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.
Community health workers receive new cell phones as incentives to continue their malaria rapid reporting. PBS reports.
With the use of mobile technology, health workers with Akros Research have been able to double the number of clinics and patients they visit per day - when previously they traveled upwards of 100 miles to reach community health volunteers in southern Zambia's heavily impacted areas.
... Several key interventions have been implemented since 2000, including distributing long-lasting insecticide-treated bed nets, indoor residual spraying and antimalarial medicines to curb the disease. The introduction of rapid reporting systems, using mobile phones to provide real-time data and the detection of high-infection areas, has health workers and volunteers excited about ending malaria deaths for good.
Health communication systems designed for rural, developing countries -- where hospitals are often understaffed and transportation is inadequate -- are being adapted to improve care in U.S. cities. The Atlantic reports.
In the last decade, community health efforts have been made more effective by a simple insight: that time, money, and sometimes even lives can be saved through texting. At St. Gabriel's Hospital in Malawi, for example, 75 community health workers were trained to use text messages to communicate patient information, appointment reminders, and other health-related notifications to patients. Through this mobile health, or mHealth, initiative, the hospital saved approximately 2,048 hours of worker time and $3,000 in fuel, while doubling the capacity of the tuberculosis treatment program.
The case for this growing field in the developing world provokes some controversy, however. Tina Rosenberg, writing in The New York Times, argued recently that the field is in flux. "Roughly a decade after the start of mHealth ... these expectations are far from being met," she writes. "The delivery system is there. But we don't yet know what to deliver.
A viral phone game in Pakistan trains people to use their keypad—and gives them the skills they need to hunt for a job. MIT Technology Review reports.
The global spread of mobile phones has brought new opportunities to many poor people around the world, but an estimated 800 million have trouble with text entry or automated voice systems because they are illiterate or only partly literate. And training programs are difficult to get going at sufficient scale.
In Pakistan, researchers are using a silly voice game to motivate hundreds of thousands of people to master an automated voice system—and then move on to scroll job listings this way, too.
The effort, led by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and Pakistan’s Lahore University of Management Sciences, started last May, when just five people in service jobs at Lahore University were given a phone number to get started playing the game. As of this week, the game has more than 156,000 users involving nearly 600,000 calls, including 27,000 inquiries to a job service, all of it sustained by viral spreading alone.
In India, awareness levels, implementation and use of mobile money is at its early stages. While accepted in urban cities and metros, rural India is still an untapped market due to technological constraints. ZDNet reports.
For years within India, mobile phones have being used for banking purposes, such as account balances and real-time transaction details.
Now, we are talking about using a mobile phone as an alternative to making traditional transactions, such as swiping cards at the cash register or till, with the goal of eventually replacing both credit and debit cards by swiping your mobile phone.
Children suffering from intestinal worms can now be diagnosed using a mobile phone microscope that is significantly cheaper than conventional methods, which are prohibitively expensive for many communities. All Africa reports.
The microscope costs around US$15 and runs off the phone's battery, whereas a conventional light microscope costs US$200 and requires electricity in most countries.
To build the microscope, scientists transformed an iPhone 4S mobile phone into a microscope by temporarily mounting a 3-millimetre ball lens to the camera, using double-sided tape to hold it firmly. A US$8 ball lens was positioned in a small hole punctured in the middle of the double-sided tape.
They then placed the mobile phone microscope on top of the slide, which was illuminated from below by a small flashlight. Images were viewed on the mobile phone screen, and magnification of up to 60 times was enabled using the digital zoom function.
Scientists from Canada, Switzerland, Tanzania and United States, used the microscope to evaluate stool samples from almost 200 children in Pemba, Tanzania, alongside conventional light microscope to measure the efficacy of different intestinal worm treatments.
Mobile money, the ability to bank using cell phones -- is a game-changer in global development. This video chronicles M-Pesa, a mobile money product made by Safaricom, and its unparalleled success with mobile banking in Kenya.
Oxfam's pink phones project gives mobile phones to women in Cambodia's rural communities so they can access vital farming information, such as crop prices and weather, to help improve their livelihoods. View slideshow.
