Accept the Smartphone Reality in Development. Everyone Else Has

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Recently, Elvis Mushi of Twaweza, shared with me interesting mobile phone survey results from his Sauti za Wananchi program. I find them remarkable in two ways. First, he found that 80% of Tanzanian households own at least 1 mobile phone. Then he found that mobile phone coverage reached 88% of the population.

One of the largest and poorest populations now has near-ubiquitous mobile phone access.

On the other side of the content, Ghana now joins Zimbabwe in having more mobile phone subscriber lines than people. Other African countries will soon follow. Even grand Nigeria, which has 80% mobile phone usage now, has 15 million smartphones.

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But Those Aren’t Smartphones!

I know, I heard you mutter that already. And you are wrong. Each feature phone is already a smartphone, thanks to biNU. They can run “smart” applications, from Facebook to WhatsApp to YouTube, just like any “smartphone.” In fact, biNU found a majority of its users think their phone is a smartphone, when in actuality it is a feature phone.

Even better, small, nimble development actors already know this. Check out WorldReader Mobile, where thousands of Africans are reading full-length books on their mobile phones – African content, written by Africans, for Africans.

But What About the Poor?

Yes, the poor have less mobile phone access. They have less of everything, so why would mobiles be any different? At the same time, be careful how large you make your “poor” group. Twaweza found that even the poorest quintile of households had over 50% mobile phone ownership.

In addition, do you really work with that quintile? As development actors, we may talk about them often, and use them in our propaganda marketing, but we usually work with poor to middle level households or with organizations that serve the very poor vs. the poor themselves.

At the organizational level, everyone has a phone, and therefore a smartphone.

Yeah, But.. the Data Costs!

In a recent Technology Salon, someone bemoaned the uptake of mobile devices by the poor, saying they were wasting too much of their limited income on voice and data fees. Beside the blatant paternalism of the comment, it showed a lack of understanding of mobile phone success.

People have their own agency, and are (usually) rational consumers. If they find value in something, they will pay for it, and shift family resources to do so. The same goes for mobile services. If we design services where our constituents find value, they will happily pay for them.

The success of Safaricom, AirTel, MTN and the like shows Africans love their phones enough to pay dearly for them. Let us be challenged to develop content they want to see on their phones.


Go to Source. Reprinted from ICTWorks

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Is Facebook Zero the Future of Public Internet Access?

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Access to information is both empowerment and development. When two thirds of the world’s poor still lack access to the Internet, but three fourths have a mobile phone, it makes sense to try to capitalize on mobile technology in order to increase access and connectivity.

Enter Facebook Zero

The advantage of Facebook Zero is in the name; by waiving regular data charges, Facebook Zero is “zero rate” access to the world’s most popular social media site, which has great benefits for everyone. Facebook cleverly tapped into a new clientele: the billions of poor people in the developing world who already own mobile phones but cannot fork out large sums for internet services.

According to Facebook, the launch of the modified site was an effort to “make the world more open and connected” – precisely the same goal of those concerned with pubic access options in development. On the Asian continent, for example, roughly 6% of the continental population is on Facebook, a figure that is attributable to the cost barriers associated with Facebook’s data charges, as well as general costs to internet subscriptions.

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Does Facebook Zero Increase Internet Access?

Full Facebook usage (vs. Facebook Zero) on the African continent doubled every seven months when it first appeared, with the largest number of Facebook users in Egypt, South Africa and Nigeria, respectively. Some of the highest Facebook growth rates were seen in the Central African Republic and Somalia, countries that are often “off the grid” and should be on it, precisely because we want them to be aware of their serious governance and development challenges.

But can we really credit Facebook Zero for an increase in Internet access amongst the poor? While we do not have usage rates for Facebook Zero, there is no denying that Facebook is empowerment.

For many of the poor, Facebook is the face of the Internet, and a source for gathering information and news. Facebook is also a vehicle for voicing concerns and finding like-minded individuals (case in point: the Arab Spring). Interestingly enough, in Ghana, the Electoral Commission posted election results to Facebook, rather than to their own webpage, because they acknowledged that Ghanians go to Facebook to obtain their information.

