Communications Access and Infrastructure

Mobile Phones and Economic Development in Africa

Posted by MohiniBhavsar on Oct 06, 2010
Mobile Phones and Economic Development in Africa data sheet 2493 Views
Jenny C. Aker and Isaac M. Mbiti
Publication Date: 
Jun 2010
Publication Type: 
Journal article

We examine the growth of mobile phone technology over the past decade and consider its potential impacts upon quality of life in low-income countries, with a particular focus on sub-Saharan Africa. We first provide an overview of the patterns and determinants of mobile phone coverage in sub-Saharan Africa before describing the characteristics of primary and secondary mobile phone adopters on the continent.

We then discuss the channels through which mobile phone technology can impact development outcomes, both as a positive externality of the communication sector and as part of mobile phone-based development projects, and analyze existing evidence.

While current research suggests that mobile phone coverage and adoption have had positive impacts on agricultural and labor market efficiency and welfare in certain countries, empirical evidence is still somewhat limited. In addition, mobile phone technology cannot serve as the “silver bullet” for development in sub-Saharan Africa. Careful impact evaluations of mobile phone development projects are required to better understand their impacts upon economic and social outcomes, and mobile phone technology must work in partnership with other public good provision and investment.

The Mobile Minute: Mobile Banking Bonanza, Worldwide ICT Growth, Native Apps on Smartphones

Posted by AnneryanHeatwole on Oct 05, 2010

Today's Mobile Minute is focused on mobile money. We've got news about Bharti's financial services in India, Rwanda's new mobile banking guidelines, Digicel's plan for mobile financial services in Haiti, ICT growth from 1998 to 2009, and the popularity of native apps on smartphones. 

  • Digicel, a Caribbean telecom, announced they will launch a mobile banking pilot project in Haiti, starting this October. The pilot will allow users to transfer funds and give and receive cash via mobiles.
  • ICT4Dblog charted how ICTs have grown around the world, ranking mobile, Internet, and broadband growth over an 11-year period. The site then looked at how these numbers show the digital gap between rich and poor countries, and then reported on: "digital lag: the time gap between a given average ICT penetration level in the poorest countries, and the year that was achieved in the richest countries. Current digital lag is just under 10 years for mobile, and something like 14-15 years for Internet. For broadband, it’s just over 10 years but the figures are so low that this may not be meaningful."
[Mobile Minute Disclaimer: The Mobile Minute is a quick round-up of interesting stories that have come across our RSS and Twitter feeds to keep you informed of the rapid pace of innovation. Read them and enjoy them, but know that we have not deeply investigated these news items. For more in-depth information about the ever-growing field of mobile tech for social change, check out our blog posts, white papers and research, how-tos, and case studies.]

Image courtesy Flickr user QiFei


Mobile Mapping for Rapid Field Assessment of Health Infrastructure in Indonesia

Posted by cycadme on Oct 01, 2010

The rural population of eastern Indonesia generally has limited access to health services due to rugged topography, poor roads and limited health resources. Moreover, there are no comprehensive audits of health infrastructure at the district level resulting in poor coordination of health resource allocation. This project is using mobile field data collection techniques to identify gaps in health services to enable more effective and equitable delivery of scarce health resources to remote and poor regions. 

The study tested the assumption that recent changes in mobile mapping and GIS technologies have made them appropriate and effective tools for public health applications in rural, developing contexts.  Three primary factors seen to be facilitating more widespread use were: (1) decreasing hardware costs, (2) the technological convergence of GPS/mobile-phone/PDA (personal digital assistant) hardware and (3) the development of free/open-source spatial data software.  

Health department staff from West Timor learning mobile field data collection tools.

Mobile Mapping for Rapid Field Assessment of Health Infrastructure in Indonesia data sheet 2657 Views
Countries: Indonesia

Voices From The Community And From You!

Posted by AnneryanHeatwole on Sep 29, 2010 turns five this fall. We think that this is a perfect time to highlight the creative and amazing practitioners in the m-4-change field. Our community of developers, organizers, advocates, field staff, researchers, donors, and many more is what makes this peer network so strong and vibrant.

