Jacqui Deelstra (Washington, DC)
In International Development the letter “m,” short for “mobile,” has been popping up everywhere. There is mEducation, mAgriculture, and mHealth, just to name a few. Creative has also recognized the important role that mobile phones can play in development by connecting people to important information and resources that can dramatically improve their economic opportunities and allow them to be more active, knowledgeable and empowered citizens.
Here are a few areas that Creative is especially excited about:
Throughout the developing world very few citizens have access to a formal bank account and instead conduct all their transactions and keep a lot of their wealth and savings in cash. Mobile banking has opened up the opportunity for easy, efficient, secure money transfers whether sending remittances to family members, purchasing goods from a supplier or paying utility bills. The biggest success story in mMoney so far has has been M-PESA in Kenya, but the technology also has had a big impact in Tanzania, the Philippines, Haiti and Afghanistan. For Creative, Mobile Money opens up the opportunity make more transparent and secure transactions in the transition countries where we work. Also exciting is the possibility for mobile money to give women greater control over their personal finances and financial transactions.
Mobile Data Collection
Data collection for project monitoring and evaluation is an important part of any development program. Historically, this has meant enumerators going out with large stacks of paper surveys. Today mobile devices have allowed for new models and techniques for data collection. With a smartphone anyone can capture a picture and the GPS coordinates of a project site and send back notes. Using SMS implementers can solicit feedback on projects from beneficiaries and community stakeholders and use that information to make real-time decisions. Also today a diversity of are tools available, such as Episurveyor, that are user friendly and make conducting a survey using mobile devices very cost effective.
Having a mobile device in your pocket opens you up to a world of information. People can instantly access resources such as Wikipedia or the Kahn Academy. Even when only simple mobile phones are available children can be engaged in mobile games that allow for reading or math practice and SMS can be used to send someone basic information on a topic and also to quiz them on their understanding. In countries where reading materials are scarce mobile devices have the potential to provide access to books much more cheaply and easily then producing and shipping paper books.
Mobile interventions targeted at farmers have aimed to get them real-time and targeted information that can help them make decisions about when and what to plant, when to harvest and when to sell. This includes sending information over SMS about current market prices and weather forecasts. Some countries also have set-up interactive farmer helplines that allow them to get in touch with agricultural experts to get information on crop diseases and advanced farming techniques. This valuable information has helped farmers to increase their yields and get higher prices for their crops.
Jacqui Deelstra, Program Associate for Technology, Creative Associates International.