It was supposed to be the most modern election in African history. Biometric identification kits with electronic thumb pads, registration rolls on laptops at every polling station, and an SMS-relayed, real-time transmission of the results to the National Tallying Center in Nairobi. npr reports.
Ambitious? Of course. Only 23 percent of the country has access to electricity.
... Among Kenya's wired middle class, the going wisdom was that politics was stuck in the past — hopelessly mired in tribalism and corruption — but that technology would breathe fairness and transparency into the process.
And then came Election Day and the triumph of Murphy's Law.
-- First the laptops ran out of battery power. Organizers had failed to consider that African school buildings, where many of the polling stations were situated, don't have electric outlets.
-- Then the biometric identification kits started to crash. Poll workers didn't have the PIN numbers and passwords they needed to restart the software. Paper ballots were rolled out and voter lines slowed to a crawl, forcing some voters to wait seven to nine hours in the hot sun to cast their ballots.
Voting concluded on Monday, but the tech hiccups did not. A bizarre computer bug multiplied the number of disqualified ballots by a factor of eight, leaving Kenyans livid and demoralized for several days in the belief that more than a quarter-million votes had been summarily tossed out in the incredibly tight race. The SMS-relay system overloaded, too, forcing election officials to airlift poll workers to Nairobi by helicopter to hand deliver the results.
The breakdown of the system delayed the announcement of a winner, creating more anxiety with each passing day in a country that experienced massive post-election violence in 2007.
An estimated 500 to 650 million cellphone users are off-grid. London-based company Buffalo Grid and its portable charging station is hoping to step into the gap.New Scientist reports.
Solar-powered cellphone charging station activated by text message could provide a big help to Africa. Juliet Nandutu in Uganda is offering the service to her village. "I charge 18 phones a day, sometimes 20," she says.
How many phones she charges depends on the local electricity supply. When it's there, people can charge their phones at home, but that's not very often. "It's not so reliable," she says. "It's on and off."
Each text message allows a phone to be charged for 1.5 hours. A fully charged Buffalo Grid unit can last for three days, has up to 10 charging points and charges 30 to 50 phones a day.
Maternal mortality is still a major problem in Uganda. Only 41.9% of births is attended by skilled health staff, resulting in 440 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. TextToChange reports on their campaign to reduce maternal mortality in Uganda.
This mobile phone-based program was set up to reach 3000 people in three districts in Uganda and is about collecting data and obtaining and responding to feedback.
Village Health Team members (VHT’s) were trained to enrol community members in the text messaging platform. Once the community members are registered they receive messages with information to raise awareness on different aspects of maternal health, for example danger signs during pregnancy, nutrition and patients’ rights. Registered mothers also receive periodic reminders to have antenatal check-ups. Another aspect of the campaign is that community members receive health questions via SMS on client satisfaction.
TechInAsia on the success of Digital bank VOX in Indonesia, fueled by SMS.
Founded by Joseph Gaol in 2008, VOX, which stands for Virtual Online Exchange, aims to help the rural population in Indonesia set up bank accounts.
VOX has “mobile street vendors” to connect with the local people. A total of 12,000 of them are in the outskirts of Jakarta and these vendors also act as micro-lenders. As lenders, they sign an agreement with VOX and comply with all terms and conditions set by them to ensure that money is managed in a legal manner.
These lenders – or rather, street vendors by trade – are usually very well connected within the local community. They are also in charge of educating customers in using VOX’s mobile banking system while at the same time helping customers to deposit, withdraw, or to make a loan.
Customers will send a short code via SMS to VOX. The street vendors will then meet the user to collect or pass the cash to the customers. Using the same SMS code system, users can also use their accounts to purchase Facebook credits and pay their utility bills. Right now, VOX is hoping to include more merchandisers within its digital bank system to make payment more simple for its 1.5 million customers. Joseph reveals that, on average, the bank balance per user is at 300,000 Rupiah ($31). So the amount per transaction can’t be high.
