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Mobility

The mobile phone as a change agent

Janice Burns November 2011

With close to 6 billion mobile subscriptions worldwide, two-thirds of the world’s population now have access to a mobile phone. It is also estimated that half the world’s population are able to access the internet through a mobile phone. Penetration rates in the developing world have been described as happening at a ‘blistering pace’. In 2007 mobile penetration in Africa was about 30% – it is now well over 50%.

In developing countries the primary access point for the internet will be the mobile phone rather than a PC, and it is already a key weapon for improving access to health and education services. For example, Vodafone, Tanzania’s biggest mobile provider, helped solve a problem that prevented thousands of women from accessing a gynaecological service. There was a nice big hospital, full of good doctors – but no patients. Women either did not know about the service or could not afford the bus fare to get to the hospital. Vodafone linked with a local community organisation and used its mobile phone-based money transfer service to text message the bus fare to affected women. One international agency specialising in microfinance estimates that 1.7 billion people in the developing world now have a mobile phone – but no bank account.

The power of the mobile phone to increase the on-the-ground effectiveness of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) is being harnessed through organisations such as MobileActive.org which publishes ‘how-to’ guides and strategic tool kits for NGOs and others working to use mobile phones in their work. Already the prevalence of mobiles in the developing world is being used to tackle major and persistent health issues including HIV/Aids, malaria and polio.

Who knows what developments could come out of this part of the world?

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