Two thirds of the world’s 3.3 billion mobile phones are owned in developing countries. Social changemakers recognize this opportunity to reach those in need with information, tips, and resources that would otherwise be inaccessible at large scale. Here, we profile three innovative uses of mobile technology to combat developing world challenges.
A Twitter tip informed me of Project Masiluleke in South Africa. Due to the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS in South Africa, individuals avoid getting tested and 90% of those infected are not getting treatment. In the KwaZulu Natal province, >40% of the population are infected. The project takes advantage of the fact that nearly 90% of individuals use a mobile phone, and their use of “Please Call Me” messages creates an SMS advertising opportunity of over 1 million messages per day. Frog Design provides great insight into the use of new mobile media, consideration of the mostly-male target audience’s cultural attitudes, and the initial success promoting the national AIDS hotline and private HIV self-testing.
Yesterday, Google Africa launched Google SMS in Uganda. In addition to the familiar Search functionality, the Uganda edition starts with two other channels developed specifically for the needs of the poor. One channel provides health and farming tips. The other hosts a marketplace, something of a Craigslist browseable entirely via SMS. These are just two starter examples of mobile apps that can be supported by the Grameen Foundation’s AppLab.
Perhaps the newest organization, FrontlineSMS:Medic helps medical centers provide support to doctors in rural areas through mobile connectivity. The central clinic receives and responds to field messages from a laptop while medical workers visiting patients use mobile phones to send informational messages and requests. Since community health workers may leave the clinic for up to a month to serve large remote communities, this communication link with the clinic can accelerate and widen care coverage. Springwise reports that FrontlineSMS:Medic has even modified camera phones to become diagnostic devices for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. In the Stanford + Portland spirit of its founding team, this is a free, open-source software program. The Discovery Channel has a nice interview with Josh Nesbit from their pilot program, “Mobiles in Malawi“.