rights-based development work

Mobiles for Development: How Mobile Technologies Can Enhance Plan and Partners Work in Africa

Posted by LeighJaschke on Jul 14, 2009
Mobiles for Development: How Mobile Technologies Can Enhance Plan and Partners Work in Africa data sheet 5347 Views
Beardon, Hannah
Publication Date: 
Jan 2009
Publication Type: 

The ubiquity of the mobile phone in Africa, the accessibility, the usability and crucially, the
bottom-up nature of its growth, has challenged the traditional ICT for development analysis.
People with very little income are prioritising mobile phones and airtime, clearly convinced of
the value to their lives and livelihoods. People who are traditionally the targets of development
aid are mobilising themselves not only to access mobile phones but innovate new functions
and applications which meet their particular needs.1
But beyond the excitement about the potential for mobile phones some voices of caution are
emerging, highlighting gender differences in access and control, for example, or the tendency
for social and economic hierarchies to be reinforced. There is also recognition that the value of
projects using mobile phones, as with any other ICT, can only be as strong as the quality and
appropriateness of the content shared.
There are several examples of pilots and services using mobiles for development or social
change in Africa, though the group of champions is still fairly small. However, a review of
the literature shows some unique and powerful factors which point to mobiles as a key tool
in enhancing the communication capacity and information access of poor and marginalised
communities across Africa. Most of the projects and pilots that do exist grew out of creative
and innovative processes of matching opportunities to needs, so it seems that an understanding
of what mobiles can do, and a review of the types of support and advice out there for people
wanting to use them, could really enhance planning of all types of development activities and
Given this situation, Plan Finland commissioned this research into the potential value of mobile
technologies to the type of child-centred community development work to which they are
committed. While the nature, scope and scale of any work involving mobile technologies
will depend entirely on the context, stakeholders and development objectives, this guide
• an overview of relevant and innovative examples of how mobile telephones have
been successfully integrated into development projects and processes; and
• a three stage process to help Plan staff and other development practitioners identify
the key social, economic and technical factors and issues they need to consider when
planning to use mobile technologies.
The information provided and analysed here is derived from a literature review and interviews
with people in the field. A list references is provided at the end of this guide. It is hoped that
this blend of examples, learnings and reflections will support Plan’s staff and partners to make
well-informed decisions about integrating mobile technologies into their work.