We wanted to hear from you on where the field of 'mobiles for change' has been, where it's going, and how a community like can help along the way. So we called people around the world who have been in the field for a while to hear their thoughts. 

Marty Kearns (Green Media Toolshed), Brenda Burrell (Kubatana), Bukeni Waruzi (, Chris Spence (National Democratic Institute), Karen Doyle Grossman (Mercy Corps), and Ben Rigby (The Extraordinaries) shared their thoughts on three questions:

Can Mobile Internet Help Alleviate Social Exclusion in Developing Countries

Posted by MohiniBhavsar on Sep 28, 2010
Can Mobile Internet Help Alleviate Social Exclusion in Developing Countries data sheet 1872 Views
Chigona, W., Valley, J., Beukes, D. and Tanner, M
Publication Date: 
Jan 2009
Publication Type: 
Journal article

Research has shown that traditional Internet has not been successful in alleviating social exclusion in developing country. Since a significant number of the population in developing countries use mobile phones, others have suggested that mobile internet may be the solution to the problem. However, to date there has not been empirical studies in developing countries to explore that possibility. This study aims therefore to explore whether the mobile Internet may be a viable option for addressing social exclusion in a developing country context. Data for the study was gathered using semi-structured interviews with socially excluded individuals and the data was analysed using thematic analysis. The findings of the study show that usage of mobile internet amongst the socially excluded is low mainly because internet-capable cell phones are still beyond the reach of the socially excluded and because of limited awareness of what mobile internet is and what it can achieve. The study also shows that while mobile internet has significant impact in addressing exclusion from social participation, its impact on economic as well political dimensions of exclusions is still limited.

The Mobile Minute: Per-Second Billing in Zimbabwe, Twitter's Mobile Stats, the Seven Kinds of Mobile Donations for Non-Profits

Posted by AnneryanHeatwole on Sep 21, 2010

The Mobile Minute is back with the latest mobile news. McKesson Foundation's president is interviewed about its $1.5 million grant for m-health research, Zimbabwe begins to roll out per-second mobile billing, NTEN shows non-profits in the United States seven ways to incorporate mobile donations, Apple publishes its guidelines for submissions to the app store, and Twitter releases new figures about their mobile access numbers.

Mobile (In)Security Redux: Comparing the Tools

Posted by KatrinVerclas on Sep 20, 2010

We have been very keen on exposing the security issues related to mobile communications for activists in insecure environments. To that end we have, to date, produced a number of how-to guides that evaluate some of the tools available.

A little while ago, we added a matrix of available tools that compares existing applications for secure communications more systematically. So, here is the line-up of mobile security resources on MobileActive for easy reference:

We will continue to pay close attention to this space as there are not enough tools and resources yet for activists and journalists to communicate securely via mobile. If you are aware of other projects or resources, please add a comment!

Photo courtesy: rafeblandford via flickr

Electronic Delivery of Social Cash Transfers: Lessons Learned and Opportunities for Africa

Posted by Katharine_v on Sep 17, 2010
Electronic Delivery of Social Cash Transfers: Lessons Learned and Opportunities for Africa data sheet 1808 Views
Katharine Vincent
Publication Date: 
Feb 2010
Publication Type: 
Report/White paper

The electronic delivery of cash can be achieved through a variety of mechanisms - debit card, smart card or cellphone, using a range of financial infrastructure -banks, automated teller machines (ATMs) and point-of-sale (POS) devices. This brief outlines recent experiences from across Africa, with a focus on Kenya, Malawi, Namibia and Swaziland.

The benefits of electronic delivery systems to both governments and recipients are well known in terms of improved cost efficiency and flexibility of access, so this brief emphasises issues that are relevant to private sector partners, who are vital to the introduction of such systems.

The rapid penetration of cellphones in Africa, including both signal coverage and handset ownership, makes distribution of cash transfers by cellphone an increasingly viable proposition, as shown in Kenya through the M-PESA mechanism. Additionally the availability of cellphone signal has been instrumental in facilitating use of ofline smart cards for electronic delivery of cash transfers in Malawi and Namibia.

