Though these technologies are not the norm in most developing nations, technology is playing a bigger role. Let’s look at four of the fastest growing tools adopted by many of these countries.
Mobile phones are making an impact.
A 2011 study by the Kenya Medical Research Institute found that implementing a text message reminder service vastly improved the treatment of malaria at health facilities in coastal and western Kenya. Workers who received SMS reminders improved their adherence to treatment guidelines for outpatient pediatric malaria.
In some parts of rural Africa, a single mobile phone may be used by an entire village to bank, contact relatives, or check the weather. For example, though only 45% of people in Kenya reported owning a mobile phone in a 2012 Plos One survey, 85% of respondents said they had used a mobile phone—many of whom said they own a SIM card, but do not own a phone.
Similarly, 60% of Kenyans have used a mobile phone to send money, and 65% have used a mobile phone to receive money, according to GSMA.
While living and working in Brazil in 2008, I was astonished at how prevalent cell phones had become. It seemed like everyone I met had their own phone. As of 2011, 59% of Brazilians owned a mobile phone and nearly a third of the country had access to the Internet—and these numbers have continued to increase dramatically since 2005.
Mark Zuckerburg recently announced an ambitious project that aims to make the Internet available to—you won’t believe this—every person on the earth. Called simply Internet.org, the organization has partnered with Samsung, Ericsson, Nokia, and other notable tech giants.
“The Internet is such an important thing for driving humanity forward, but it’s not going to build itself,” Zuckerburg said in a recent interview with the New York Times. Access to the Internet would provide an increase in education and health that many areas of the world still lack. But Zuckerburg isn’t the only one lobbying for increased availability.
In June, we saw Google test Project Loon in New Zealand (see the video to the right). Loon is a network of balloons launched 11 miles in the air to provide Internet access to the regions of the world that would otherwise be considered “off the grid.” As these projects gain traction, people are lining up on both sides of the issue. Many view Internet access plans as financially motivated acts veiled as humanitarian aid—our modern day Pandora’s box.
Of course, access to the Internet leads to participation on social media, which can be used in developing nations to help unite citizens, report corruption, and disseminate information during disasters, to name a few benefits. The Arab Spring provides a perfect example of how powerful social networking can be as more and more people adopt it.
A recent study by Pew Research showed that people in lower income countries are more likely to access social networking sites than those who live in countries like Britain, Russia and Spain, once given access to the Internet.
Facebook use grew in the Middle East and Africa by 29% in 2012, and continues to grow today. As of March of this year, over 50 million people in Africa use Facebook. The chart below, from the Afrographique Tumblr, displays some eye-opening statistics on Facebook use across Africa.
Charles Duhigg recently published an article detailing how Target used purchase history data to identify a teen girl in Minnesota as being pregnant before her father even knew. Similarly, analysts are using Twitter- and SMS-generated data to foresee rises in unemployment and the spread of disease. “We’re trying to track unemployment and disease as if it were a brand,” Robert Kirkpatrick, director of the United Nations Global Pulse team, told the New York Times.
Companies and nonprofits like Global Pulse are advocating for a push in “Data Philanthropy,” the sharing of data from private sector companies for public benefit. This data sharing would allow data miners to identify spikes in unemployment, price rises and disease, among other advantages, months before official statistics are released.
Access to the Internet and social media tools allow communities to develop faster, providing advantages they wouldn’t otherwise have. Continued technological advancements can accelerate change where it is needed most. Because technology is about a lot more than creating a robot that can do stand-up comedy