Social entrepreneurs use mobile technology to take on challenges of developing world

On NewsHour Weekend Saturday, we profile how improvements in mobile phone technology and greater access to the internet are spurring new innovations across the African continent.

“Here in Kenya and probably in many other Africa countries, the cellphone is a productive tool,” said Bob Collymo, head of mobile operator Safaricom. “It’s not a luxury item.”

Across sub-Saharan Africa, mobile phone usage is growing at a rate of 18 percent each year. Of the 43 million people living in Kenya, roughly 30 million have cell phones.Across sub-Saharan Africa, mobile phone usage is growing at a rate of 18 percent each year. Of the 43 million people living in Kenya, roughly 30 million have cell phones.

Across sub-Saharan Africa, mobile phone usage is growing at a rate of 18 percent each year. Of the 43 million people living in Kenya, roughly 30 million have cell phones. Credit: PBS NewsHour Weekend

From products that help small businesses track their finances to a text message-based app that helps informal workforce laborers find better jobs, cell phone technology is being used across the developing world to solve serious problems and respond to inefficiencies.

In India, mobile phone use is bringing changes to small business owners and workers alike.

Sean Blagsvedt, an entrepreneur living in Bangalore started Babajob, a platform to help workers in India’s informal workforce find better jobs.

Indians who have no access to computers, but looking for work as drivers, nannies, or cooks, for instance, can use their cell phones to text or call Babajob and connect with potential employers.

Residents of Bangalore in southern India undergo InSight training.Residents of Bangalore in southern India undergo InSight training.

Residents of Bangalore in southern India undergo training to learn how to use InSight, a product that allows people to track their income and expenses by text message. Credit: PBS NewsHour

A native of northern India, Shivani Siroya is an entrepreneur whose organization developed a product called InSight that allows people to keep track of their financial information by text message.

Users call the number for InSight and answer questions either by voice or text messaging. They can then view their financial information and keep track of both income and expenses.

In Malawi, the Malawi Ministry of Health and NGOs are working together with communities to use cell phones to address some of the root causes of poor health care for women and children.

The idea of “health care by phone” is to improve maternal, newborn and child health services and increase community confidence in the health system.

Related:

A drive through Kenya’s bustling capital of Nairobi reveals a nation in love — with the mobile phone. Across the African continent, improvements in mobile phone technology and greater access to the internet are spurring new innovations in the tech sector. Special correspondent Martin Seemungal reports from Kenya, the East African nation leading the trend.

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