5 June 2008

Africa’s grassroots mobile revolution – a traveller’s perspective

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Uganda sign
Vodafone receiver magazine’s new issue is about “Emerging Markets“.

But it’s a shortened issue: Vodafone thought that launching a whole new issue, with all articles of all authors at once, might be too much to swallow. Therefore they decided to “feed us” one article each week.

The first article – which is actually a picture story – is by Ken Banks. Further contributions will come from Jared Braiterman, Jan Chipchase, David Lehr and Daniel Greenstadt, Adriana de Souza e Silva, David Frohlich and Matt Jones, John Traxler, Neil Clavin, and Toby Shapshak.

Ken Banks devotes himself to the application of mobile technology for positive social and environmental change in the developing world, and has spent the last 15 years working on projects in Africa. Recently, his research resulted in the development of FrontlineSMS, a field communication system designed to empower grassroots non-profit organisations. Banks graduated from Sussex University in Social Anthropology and currently divides his time between Cambridge (UK) and Stanford University in California on a MacArthur Foundation-funded Fellowship.

He is a close observer of a process he calls the “grassroots mobile revolution” and in this picture story, based on his African travels, shares some of his insights into how going mobile is transforming not only African societies, but also how it impacts mobile use in places a little closer to home.

He shows that the gap between developed and developing countries is not much of a gap at all. While mobile innovation in the West is largely technology-led, users in the developing word, with all their economical, geographical and cultural constraints, often find a more sensible way to go.

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