Upwardly Mobile In Africa and India: Economic Development and Mobiles

Posted by KatrinVerclas on Sep 18, 2007

We are starting a series of articles on mobile phones in economic development this week and to kick it off, Business Week in its current issue published a few interesting summaries of the state of affairs in mobiles in economic development. This apparently just to make it easy for us to get MobileActives around the world up to speed!

Upwardly Mobile in Africa describes farmers in Kenya using mobiles to bring their products to market and mobile payments using the Keyan mobile payment system M-Pesa. The article describes Grameen Foundation's Village Phone Program that we will be featuring in our next article that is expanding into Uganda in collaboration with the local carrier MTN where there are now 13,000 Village Phone Operators renting out a mobile phone with the help of microcredit and discounted airtime.

The article points out the high cost of mobile calls and the cultural artifacts of 'flashing" or sending a "call-me-back" message to another person to avoid an expensive call or SMS and of SIM card and phone sharing as well as switching back and forth between carriers, depending on who offers a deal.

For those who ahve been following these trends, there not much new here and there is no discussion whatsoever of mobiles in democratic and civic participation and advocacy, topics we here at MobileActive are particularly interested in, of course, and where the mobile revolution is equally as pertinent.

In the same issue of Business Week, Online Extra: India's Cell Phone Ride out of Poverty in the same issue describes small entrepreneurs and business owners in India and how they are using mobiles to increase their earning power.

A much more comprehensive and very engaging report on India is the Mobile Development Report by the Center for Knowledge Societies. We'll be interviewing the author on the key findings later this month, but it is a must-read for anyone interested in mobiles in development in India.

Also, check out the famous Robert Jensen study on the now proverbial economic success of fishermen in Bangladesh upon introduction of mobiles in their small businesses. "Economists have long emphasized that information is critical for the efficient functioning of markets,” Jensen writes in “The Digital Provide: Information (Technology), Market Performance and Welfare in the South Indian Fisheries Sector.” And yet “questions such as how much market performance can be enhanced by improving access to information, how much society gains from such improvements, and how those gains are shared between producers and consumers remain largely unanswered.”

In India, “the benefits of ICTs can be found among fishermen or farmers, not just software engineers or call-center workers,” Jensen writes. This is not an isolated case. “In fact, it has become increasingly common to find farmers, fishermen, and other producers throughout the developing world using mobile phones, text messaging, pagers, and the internet for marketing output.”

In the ongoing debate over the digital divide, “many critics argue that investments in ICTs should not be a priority for low-income countries, given more basic needs in areas such as nutrition, health, and education,” says Jensen. “However, this argument overlooks the fact that…for most of the world’s poorest, living standards are determined largely by how much they get for their output.”

Read the journal article here and stay tuned to much more to come this month on how mobiles are changing the economic lives of people around the world. And with economic empowerment often comes political empowerment. The mobile revolution is alive and well.





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