.
According to Today Online, The Indian government is considering giving one mobile phone to every family living below the poverty line.
Sources in the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's office said the scheme—Har Hath Mein Phone (or A Mobile In Every Hand) - should be announced on August 15 and will not only aim to give away mobiles to the 6 million poor families in rural India but alos provide 200 minutes of free local talk time.
The scheme has been partly inspired by Kenya's M-PESA mobile phone banking system which enables poor people to transfer money and receive payments via sms text messages. Similar schemes in India have been hampered because millions have no official identity documentation.
The Mobile in Every Hand Scheme however will benefit from the government's ambitious unique identification project to record the biometric details of every Indian and issue them a secure number to help them access government services online. More than 200 million people have already been given new ID numbers.
India has undergone a mobile phone revolution in the last decade with cheap Chinese-made mobile phones and 'pay as you go' services encouraging millions of poor rickshaw pullers and domestic servants to subscribe.
Despite chronic electricity shortages, more than three-quarters of its 1.2 billion people have mobile phones and use them to boost their incomes.
Rickshaw pullers have established cellphone booking services in some cities, while small-holders use them to get text message weather forecasts which have helped boost crops.
Mobile phones and simple text messages are being used to tackle everything from food shortages to childhood HIV across Africa. The BBC report.
Unicef has its own Innovation Unit, responsible for using new technologies to solve big problems. One of the tools it has developed is an open source system called RapidSMS, which harnesses the power of text messaging for data collection and group communication.
"Unicef country officers were looking at how they could get better data in real time," says the agency’s innovation officer Erica Kochi. So, she says that four years ago the unit started by thinking about ways that smart phones and tablets might be used to help with that. But that proved too expensive, and too dependent on data networks that just weren't there yet.
"So we started looking at SMS as a way of transmitting information, and we realized we could do a lot."
They didn't have to wait long for their first test case. At the time Unicef's Innovation Unit was dreaming up RapidSMS, country officers in Ethiopia said they needed help urgently with their food distribution. The entire Sahel region was experiencing drought, and severe food shortages. "We didn't know how much food there was at a given location at a given point in time," says Kochi. "People were filling out paper forms, but those wouldn't get to the supply people in the capital in time. Some places would have too much food, and other places would go without for weeks."
And so the Innovation Unit started working on a simple group SMS messaging system that could tie into the internet and a server. Instead of relying on paper forms, field workers could use text messages and a database to track food supplies. "It took us three to four weeks to build and deploy," Kochi says.
In Africa farming has also gone out of fashion – it’s hard work with little pay. Millions of young men and women have moved into overcrowded cities seeking better work and instead end up living in slums. Forbes reports.
The program will be the first mobile tool in Kenya made to assist smallholder farmers in managing their production from ‘farm to fork.’ It will “support farmers using the most basic mobile phones with critical knowledge to increase their rates of production and subsequent incomes while learning the value of local biodiversity and conservation farming.” The prize will support the launch of the project’s smart phone android application with a field trial to launch in October.
The “toolkit” comes in the form of information, sent to farmer’s phones and includes a whole slew of options, like “Farming 101″ that teaches farmers water management techniques (including 7 kinds of drip irrigation and rainwater harvesting techniques), business tutorials and a ”’whiteboard” where farmers can connect with one another and markets.
After selecting a crop, farmers receive an average of 36 messages a season (45 for more technical crops) that help guide them through 8 stages from planning to harvest. The group will provide information for more than 32 crops, including local indigenous species like sukuma wiki (a kale) and njahi (green gram) and aspires to have more than 1 million smallholder farmers registered for the service by 2017.
The literacy rate in Bangladesh is not low, so it is somewhat surprising that SMS usage is so low. However, it is obvious that many Bangladeshis can only read and write in Bangla, whereas the handsets imported into the country rarely have Bangla scripts enabled. Many cannot send SMS because they do not know English.
According to Faisal Alim, the general secretary of the Mobile Handset Importers Association of Bangladesh, the country imports six million handsets per year and most of them do not have a Bangla keypad.
This year the Bangladesh government has made it compulsory to incorporate Bangla keypads into mobile phones.
As the fastest-growing mobile market on the planet, Africa is facing huge opportunities — and distinct challenges — in news dissemination. Nieman Journalism Lab reports via @jranck.
By the end of the year, it’s estimated that more than three-quarters of the population will be cell phone subscribers, including in places where literacy rates are low and electricity is unavailable. To better serve that demographic, German media giant Deutsche Welle is using over-the-phone voice technology to deliver news.
No Internet access necessary: Just dial a number to access the program Learning by Ear, an educational show for teenagers that mixes news and explainers having to do with health, politics, the economy, the environment, and social issues.
When the series launched in 2008, it was a radio broadcast. A podcast version followed two years later. Now, Learning by Ear is available on any kind of mobile phone. (Episodes are also available to download for those with smartphones.) Each episode is 10 minutes long, but those minutes cost the user less than talking on the phone would. (The specific lower rates vary by carrier.)
The show’s already available in languages like English, French, Hausa, and Swahili.
The idea is to help give young people access to information that otherwise may not be available.
According to The Wall Street Journal, North Korea's booming cellphone market now counts more than 1 million subscribers, providing citizens with an increasingly potent channel for delivering accounts from the reclusive country to the outside world.
North Korea's regime prohibits residents from making international calls with the phones or accessing the Internet with them. Still, some residents appear to be sharing information using sophisticated models that come with video and removable memory cards.
"It's tantamount to releasing countless personal video cameras and recording devices in the nation, which could be used to get information out," said Jiro Ishimaru, chief editor of Rimjin-gang, a magazine featuring news and information from undercover North Korean reporters, in an interview.
... The prospect is still remote that handsets can become a catalyst for a civilian uprising in North Korea, as they did in the Middle East last year. But the trend appears to be weakening the grip on information by North Korean leader Kim Jong Eun's hard-line communist regime, Pyongyang-watchers say.
The regime has been officially encouraging mobile-phone use for four years. It owns a 25% stake in Koryolink, North Korea's only mobile operator.
:.. The phone business provides money for the cash-strapped regime. Chinese touch-screen models for sale in Pyongyang can run as much as $400.
According to The Straits Times, North Korea has disabled video camera and memory card functions in new mobile phones, a news report said on Saturday, in what appears to be Pyongyang's latest move to tighten control over the flow of information within and across its borders. The North also removed the Bluetooth function.
The Philippines looks set to expand its rapid monitoring system, based on mobile phone text messaging, to lessen the number of deaths and improve emergency response times. With over 7,000 islands and more than 100 million people, the archipelago experiences an average of 20 typhoons a year, with stronger storms in recent years.