Is Facebook Zero A Community Space?

Physical access points, like Telecentres and Cyber Cafes, serve as hubs of Internet access, but also, and equally as important, as community spaces. Sure, as a social media platform, Facebook facilitates social interaction between its users, but there is something to be said about the value of face-to-face communication. If Facebook Zero is the future of public community spaces, we may be looking at a future with less physical interaction, which, many, would consider a grave loss.

Facebook Zero is an Inspiration

There are already signs that Facebook Zero has generated a sustainable model for Internet connectivity. The usage of Facebook Zero has given the poor a stronger reason to want access to regular, broadband Facebook.com, so that they may view status updates and photos. Already Facebook Zero has garnered competition, like Google’s “Free Zone” and Wikipedia Zero, and we can be optimistic that, with time, this competition drives up the quality and options of Internet access for the poor.

Above all else, Facebook Zero’s private ownership is an attractive model of public access because it bypasses regulations and rules established by governments. Authoritative leaders often desire to restrict the flow of information and tech freedoms to the poor. But if we believe that the poor have a right to knowing what’s going on in their communities, their country, the world, then access to Facebook Zero is surely a great starting point.

Maria Andersen is a graduate student at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), focusing on international economics & African development


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Bringing Internet to the World’s Villages

Photo Credit: Barrett Nash

Very often I hear criticism of ICT projects in the developing world. While a lot of this criticism has justification, or a lack in sustainability, by far the largest criticism I hear is against technology as a mechanism to empowerment and development. I often hear, ‘But shouldn’t we be worried about farming and schools?’

I am against this reasoning. In my opinion this logic reinforces a two – tier world of US and THEM, that for the children of the West we say “They can be anything.” But for the children of the developing world, we say “They can be better farmers” or “They can aspire to a wage still a fraction of our minimum wage.”

I am an idealist, not a realist. I believe that opportunity should be universal and the world a level playing field, regardless of where someone is from or what advantages their parents bestow or deprive them of. That someone in rural southwest Uganda, where I am based, should have the same opportunity as someone in Kampala or London.

Incremental increases in education isn’t enough; it dooms the interim population to being lost generations, seeds of potential that get more nurture than their forebears but still do not bloom.

The Internet can make the world a fair place. With an active Internet connection, a person doesn’t have to be limited by their surroundings. They are only limited by their ambition.

These statements are not original. The prophets of IT have been predicting a new arising of opportunity in the developing world that has largely not lived up to its hype. However, in a field as fast moving as IT, where hardware prices plummet, new services transform the market place of ideas overnight and more 3G/4G towers are coming online every day.

My startup, Creative Entropy Lab, seeks to take some of these puzzle pieces of ICT potential and put them together. With our ‘Empowered Internet’ initiative, we are looking at the puzzling fact that in Rwanda, there is approximately 80% of the population within 3G Internet coverage, yet, there is just 13% Internet access.

It is my belief generated from my research that the key barriers to entry include expense of smart devices and data plans, but the most critical barrier is that there is little comprehension at an individual level of how the Internet can be beneficial to a rural villager.

Photo Credit: Barrett Nash‘Empowered Internet’ seeks to challenge each of these dilemmas. We are taking the Internet café model and stripping it to its minimum:  a portable mobile café made out of tablets, carried in a backpack by an mentor ready to bring the Internet to rural settings.

The most important part of this portable café, which is being piloted in southwestern Uganda and Rwanda, is the mechanisms for creating an intuitive and user-friendly Internet experience to new users. Our franchise operators will be centrally trained as mentors. More importantly, we are designing an online portal that will target two key areas: increased education and increased income generation.

On Lake Bunyonyi, where I am conducting research, I get 12.1 MB/s 3G download speeds, a speed faster than I received in Europe or the US. My partners and I envision our cafés as mobile Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) universities, allowing villagers to achieve a certificate of completion that can be used as a foot in the door with local employers.

