The mobile phone has ushered in an era where a phone is no longer a plain communication device but is an empowering piece of technology that can make a difference in the lives of people around the world.
Mobile Governance initiatives and the provisioning of life impacting services are vital to today’s developing countries as they seek to enrich the lives of communities and individuals by providing services from preventive and curative care to advice on managing crops and more. By using mobile services as an established system for two-way communication to deliver timely and accurate information to citizens, governments are able to provide people with remote services, and potentially make a dramatic impact to mortality rates and education, whilst empowering “participative governance”.
Why collaboration is the key to success
Initially the need for change is ideally driven by a nation’s Government which has identified an issue that needs to be addressed and would effectively make a difference to its citizen’s lives. In addition it also requires the proactivity, expertise and voluntary participation and support of various stakeholders in the eco-system. It is imperative to recognise the importance of the private sector – private or corporate entity, Social sector - charitable or social sector organisation or foundations/trusts, donor agencies, domain experts, technology providers and the mobile service providers or telecom operators. With each of these different bodies comes knowledge and experience that can enhance the overall perspective, scope, scale and reach of the projects and ensure all the key areas can be addressed by those with the know-how to ensure strong and sustainable results.
Back to basics
The telecom markets across the developing world have nurtured and continue to breed an exciting mobile services and applications industry that has helped create some of the most innovative applications and services, catering to the breadth and spectrum of the market segment. Yet recent statistics show between 70 and 80% do not have access to Smartphone’s or mobile apps, and although growing fast, less than 10% have access to effective data dependent services in many countries.
This is where a mobile services provider and a technology provider play a pivotal role as they will be instrumental in coming up with ideas and platforms extending their core network capabilities and application platforms to power services for those who don’t have Smartphone’s but still allowing them to access relevant information. By converting their intelligence into simple tools, the people that need assistance will be able to access it in a format that is available to them, which is primarily voice and in some cases messaging channels like SMS, USSD.
How a collaborative m-governance initiative can work
For women across the globe the experience of pregnancy is normally filled with happiness and excitement. However for women in remote regions the experience can be filled with anxiety. As a part of the group that worked with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, BBC Media Action and the Government, we worked on the Bihar initiative, known as Project Ananya. Apart from providing an audio based mobile training course targeting Front Line Health workers (FLW) to help them deliver life-saving information, it also aimed to help pregnant women and their families prepare for the unexpected and potentially deadly situations that can arise in child birth.
Bihar, situated in Northern India, was known for its high mortality rates in women and children; it had the fourth highest mortality rate in the country. Whilst only 32% of adult-women in the state owned their own mobile phone, 83% had access to a device.
The aim was to use mobile phones to provide cost effective training and job-aids to community health care workers. The majority of community health workers are women with low levels of technical literacy. To combat this we worked with BBC Media Action and the concerned partners to understand what was required before providing the technology and the platform that enables community health workers to expand their knowledge of life saving maternal and child health behaviours.
Driving mobile innovation
The time is now for the developing nations to take a giant leap forward from e-Governance to m-Governance and life changing mobile services. There is a need to develop and enable eco-systems which empower the industry to develop effective applications and services that aid in overall socio-economic development. While there are bound to be challenges en route, we need to solve them head on. It is important for all the stakeholders to come together in making positive headway towards healthier socio economic development.
A final few key learning points from our experience:
- Services and initiatives should focus on needs of individuals, not just technology
- Every Social impact initiative should have mobile as a common and mandatory ICT element
- Continue to focus on services and applications using basic Mobile technologies like voice and messaging
- Avoid duplication of efforts and infrastructure
- Collaboration is the key
By Vijay Sai Pratap, Director of Business Development, OnMobile Global Limited