The Promise of Mobile Technology

02/16/2011 11:13 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Technology changes the world in big ways; just look at how differently we live since the advent of the Internet and cell phones.

These inventions give us great power -- both as consumers and as entrepreneurs -- but the real impact may not be just from the birth of these amazing products, but from innovation that allows us to apply them in more spectacular ways.

"Mobile Innovation" is exactly the focus for those attending the 2011 Mobile World Congress, held this week by GSMA in Barcelona, Spain. Over 50,000 mobile industry players have gathered to discuss how to enable, accelerate and direct the evolution of the mobile ecosystem.

Let's take a look at how mobile is currently used in the humanitarian sector, and how it continues to change the developing world.

The Power of Mobile
According to ITU, there are 5 billion people with a cell phone subscription today. Cheaper production costs made it affordable for even those in developing countries to have mobile phones, thus allowing for social mobile initiatives to take shape.

NetHope has a variety of Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D) programs, tackling challenges found in health, monitoring and evaluation, microfinance, agriculture and education.

This year's Mobile World Congress agenda examines how mobile communications have changed healthcare through its seminars on remote monitoring and the technology of mobile health (mHealth).

mHealth's benefits are all too familiar to NetHope. Struck by the inefficiency and delay experienced in Kenya health centers, NetHope and its member organizations agreed there had to be a faster, cheaper and more effective way to collect data in health practices.

With the help of member organization CARE and a corporate partner, NetHope developed an ICT solution that would use affordable mobile handsets and cloud computing to replace the health care system's outdated pen-and-paper method. We call it the Mobile Health Platform (MHP).

MHP's objective is to implement a scalable platform capable of gathering data and delivering information using inexpensive mobile devices. The technology trialed in Kenya allows an unlimited number of powerful backend applications to simultaneously be available on affordable mid-range phones. If required, data could also be collected and information delivered via SMS / text messaging.

The MHP has revolutionized healthcare in Kenya, allowing test results to be shared with patients in a matter of minutes as opposed to delays that sometimes lasted as long as three months. For children born to HIV-positive mothers, there is no time to spare; a delayed HIV-positive diagnosis results in almost certain death of the child. If a child is appropriately treated for HIV within two or three weeks of the test, he or she has a great chance to lead a normal life.

The main takeaway from NetHope's implementation of MHP is that mobile solutions should be reapplied well beyond healthcare to solve challenges across all verticals. For example, mobile technology was used in a microfinance pilot to help loan officers in Inner Mongolia exchange real-time information about clients in areas of poor connectivity. A microfinance Institution's Management Information System is only useful if connected, and mobile technology helps to address connectivity challenges encountered by field staff in developing countries.

With your help and corporate sponsorship, NetHope and its member organizations can grow the innovative ideas shared at this week's Mobile World Congress into real solutions that improve lives all across the developing world.

What other social issues do you think can be addressed with a mobile solution?