Kenya’s mobile operator, Safaricom, in partnership with Sisi Ni Amani – Kenya, an NGO association, have launched an SMS platform to promote peace as the east African country prepares for elections. Ventures Africa reports.
This platform will allow community peace ambassadors to send out peace messages targeted at specific incidents at a micro level with the aim of preventing, reducing or stopping election violence.
According to AllAfrica.com, the two entities have also partnered with other organisations including the Kenya Police Service, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) and the National Steering Committee on Peace Building and Conflict – a body that seeks to manage integration and conflict in the country.
This move follows violence that rocked the country in 2008 after disputed elections towards the end of 2007.
While mobile phone usage has exploded across Africa over the last decade, transforming daily life and commerce for millions, it's a revolution that has left behind perhaps two thirds of its people. Reuters reports.
...In South Sudan, the world's newest state, it's a similar story. Less than a year old, the country already has five mobile operators, and its capital, Juba, is teeming with giant billboards advertising mobile phones, but go just a few kilometers beyond a handful of fast-growing towns, and cell phones become useless.
Multiple SIM cards help users navigate patchy network coverage and take advantage of price promotions from rival operators.
That is typical of much of the continent.
With a population of just over a billion people, Africa has over 700 million SIM cards, but with most users owning at least two cards, penetration is only about 33 percent, according to a study released in November by industry research firm Wireless Intelligence.
"If we look at the fact that the rural population of Africa is about 60-70 percent of the population, and if we look at the degree of penetration into the rural market, it's very, very low," said Spiwe Chireka of advisory firm IDC.
Text messaging is giving Africans the opportunity to make their voices heard by world leaders in a new campaign that kicked off Wednesday. Mashable reports.
Poverty fighting organization One launched its "You Choose" pilot program in South Africa, Malawi and Zambia, hoping to give Africans from those countries a voice at the U.N. when post-2015 development goals are considered in March.
In 2012, India had 925 million mobile phone subscribers. The phones have helped organize protests by middle-class Indians, most recently against the savage rape and slaying of a young woman in Delhi. Bloomberg reports.
They have also starred in one of India’s biggest-ever scandals. The country’s most prominent politicians, journalists and businessmen were incriminated in a rigged auction of 2G spectrum; they were exposed by the secretly taped phone conversations of a corporate lobbyist.
Favorite Ken Banks on the truth about disruptive development in Stanford Social Innovation Review, as he looks back at 10 years of contributing to mobile technology.
... I’ve been thinking for some time about the future of m4d (mobile for development), and how far we’ve come over the past decade. I’ve written frequently about the opportunities mobile technology offers the development community and my fears that we may end up missing a golden opportunity. I’ve long been a champion of platforms and of understanding how we might build tools for people to take and deploy on their own terms. Yes, we should provide local entrepreneurs and grassroots nonprofits with tools—and where appropriate and requested, expertise—but we shouldn’t develop solutions to problems we don’t understand. We shouldn’t take ownership of a problem that isn’t ours, and we certainly shouldn’t build “solutions” from thousands of miles away and then jump on a plane in search of a home for them.
But this is still, on the whole, what seems to be happening. And this, I’m beginning to believe, is rapidly becoming ICT4D’s (information communication technologies for development) inconvenient truth.
Vietnam and the Cell Phone Revolution by News Analysis, Andrew Lam for New America Media.
According to the latest statistics reported by TechniAsia, there were 145 cell phones for every 100 Vietnamese in 2012. For a country “whose population is just over 90 million,” it adds, “that amounts to more than 130 million mobile phones.”
... Beyond the daily chitchat, Vietnamese are increasingly using their hand held devices to document and share scenes that authorities would prefer remain out of the public spotlight. Police wrongdoings are routinely reported, tweeted and shared online. Protests against police corruption and government land confiscation, and even against China’s expansionism in the South China Sea, are now organized by cell phones.
... There's a growing collective discontent against injustices and corruption, and the new communication architecture has loosened the tongue of the general population. And the more informed, the more restless they become. Whether they know it or not, by sharing and swapping information on a national scale the Vietnamese are making revolution happen, one text at a time.