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6 Ways Mobile Technology Has Transformed the World's Poor

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Mobile technology is rapidly changing the face of communication in the most remote areas of the world. Today, out of the seven billion people in the world, approximately six billion are cell phone subscribers. In response, companies, governments, and NGOS alike have realized the potential of this tool in addressing today's most pressing global challenges. Last week I attended the Mobiles Conference with 150 thought leaders and decision makers to discuss the present use of mobile technologies to increase development impact. Here are some key areas where mobile technology has had the greatest success.

1. Education

In education, mobile technology has helped provide schools, teachers, and parents access to meaningful data and tips to help students succeed. The educational non-profit, Eneza Education has been doing just that. Eneza is a mobile platform allowing students to access quizzes, mini-lessons and tips and tricks on local content via the web, mobile web, and an USSD/SMS-based system. So far, Eneza has around 100,000 students at over 400 schools across Kenya, and over 20 schools subscribing to their data. Their next goal is to obtain 200,000 students to its platform by 2014.

2. Surveys and Polling

Grants for projects in international development are heavily data driven. New developments in surveying and polling on mobile devices has allowed international development workers to easily collect data in rural communities and take an evolutionary leap from paper surveys. Such tools include formhub, an open source project of the Earth Institute, allows surveys to be created in minutes. The platform is accessible from any Android device with offline features, allowing for easy data collection and analysis anywhere.

Advancements in surveying have also allowed Uganda to develop childbirths and death registry tools. Countrywise, children are now being registered using the Mobile Vital Records System (MVRS), a pilot technology spearheaded by the Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB). Through this platform, individuals can register births and deaths through dialing a number followed by a three-digit-pin. In a country where less than 21% of births of children less than five years old are registered, results so far have been phenomenal. Between January and July 2013, at least 239,548 children were recorded, contributing to a 4.7% reduction in the five million unregistered children under five. MVRS has already been implemented in 135 hospitals across 30 districts in Uganda, with the goal of expanding to all 112 districts by the end of 2014.

3. Agriculture

Mobile technology has also been extremely transformative tool for rural agriculture. Mobile phones have allowed farmers to gain access to market prices before traveling long distances to markets. The Kenyan text messaging platform SokoniSMS64 uses SMS to quickly transfer exact information about wholesale retails of crops, allowing farmers to be able to negotiate deals with traders and improve upon timing to get crops to the market. Other innovations include the use of mobiles to track livestock reproduction. The service "iCow from M-Farm" enables farmers to track a cow's individual gestation so they never miss an opportunity to expand their herd. The application also helps keep track of feed types, schedules, local veterinary contact information and precise market prices of cattle. Similar mechanics have also allowed the SMS based application Tigo Kilimo in Tanzania to provide instant weather figures and agricultural tips to small-scale farms.

4) Banking the Unbanked

According to a 2012 report by the World Bank, more than 2.5 billion people (half of all adults in the world) are unbanked, without access to a bank account. Mobile phones are quickly helping change this statistic. Today more than 55 million Africans use basic phone services to transfer money with each other, take out insurance policies, and collect payments from government agencies. Although only a few bucks per transaction, Africa's "mobile market" is huge, topping $61 billion USD in 2012, with more mobile money sent than the equivalent markets of Europe and North America combined. In fact, mobile money accounts have outnumbered bank accounts in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Madagascar. Across sub-Saharan Africa, more people have a mobile money accounts than Facebook accounts. In 2007 the mobile carriers Safaricom and Vodacom launched the service M-Pesa to allow customers to store credit on their mobile phone accounts to pay bills or buy products. Money can be transferred to merchants, people, or government agencies through a creditor's related phone number. Through this approach, debits are deducted directly mobile phone accounts, without the need to fuss over a bank account.


5) Data Analysis

Today one powerful use of data management is in the of human trafficking. Traffickers, through the use of mobiles, are able to organize, advertise, and streamline their illicit activities while expanding their criminal networks. As a consequence, more people are enslaved than at the height of the Atlantic trade, and partly due to an additive ability to communicate. However, mobile phones can also help counter human trafficking by making the business more risky and less profitable. Data extracted from cell phones and mobile networks amount to a trail of information and powerful evidence for tracking, identifying, and prosecuting traffickers. Mobile technology also helps create awareness among vulnerable communities and generating neighborhood awareness for criminal activity. Global Initiatives such as the Polaris Project have used data to map and identify existing anti-trafficking hotlines worldwide to enable better coordination for victims to receive protection across borders. Since 2007, this type of data-driven analysis combined with satellite mapped images and hotline support have helped connect over 8,000 human trafficking survivors to services and support, with the numbers continuing to grow alongside technological and data-driven advancements.


6) mHealth

In recent years, the growth of mobile health technologies, including health text messaging projects, remote monitoring, portable sensors, and mobile phone apps, have changed the way healthcare is delivered globally, with the potential to provide individuals with an unprecedented amount of access to health resources. Perhaps one of the biggest breakthroughs is the potential of mobiles to end life threatening disease. At present the international NGO,Malaria No More is tackling the spread of Malaria, both on the ground and internationally through mobile technology. Key malaria-fighting tools such as bednets, diagnostic tests, cheap treatment, and reliable drugs are "turbocharged" through SMS mobile phone campaigns. Celebrities such as Didier Drogba, a football player in Sub-Sahran Africa, dispatches text messages millions of subscribers communicating "its 9pm - are you and your family safely sleeping under your net?" to increase preventative actions against Malaria . Results from text campaigns like these have been phenomenal, increasing bednet use by 12%, translating into 500,000 people sleeping under nets which otherwise may be vulnerable to a deadly mosquito bite. Most recently, the Malaria No More announced its Power of One Campaign with the mobile payments company Venmo to allow individuals around the world to make charitable giving more accessible. This service has allowed anyone with a smartphone device to easily donate $1 to treat one individual with Malaria. Thanks to the technological advancements in funding and communication, Malaria, a disease affecting nearly 3.5 billion people, has the opportunity to be the first disease beaten entirely by mobile.

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