The growth of financial infrastructure and opportunity for banks to increase their market share has increased the favourability with which banks view potential participation in government-to-person cash transfers.

Evidence from Malawi and Swaziland shows that cash transfer recipients who are provided with bank accounts to receive their cash transfers tend to then use them to save money and to receive person-to-person transfers (e.g. remittances) – thus making further use of financial infrastructure and services.
In terms of scalability of electronic delivery systems, the time- and cost-intensive nature of the payment mechanism setup relative to the operating costs means that the incentive for private sector partners to engage is much greater for long-term programmes than short-term pilots.

Undertaking cash transfer programme registration formalities concurrently with private sector partner registration procedures (in terms of opening bank accounts or distributing SIM cards or smart cards) thus makes sense, wherever possible. It is also imperative that contractual obligations for the government implementer and private sector partner be agreed upfront, smart cards) thus makes sense, wherever possible. It is also imperative that contractual obligations for the government implementer and private sector partner be agreed upfront, desmart cards) thus makes sense, wherever possible. It is also imperative that contractual obligations for the government implementer and private sector partner be agreed upfront, defining respective roles and responsibilities, together with a grievance procedure in case of non-compliance.

As well as the growing base of evidence from projects and programmes in Kenya, Malawi, Namibia and Swaziland, other countries that have expressed interest in the use of electronic delivery systems include Ghana, Lesotho and Mozambique.

The Mobile Minute: Better Photos from Android, Mobile Web Concerns, Sierra Leone Cracks Down on SIM Cards

Posted by AnneryanHeatwole on Sep 15, 2010

The Mobile Minute is here to bring you coverage on Sierra Leone's crackdown on unregistered SIM cards, Wall Street firms' move away from BlackBerry, Tim Berners-Lee's concerns about the mobile web's privacy, accountability, neutrality of networks, and accessibility, and a how-to guide for taking the best photos with your Android phone.

Mobile Cell Phones and Poverty Reduction: Technology Spending Patterns and Poverty Level Change among Households in Uganda

Posted by MohiniBhavsar on Sep 14, 2010
Mobile Cell Phones and Poverty Reduction: Technology Spending Patterns and Poverty Level Change among Households in Uganda data sheet 269 Views
Kathleen Diga
Publication Date: 
Dec 2007
Publication Type: 

This paper examines the spending behavior of households with mobile phones in rural agricultureal Uganda and whether such strategies such as substitutions have affected the well-being of these community members. According to the findings, rural households are willing to make sacrifces such as travel expenses and store-bought food budget in order to address the expenses of mobile phone services. While gender inequality through exacerbated asset control and mobile phone inexperience drive further digital divide in this village, the proliferation of small businesses development encourages phone ownership for women. Such strategies to afford a mobile phone or mobile phone services are undertaken to help facilitate long-term asset accumulation. For development studies, the analysis recommends a revised form of development thinking in a growing knowledge economy. 

The Mobile Minute: Nokia's Dual SIM Card Phones, Launch of SwiftRiver, and RIM Delays India's BBM Ban

Posted by AnneryanHeatwole on Sep 08, 2010

Today's Mobile Minute's coverage will feature release of the data-aggregating program SwiftRiver, feature phones' allure in developing countries, Nokia's entrance into the dual SIM card market, a new book that investigates how ICTs will have an effect on politics and culture in the Muslim world, and how RIM's response delayed India's proposed ban on BlackBerry services.

Building an SMS Network into a Rural Healthcare System

Posted by MohiniBhavsar on Sep 01, 2010
Building an SMS Network into a Rural Healthcare System data sheet 1946 Views
Joshua Nesbit
Publication Date: 
Jan 2010
Publication Type: 

This guide provides an inexpensive way to create an SMS communications network to enable healthcare field workers as they serve communities and their patients. The steps are purposefully simple – the system is easy to set up, use and maintain.

