The number of mobile phone users in developing countries has grown at a phenomenal rate over the last few years (from 30.2% of people in 2006 to 78.8% in 2011). Many charities and organisations have developed exciting new ways to use this technology, greatly improving development in many areas such as health, agriculture and the economy.
A hugely successful and well-established example of mobiles being used for development is the M-Pesa mobile banking service that launched in Kenya 2007. With the introduction of this technology, millions of people now have access to a bank account for the first time, giving users a more secure way to keep their money. Research in the Economist suggested that, as a result of the service, most people have seen their income rise between 5-30%
It’s not only economic benefits though. There is also a wide range of projects that are using the growing number of mobile users to deliver better healthcare. The World Health Organisation(WHO) puts the amount of counterfeit drugs in the developing world at 30%[iii], and these can have disastrous effects on people’s health and treatment.
The not-for-profit mPedigree launched a system in Ghana and Nigeria where a patient can simply scratch off a panel on their medication and text the code to their service. Within seconds, they know whether the drug is genuine and safe to use.
The most basic phones are now progressing development in every area. Mobile phones are providing people with affordable ways to access the benefits of ICT for the first time, whether it’s the BBC in Bangladesh providing English lessons for those living on just a few dollars a day, or Dialog Tradenet in Sri Lanka allowing farmers to access up-to-date market prices for their produce.
Moreover, phones with internet connectivity are giving millions of people access to the internet who previously had none, especially in remote areas where wired connections don’t exist. Having said that, many rural areas are still unconnected to mobile networks and so there is a lot that needs to be done to enable wider access.
One obstacle to this is tax and regulation, which The Economist wrote about in 2011. As the benefits of mobile become clear, governments in developing countries will hopefully continue to encourage investment in mobile and other technological infrastructure - as without this support, the huge potential for future development will be hampered.
Looking ahead, the potential for mobile for development (M4D) is huge. Last year, smartphones outsold PCs for the first time globally[iv], which will have a huge impact on how people access and use technology in developing economies. As these more powerful handsets start to become cheaper and more readily available we can expect to see the rollout of many more projects and services designed to meet the needs of people across Africa and other developing regions.
[i] International Communication Union (2011) Key ICT indicators for developed and developing countries and the world [internet]. Available at: http://www.itu.int/ITU-D/ict/statistics/at_glance/KeyTelecom.html
[ii] The Economist (2009) The power of mobile money [internet]. Available at: http://www.economist.com/node/14505519
[iii] World Health Organization (2007) WHO-led anti-counterfeiting coalition examines technologies to prevent fake drugs[internet]. Available at: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2007/pr07/en/index.html
[iv] Business Insider (2012) The Future of Mobile[internet]. Available at: http://www.businessinsider.com/the-future-of-mobile-deck-2012-3?op=1