The Impact of Innovation in Developing Worlds

Africa is adopting mobile technology at a rate higher than any other country. The market is there, and so is the need to impress upon the communities how it can help them.  A recent New York Times article tells the story of a man in Uganda who uses mobile technology to help his community by being the communication hub in their small banana farming town. How is the possible? It’s made possible by innovations from organizations like the Grameen Foundation, who’s concerned with fighting poverty by opening channels for new technology. According to a World Resources Institute report, “as developing-world incomes rise, household spending on mobile phones grows faster than spending on energy, water or indeed anything else.”

The investment in this technology is obvious. As an example, a roadside merchant mentioned in the September Economist, selling ice cream and underwear was found to have increased his earning by 70% now that he had a mobile phone. The reason? He was able to communicate with suppliers, negotiate pricing and likely reach potential customers. To me this seems simple and obvious, but the merchant had grown accustomed to the rhythm of his business prior to the phone, this likely dramatically changed his life and allowed him to think about his roadside cart as a business rather than a lifeline.

Mobile technology is opening up another portal of opportunity for developing countries. As the Economist states, “adding an extra ten mobile phones per 100 people in a typical developing country boosts growth in GDP per person by 0.8 percentage points.” It is fascinating the drive people have to continually move forward, learning and using all the resources they have around them. But in contradiction to the Economist article, they quote that Africa “is the new battlefield and the new laboratory for development.” What war is trying to be won?

This quote does a good job of making Africa seem like one be lump of dirt. I don’t think we should look at developing countries as a place to experiment, but much like an opportunity for the technology to be innovated. Much like the Community Knowledge Worker Initiative, announced October 15th and in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The purpose of this initiative is to execute on months of testing and surveying their program which provides a sustainable framework for Ugandan farmers to access important information using mobile technology.

These new channels of communication are important because the developed world is using them, and if we don’t continue making efforts to become globally connected we’ll see an isolation of some areas of the world. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talks about this being the time to innovate in her address at Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, and I agree. If we don’t do it now technology will just continue to grow and create an even deeper learning curve for developing worlds to dig out of.

  • Mobile Marvels: A special report on telecoms in emerging markets

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