Handheld Poverty Fighters: Building the Killer Apps of Global Prosperity
Thursday, October 18, 2012
Among many in the development space, connective technologies are either the cheat code to global prosperity or a false prophet obscuring the real challenges effecting the world’s poor. Officials as high-ranking as Secretary Hillary Clinton have called the spread of cheap cell phones and laptops a driving force against poverty even as many of their most promising applications are failing to deliver on scale. Regardless of which camp you belong to, its hard to ignore the fact that even the poorest citizens have access to mobile technology and we are more connected than ever before.
Today, hundreds of small, locally relevant applications are driving development in less sexy, but equally important ways as a new crop of entrepreneurs are learning to leveraging global connectedness to improve the lives and in the process transforming industries and markets in many of the ways the internet did here. While they vary in size and in tactic, they are bound by a common thread of which aspiring change makers should take note.
Their successes can be measured in at least one, and often all three, of the following ways:
Closing the Information Gap
A defining characteristic of connective technologies has been the diffusion of information. From its earliest incarnation as ARPANET, the Internet has widened access to privileged intelligence. For businesses, this has flattened asymmetries in markets, allowing new businesses to compete against larger incumbents and innovate in the global market. However in much of the underdeveloped world, where cellphones are more popular than laptops and simple messaging systems are more widely used than the Internet, the benefits of the web have not been fully leveraged. In agriculture, where information from crop prices to weather conditions are vital, several new projects are attempting to close the information gap by suppling real-time data to the world’s most remote businesses.
M-Farm, a start-up based in Kenya, delivers up-to-date information on local agriculture markets over SMS and keeps a database of crop prices on its website. Farmers accessing the service can send a text message to a short code or visit the companies website to properly price their goods and find buyers for their produce. Another Kenyan start-up, called iCow, has created the world’s first mobile cow calendar which sends dairy farmers important updates and scheduled reminders to optimize their production. The services have received support and plaudits from major aid organizations and struck partner