Notes from the first Tech Talks series of lectures held at the Open University of Catalonia (UOC), Barcelona (Spain), on October 19th, 2009.
Mobile Technology and Social Change in Africa
Jessica Colaço, researcher at the Strathmore Research and Consultancy Centre
Colaço works on Wireless Map Services for Smart Phones (WMS) in Africa.
Mobile Africa’s profile:
- 370,000,000 mobile users
- High demand for Health, Agriculture and Education
- Huge market for SMS apps
- Community of local software developers
- Innovative mobile apps and services, that convert opportunities into solutions
- For most Africans, the mobile phone is the only computing device, portable, networked
- Access to information by subscription to short code services
- Mobile payments (e.g. M-PESA)
- Other applications such as Fish Detector (Kenya), developed by Pascal Katana, and which detects fishes accoustically
- Creation of jobs through crowd-sourcing (e.g. txtEagle, which allows people to complete simple tasks via mobile via SMS and get compensated for it, that is, people get paid to work by SMS)
- Tangaza (“broadcast” in Kiswahlili) that allows users to send voice to several receivers
- M-Kulima (“farmer” in Kiswahili) allows buyers to store and retrieve information about the milk market via SMS. Of course, its application is not bound to milk, but can be applied to many other markets.
- Waññigame allows children to recognize numbers and learn to count
- M-guide for toursm, by Strathmore University: the user takes a photo of an animal, the photo is sent to a server that recognizes the animal and sends the information back
- M-Word for learning
How to create innovative culture? Transferring skills and knowledge through mobile boot camps, sharing ideas and encouraging students to brain-storm in groups, mentoring students and liaising them with experts in this field, creating of a research and open-learning atmosphere.
Discussion w. Luis Ángel Fernández Hermana and Eva Domínguez
Eva Domínguez: mobile phones are a revolution in fields as Education (m-learning) and Journalism, especially citizen journalism.
Jessica Colaço stresses the experience of Ushahidi regarding journalism and citizen journalism, how it is used for transparency and accountability, etc.
Luis Ángel Fernández Hermana points to the distinction between people that use technology on a compulsory basis or as a personal option. In higher income countries, technology is compulsory: you “have” to use the last gadget. This is not the case of lower income countries, where people seek benefit (or profit) in technology.
Luis Ángel Fernández Hermana: In what languages are mobile applications and services? Jessica Colaço: Normally in English, most of the times also in local languages.
Lev Gonick: the mobile platform is a much more crowdsourcing fitting platform to create educational content.
Carlos Miranda: it’s good that mobile phones are kept simple (no video, no cam, no anything). The “intel” is outside, it’s the people. [how strongly I disagree…]
Paul G. West: how to deliver mass-education via mobile phones? [unanswered question; what a pity, I would have loved to get that answer].
Marc Alier: if applications have to be developed, how are they distributed to a larger amount of users and other developers? Jessica Colaço: normally, SMSs are broadcasted with the instructions to find and/or install the application, as providing a URL is not usually a good solution (though still a possibility).
Susan Metros: what is the power of mobile operators? do they listen to their customers? Jessica Colaço: increasingly, customers “come in” the design of applications and services.
Sílvia Bravo: are mobile phones helping Africa to “emancipate” and “be Africa”, or just leading the path towards a copycat of richer countries? Jessica Colaço: the good thing of mobile phones is that they have been adopted at a so-grassroots level that there is no aim to copy, but to be.
- Jessica Colaço’s TED Fellows page
- Mobiles offer lifelines in Africa, by Ken Banks
- Aplicaciones sociales del móvil: África está dando lecciones de innovación, by Javier Velilla
- Sobre Mobile learning, by Francesc Balagué
- A New Generation of Mobile Developers: Mobile Camps in Africa, by www.mobileactive.org at School Choice
- Africa goes mobile, by Steve Wheeler