Technology, Obama and Rural Africa

Tonight, I'm participating in a podcast organized by the Peace Corps Africa Rural Connect project, on how the Obama administration can leverage digital technology to deliver social and economic gains to rural Africans. I'm going to make two points:

Let Aid Recipients Tell Donors What They Want

Technology can change the foreign assistance industry by allowing recipients, via mobile phones, to tell donors what their need on their own terms. Philanthropic groups such as Global Giving are already experimenting with linking donors and projects via an online marketplace for aid.  Further, Global Giving is experimenting with mechanisms to ask recipients exactly what they need from donors. One such experiments allows people to dictate donor funds in their community via mobile phone. The new USAID coordinator should put in mechanisms that allow recipients to tell us what they need.

Convince Telecoms of ‘The Economics of Abundance’

It may seem as though we are in a golden age of mobile innovation: Google is delivering farming information to rural Ugandans via SMS and Safaricom has a low-cost mobile money transfer service for Kenyans. However, the truth is that telecom companies are holding back to a trickle what should be cascade of innovation. The typical value-added SMS (anything besides person-to-person messages) costs 10 US cents in Uganda. 

This means that new innovations that would contribute to economic or social growth will not be deployed, not because of engineering challenges, but because of artificially high costs. The truth is, lower SMS prices mean both more users and revenue for network providers and more access to services for rural poor. Luckily, the [unfilled] State Department Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy position exists to lobby foreign governments and telecoms on technology policy issues like this. 

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home