Africa as a continent, despite its extreme poverty, has opened itself up to novel development initiatives thanks to the prevalence of cell-phones throughout the population. Uganda, one of the poorest nations in the world with close to half of the population living on less than $1.25/day, is also home to 10 million cell phone owners. Pretty staggering as this constitutes a third of the population. Even better, the number of phone users is probably much higher because handsets are often shared between family and village members.
The Grameen Foundation, a world-wide microfinance network, recently announced the launch of a suite of mobile phone applications developed with Google and MTN Uganda. The suite of mobile services includes:
1) Farmer’s Friend – Searchable database with both agricultural advice and targeted weather forecasts
2) Health Tips – Provides sexual and reproductive health information
3) Clinic Finder – Locates nearby health clinics and their services
4) Google Trader – Matches buyers and sellers of agricultural produce and commodities as well as other products.
All of these services are SMS-based and designed to work with basic mobile phones to reach the broadest possible audience. Mobile services are essentially leapfrogging traditional telecommunications systems that are often outdated and too antiquated to make immediate and necessary life-shifting adjustments in the poorest of populations. A true model for the rest of the continent and beyond.