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Flavour of the Month Feb 2012: Mobile phones and Telecentres

Almost 70% of the world’s mobile phone subscribers are in the developing world. As an affordable and accessible means of communication, both men and women are realizing the potential of this technology to create economic opportunities and strengthen social networks in rural areas. The mobile phone is no longer just a communication tool but one that's capable of providing additional integrated functions.

 

Today, mobile telephony is being used to provide information on health, Agriculture, Education and entrepreneurship to rural communities through Short Message Service (SMS) and multi-media supported systems in many parts of the world. This has been made possible through public, private and NGO sector initiatives.

 

Mobile telephony is the most preferred technology for rural interventions because it effectively reduces the “distance” between individuals and institutions making sharing of information and knowledge easier and more effective. The benefits of mobile phones are amplified by the fact that the spread of mobile technology in some rural areas has occurred much faster than with other information & communication technologies (ICTs).

  • How have you taken advantage of mobile phones to improve communication within your projects/Telecentres?

 

  • Do you have experience of using Mobile phones to impact positive health behavioural change within your comunity for example to farmers?

 

  • Do you agree that the chances of success & sustainability of rural services that are based on mobile telephony are greater when they do not duplicate services provided by existing information sources such as telecentres, kiosks and information centres? Why?

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I work at Texttochange and the impact of mobile phones in rural interventions is amazing. I will share our experience after reading from you. Thanks

Hi Maureen! Vida from Telecentre.org Foundation here. Thank you for starting this interesting discussion. I don't work for a telecentre but as a member of the TCF core staff, we do come across stories of telecentre/projects utilizing mobile phones for their ICT4D programs.

For example, in India, I've heard about the OneFarm service by Ekgaon, which is accessible on mobile phones and provides "customized services to individual farmers specific to their farms and crop (as well as variety). The program is intended to enhance farm productivity, move the farmer up the market supply chain and ensure better returns on their hard work. The OneFarm service provides information on crop management, site-specific soil nutrient management practices, disease alerts, weather forecasts, market prices, networking with input supplier and supply chain integration. So far, the program has reported 30% reduction in use of agri-inputs, leading to savings of over USD 12 per crop season and increased productivity of 15%.

In the Philippines, local government units (LGUs) in coordination with telecentres, are also employing mobile technology to collect health data in communities. I don't have the specific details of the program but perhaps some of our members from the Philippine Community e-Center network may be able to elaborate on this.   

Hello Vida, thank you for sharing these expereices from Asia. In Africa we do have very many people who have appreciated the power of mobile for Agriculture and health too.

IN Uganda, we have Grameen Foundation using mobile phones to reach farmers in rural Uganda. Currently, their Application Laboratory (AppLab) is working in Uganda to test, develop and scale mobile applications that can improve the lives and livelihoods in poor, underserved communities. We launched our first group of applications in 2009, in collaboration with Google and MTN Uganda.

Then in Kenya, we have mFARM MFarm Ltd is a software solution and agribusiness company whose main product M-Farm, is a transparency tool for Kenyan farmers where they simply SMS the number 3535 to get information pertaining to the retail price of their products, buy their farm inputs directly from manufacturers at favorable prices, and find buyers for their products. http://mfarm.co.ke/about.

Thanks for sharing the mFARM story with us, Maureen. It's good to hear all these experiences. Perhaps someday someone can compile all these experiences so the information is easy to access for those looking to adopt mobile ICT4D models.

Two observations; 1) whilst the mobile devices are almost ubiquitous, the applications for using them for poverty reduction are not; in fact nowhere near. Research suggests that most use of mobile phones is for social purposes and the rest for emergencies. So how can we accelerate the spread of all those wonderful mobile applications that keep hitting the headlines but which never seem to reach more than a tiny fraction of the global mobile user population? 2) Out of the recent publicity afforded to World Radio Day it emerged that Radio is the predominant source of information in areas of the world that are sometimes too remote to get a newspaper delivered, let alone access the internet – in The Guardian - which went on to say that the ubiquity of mobile technology presents an exciting opportunity even for those in "last mile communities" to interact with radio shows using a tool they already have. As with telecentres, it seems that the greater challenge is not merely making the technology available but with promoting the processes that will lead to its/their effective use. There’s a huge opportunity for telecentres that also operate community radio stations to exploit the synergies that exist between these technologies and mobile telephony. We should move away from sterile debates over which technology is better for this and that and focus more on maximizing the potential from different technologies working together.