Even more potentially transformative, utilizing online services like Fiverr, oDesk and Freelancer mean someone with a transferable skill set can command Western prices. The problem is that building these skill sets is challenging and arduous, yet, with MOOCs like Lynda which can take a user from introduction to a UI through to professional level mastery, all that is necessary is commitment and time. For a rural user whose localized income potential peaks in my village at $50 USD a month, the incentive to invest the time to master these skills is enormous.

In a world where the classic search for a better life is for villagers to flood into towns and cities, their dreams are often blocked. With high speed rural Internet becoming increasingly prevalent, the ability to increase education and income potential without having to leave a village is an enormous value proposition. It means that the cities can be relieved of their growing strains, it means that families can stay together, and it means that the dream of a better life can be realized.

Written by Barrett Nash, Co-founder of Creative Entropy Lab


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5 Reasons Why Public Access Matters in the Age of Private Mobile Devices

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The mobile Internet is growing at an unprecedented rate. It is expected to be a matter
of time before mobile Internet use eclipses desktop use. What does this trend mean for operators of public access Internet venues, such as libraries, telecenters, and cybercafés? Do people who have mobile access use public access venues? Are public access venues even needed?

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This brief summarizes Public Access, Private Mobiles: Understanding the interplay and impact in Cape Town by Marion Walton of the University of Cape Town and Jonathan Donner of Microsoft Research India on Internet use by older teens in low-income Cape Town neighborhoods for educational, cultural, health, and civic purposes.

It is one of seven in-depth inquiries in the Global Impact Study of Public Access to Information & Communication Technologies. Findings point to a role for public access venues, even among a population of mobile Internet users.

Findings

  1. Public access and private mobiles offer different affordances. Among low-income users, free use (such as that in a library) supports more resource-intensive goals (storage space, time, bandwidth) and stable media production while paid use (such as a phone) supports time-sensitive goals, various forms of interpersonal communication and low bandwidth media use.
  2. Teenage users have developed complex, fine-grained practices to deal with strengths and weaknesses of public access and private mobiles. These include practices that help minimize costs, maximize convenience, and display a keen sense of which affordances or use settings will be more productive to reach given goals. Users are more likely to search for jobs or create their resumes at a venue, while mobiles are used more for keeping in touch with friends.
  3. Public access venues provide non-substitutable impact to resource-constrained users, even those with “the Internet in their pocket.” Public access venues offer safe, quiet spaces with subsidized airtime and bigger screens. School assignments are significantly easier to complete at the PC. As one respondent put it, “all the work at school requires you to get information here at the library.”
  4. Public access supports development of digital literacies associated with hyperlinked media and large-format documents; mobile access supports everyday social literacies and messaging. Public access supports interests and literacies associated with document production and hyperlinked media, which involves more extensive use and entails significant expenditure. Mobile access supports everyday social literacies, which require responsiveness and frequency of use, and ‘delinked’ media use.
  5. Teens can combine mobile and public access Internet resources to participate in networked media production and grassroots economic mobilization. Some students combined public access venue computer resources, non- digital resources (such as teachers, friends, and family), and mobile resources to accomplish school tasks. Students who displayed these behaviors were more likely to be the ones who attended better-resourced schools outside their neighborhoods. In other words, better-off students tended to combine resources in productive ways; there was not evidence of lower-income students ‘closing a divide’ or compensating for the lack of digital resources via their mobile Internet connections.

Recommendations

  • Consider increased Wi-Fi in libraries.Low cost is part of the appeal of the library. Providing Wi-Fi might allow users to take advantage of their mobiles while waiting for machines. Free or subsidized Wi-Fi also has cost implications, so provisions need to be in place to fund the cost of bandwidth.
  • Loosen access rules to support youth activities. Venue rules are the number one factor preventing more complementary use of mobile Internet and shared access PCs. Nine of 11 cybercafés had no rules for cell phone use. By contrast, six libraries banned mobiles, eight required phones to be silent, and four specified that phones were not to be connected to the PCs. Young people learn through play and find refuge and new identities in fantasy. Given poor quality schooling and limited employment opportunities, social networks may turn out to be crucial to future success or survival. Free public access can (continue to) support activities such as games, media production and distribution, and social networking. Some access rules may be adapted and appropriate spaces provided for online social interaction and play as well as individual work. Programs can teach how to use mobiles and computers in complementary ways to achieve common goals, cost-savings, accessing cloud-based storage, curating collections of mobile-accessible resources for leisure and school, and hosting discussions about managing time, contacts, online reputation, and attention.
  • Investigate Bluetooth and other technologies. Some technical innovations may also help break the computer bottleneck in free venues. Supporting Bluetooth transfer directly to phones, USB cables, updated antivirus programs, interfaces to larger screens or keyboards, and mobile booking, payment, printing and web publishing interfaces could be investigated.
  • Provide training to support complementary use. Librarians and other venue operators may benefit from training to reorient towards the opportunities presented by the mobile Internet. They need willingness to help venue users get the most out of both the private and public Internets in their repertoires.

