Published by BeckyJain on 09 Aug 2011 at 09:30 am
Whether it’s to deliver accurate crop prices to farmers, or assist health workers to collect better data, the use of mobile applications is growing among civil society organizations. More importantly, they are starting to help more and more not for profits save time and money, while simultaneously helping them better achieve their goals.
Take one example, the nonprofit Medic Mobile. It uses existing open-source platforms, such as FrontlineSMS, OpenMRS, Ushahidi and HealthMap to support community health worker coordination and management. It helps to give assistance to programs which involve health workers travelling from clinics to reach isolated patients. Since the health workers are often as disconnected from central clinics as the patients they are trying to serve, mobile phones are used to help clinical staff reach the maximum amount of patients in the minimum amount of time. In one program in Malawi, it resulted more than 1,200 hours of staff follow-up time being saved and reduced fuel costs by several thousand dollars while at the same time providing an improved and more timely service to patients. Read the study in the Technology and Health Care Journal. Many other examples can be found online through databases such as MobileActive’s which describe how mobiles are being used for social change.
Mobile is growing – mobiles are now in the hands of 75% of the world’s population
Globally, there are 5.3 billion mobile subscribers, or ¾ of the world’s population. Growth is being led by China and India for the obvious reason of population density. If we look at the use of mobiles in India, for example, we start to see the enormous potential for the use of mobile -technology for not-for profit programs. At the end of March this year, the country had over 812 million mobile users. By 2014, the numbers are expected to climb to nearly 1 billion.
What is the relevance of mobile technologies for the development landscape, given that the World Bank has estimated that more than one-third of the world’s poor live in India?
“India represents the fastest growing mobile market in the world. Being able to use this available resource to contribute to development gives immense potential,” says Saptarshi Purkayastha, creator of District Health Information Software. “Mobile phones have some important characteristics that make them suited to large-scale deployment and use in low resource settings: greater market penetration, small learning curve, low power consumption, low cost of device” are some of the many advantages.
However, technical disadvantages include limited processing power, small screens, limited visibility and memory, while there are numerous social disadvantages like women’s social status, lack of regulation, illiteracy (only 63 percent of the population is literate), ICT experience and the fact that there are innumerable regional languages in India.
One project that aims to address these challenges is the Brahmi phone, “the first phone designed for Indian languages.”
WiserEarth editor taking mobile into rural communities
|Yatin Thakur, social entrepreneur and editor for the WiserIndia group, has helped set up a project called Grameenomobia. It seeks to provide the timely and up to date information as well as voice assisted services to rural communities in India, particularly isolated villages. Requirements are mapped by the local agent network, and information is provided through Interactive Voice Response (IVR) platform. Currently a few services have already been defined which enable soil testing, healthcare, financial literacy and information. The IVR systems have a capability to handle about 500,000 calls every month with an average call duration of 5 minutes.|
Another example is Awaaz De, an organization which was created thanks to a Stanford research project called Avaaj Otalo. It is a voice message board for farmers in Gujarat to ask questions and get answers about agriculture. It’s been live since 2009 and has served tens of thousands of calls from thousands of callers. They have developed a voice message board application for rural communities to access and share information, and create bottom-up knowledge bases. Currently there are six NGO partner organizations across India using this platform.
Similarly, LifeLines India provides mobile-based assistance to both farmers and teachers. Through the partnership of British Telecom, Cisco Systems and OneWorld, LifeLines offers an agri-information service. Following its success, an additional model was developed as a knowledge exchange service for teachers in rural India. The service has now been implemented in the state of Rajasthan through the organization Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA). Take a look at the below video to learn more:
Thanks to the low cost of voice communication, voice applications in India can serve as important models for other parts of the world. However, Purkayastha reminds us that “mobiles cannot be looked at as standalone devices. They ought to be thought of as part of a larger infrastructure and rely on this infrastructure, if they have to be sustainable and scalable. Supporting daily activities of individuals should be the goal for organizations that want to implement mobile technologies.”
Feel free to contact Becky Band Jain to learn more about the research behind this article.
• TRAI compendium
• Additional inputs from @TrinaD, @katrinskaya, @nadodi, @mobileactive, @ajuonline, @asmita, @culture_curate
|Becky is a nonprofit communications specialist and blogs at www.BeckyBlab.com. She spent the last five years living in India and half of that time as a volunteer with Isha Foundation. She’s now based in New York and looking forward to pursuing new projects. She’s a dedicated yoga and meditation practitioner and a member of WiserEarth. She is passionate about ICTD and new media.|
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