Global Development in Mobile Hands

In a rural Kenyan village, a man flips open his mobile phone to get a payment transferred to him for his artisan work, and in Indonesia a woman living off of $2.50 a day focuses on the pixels of her mobile phone to read the daily agricultural commodity prices.

Today, the developing world is more mobile (77%) than the developed world (23%), and this means huge potential for socially innovative solutions to reach individuals in need.

So forget the hype of the iPhone or the latest tablet. Simple and seemingly out of date phones are making incredible impacts for the livelihoods of low income individuals in developing countries. Businesses should take the time to reach this large market, and should seize the opportunity of making a difference.

There is an SMS for that
Mobile applications are providing individuals access to markets and information that they have never had before in the areas of health, agriculture, banking, and education. Oh yes, and most of these mobile applications are operating entirely though basic SMS.

M-Pesa in Kenya, enables money transfers through mobile. The Grameen Foundation leases smartphones in Uganda so that farmers may receive data for the harvest and sale of their crops. Health eVillages organization delivers medical education via mobile devices to clinicians in under served areas of Africa.

Will Forgo Food for Cell Phone Reception
Whether SMS or web-based, these mobile applications are incredibly valuable to low-income individuals in the developing world.

Take a look at Indonesia, where 80% of the population uses a cell phone, even though 75% of the population lives on less than $2.50 per day. Even in emerging markets, over 10% of individuals’ monthly wage will go to mobile airtime and SMS. Research conducted in Kenya even found that people skip meals or opt to walk rather than pay a bus fare, all so they can pay their mobile phone bill.

The Opportunities
Businesses can responsibly tap into the great desire of those in the developing world to go mobile. The potential of reaching those in developing nations and to make a positive impact on their lives is enormous. Businesses should;

(1) PAY ATTENTION TO EMERGING MARKETS
There is widespread hardware access amoung developing nations, representing 77% of the world mobile usage. Emerging economies offer great opportunities for profitability in terms of market size, and for every 10 mobile phones per 100 people in a developing country, the nation’s GDP rises by 0.5%.

Mozilla, by paying attention to developing nations, is finding a way to enter the mobile phone market. Mozilla released a mobile operating system for smart phones that is affordable for those in developing nations. The Mozilla Firefox phone is primarily be sold in the prepaid phone markets and will begin sales in the Latin American. This means better accessibility to a mobile phone for those in emerging markets, and thus more access to mobile applications.

(2) CREATE NON-PROFIT/FOR-PROFIT PARTNERSHIPS
To better understand and service these emerging markets, partner with non-profits who have experience with developing nations. The World Bank notes that “engaging mobile applications for development requires an enabling ecosystem…[that] requires collaboration”.

This is what eBay did when it recognized the opportunity of mobile in the developing world. It partnered with the Grameen Foundation’s Mobile Microfinance initiative to build solutions that would address market challenges facing microentrepreneurs in Indonesia.

Web Access Still Needed
Although access to mobile phones is increasing rapidly, internet access on these mobile devices remains low due to the high cost of internet service. Hopefully with the United Nations announcement this summer that “Internet Access is a Human Right”, governments will be reminded of the importance of continually improving internet accessibility for their citizens.

With greater internet accessibility for those in developing nations, lies greater potential to assist them through mobile applications. Just imagine the possibilities that could be held in the hands on those in need.

Sources Referenced:
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