Read the full report here: Public Access, Private Mobiles.


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The Technology of Nonviolence: How cellphones and crowdsourcing are saving lives and livelihoods

Livestock herders in Ethiopia are using text messages to warn fellow herders about places to avoid when armed rebels are in the area stealing cattle.

That’s one example of simple technology quelling violent conflict in poor countries, and helping people protect property and make money as a result, according to violence prevention expert Joe Bock.

Bock, author of the 2012 book “The Technology of Nonviolence,” spoke about the relationship between conflict and economic stagnation last month at Mercy Corps in Portland, Ore.

People are embracing what Bock calls ‘liberation technology’ to make their communities safer and more productive.

“The approach is about liberating people’s abilities to help each other using technology,” he said.

It’s no secret that violence stifles economic growth. When people are too busy fearing, fighting and fleeing, they have less time and energy to dedicate to buying, selling and building. Add to that the role of violence in damaging infrastructure and disrupting trade, and it’s no surprise that the world’s poorest countries are home to a majority of the world’s violent conflict. Each year a country is affected by major violence, poverty reduction is slowed by close to one percent, according to the World Bank’s 2011 World Development Report.

But, according to Bock, with technological advances, poor people have more tools to fight back.

“There’s a revolution in the use of cellphone technology for humanitarian, development and peacebuilding purposes,” he said. “A farmer who can get market information about when to sell grain can also use a cellphone for crowdsourcing if there’s tension in his or her community.”

Bock cited the example of the Ethiopian herders responding to cattle raids and rising violence with text messages as an example of the power of sharing information. In the herders’ case, avoiding violent encounters and potential loss of property can mean saving their livelihoods–and even lives.

People around the world can “document and communicate information about their environment at ever increasing rates” through crowdsourcing, according to the Council of Foreign Relations’ blog, Democracy in Development.

And communicating information quickly, Bock said, can mean communities respond to tensions before they become violent.

“There’s a sea change underway about how relief and violence prevention are being approached,” he argued. “It has everything to do with the ubiquity of cell phones.”

And it’s not just civilians embracing technology to quell violence in times of tension. Corporations are recognizing the benefits to commerce and communities doing their part, too. “Companies are looking for ways to have a positive impact on their communities, including by reducing violence in places that hurts their business,” Bock told Global Envision.

One such example is of Kenyan telecommunications giant Safaricom, which offered to allow a group called PeaceTXT to send out text messages aimed at dissuading violence to everybody who has a Safaricom account at volatile times, such as before the the recent Kenyan elections.

“They sent messages proclaiming that Kenyans are better than violence, and promoting peaceful reactions to the electoral process,” Bock said. “Safaricom allowed this crowdfeeding for free, because they recognized the benefit to communities and to their company of preventing violence.”

The messages sent out to cell phones promoted peace, according to Neelam Verjee, program manager at Sisi Ni Amani, a Kenyan nonprofit civic group. Examples:

“Let us not be left behind. Let us take pride in our right to vote and to vote peacefully. Peace is you and me.”

 “When we maintain peace, we will have joy & be happy to spend time with friends & family but violence spoils all these good things.”

“It’s a great example of private industry contributing to the anti-violence movement through technology,” Bock said.

That’s more and more what the future of violence prevention and development will look like.

