Manuel Bueno

MIT Launches Next Billion Network for Innovative Mobile Technologies

Nbillion MITOur regular NextBillion readers will already know that the MIT is one of the most important universities in the base of the pyramid arena. Some of their most important initiatives are the Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship, stimulating bottom-up entrepreneurship fueled by innovations, and the Lemelson-MIT Awards, recognizing the impact that inventors can have on economic and social well-being.

In these and other cases, MIT’s strategy has been to apply its engineering prowess to try to solve BoP problems in the shape of technologically-adapted inventions.

Now, MIT has launched a Next Billion Network to deploy innovative mobile technologies that can help people reduce friction in their local markets from the bottom up. This approach is based upon the belief (which I share) that mobile phones, by enabling increased connectivity, can offer new opportunities for low-cost, sustainable solutions in the BoP.

With mobile phone penetration rates in some countries still very low and with developed countries already being mature markets, it has been widely predicted that, within the next few years, the next billion people to get a mobile phone will come from developing countries. Moreover, it will be their primary (and perhaps only) connection to the global communications network.

The Next Billion Network could develop into something especially interesting, because it takes into account the fact that countries with low levels of phone penetration also lack widely-accessible computers and internet connections.? As such, the mobile phone has the potential to quickly fast-forward into both a PC and an internet device. Similarly, the NBN takes into account the role of mobile phone banking. The initiative, in sum, looks at mobile phones as tools that could become much more than a mere talking and texting device. I find this approach very exciting and refreshing.

The Next Billion Network is based at the MIT Media Lab and will comprise 6 core activities:

  1. Year-Round Academic Coursework at MIT
  2. Next Billion Challenge Awards
  3. On-the-Ground Deployments with Local Partners
  4. Working Relationships with Industry
  5. Local Mobile Programming Incubators
  6. Opportunities for High-Tech Entrepreneurship

This is an opportunity for students and developers to design and deploy the projects and technologies aimed at the BoP, for NGOs to join the network and benefit from MIT’s expertise while sharing their needs and concerns, and for corporations to develop tailor-made projects and collaborations that enable them to find opportunities in BoP markets.