Thanks Rogers for this contribution. It would be great to share or give actual references to the research that suggests all this you mentioned. Based on my experience at Text to Change in Mobilefor Dev projects here in Africa, I beg to differ from some of those findings. With all due respect, It's a HUGE difference in experience for a researcher who comes up with findings after (observing or interviewing) and an implementor of these mobile projects who works with the actual beneficiaries for years. Whereas it might be true that mobile phones might NOT ENTIRELY eradicate poverty, they help in solving problems that cause the POVERTY enabling access to timely and relevant information at the convinience of the owner.
I would love to think that mobile phones today have a Wider geographical reach than the radio. What do others think? Any experiences from Asia? S.America?

In any case simple mobile phones today come with FM radio which many cherish in Africa, somehow someone had figured out that the two can not be divorced. Rodger you raise very good points on radio and indeed some telecentres double up as community radios, giving them the opportunity to exploit all technologies available to further their work is the aim of this discussion an not explicitly choose for anyone a given technology. Here is a very good interview about radio that I liked. Perhaps in future we could have a specific discussion about radio here.

I do agree with Rodger on the powerful impact that radio can have, but just like a mobile phone, there is also a problem of connectivity interms of frequency for radios and Network coverage for the phones.
In my opinion, the advantage and beauty of the phone as compared to a radio lies in it's ability to combine text, audio and Visual functionalities. Just like Cleopa has mentioned, many basic hansets here in Africa have a component of the radio.
Some of the most valuable advanatges of mobile phones over other ICTs are;

  • Campaigns targeted according to age, gender, race, area of residence
  • Two-way dialogue between target audience & implementors, building a personal relationship.
  • It integrates well with radio, print, billboard, online and TV campaigns.
  • It’s viral: People can forward messages about products/services to each other.
  • Enables companies to create valuable databases for permission-based marketing/adverts
  • Instantaneous, delivering messages straight to target group and enabling an immediate response.
  • Interactive, Engaging and Affordable. Among others.

One last thing, even with the community Radios in place, for a discussion to be meaningful, it has to involve a two-way communication and not just take whatever is being broadcast. The only way to enagage communities in real time, is by encouraging them to  call in or send text messages. Still the Mobile phone re-appears.

WSIS Knowledge Communities
Online Debate

Do mobile phones contribute more to social impact than to economic impact in developing countries?
"This debate has included commentary from a range of people with a high level of expertise and engagement with mobile phones and their impact on development."
Yes: 76%
No: 24%

http://www.wsis-community.org/pg/debates/group:15325/overview/244294

Thanks so much for Sharing this Roger. Am still reading through.

Some interesting debates going on in the run-up to WSIS in Geneva in May.
Among them this; "Mobile phones will not save the poorest of the poor."
http://www.wsis-community.org/pg/blog/read/507124/mobile-phones-wil...
The key point for me is the "necessary but insufficient" argument, as the author says, " it continues to be important to insist on policy makers and regulators pursuing action, in order to deploy innovative solutions."

Interesting read. Looks like the research/findings were only limited to Mozambique. I beg to differ with a few things here. Well, I think that one African Country cannot be representative of the other 53 on the entire continent. So what might not work for Mozambique, might perfectly work for say Kenya.

"......it continues to be important to insist on policy makers and regulators pursuing action, in order to deploy innovative solutions and promote meaningful competition"

I totally agree with this and I think the innovative solutions are already in existance, they just need to be replicated in areas where they are needed most and not duplicated by many "innovators" For example, if a mobile application is developed to help farmers get market prices in real time, a new one should not be developed give updates on climate change or pests but rather, the existing one should be improved and the new functions intergrated to save money for research and further innovation.

 

"The poor and poorest of the poor " What does the author mean by this? How does he define poor in this case?

Poverty has been defined and redefined through the medieval times to date. Before any intevention(if there are any plans at all) are put in place, the beneficiaries (to be) should be given a chance to define their own "poverty". Do they perceive themselves as extremely poor? What change do they want to see? To what extent are they empowered to bring themselves such change? The most important thing is that such change should be effective and sustainable.


 What does the write mean by "........In addition, they are not informed, lacking knowledge and skills" and later on goes ahead to say "They are confident, act strategically, and make sacrifices in order to achieve their aims of becoming digital literate, hoping that it will enable them to be better positioned to gain future employment and therefore achieve a positive change in their lives"

There are very few things that I agree upon with this author but question many too.

I shared this on my FB pages and one friend had this to day


 Javie Ssozi [Uganda]: Well, I think the writer is right and wrong! Right because Mobile Phones are only a tool - which means, that it depends on how one uses the phone... Wrong because if mobile phones are used innovatively and appropriately - for example to share the right information, to facilitate debates or even to do business; the "poor" can benefit.

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