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions:

1. Who might benefit from a text-based communications network?
2. What are the benefits for my hospital, clinic or organization and the people it serves?
3. What technology do I need?
4. Do I need an internet connection?
5. How expensive is an SMS network?
6. How do I distribute communication credit?
7. How much staff training is required?
8. How much time does it take, per day, to manage the SMS network?
9. How do I conduct SMS training?
10. What is the best power source for the cell phones?
11. Do the CHWs communicate with each other?
12. Where can I find more information on FrontlineSMS?

The Mobile Minute: Opera's State of the Mobile Web, California's Mobile Alert System, and Installing a Mobile Analytics Service

Posted by AnneryanHeatwole on Sep 01, 2010

Today's Mobile Minute brings you news on the state of the mobile web, California's plan to be the first state with a mass mobile alert system, Cisco's (rumored) move to buy Skype, a guide to installing PercentMobile on different platforms, and results from a study on the effects of SMS reminders for taking birth control pills. 

September Events Round-Up

Posted by AnneryanHeatwole on Aug 31, 2010

[NEW EVENTS ADDED] After a slow August, September is bursting with events. Mark your calendars, there's something for everyone this month! And, as always - if you know of other events of note for this community, please add them in the comments!

Our Events:

23 September, Women and Mobile Tech Salon (New York, NY, USA) MobileActive is hosting a tech salon this month to discuss mobile tech and the particular needs of women to improve their lives, health, and economic status.

We will have short talks by women leaders in the mobile tech-for-social-change field. Register here!

September Events Round-Up data sheet 2121 Views
Countries: Estonia Finland South Africa United States

The Mobile Minute: FrontlineSMS now with MMS, Mobile Fundraising, and Free Phone Calls by Google

Posted by AnneryanHeatwole on Aug 30, 2010

The Mobile Minute is back with the latest mobile news. What's happening today? FrontlineSMS now supports MMS via email and offers scheduling features, an infographic breaks down the overlap between social networks and mobile phones, non-profits are ramping up their use of mobile giving campaigns, and Google introduces a new computer-to-phone voice service.


Posted by evoltech on Aug 27, 2010

March Hare Communications Collective, Inc. (MHCC) is a volunteer mutual benefit corporation that is dedicated to promoting emerging communications technology for the use of public organizing of grass-roots groups and non-governmental organizations. The focus of the March Hare Communications Collective, Inc. is to develop new, secure and open software to be used with existing technologies that will aid community and grass-roots coordination, social networking and organization specifically using mobile technologies. In addition March Hare Communications Collective, Inc. seeks to provide educational materials and trainings on how to use mobile technologies in a safe and effective manner that meets the needs of the user groups. March Hare Communications Collective, Inc. seeks to be a depository of both technologies and information regarding the innovative use of mobile technologies to promote social justice in the US and internationally by grass-root/community groups.

Organization Type: 
1370 Mission St, Floor 4
San Francisco
United States
Postal code: 

Informing Development: Mobile Telephony, Governments, and Local Stakeholders in Africa

Posted by bcullum on Aug 27, 2010
Informing Development: Mobile Telephony, Governments, and Local Stakeholders in Africa data sheet 1491 Views
Brannon Cullum
Publication Date: 
Aug 2010
Publication Type: 

It is believed that once groups acquire information and communication technologies (ICTs), they will prosper. When the most marginalized members of society have better access to information and knowledge, the likelihood of improving their livelihoods also increases. Past literature has dealt with the difficulties that such groups have had in accessing and acquiring technology because of institutional obstacles. This thesis examines the institutional obstacles and constraints faced by groups once they have
acquired ICTs.

I intend to examine why, despite the rapid diffusion of ICTs in developing countries over the past decade, there has not been a dramatic improvement in the alleviation of poverty. In particular, this thesis will explore the use of mobile phones in the context of development and poverty reduction in Sub-Saharan Africa and the relationship between institutions and local stakeholders to strengthen livelihoods.

