The first place winner of the State Department’s Apps 4 Africa Competition – a calling for technologists in East Africa to build the best digital tools to address community challenges – was awarded to a mobile application called iCow. The voice-based App helps farmers maximize the value of their cows by tracking breeding periods and monitoring nutrition levels leading up to a calf’s birth. Another winner was an SMS service called Mamakiba, a mobile platform designed to help low-income women cope with the financial burdens of maternal health such as antenatal care and clinical delivery. The App maintains savings targets for user’s healthcare costs and establishes prepayments through a mobile money platform (M-PESA).
If there could be a competition for the technology device with the fastest adoption in the developing world, mobile phones far and away would take first place. From 2003 to 2009, in Least Developed Countries, average penetration of mobile subscriptions rose from 2 per 100 inhabitants to 25 per 100 inhabitants (with this penetration likely being higher due to numerous mobile users and multiple SIM cards per single phone). To put this into perspective, a report from the United Nations University concluded that more people in India have access to mobile phones than bathrooms. Globally, by the end of this year, there will be an estimated 5.3 billion mobile cellular subscriptions; more astoundingly, the developing world will account for more than two-thirds of these subscriptions. No such technology has ever seen such a rapid rate of adoption according to the International Telecommunication Union, and the developing world is leading the way.
So how is this ubiquitous device being leveraged as a tool for poverty reduction?