Mobile’s gift to the world: In some countries, it’s life-changing

Mobile technology is changing the world, particularly the developing regions, more quickly and profoundly than any other innovation. People in developed regions have had cell phones for a couple of decades now, so they may take the convenience of owning a mobile phone for granted. But for millions of people in poor countries, a simple mobile phone has drastically changed their lives.

The uptake of mobile phones in emerging markets

In 2000, developing regions accounted for an estimated 25 percent of the world’s 700 million mobile phones. In only one decade, that share had risen to 75 percent of 4 billion cell phones. This has profoundly transformed the mobile telecommunications industry, with the greatest changes taking place in the developing regions.

According to data from a recent global survey commissioned by Juniper Networks, 97 percent of people in developing regions claim that mobile internet has transformed their lives, compared to 78 percent in the wealthiest nations, including the United States. Additionally,

  • 53 percent of the population in developing regions says that mobile internet access has changed the way they work, compared to 26 percent in wealthy nations.
  • 40 percent of the population in developing nations reports that connectivity has boosted their earnings power, versus 17 percent in wealthy nations.
  • 24 percent of the population in emerging markets rely on mobile internet for educational purposes, compared to 12 percent in the wealthy nations

The increased access to mobile technology in poor countries has impacted nearly every business sector, including the creative industries. From digital animation and advertising to music, art, and film, all have the potential to gain immense benefits of mobile phone technology and impact the lives of people depending on those sectors. Here are some examples:

1. Banking and money transfer

A 2012 report by the World Bank indicated that over 2.5 billion people (approximately 50 percent of the global adult population) do not have a bank account. The vast majority of these people are in developing regions, which means that large portions of the population cannot access basic financial services like direct deposit, savings accounts, or credit cards.

Today, millions of people in developing regions, including more than 55 million in Africa, use basic phone services to receive payments, send money to each other, and take out insurance policies. Although the charges per transaction are minimal, the African mobile market had reached $61 billion in 2012, with more money sent than the European and North American markets combines.

Across sub-Saharan Africa, more people have a mobile money account than Facebook accounts, especially in Kenya, Uganda, and South Africa. Two notable mobile banking platforms that have completely transformed the lives of people are ‘M-PESA’ in Kenya and ‘EasyPaisa’ in Pakistan.

2. Agriculture

Mobile phones have also transformed rural agriculture in developing regions. Besides easy access to weather information to help farmers better prepare for unexpected weather patterns in terms of season timing, farmers can also subscribe to mobile SMS services that allow them to receive daily market prices to avoid rip offs by middlemen. Some of the notable innovations in this area include ‘M-Farm’ for produce price information and ‘iCow’ for convenient livestock management in Kenya, and ‘Tigo Kilimo’ for instant weather figure in Tanzania.

3. Health

Mobile health technologies such as remote monitoring, mobile phone apps, health text messaging, and portable sensors have revolutionized the delivery of healthcare in the world, increasing access to health resources. An initiative like Malaria No More is using mobile technology to track the spread of malaria on a global scale, and to push malaria fighting tools, such as cheap treatment, diagnostic tests, bednets, and reliable drugs through SMS.

4. Surveys and polling

The use of mobile devices for conducting surveys and polling has made it easier for international development workers to collect data and aggregate data. A platform like ‘Form Hub’ has web and offline features that allow you to create and conduct surveys anywhere – even using non-web-based phones.

Other notable projects include ‘Mobile Vital Records System’ (MVRS) a Uganda-based project for registering births and deaths by dialling a number followed by entering a three-digit pin, and ‘Ushahidi’ – a platform that allows anyone to gather distributed data via SMS, and has been used internationally for crisis and emergency response, election monitoring, and much more.

5. Education

Mobile technology has also facilitated access to meaningful data and tips that educators can use to help students succeed. In Kenya, for instance, the Eneza Education mobile platform allows more than 100,000 children in over 400 schools to access quizzes, mini-lessons, and tips on local content via USSD (SMS-based subscription service), the web, and mobile web.

Today, 5 billion people in developing regions have access to cell phones, though most people continue to use them for person-to-person communication only. However, mobile innovations continue to come up in efforts to increase the connections and interactions that will boost the standards of living in developing regions.

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