Technology has dramatically changed the world—now almost anyone can “move” at Internet-speed; people who were mar¬ginalized are able to find information on acquiring micro-loans to start businesses, and villages previously unconnected to the telecommunications grid now have afford¬ able cell phone access. As technology becomes easier to use, more affordable and widespread, new sustainable devel¬opment solutions are a reality (2008 esti¬mated costs are provided). This series ‘Small Technology – Big Impact’ explore a few examples of the practical application of small technol¬ogy that have a big impact around the developing world, based on AED’s experience.
Even people who live on $2 per day find ways to buy or rent cell phones for their family. This serves the universal desire to communicate within local communities as well as reaching out to family, friends, and business contacts around the world. The huge demand for cell phones has pushed private sector companies to blanket countries with cell phone coverage, including many formerly underserved communities. Cell phones are now the most ubiquitous communications device in the world—used by more than three billion people.
As an example of their transformational use, in the Philippines, payments of micro-loans are possible by cell phone, reducing time consuming and costly travel to larger towns or cities to service such loans. Diaspora communities around the world wire money back home to their families using the “top up minutes/recharge” feature, thereby reducing costly bank or transfer fees as well as possible corruption. In Rwanda, cell phones (using SMS text messaging) have been used for voter registration—both initial registration and voter verification. In Zambia and Uganda, cell phones linked to a Web site supporting data collection were used to determine school headmaster opinions about a particular change in education policy. In these pilot efforts, headmasters could be reached for only $.15–$.20 per person.
The latest trends suggest that cell phones will continue to expand since they are inexpensive to buy and are becoming even cheaper to use; are available almost everywhere; and allow flexible, personal communication. Recent breakthroughs in software (including some by major multinational software companies) will soon allow Internet access as a standard feature on even the cheapest phones.