What mobile technology can do for Africa, and the world

Four Maasai men looking at a cell phone in Kenya

Last week, we wrote about companies bringing solar power systems to sub-Saharan Africa. Solar power and electrification is helping connect communities to the larger world, and to power their homes to allow for cleaner cooking, longer hours studying, and a step up in the economy. Electricity also means the ability to charge cell phones, which have become widespread across the continent. Cell phones are being used across Africa in increasingly innovative ways, offering services such as mobile banking and aiding doctors in the medical field to give eye examinations.

Perhaps the most widely-known and oft-discussed innovation is M-Pesa, a mobile banking app that was launched in Kenya in 2007. It was developed to be used on basic phones, and now can also be used on a smartphone as well. Vodafone, one of the companies behind M-Pesa, states that “reduces significantly the potential risks of street robbery, burglary and petty corruption within cash-based economies where only a small proportion of the population benefit from access to conventional financial services.”

Mobile banking apps like M-Pesa make it easier for people to pay for goods and services, as well as transfer money to family members who may live far away, and makes banks more accessible to people who are may otherwise not have access to traditional banking. M-Pesa and mobile banking also paved the way for the pay-as-you-go payment plans that we highlighted in our solar power blog post, where many of those companies use similar systems for customers to pay for solar power systems and build credit. M-Pesa is not only used in Kenya, but throughout East Africa, as well as in countries such as India, Egypt, Ghana, and Romania.

Cell phones have also lent themselves to education and agriculture. Dr. Chao Charity Mbogo of Kenya Methodist University is working on using cell phones to learn computer programming, geared towards students and universities that have limited computer access. In Ghana, Farmerline gives farmers a way to access vital market, weather, and agricultural information on their phone to aid in their sales and production. By delivering content in local languages, Farmerline has also worked to ensure that its content is accessible to as many people as possible.

Medical professionals are also harnessing mobile technology in creative ways. Andrew Bastawrous launched Peek Vision to lower the cost of and increase the access to eye examinations, in order to combat blindness:

After discovering the difficulties and cost of taking expensive equipment to remote communities to conduct eye exams and deliver care, often with little to no electricity, Bastawrous developed multiple solutions. One was a vision eye test app for smartphones designed to measure visual acuity. Another solution was clip-on accessory for smartphones that use a phone’s camera for retinal imaging. Peek’s goal is to reduce the number of curable and preventable cases of blindness, and utilizing cell phones means better affordability and access for both patients and medical professionals.

Have you used any of these cell phone technologies? What innovative apps and solutions have you seen around the world? Let us know what you think of them, or any others we haven’t mentioned, on our Facebook page.

Links and resources