This thesis hypothesizes that development initiatives using a collaborative, hybrid approach that integrates effective institutional involvement with inclusive grassroots participation will be more sustainable and scalable than those that attempt solely topdown or bottom-up approaches. In other words, initiatives devised by institutions that rely upon structures incorporating local communities into projects will be found to be more successful in both the short-term and long-run. Case studies have been selected to illustrate how this hybrid approach is ultimately more successful in improving the livelihoods of the rural poor than approaches that are either primarily driven by the topdown or bottom-up.

The four cases considered in this thesis will describe the extent to which projects or initiatives using mobile phones have been successful in meeting the needs of local beneficiaries and improving their livelihoods.

The Mobile Minute: YouTube's Mobile Site, News Orgs' Failure to Capitalize on Apps, and North Korean Mobile Ownership

Posted by AnneryanHeatwole on Aug 25, 2010

The Mobile Minute is here to bring you news about YouTube's new mobile site, 4G wireless networks in Russia, mobile phone ownership growth in North Korea, apps and the future of news journalism, and the New York Times' look at the growth of the web. 

Use of Mobile Phones in an Emergency Reporting System for Infectious Disease Surveillance After the Sichuan Earthquake in China

Posted by MohiniBhavsar on Aug 24, 2010
Use of Mobile Phones in an Emergency Reporting System for Infectious Disease Surveillance After the Sichuan Earthquake in China data sheet 2311 Views
Changhong Yang, Jun Yang, Xiangshu Luo & Peng Gong
Publication Date: 
Jan 2009
Publication Type: 
Journal article

Problem Quick detection and response were essential for preventing outbreaks of infectious diseases after the Sichuan earthquake. However, the existing public health communication system in Sichuan province, China, was severely damaged by the earthquake.

Approach The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention set up a mobile phone emergency reporting system. In total, 495 light-powered mobile phones were delivered to local health-care agencies in earthquake affected areas. All phones were loaded with software designed for inputting and transmitting cases of infectious disease directly to a national database for further analysis.

Local setting The emergency reporting system was set up in 14 counties hit hardest by the earthquake in Sichuan province, China.

Relevant changes One week after delivering mobile phones to earthquake-affected areas, the number of health-care agencies at the township level that had filed reports returned to the normal level. The number of cases reported by using mobile phones accounted for as much as 52.9% of the total cases reported weekly from 19 May to 13 July in those areas.

Lessons learned The mobile phone is a useful communication tool for infectious disease surveillance in areas hit by natural disasters. Nevertheless, plans must be made ahead of time and be included in emergency preparedness programmes.

The Mobile Minute: Radio and Awesome Mobile Metrics, Email via SMS in the Philippines, and the Decline of the US Landline

Posted by AnneryanHeatwole on Aug 23, 2010

The Mobile Minute is here to keep you up-to-date on mobile and ICT news. Today's Mobile Minute covers National Public Radio's (NPR) metrics in America, why FM radio could be coming to your mobile handset, the decline of landline phones in the US, a program that delivers email over SMS in the Philippines, and why advertisers should use mobile marketing in developing countries.

The Mobile Minute: Native Apps vs. Web Apps, A Texting Habits Infographic, and Defining "Mobile" Technology

Posted by AnneryanHeatwole on Aug 18, 2010

Today's Mobile Minute brings you coverage on the debate between native apps and web apps, an Android application that uses Spyware to mine GPS data, questions about how to define "mobile" devices, an infographic that details texting habits in the US and around the world, and a controversy over a mobile water-finding app for people crossing the Mexico/US border. 

The Mobile Minute: RIM Caves in India, Mobile Ownership Numbers, Thoughts from Tech@State

Posted by AnneryanHeatwole on Aug 12, 2010

Today's Mobile Minute covers the unfolding BBM security controversy, Ushahidi's new Crowdmap online platform, a roundup of mobile apps for the disabled, a break down of what mobile ownership numbers actually mean, and the take-away on mobile remittances from the Tech@State conference.

Death and Mobile Tariffs: The Two Things Certain in Life (or Why You Want to Live in Costa Rica)

Posted by MohiniBhavsar on Aug 04, 2010

As part of our “Mobile Research at Your Desk” series, this week we present a white paper written by Hernán Galperin in collaboration with the Diálogo Regional sobre la Sociedad de la Información (DIRSI) and International Development Research Centre (IDRC). He attempts to shed some light on the affordability of mobile phones between Latin American and Caribbean countries and compare tariffs with the rest of the world.