“One of the things Mercy Corps is doing is finding ways to use this approach in other settings,” said Rebecca Wolfe, Mercy Corps youth and conflict specialist. “Young people want to make change in their countries. There is a palpable feeling. It’s about directing that energy, and understanding what aspects are ready to be ‘youth-led’ from day one, and where youth need more mentorship and support.”

“Rather than waiting for someone to come in and do some project, people have cellphones, people have other tools to make things happen,” Bock said. “It’s a different approach–crowdsourcing, use of cell phones, aggregating data on digital maps. It’s revolutionizing the whole realm.”

Joe Bock is the director of global health training at the Eck Institute for Global Health at the University of Notre Dame.

Cell phone users throughout Kenya received text messages promoting peaceful responses to the recent elections. Photo: Mercy Corps.

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Free Wikipedia-via-SMS is coming to a mobile phone near you

Ever wished Wikipedia was searchable on that basic phone or in areas with constrained or no connectivity? Perhaps, even available in many languages including majority of your local languages.

Well, you may be glad that Wikimedia Foundation in partnership with Airtel  is bringing free access to 24 million articles on Wikipedia via Wikipedia Zero to over 70 million mobile subscribers through a USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data) based  subscription . The three months pilot project that kicked off in Kenya is exclusive to feature phones by dialing *515# and then summaries of articles are sent via text.

As mobile technology is increasingly the primary opportunity for billions of people around the world to access the Internet, the Wikimedia Foundation is working to remove the two biggest hurdles to access free knowledge –cost and accessibility.

The  need to keep  developing countries up with the joneses in the technological realm is insatiable. The potential of connecting people to a grand habour of knowledge via a very accessible and cost effective platform –mobile– is quite unimaginable given the limitedness of resources.

A couple of years ago, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Whales was mesmerized by the exponential growth of the mobile telephony in Africa especially with the crazy sales of the Huawei Ideos phone in Kenya. The possibility of having a $100 smartphone was close to becoming a reality. All needed to complete the equation was a plausible medium to enable information sharing on mobile.

Sure, the $600,000 grant from Knight Foundation in January 2013 was such a boost. According to a press release from the Knight Foundation, the funding would help Wikimedia develop “features to improve the mobile experience regardless of how feature-rich the device is—including new ways to access Wikipedia via text; increasing the number of languages that can access Wikipedia on mobile; and improving the way feature phones access the platform.”

Takanao Wadhwa, head of mobile and business development at Wikimedia Foundation leads the foundation’s efforts to increase access to Wikipedia, with a focus on developing countries. According to ITNewsAfrica, upon the project’s launch, he said:

Improving access to the Wikimedia projects in Sub-Saharan Africa is a strategic priority for the Foundation and this partnership (with Airtel) is another step forward in our mission to enable everyone on the planet to access free knowledge.

Besides the free access via SMS, Airtel will also be offering free access to m.wikipedia.org on data enabled phones. It should be noted that Orange championed the free access to Wikipedia’s mobile site in Africa and Asia at the commencement of 2012.

Wikimedia has greatly benefited from strategic partnerships with Airtel (to begin with telcos) for deployment and Praekelt Foundation which was responsible for Wikipedia zero’s optimization to mobile and other technical tidbits.

Wikipedia zero was first launched in India in July 2013 and so far there are no clear media reports about it’s performance. However, for Kenya and Africa at large, I am rather  optimistic that it will be  a success. In his signature quote, renown tech  evangelist, Erik Hersman a.k.a White African  acclaims; if it works in Africa, then it will work anywhere else.

What do you think about Wikipedia Zero?

Image via Wikimedia Foundation

The post Free Wikipedia-via-SMS is coming to a mobile phone near you appeared first on TechPost.

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Agricultural Mobile Finance

By Lee Babcock

Photo credit: Jan-Pieter Nap

Mobile phone subscriptions will outnumber the global population this year—that’s more than 7 billion subscriptions. The rapid reach of mobiles presents potential for disruptive business model innovations in many sectors at the base of the pyramid – and finance is no exception.

One such innovation is agricultural mobile finance that can benefit farmers, processors, cooperatives, buyers and traders—all the participants in the field-to-fork value chain.

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