Recognizing that developing a single standardized metric for mobile affordability is a challenge, the author used a well-established OECD method - a basket of services - to estimate the cost of a set of mobile services specified for low-volume users.

The data exposes the reality of mobile affordability for the bottom of the pyramid.

Cost of Mobile Services and the Affordability Gap in Latin America and the Caribbean - Research Ignite #2 from on Vimeo.

Hernán Galperin offers a quantitative analysis using a sound approach to predict affordability of mobile tariffs. In the report, it is acknowledged that price of handsets or connection charges are not accounted for, and it is clarified that per-minute calculation can result in an over-estimation of cost.

In another report, Galperin and colleague Judith Mariscal share mobile opportunities informed by survey results of 7,000 individuals in low income households. Discussed there are perceptions of mobile service costs, and patterns of mobile usage, and both reasons for and barriers to mobile adoption. With colleague Roxana Barrantes, Galperin demonstrates the relationship between costs of mobile services and mobile penetration and discusses the savings incurred by low income users with micro-prepayment and per-second billing schemes.

All three papers can be accessed in our mDirectory for your reading.'s content license is here. Please note that some materials in this slidecast may be separately copyrighted by the respective authors of the papers we presented. Images and materials are used here with the author's permission.

Can the Poor Afford Mobile Telephony? Evidence from Latin America

Posted by MohiniBhavsar on Aug 03, 2010
Can the Poor Afford Mobile Telephony? Evidence from Latin America data sheet 1830 Views
Roxanna Barrantes and Hernán Galperin
Publication Date: 
Jan 2008
Publication Type: 
Journal article

This study analyses the cost of a low-volume basket of mobile services across a sample of Latin American countries, and contrasts these results with standard income and poverty indicators. The main goal is to establish how affordable mobile services are for the poor.

Three general findings emerge. First, the poor generally pay a cost premium for using prepaid subscriptions that allow better expenditure control, though in many cases this premium is much lower than expected.

Second, affordability is an important predictor of mobile penetration. Overall, while affordable handsets and the callingparty-pays system allow a significant number of low-income Latin Americans to become mobile subscribers, the results reveal that the current tariff structure has an inhibiting effect on service consumption by the poor.

Third, since affordability is the most significant barrier to extending the reach of mobile services, as well as the range of services used by the poor, priority should be placed on policies aimed at reducing tariffs and stimulating the introduction of commercial innovations for low-income groups.

Mobile Opportunities: Poverty and Mobile Telephony in Latin American and the Caribbean

Posted by MohiniBhavsar on Aug 03, 2010
Mobile Opportunities: Poverty and Mobile Telephony in Latin American and the Caribbean data sheet 1778 Views
Hernán Galperin, Judith Mariscal
Publication Date: 
Nov 2007
Publication Type: 
Report/White paper

Access to telephony for low-income groups is largely based on different strategies of mobile telephony usage. The main goal of this research project is to explore the strategies employed by the poor in Latin America and the Caribbean to access and use mobile telephony services, as well as to identify the major market and regulatory barriers for increased penetration and usage. More generally, it seeks to contribute to the discussion on how access to mobile telephony contributes to improving the livelihoods of the poor –what we call mobile opportunities.

Our results show that mobile telephony is highly valued by the poor as a tool for strengthening social ties and for increased personal security, and that it is beginning to prove useful for enhancing business and employment opportunities. Overall, the survey results suggest that the acquisition of mobile phones by the poor has an economic impact reflected mainly in improved social capital variables such as the strengthening of trust networks and better coordination of informal job markets. These findings reveal the continued need to develop innovative business models that extend the market frontier for mobile telephony. They also highlight the urgent need to rethink public policies that are premised on the mobile phone as a luxury good. Clearly, for the poor, mobile telephony has long been the most cost-effective and accessible alternative.